The Gospel in Uncomfortable Marital Moments

During neutral or good times it should now be clear how to reinforce the gospel narrative through our words and thoughts. We give God the credit for the good things in our lives and we train ourselves to notice and give weight to His blessings even in the midst of mundane events.

What remains to be done is to demonstrate how the gospel narrative is able to allow us to be honest about each other’s disappointments and failures while not detracting from an ever increasing closeness within a marriage. Let’s examine each of the four major themes of the gospel in order to see how they can still generate an encouraging story when the topic to be addressed is unpleasant.

1. Creation

We realize we only have the standard and expectation of “good” because God is good and He made our world (including marriage and our spouse) to be good. If life were random or built purely on a “survival of the fittest” evolution, then the expectation that life would be “good” would be irrational.

Allow your points of failure or disappointment to be a reminder that it is a blessing that we have a good God who created us to be good people and live in a good world. The fact that our hearts are calibrated to want and pursue good is a blessing that is easy to take for granted. Praise God the compass of our conscience is set to desire to the true North of God’s goodness.

This is part of God’s grace which should shape the story of the disappointments and failures we face and perpetrate in our marriage. Even when we disagree on how love could/should be expressed in our marriage, we are blessed to want love more than power, unity more than dominance, and relationship more than isolation.

2. Fall

But the preceding paragraphs are not always true. They may represent what we know to be right and what we want to want, but we do not have to look outside ourselves to see that life does not match the ideals of our own conscience. This is where many of us get appalled and draw back from relationships because of the fear of being hurt or insecurity of being found out.

For Christians the presence of sin should be expected, not a surprise. We do not believe that people are good, and there must be a reason people do selfish things. It is when we are surprised at sin that increases our sense of being threatened. You can see an unknown man in a mask with a knife in a haunted house and the experience is much different than if he’s in your home. The first you expect and are merely startled. The second you don’t expect and are traumatized.

The absence of shock gives you the opportunity to respond to sin differently. Whereas the “rose colored glasses of love” would mean your ideal marriage story is crumbling; the gospel allows us to grieve the presence and be hurt by the impact of sin without feeling like the narrative has turned tragic. It also reminds us that the presence of sin is not the final scene in our story; it’s only the second of four.

3. Redemption

We see a greater goodness of God in His redemptive work than we do in any other aspect of creation or history. We can take good things and make lesser good things; turning trees into paper or used paper into recycled paper. Only God can take bad things and make them good. For this reason, Christians believe that broken things restored by God can have a greater glory than something that has never been broken.

That begs the question of Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” and is met with the answer of Romans 6:2, “By no means!” That would revel in the brokenness instead of celebrating redemption.

Relationships, especially marriage, afford us the opportunity to do more than witness God’s work of redemption; we also get to participate in it. We are not fans in the stands of God’s grace, merely cheering on what is going on “over there.” We are in the huddle participating in the play being drawn up by our great Player/Coach who graciously involves us in the restoration of those we love; and them in our restoration.

4. Glorification

If the story stopped with perpetual redemption it would eventually become dissatisfying. Being forgiven is wonderful; the thought of inevitably needing to be forgiven is discouraging. Forgiveness can be powerfully romantic (hence the adage “fight hard and make up hard”), but the expectation you’ll unescapably be hurt in a way that requires forgiveness becomes a turn-off.

The gospel does not leave us in the hamster wheel of redemption. We will enter eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-9). God will not exhaust us with a good thing we cannot sustain; He is the Good Father who does not provoke His children until they become discouraged (Col. 3:21).

As we maintain encouragement during times of disappointment and failure by contextualizing these experiences in the larger narrative of the gospel, we can rest knowing these are momentary struggles – the short chapters before the gloriously eternal concluding chapter (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Do these four points tell you how to respond when sin or disappointment affect your marriage? No. Not if you want a script to read to yourself or your spouse for every potential unpleasant circumstance the two of you will face. We can begin to see the question is not realistic.

Do these four points alert you to when your thought life is going off-script with the gospel narrative for your marriage? Yes. When you can discern when you are leaving the gospel narrative you can reach out for help before the new-false narrative becomes entrenched. The earlier you can root out a false-narrative the easier it is to resist.

  • Which of the four themes of the gospel tend to get distorted most when you face hard times?
  • What are the areas of your life, that when negatively impacted, most tempt you to leave the gospel narrative?

Part of what we see in the gospel narrative is that it begins and ends in paradise – the Garden of Eden and Heaven. These are two pictures we see of life and relationships as God intended. The goal of every narrative is to lead people somewhere. Let’s look at Genesis 1 to learn one more thing about where the gospel narrative intends to lead us.

Read Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 25, and 31. Notice the restraint of God’s language. He was content to say His creation was “good,” even for the pinnacle of His creation He only said “very good.” There is no use of words like better, best, or other superlatives. God was not competing with other creators. God was not even competing with Himself. We often get lost wondering, “Is our marriage better than [name]? Are we doing better than [name]? Does [name] do conflict better than we do?” We lose the basic question – is what we’re doing good? When this happens we invariably leave the gospel narrative for either pride or insecurity.

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP: Part One (April 26) // Part Two (May 3)

CGCM slide intimacy

Tweets of the Week 4.15.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

And one because its funny…

What is “the Story” of Your Marriage?

What is the love story mold into which you want your marriage to grow? Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Snow White, Titanic, Gone with the Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sleepless in Seattle, Grease, Jerry Maguire, Dirty Dancing, etc…? Whether the plot line comes from Hollywood cinema or not, we all have an ideal “narrative” we want our marriage to follow.

As one friend of my wife pointed out, “All chic-flicks are about the same thing. The guy does everything the girl wants to win the girl’s love and attention. She gets to be a god.” The same could be said of the pornographic films to which many men are becoming addicted, “The girl does everything the guy wants to win his love and attention. He gets to be a god.”

This is the really dangerous parts about our ideal love stories (even more than sexual lust); we are a god in the story–the story centers on us. Everyone else, including God, is a supporting actor in our story. This tendency doesn’t go away when we get married. In fact, for many people, it only gets worse as we try to make our “forever relationship” into the “happily ever after” we’ve been creating with each book we read and move we watch. This was the human tendency before modern media, but the multi-billion dollar, idealized story-telling industry greatly exacerbates the tendency.

In this chapter we want to combat these tendencies in two ways:

  1. Examine how and where a non-gospel narrative takes root and gains power in your marriage.
  2. Discover simple, powerful practices to keep the gospel as the grand narrative of your marital love.

In order to help you appreciate how we’ll approach these two things, consider the following question, “How does a news story catch traction and gain definition in our modern media?” The answer is “sound bites” – a clip is played over and over, and opposite sides compete so their phrase is used to describe the event.

This is more than political theatre or the product of cramming world news into a 30 minute program. It is a basic human tendency played out on a large scale. We give things meaning and reinforce that meaning through frequently repeated small messages or images. This is as true of individuals as it is of cultures.

Where does it happen for individuals? In our self-talk, the things we replay in our minds. As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, “No one is more influential in your world than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” We spin (for better or worse) the events of our lives and quality of our marriage in our own mind constantly. The bias of our “coverage” will either be gospel-gospel-gospel or self-self-self.

Find “Living in THE Love Story” Evaluation Here

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

Part One:  Saturday October 19, 2013
Part Two: Saturday October 26, 2013
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm or 6:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP: Part One (April 26) // Part Two (May 3)

CGCM slide intimacy

How Well Do You Love the Specific Spouse God Gave You?

“For centuries, thinkers have discerned forms of love. The Greeks had words to distinguish affection (storge), friendship (philos), erotic love (eros), and service (agape). There are other ways of breaking down expressions of love into categories. All forms of love are necessary, and none are to be ignored, but all of us find some forms of love to be more emotionally valuable to us. They are a currency that we find particularly precious, a language that delivers the message of love to our hearts with the most power. Some types of love are more thrilling and fulfilling to us when we receive them (p. 153)… In the incarnation, God came to us in a manner that we could grasp. So we, too, must clothe our love in the forms to which our spouse can relate (p. 154).” Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage

Which system is the right system? What gauge is the right gauge? What metaphor best captures what we’re supposed to be paying attention to? If you have read many books on marriage you know how confusing these questions can be: love languages, pink hearing aids, blue sun glasses, love tanks, love banks, waffles, spaghetti, Mars, Venus, his needs, her needs, love, respect, love dare, seven key questions, seven minute solutions, new marriages by Friday, fourteen secrets, etc… (that’s from a two minute search on “marriage” on a Christian bookstore website).

Is all this language different ways of saying the same thing or do we need to know this many different systems?

You hear one couple talk about how a book / speaker completely revitalized their marriage and another couple tells you the same book / speaker didn’t do anything for them, is totally unrealistic, or created tension in their marriage.

How do we know what is “worth our time” (which is limited and we’d prefer not to waste)?

Find Love Preferences Evaluation Here

These resources are excerpts from the following seminar:

Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP: Part One (April 26) // Part Two (May 3)

CGCM slide intimacy

Overview – Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Intimacy

What are we going to talk about in this seminar? Sex… romance… affection… affirming words… weekly date nights… talking about our feelings… vulnerability… What is “intimacy”?

Chances are you won’t create something you can’t define and many couples have a hard time agreeing about what counts as intimacy. “Agreeing to disagree” is definitely not the solution to this dilemma.

For this seminar “intimacy” will be used to capture the full breadth of romantic activities shared by husband and wife; from encouragement, flirting, serving, and handholding to romantic get aways, long love letters, and gourmet sex. This seminar is about maintaining a deep sense of enjoyment for each other.

It is easy to allow the awkwardness of this subject – talking about emotions, affection, and sex – to prevent a couple from enjoying some of marriage’s sweetest fruit. It takes a mature man and woman to flirt tastefully over a lifetime, put their dreams and desires into words consistently, and talk wholesomely about what is sexually enjoyable.

Most of these are conversations you should not be having with anyone else, so it makes sense there would be some awkwardness. Don’t allow the potential clumsiness of speech or action to prevent you from pursuing and enjoying the spouse God has blessed you with.

Here is outline of the seminar:

Saturday April 26

Section 1. What Makes Intimacy Difficult? The Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Things We Rarely Discuss

Section 2. Understanding Our Differences An Essential Part of Lasting Romance

Section 3. Living in THE Love Story Experiencing God’s Greatest Message In Life’s Greatest Blessing

Saturday May 3

Section 4. Sex as One of God’s Gifts for Marriage (Part One) Learning to Skillfully and Unashamedly Enjoy Foreplay

Section 5. Sex as One of God’s Gifts for Marriage (Part Two) Learning to Skillfully and Unashamedly Enjoy Intercourse

Registration Information

Part One:  Saturday April 26, 2014
Part Two: Saturday May 3, 2014
Time: 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
Cost: Free
RSVP: Part One (April 26) // Part Two (May 3)

 CGCM slide intimacy

Tweets of the Week 4.8.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

GCM Finances Video 5: Getting Into Saving

This video segment is one of five presentations in the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Finances” seminar. The full GCM series of seminars and pre-marital mentoring ministry they facilitate can be found at

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. Summit members can pick up a copy of the notebook in the church office. For those outside the Summit family, you can request a copy from Amy LaBarr (, office administrator over counseling.

GCM Communication Part 5 from Equip on Vimeo.

Memorize: I Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV), “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “The rich” – By a global standard, even the poor in America are rich. We should view ourselves accordingly.
  • “Set their hopes” – The big issue of greed is not hoarding or cheating, but a false foundation of our hope.
  • “Provides… to enjoy” – God truly wants us to enjoy the blessings He has brought into our life.
  • “Be generous” – One of primary the joys of the blessings God gives should be to share those blessings with others.
  • “Truly life” – When we spend money we spend our life, so we should seek to get “true life” in return.

Teaching Notes

“We will evaluate where true security and safety are found in this world, and in the end we will determine not to waste our lives on anything but uncompromising, unconditional abandonment to a gracious, loving Savior who invites us to take radical risk and promises us radical reward (p. 21).” David Platt in Radical

“Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality… I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc… is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them (p. 81-82).” C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

“God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving (p. 73).” Randy Alcorn in The Treasure Principle

“If your treasures are on earth, that means each day brings you closer to losing your treasures (p. 40)… He who spends his life moving away from his treasures has reason to despair. He who spends his life moving toward his treasure has reason to rejoice (p. 43).” Randy Alcorn in The Treasure Principle

“As base a thing as money often is, it yet can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor; it can keep a missionary actively winning lost men in the light of the gospel and thus transmuted itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality (p. 107).” A.W. Tozer in Born After Midnight

“The reason the use of your money provides a good foundation for eternal life is not that generosity earns eternal life, but that it shows where your heart is. Generosity confirms that our hope is in God and not in ourselves or our money (p. 167).” John Piper Desiring God

Three Date-Nights to Apply the GCM Decision Making Seminar

The following is a resource from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Decision Making” seminar.

You will remember what you rehearse. You will rehearse what you enjoy. Marriage is meant to be enjoyed but requires rehearsing (i.e., remembering) the things that are most important. For this reason, each seminar in this series will provide a collection of dates that are designed to allow couples to review what they’ve learned. Two things you should note:

  1. Each date can be taken multiple times. You and your spouse will change over time. Because you change, the same date, with the same person becomes a new experience. Marriage resists becoming stale when we enjoy anticipating and learning what God is doing in our spouse’s life and marriage next.
  2. Create the habit of reinforcing key marriage lessons with playfulness and romance. Learn from the content and pattern of these dates. Pick a section of this seminar that was useful to your marriage and create a date that allows you to review those truths in an enjoyable way.

Finding God’s Will Date

Preparation: Make a list of all the things you felt pressure (past or present) to get “just right” because you felt there was only one possible outcome that could be God’s will. Reflect on how this sense of pressure impacted your approach to each part of the decision making process.

Activity: Share your lists and discuss which ones (a) you couldn’t imagine being different than they are, (b) have changed or will change several times over the course of your life, (c) you still feel pressure to get “just right,” and (d) you’re most comfortable trusting God to guide without a sense of pressure on you.

Ending: Go to a place that reminds you of God’s direction over your life (i.e., the place where you “happened” to first meet your spouse, where a unique opportunity “happened” to present itself, etc…). Share the stories that come from that place and other ways God has been faithful in directing you without putting pressure on you.

Follow Up: In the coming days (hopefully creating an ongoing habit) verbalize the “little” moments when God is faithful to make decisions clear through wisdom and common events. Share how looking for these moments helps you live in less fear that you’re going to make a mistake in some choice that will derail you off of God’s perfect will for your life.

Goal for Date: To rest in God’s faithfulness to lead His people more than you fret about missing His will. To cultivate more conversation in your marriage about God’s faithfulness and daily guidance to decrease fears you may have about “big” future decisions (which is likely a source of anxiety for at least one of you).

Consensus Date

Preparation: Together, before the date, pick a marital enrichment event (i.e., anniversary trip) or home improvement idea that the two you would both be excited about and the budget you’ll have for this endeavor. Separately, before the date, brainstorm ideas for this event or project.

Activity: Begin by examining the different ideas that you each brought. Over the evening, use the process described in chapter four to decide when and what you’ll do for this date or project. Allow the energy from planning a trip or project to add to excitement of an evening together.

Ending: Review the pieces that you took from each spouse’s original set of ideas. Affirm the way your spouse honored you and took your ideas seriously. Point out ways that your spouse responded that were particularly encouraging and caused you to feel more willing to share and excited about the trip / project.

Follow Up: Go on the trip or complete the project. As you do, look for opportunities to affirm those aspects that came from your spouse’s list of ideas and thank them when ideas from your list are implemented. Allow the process of consensus to magnify the enjoyment of the end product.

Goal for Date: To create an easy “win” for enhancing your consensus skills by being intentional with something you were probably going to do anyway.

Headship-Submission Date

Preparation: The husband should plan and arrange the date around his wife’s preferences. The husband should identify one or two decisions or areas of growth needed in the marriage; consulting with his wife after writing his thoughts. The husband should ask his wife to consider the one or two items that remain at the top of the list. For this date, choosing items that could be resolved / decided in a couple of hours is advisable.

Activity: During the date the husband should share why he chose these areas of focus and ask for his wife’s assessment of how they should be addressed. He should ask questions to understand why these things are important to her and/or seem most wise. Whether he agrees or not he should value what she says, feels, and values. Allow the setting of a date to temper any tension that might arise.

Ending: At the end of the evening (taking into consideration what he has learned from his wife), the husband should express to his wife what he believes is best for their family and ask his wife to support him in that decision. Together they should discuss how to implement that decision – time table, key points of cooperation, individual tasks, etc…

Follow Up: After there has been time to execute the decision, discuss how the roles of leading and supporting felt. What did each of you learn that gives you greater confidence in this type of decision making in the future? What could each of you do to better encourage one another in your role during these kinds of decisions?

Goal for Date: To serve as a “taste of success” for both the husband in leading and wife in supporting. Too often couples wait until a big / difficult decision emerges to practice this type of decision making. Their confidence and coordination, like an unpracticed athlete, are then awkward and they struggle to fulfill their unique roles in a way that is natural and promotes unity.


Small Group Accountability Questions for GCM Decision Making Seminar

The following is a resource from the “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage: Decision Making” seminar to help small groups effectively encourage and hold each other accountable with this material.

How do small marital problems become big marital problems? There are two primary ways: (1) they get ignored, and (2) they are dealt with alone. Ask yourself these questions about any case of divorce or chronic marital unhappiness you know:

If that couple had addressed their struggle early on with the love and perspective of fellow Christians, how different would their life be now? How many generations would be blessed? How much pain and suffering would have been alleviated? How much sin and destruction would have been averted?

The condition of Christian marriage is a church problem. When the church does not fulfill the one another commands of the New Testament, every marriage in that church suffers (even the good ones). Excellent, crisis-based pastoral counseling (no matter how effective) will not have near the impact as small groups regularly asking one another simple, fundamental questions about “Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage.”

For this reason, every seminar in this series will contain a series of accountability questions to be used in the small group life of our church. It is suggested that at least once per month any small group with married couples divide men and women for the prayer time and ask one of the questions below. These questions are written in the first person plural (i.e., we, us, our) to imply that every person in the room should have an answer.

Chapter 1

  • Which style of decision making (individual, consensus, headship) do you most over/under use in your marriage?
  • Which of these 20 challenges creates the most tension or angst in your marriage?

Chapter 2

  • How are you prone to over or under emphasize God’s sovereign, moral, and individual will in decision making?
  • When are you prone to use the “Bull’s Eye” mentality towards decision making and experience undue stress?

Chapter 3

  • Which of the seven steps of decision making are you most prone to neglect or get stuck on?
  • What decision are you making where this would be useful so that we can encourage you as you use this process?

Chapter 4

  • Which of the values of consensus / friendship are you most prone to neglect?
  • What decision are you making where consensus would be useful so we can encourage you in this process?

Chapter 5

  • Couple: What areas of your life do you need to manage better so that decisions do not unnecessarily get pushed into the headship-submission category?
  • Husband: What aspects of the responsibilities of a husband as head of his family do you need to grow in?
  • Wife: What aspects of how a wife responds to her husband’s leadership to you need to grow in?

Possible Rebuttal: Wow! That seems really personal for a small group discussion.

Response One: It is not more personal than a divorce is public. And, it is not more personal than the Bible calls for us to be transparent about our sin.

Response Two: Once you have done this for three months and seen the benefits to your marriages, you will laugh at the defensive rebuttal. Accountability is only scary like swimming lessons are scary for a child. Putting your face in the water is only intimidating until you do it. Then you realize a whole new world of freedom and fun awaits.

Tweets of the Week 4.1.14

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.


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