2 HAVE AND 2 HOLD SERMON SERIES
MARRIED, MARRIED QUITE CONTRARY – WORKING THROUGH CONFLICT
APRIL 30, 1995
A while back a guy came to my office and I really enjoyed talking to him because he was an interesting personality. His name was Brian and he told me he played some college football. He also played some professional football for the LA Raiders. And kind of off-the-cuff I said, “Brian, what do you do to stay in such good physical condition.” And his answer really surprised me. He said, “Ed, I am in training right now for a television show called The American Gladiators. In fact, Ed, I am going to be on the program to face these hulking, well-conditioned athletes in different events like the joust, powerball and the obstacle course.” And he said, “The objective of the game is to beat the gladiators, so I am in intense training.” You see, Brian was in intense training because he knew he would face these gladiators, he would have to go toe to toe with these huge individuals. And his training served him well because he was very successful in his endeavor. He won the entire American Gladiators championship, and I watched him do it.
Conflict is inevitable in marriage. There will be those moments when we all go toe to toe against our spouse over a certain issue. We, like Brian, need to train for these moments of conflict, for these moments of confrontation, so we will know how to handle the situation. And I am going to tell you something. If we train properly to be a marital gladiator, we will have successful marriages. Usually there is too much combat and not enough creative conflict in the marital bond. There really isn’t. And most of the time when we get into conflict, we do something that we vow we will never do because we are marital gladiators. And let me say something right here. All of us married individuals are American marital gladiators. You are saying, “Ed, that kind of sounds harsh. I am a gladiator?” The word gladiator can be defined as a person involved in intense controversy or struggle. Does that sound like marriage now and then? A person involved in intense controversy or struggle. Anyway, we get involved in these arguments and because we have no marital gladiator training, we do what we say we will never do, we revert back to the only model of conflict resolution that we’ve ever seen portrayed and that is the model of our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. But we boldly say, “No, no, no I would never act like my father.” “I would never act like my mother.” But we do.
Some of you grew up in homes where conflict was handled turtle style. An argument happens. A problem arises. Instead of dealing with the issue, you learned from your family members to retreat into your shell like a turtle does the moment you walk up on him. You retreat to the safety of your shell, you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to say anything about it, and you kind of freeze everyone out. And then, after a while, time passes idly by and you stick your head out of your shell. You look around, the danger has cleared and then you move on your merry way. The problem with this technique is, you become detached and you never deal with the conflict because your family was a turtle family.
Maybe some of you grew up in homes where conflict was handled wasp style. You know those mean insects that invade the metroplex about now. Wasps are bad to the bone. I have been walking around my yard and all of a sudden a wasp will come in and just sting me out of nowhere. I didn’t even disturb its nest. They are aggressive insects. Maybe you are saying, my family handled conflict like wasps. You see your parents get into an argument and your father would give your mom those verbal stings, those biting comments in front of the children and it would kind of freeze and debilitate your mom. Horrible things would come from their mouths. Verbal venom being exchanged back and forth. That is the way you handle conflict today. The problem is after awhile you kind of have an allergic reaction to all the venom and things turn sour. You see marriages are buried out in the relational cemeteries by little digs. It is not just one giant dig, not one giant problem, it is little, tiny digs and then one day you can chalk up another marriage as a divorce statistic.
Handling conflict in marriage. Oftentimes we take the cues from our parents. In today’s message I want to do some training for all of us and I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you. I want to give you four steps in marital gladiator training. They are going to be quick steps and if you understand these steps and put them into practice when you become marital gladiators I believe they will serve you well. Before we can get into the four steps, though, I want to give you a prerequisite for marital gladiator training. Commit your life to Jesus Christ today. That is a prerequisite of conflict resolution. You cannot understand conflict resolution or reconciliation or how to fight fair until you commit your life to Jesus Christ. Now a guy back here in the back row is going “Come on, Ed, I came to a marriage series, I didn’t come to a Billy Graham crusade. I didn’t necessarily come here today to get my soul saved.” I want to start here, though, because this is the essence of conflict resolution.
Romans 5:10 is a powerful verse. Listen to the words that the Apostle Paul penned. “We were God’s enemies.” Circle the word enemies. That means you and me. We were God’s enemies. There is a conflict going on, there is a war going on. We are at war, we are in conflict against a holy God. We are God’s enemies, the Bible says. We can’t have peace with others until we have peace with ourselves and we can’t have peace with ourselves until we have peace with God. You see, God has His behavioral standards set way up here. And God’s behavioral standards are perfect, without blemish. We make mistakes morally, relationally, spiritually, day in and day out. Thus we are in conflict before a holy God. And many of you know what I am talking about because you are outside the family of God, and some of you who are inside the family of God remember the way it was before you became a Christian. You kind of felt uneasy talking about the things of the Bible or if someone would mention Jesus Christ or you kind of felt uncomfortable at church. That feeling that you know down deep one day you’ll have to face a holy God at the judgment and you will have to give an account for every idle word, every idle thought, every wrong deed you have ever done. And that is scary. Because, folks, with our own merits we are in an unwinable, unresolvable conflict with God. We are in an unresolvable, unwinable conflict with God. We are God’s enemies. Perfection is perfection. It is perfect. He cannot have even a blemish or a little mistake or one impure thought in His presence. I blow it every day, so do you. We are in trouble. But the Bible doesn’t stop there. The Bible doesn’t say well we were God’s enemies and stop. It says, “We were God’s enemies and (here is the great news) we were reconciled (circle the term reconciled – that’s conflict resolution) to Him through the death of His Son.” God, who again is perfect, took the responsibility on His shoulders to reconcile us to himself by commissioning the second person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, to die on the cross, to rise again. And now God offers eternal life to us, he offers us reconciliation. It is nothing we can do, we can’t earn it. The moment we accept it, we become reconciled to God. We were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son. We are reconciled to God and the first thing Jesus does the moment He comes inside your life and my life is, He places the person of the Holy Spirit in our being. And the Holy Spirit begins to give us desire and the ministry of reconciliation. All of a sudden we treasure the fact that we are reconciled to God. “I am reconciled to God. I can come to God through Jesus Christ. It is nothing that I have done. I have just accepted what God did for me and through Jesus I know Him and I treasure my reconciliation.” Now that reconciliation factor will spill over into every area of your life and you will have the desire to want to be reconciled with your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members and, check this out, even your spouse.
A couple of weeks ago we went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant. And we had the whole crew there. We had four spills in one meal. When we left the place I know Lisa and I but especially Lisa had guacamole, hot sauce, formula and apple juice on her outfit. The spills literally touched all of us. That is what happens the moment you know Christ personally. This reconciliation factor spills over into every framework, every part of your life. Do you have it? There is not a better time to do it than right now. Your eternity hangs in the balance. And for some of you, you want to commit your life to Christ today, just to change your marriage. And, hey, that’s great, as long as you do it. But I want to tell you something. The moment you accept Christ into your life, your marriage problems will not vanish. You, though, will have the power to handle anything that comes down the pike.
I have seen marriages that did not have the reconciliation factor in operation and I have seen just a little problem lead to a divorce. Why? Because they didn’t have the reconciliation factor. Instead of having the spirit of reconciliation, they had the spirit of rebellion. On the other hand, I have seen marriages where the reconciliation factor is in operation and I have seen them go through devastating, debilitating problems, yet today their marriages are flourishing. Why? Because of the reconciliation factor. OK you understand me? We have got the prerequisite out of the way, let’s jump right in to some gladiator training.
Number one. What do I do the moment a conflict arises? And this is tough. I have got to pray about the problems. I have got to pray about the problems. When you get angry, what is the first thing that comes into your mind? Well I know the first thing that comes into my mind. I am going to straighten Lisa out. She is wrong. And I am going to tell her….. That is the first thing that comes into my mind. You know what the Bible says? The Bible says to stop and take inventory. Jesus said, “Hey, don’t worry about the speck of sawdust in your spouse’s contact when you have a sequoia tree in your eye.” Here is what He says, Matthew 7:3-5. “Why do you look at the speck in another’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of another’s eye.” Here is what I challenge you to do, spouses, the moment conflict arises. Take a notebook, take a Bible and get away for maybe twenty minutes and ask God this question. “God, I want to straighten my spouse out right now. I think he (or she) is totally in the wrong. Could it be me, God? Could I be the one who is being selfish, insensitive, demanding, critical? Could it be me, God?” And just listen to see what God says to you. He is not going to say, “It’s you, dummy.” He will, though, speak to your spirit and He will speak so clearly that you will be able to write some stuff down. And I am here to tell you something. The times I have gone away and prayed before I have tried to “straighten Lisa out”, about 90% of the time guess whose problem it is. Just take a wide guess. That’s right. Mine. Pray about your problems.
Number two. Set ground rules before you become gladiators. Set ground rules before you become gladiators. As a kid growing up you might be playing touch football in the street and you would catch what you thought was a touchdown pass and then a little kid would come up, and most of the time the ball you were playing with would be his, and he would say, “You’re out of bounds.” And you would say, “What do you mean I am out of bounds. I scored.” “No, you are out of bounds.” “Are you making the rules up as you go?” “Well, yeah.” I hate to do that. You hate to play golf or tennis or bridge or whatever you play and people make the rules up as they go. Set the ground rules before you become gladiators. Set them when everything is fine, when you can talk in a rational manner and agree on some principles and precepts that you will abide by once you get into the conflict.
Colossians 3:8-9 says, “You must get rid of these things; anger.” The word anger means yelling. That means volume. “And hateful things.” You know what the words hateful things mean in the original language? Pushing your spouse’s hot button. You see, if you have been married for awhile, you know that that little imitation, that little word, that little look which will send them over the edge. And we got down in an argument and we realize that it is mostly our fault, what do we do? We look for that hot button and push. Let’s get ready to rumble. You have got problems. “No insults or obscene talk.” That means cuss words or derogatory comments. “Must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another.” Speak the truth to your spouse. My goodness, gracious speak the truth.
OK you see the numbers one to ten on your outlines? I am going to give you some suggestions, some guidelines before you become gladiators and let me say up front I do not have all of these covered in my marriage. I need to work on many of these ground rules, many of these principles that we talk about. I am working on this with you. Let’s start now with the first one.
Ground rule one. Never compare. I am talking about the issue of becoming a gladiator now, you are in a fight, you are in an argument, you are in a conflict – never compare. “You’re like your mom.” “You’re like the dog.”
Ground rule two. Never use absolutes. “You always.” “You never.” “Every single time….”
Ground rule three. Never fight in the bedroom. Last week we talked about sexual intimacy in marriage. I encourage you to pick the tape up if you missed it. Make love not war in the bedroom.
Ground rule four. Never challenge your spouse using money, sex or the threat of divorce as leverage. Never challenge your spouse.
Ground rule five. Never change lanes. You may be losing in a particular conflict and because you are losing and getting slammed, you think, I know what I will do. I will change the subject to another argument, another issue. I’ll confuse them.
Ground rule six. Never play the reporter. You know what reporters do? They interrupt people. What is an interview? A reporter is talking to someone and before they are finished with one answer, the next question is on the way. Surely we don’t have anyone who interrupts their spouse in the heat of battle, do we? Let your spouse finish the sentence. Take a deep breath after you think they are through. And if you think they are through and you have taken one deep breath, then you can speak. But during the deep breath, oftentimes they will take the ball and run again with another comment. Make sure you let them finish what they are talking about. Don’t play the reporter.
Ground rule seven. Don’t become a scorekeeper. Don’t become the old scorekeeper. “Well, two weeks ago I won and I am leading in this marital gladiator business one to nothing, so I am going for an undefeated string here for the month of April. And I am not going to lose. I am sorry, I will not lose.” Don’t, don’t, don’t do the scorekeeper thing.
Ground rule eight. Don’t become a psychologist. “The reason that you are acting the way you are is because your parents put your diapers on too tight.”
Ground rule nine. Don’t play the historian. You know who the historian is, don’t you? You look back into the marital microfiche and bring back arguments, conflicts that were going on even in your dating relationship. Don’t do that.
Finally, ground rule ten. Never quit. Never, ever, ever quit. And that is talking about commitment. Never give up. Never, ever give up. A sad commentary on our generation is the fact that we lack commitment. We really do. We lack commitment. We are not committed to anything these days. There is no product loyalty, no loyalty to a corporation, oftentimes no loyalty to a church, no loyalty to marriage, no loyalty to family. We have to say, I have made this covenant before a holy God, and God doesn’t mess around with a covenant. We make a covenant in marriage before God. “I promise to love and honor, to cherish, to have them, to hold them, God, before You.” It is a covenant before Him. And you don’t have to feel like everything is a bed of roses every moment. Marriage is not going to be that way. Sometimes there are moments like that, and there should be moments like that. But a lot of it is that day in, day out going through this relationship, building it and it takes huge amounts of raw spiritual courage and guts, I hate to be so frank, to do it.
Let’s jump down to number three. Negotiate in a neutral setting. So we are praying about the problems, we are setting ground rules and then we are negotiating in a neutral setting. The Bible says in Matthew 5, “If you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace (circle the phrase, go at once and make peace) then come back and offer your gift to God.” So, when we take our offering today, if I see some of you getting up and leaving, I’ll know what you are doing. But the Bible does say here, leave your gift. Oh, me. I am just joking about that. Conflict cannot be settled on the run, nor can conflict be settled at the dinner table with four children throwing food. It can’t. You have got to decide on a neutral setting and come to the negotiating table and do some peace talking. Sit down and have solution-driven conversation. That is tough. You see, it sounds easy here. Solution-driven conversation. I am not here to try to cut you down or tear you apart. Here is the issue. Is it money? Is it children? Is it sex? Is it being gone too much? I don’t know. Here is the issue, let’s ask God to help us, to give us the creativity to settle this negotiation. And folks, it might take you two, three, four, five, six, seven rounds of negotiation but I promise you, it will serve you well. Make sure, though, you both are rested, you have no distractions and you can discuss this situation.
Number four. Get a personal trainer. Get a personal trainer. Get a personal trainer. I am talking about accountability here and I am talking about counsel. You’re talking about a direct verse of scripture. Proverbs 15:12. “Conceited people do not like to be corrected, they never ask for advice from those who are wiser.” Wow. We ask people’s advice for anything and everything. You have a legal problem. Who do you talk to? An attorney. A financial problem? You might see your CPA. A medical problem? You are going to go to the doctor. A problem with the old golf swing? I’ll hire the golf pro out at Bear Creek. A problem in your marriage? Oftentimes we don’t say anything to anyone. I encourage you first if you are in a rut, if you are in a situation that you cannot get out of, if you have gone through nine or ten negotiating type sessions over the same subject, go see a Christian couple preferably older than you are and share the problem with them. Make sure this couple will not blab, will not talk, make sure they can keep this between themselves and you and your spouse. Don’t tell your mother-in-law about it, your father-in-law about it. Don’t tell your mother about it or your father about it. Deal with the issue.
If still that doesn’t work, get professional help. Make sure because Christian counseling is phenomenal, make sure you don’t wait too long to go to Christian counseling. In most marital situations I deal with, the couple has waited too long. They should have gone when they were having problems early on. Go to someone, though, who has the Bible as their authority. If they don’t, you are just hearing some more pop psychological, mumbo, jumbo. If, though, they have the Bible as their authority then they know what this reconciliation factor is and they can give you great, great help and assistance.
You see, as your pastor, I am here to help your marriage. I want to help my marriage. I want us to have the greatest families anywhere and it takes work. We are going to have to take the masks off and be real and say I need help. I really need help. Help me. Please call our church office this week, 257-8817. We have a list of wonderful Christian counselors here, some who belong to our church. We will be happy to set you up with these folks. It is worth it. “Well, I can’t afford it.” Put it on a credit card, it is worth it. Your marriage is worth it.
Marital gladiators. Every time you have a conflict, there is either a break down or a break through to a greater level of intimacy. God wants all of us when that conflict occurs, when the spirit of reconciliation is moving, God wants all of us to break through into a deeper level of intimacy. That is what He wants. That is what I want for my marriage and I know that is what you want for your marriage. Let’s go out and do it.