Keeping Creativity in Your Marriage
August 8, 1999
I have said it hundreds of times. At the conclusion of a wedding ceremony I have looked into those starry eyes of the bride and groom and said, “Having pledged your faith in and love to each other and having sealed your solemn and significant vows by the giving and receiving of these rings, acting by the authority vested in me by the State of Texas and looking to heaven for divine sanction, I now pronounce you husband and wife in the presence of God and these assembled witnesses.” Then I add from the Bible, “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” At this point, if you were to do a freeze frame, everything seems so perfect, so right. This man and this woman have just exchanged vows and rings and kisses. It is for keeps. Right?
Well, don’t respond too rapidly. All you’ve got to do is push the clock forward a few years and add a few kids, a few in-laws, a few financial problems and the hum-drum of life and marriage doesn’t seem so for sure any more. If I could take a poll of the marital satisfaction of every couple in this service, I think we would be amazed at the different responses. I think some couples would say, “Ed, we have a great marriage. We are more in love today that we were when we walked down the wedding runner. Man, it is great.” Other couples would shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s average, mediocre. I am just kind of doing time in this prison cell of predictability.” Some here would say, “4 Keeps? How about 4-closure. My marriage is hanging by a thread. It is in the deep weeds.” Maybe about now a single adult is punching her single adult friend and saying, “I wish I even had a marriage to rate.”
Why another series on marriage? If you have been with us over the nine-year history at this church, you know I have talked about marriage a lot. Several months ago I began praying and thinking about doing another series on this subject matter. I was a little bit hesitant about it and then in one of our weekly planning meetings, I floated the marriage series idea by our management team. One of the team members said, go for it. Do another series on marriage, we can’t hear it enough. So today, once again, I talk about this important matter.
The marriage relationship is the most important earthly relationship we have. The most important relationship is our connection with God through Christ. Right after that is whom we choose and how we live as a mate. Marriage matters to God. There are over 50 million husband and wife teams in the United States of America. Ninety-four percent of us will marry at least once in our lifetime. Seventy-five percent of those who are divorced remarry within the first two years of their divorce. And even though marriages are busting up in record numbers, millions pursue it every single year. Marriage is the anchor of the family. It communicates volumes to the children. Good marriages can change our communities, our cities, our states, and so on. So that is why I am doing another series on marriage.
The title of this series is “4 Keeps – Keeping Creativity in Your Marriage.” Why creativity, you might ask? Over the last several years I have done a whole lot of study on the subject of creativity. This past June I did a message from this stage when I went through the theology of creativity. All of us are creative. We are creative because we are made in the image of our creative Creator. Thus, creativity should transcend every area of our lives, especially in the marital equation. We need marital creativity because God invented marriage. Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” God thought marriage up. It was His idea. He started the program. I need marital creativity, you need marital creativity because God invented it.
We also need it because Jesus modeled it. The New Testament calls Christ the bridegroom and refers to the church as the bride. Christ gave His life for the bride. A self-sacrificing love, a holy love, a pursuing love. The Bible tells husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church. Well, how much did Christ love the church? He gave His life for her. We didn’t deserve it. There is nothing I can do, you can do to merit what Jesus did for us.
Husbands, if you love your wife like Christ loves the church, you will have a great marriage. You are going to have it going on. You are going to have something special. Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Marital creativity. Why? God invented it. Jesus modeled it.
Also we need marital creativity because marriages need it. People like you and people like me need it. Most marriages are either moving in one direction or another. That is just the way it is.
This past summer I took my family to California on a vacation. I was driving one night at 11pm in a Suburban. The car was packed with our four kids and some friends we had with us. I was talking. I talk a lot. I was driving and Lisa was giving me directions since I am directionally-challenged. Suddenly I saw in my rearview mirror that sight that causes some people to say bad words under their breath which I will not utter from the platform. “Oh, Lisa, I am being pulled over.” I slowed down and pulled off the road.
Remember, I had led the Beach Retreat in Gulf Shores, Alabama, for our youth and I had dyed my hair platinum blond. It was still blond. The patrolman came over, leaned in and said, “Sir, you were swerving a little bit, huh? Had a couple of drinks tonight, I see.” I said, “Officer, I don’t drink. I am a pastor in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.” He looked at me, specifically at the platinum blond hair and said, “Right. I need to see your license, sir.” I was rummaging around trying to find my license. Lisa picked up a bottle of water and said, “Look we are drinking bottled water.” He looked at my driver’s license, then at the car and said, “A lot of drunk drivers are on this stretch. I see you are on your vacation and have not been drinking. Just keep your car within the lines, OK.” I said, “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” And when the highway patrolman turned and walked off, Lisa turned to me and said, “Boy, he was good looking.” Then she said, “I wish he had stayed longer.”
In a real sense, God is patrolling the highways of our lives, isn’t He? A lot of marriages here are swerving. They are going in this direction and that direction. And I truly believe that in this series God is going to pull us over, check our marriages out and then send us on our way. He is going to say, “Stay between the lines.” Stay within My parameters, My guardrails, My ground rules for a successful marriage. You, my friend, can have a great marriage. You really can. And God wants you to have one. But you have got to say, I am willing to do whatever it takes to have a successful union.
When you embark on a series like this you have to have some ground rules. I am married, and I know how tempting it is when you hear someone talking about marriage to think about your spouse, not to think about yourself but to think about your spouse. And while I am talking, if we didn’t set these ground rules up, some of you ladies might say, “Ed, thank you for hitting him between the eyes. He needs that so much. Get him, Ed. Tear him from limb to limb.” And I know that some husbands might sit back and say, “Ah, she has been doing that for the last three years. Ed, thank you for saying that.” Let’s don’t do that. I don’t need to think about Lisa. She does not need to think about me. We need to think about ourselves. Most of us are so obsessed about what our spouse is not doing or is doing or should be doing that we forget to think about old number one.
So in today’s opening session, I just want to highlight for you several things that I have noticed about great marriages. For starters, great marriages maintain a tireless MWE. I am talking about a Marital Work Ethic. Recently I was flying to speak in another part of the country. I boarded the plane to take my seat in coach. I was watching others board after I was seated. One man came on board with a look on his face that said he was having a bad day. He walked through First Class looking at the empty seats there. When he walked behind the curtain it kind of got to him. He sat down in coach right across the aisle from me. You could tell he was just ready. The flight hadn’t even taken off yet when he punched the guy in front and told him not to lean his seat back. He kept looking at First Class where they already had beverage service. The flight attendant walked by and he said, “Excuse me, honey. I was noticing some empty seats in First Class. Are there any available?” She smiled and said, “There are some empty seats, but there are none available for you.” He sat there and I could tell he was stewing. He took out his wallet and looked through some cards. He pulled out a travel agent card. The same flight attendant walked by. “Miss, I have this travel agent card and I wondered if you would put me up to First Class.” She smiled and said, “No,” and kept walking.
What was happening here? This man was trying to get to First Class, but he hadn’t paid the price. If you want to have a first class marriage, you have got to pay the price. You have got to have a tireless marital work ethic. The sad thing is we are all weaned on the words of our culture. If it is not quick, easy, express, overnight, or disposable, somehow we think it is not that good, it doesn’t really work, it can’t be gratifying. Well, one day we get married and discover that marriage takes work, negotiation, sweat, toil, pain, sacrifice, and it is for keeps. No wonder most marriages don’t make it.
How about it? I am talking to you. How about it? Ask God to develop within your spirit a tireless marital work ethic. It takes work. Yes, it takes work, but to carry out work, it takes creativity. To carry forth our commitment, it takes boatloads of creativity. We need marital creativity.
I define marital creativity as innovative action for qualitative growth. Don’t miss that. Innovative action for qualitative growth. We’ll get back to this definition throughout the series. Over the next several weeks as we get into this study called “4 Keeps – Keeping Creativity in Your Marriage,” we are going to talk about innovation. We are going to talk about how to apply creativity for qualitative growth. Next weekend we are discussing communication. Guess what. Sometimes I have communicative breakdowns in my marriage. How about you?
The Bible talks on and on about communication. How do I do it in a creative way? The following weekend, we are going to talk about creative conflict that leads to greater intimacy. I sometimes have conflict in my marriage. Do you? If you don’t have conflict, I worry about you. That is when I begin to get scared. “We just don’t fight. We just don’t argue. We never disagree.” Hello, are you alive? Conflict can be great. It can be the door that leads to greater intimacy. We will talk about handling it in a creative manner.
Well, three weekends from now we are going to do a message that might require five services. We are calling it “Sex Busters – How to Creatively Love Your Spouse in the Physical Domain.” Whoa, they will be packing it in, standing room only at the Fellowship Church. Fatigue, stress, kids…I’ll stop. The final installment, and if my math is correct, Labor Day weekend, Lisa and I will hit the stage and we are going to answer the top three or four questions that you are asking about marriage.
During this series, starting next weekend, we will put an insert in the bulletin where you can list your questions. You don’t have to sign your names. Just write any question regarding any problem, any difficulty that you have with marriage. We will process all those questions, rank them, and Lisa and I will answer as many as possible the last session of our series. So, that is my promise to you. Let me add, I believe that every marriage here can improve at least 20% because of this series from God’s manual for a maximum marriage. I really believe that. Those numbers are real.
We fall in love when the other party meets our emotional needs. It takes creativity to meet our emotional needs. We marry our spouse based on what they have done in the past, what they are doing in the present, and what they hopefully will do in the future. But our needs are changing. For instance, the camera is having a hard time picking me up right now. That is the way our emotional needs are. See, they are moving. My needs at 21 were different from when I reached 31 and those are different than my needs now. It takes work to meet my emotional needs.
When a spouse says that they don’t want to meet those emotional needs anymore, that is when love begins to wane. And people decide not to meet those emotional needs for a number of reasons. Some say, “Forget the marital work ethic.” Others just keep on doing the same thing they have always done to meet those needs. The same thing, the same way, expecting unique results. That won’t work because emotional needs are moving targets. You have got to understand that and study your spouse so you can meet those needs. That is how love will grow the way God wants it to.
I have been praying for the last several months that this series would be the trigger point for every couple here. I have prayed that it will cause you to delve into marital work like you have never done before. But the thing that scares the fool out of me, the thing that has kept me up at night is the fact that I know some husband and wife teams will show up here, hear the information, hear what God has to say about the marital equation, and they won’t make any changes. Even though they may not have the desire, they need to pray that God will give them the desire. It scares me that they will miss it. Don’t miss it. Make every session. If you miss one, get the tape. It will be worth it. Great marriages maintain a tireless MWE.
Now some of you are sitting there listening to me thinking, “OK, Ed, it is easy for you to talk about marriage. You have been married for 17 years. You have a great marriage. You are a pastor. You have got it together. You don’t know what it is like to live on the rugged plains of reality. You have no idea what my marriage is like. So, I’ll listen but….”
I do have a great marriage. I love Lisa today more than I did 17 years ago. But I go through the same challenges, the same conflicts, the same temptations that you do. I am a human being; you are a human being. We are in this thing together. Marriage takes a lot of work for me. But the work is worth it. What I am finding these days is that couples will hit a relational sticking point and they won’t deal with the junk in their lives. They say, let’s just get a divorce. Then they will take the same junk into the next marriage and the next marriage and the next marriage. That is ridiculous. Deal with it now. Work on it now. Say, “God, this deal is for keeps. I am going to bust it to keep creativity and innovation in my marriage.”
Here is another thing people in great marriages do. They develop a keen understanding of the value of their vows. They maintain a great marital work ethic but they also develop a keen understanding of the value of their vows. Remember that stuff you said years ago? I am talking about to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, leaving all others to keep only with each other as long as you both shall live. That stuff is what I am talking about. Whoa, you say, you have only said that one time and when you did, you were so wigged out that you didn’t even know what you were saying. You said them in front of God, a pastor, and some friends. Whoa, what did those words mean? The vows. The vows. The vows.
I have only said my vow once, 17 years ago. You see, I told you I was like you. But because of today’s topic we are going to change that. Let me explain. Several days ago, I accompanied Lisa to her 20th high school reunion. I walked into the hotel ballroom. The lights were blinking. The dance floor was busy. People 20 years older, with 20 excess pounds were still trying to shake that groove thing. They were still trying to stay alive. Know what I am talking about? There were videos playing about the glory days of high school. What was happening at this whole celebration? The reunion committee was attempting to bring the past into the present. They were trying to make that past stuff current. And that is precisely what I want you to do with your vows. Take those promises you made in the past and pursue them passionately in the present.
I was speaking in the southeast and I got into a conversation with a very close friend of mine about marriage. My friend said, “Ed, after my honeymoon, my wife became desperately ill. She has been ill during our entire 17-year marriage. Nothing is normal about our marriage. Intimacy is not normal. Communication is not normal. Sex is not normal.” Then he looked at me and said, “When I recited those vows, when I said in sickness and in health, I meant it. I meant it.” When he said those words, I said to myself, God, let that be me. And I pray that you are saying right now that you want that to be you. To love, honor, and cherish in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, for keeps. It is not lightweight stuff. It is not off-the-cuff stuff. You gave your word to God. You got into a covenant deal with Him. Take the vows from the past and bring them into the present. Make them current.
You wouldn’t think about not being current with your bills. Most of us pay bills about once a month. You wouldn’t think about not paying the cable bill, not paying your insurance or your mortgage. You will stay current. Well, stay current with your vows. I want you to recite your vows to your spouse once a month. Once a month bring them from the past into the present and pursue them passionately and continue to move those vows and those commitments into the future.
I have taken the vows and put them in modern day vernacular. If you are seated beside your spouse I want you to raise your hand. I want to ask you in a couple of moments to turn to your spouse and repeat these words after me. Now, you don’t have to do it. If you don’t feel like it, or don’t feel ready, you don’t have to do it. We won’t look around to spot those who are married and not doing this. Just chill. This is going to be a once a month deal. The words are going to be on the side screens, but you look into the eyes of your spouse. The Bible says that the eyes are the windows of our soul. If you want, take the hand of your spouse and say these words to her. I commit before God and you to creatively love honor and respect you, to be true to you in all situations for the rest of my life.
Now you are wondering what is so big about that. Well, I will tell you. The vow starts, “I commit before God….” We can talk about work all day and all night, talk about creativity until the cows come home. We can talk about the value of the vows, but it all starts with God. We have got to be on the same page with Him. Marital math is two becoming one. It is a supernatural thing, and it starts when we have a connection, a personal relationship with Christ. And Christ will give us the endurance and the ability to work, to create, and to keep up our end of the vow.
So when you are talking to your spouse and you are having a communicative breakdown, when you want to spin on your heels and go out the door, when you want to bail out, suddenly this will echo in your mind. You may even be able to write these better, but don’t forget God and Jesus Christ when you write them.
If I am going to love, honor, and respect—again I go back to creativity, I go back to work. When you get to a conflict and you feel the temperature rising, remember the value of the vows. How about when one is in the mood for love and the other one is not. That happens now and then. Remember the vows.
Hey, Fellowship Church, I am so thrilled at what I am seeing in so many marriages here. God is doing great things. And he wants to do even greater things in every marriage here. My marriage needs improvement. Your marriage needs improvement. So let’s do this thing together. Let’s commit to the MWE and let’s develop and live out the value of our vows. It is 4 KEEPS. It is built with creativity, and it will change the course of your life and mine.