STATE OF THE UNION SERMON SERIES
THE REAL DEAL – WORLD CHAMPION MARRIAGE
MARCH 30, 1997
This past heavyweight championship boxing match of the world with Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. During my 36 years on this planet, I have seen a lot of athletic contests. I have seen football games, basketball games, soccer games, T-ball games. I have watched golf tournaments, bass fishing tournaments and tennis tournaments. But I am here to tell you, all of the other athletic contests pale in comparison to the intensity and excitement of a world heavyweight boxing championship. It was phenomenal. We sat there prior to the fight and watched as celebrities were ushered to their ringside seats, people like Cindy Crawford, Steven Segal, James Cann and Irvin “Magic” Johnson just to name a few. We watched as the two fighters entered the MGM Grand arena to pulsating music. We stood on our feet for 11 rounds as Evander and Mike Tyson went toe to toe and miraculously, Evander showed the world that he was the real deal because he beat Iron Mike Tyson. I stood there and watched as Evander’s handlers hoisted him onto their shoulders. I watched when he was presented with the heavyweight championship belt. I heard the ring announcer bellow, “Ladies and gentlemen, the new heavyweight champion of the world, Evander, the Real Deal, Holyfield.” The people in Las Vegas went ballistic.
I want to stop in the midst of this story before I get too excited and ask you a question. What if we could have walked up to Evander Holyfield right after he won this boxing match and asked him this question. “Hey, Evander, was all the training and the discipline and the courage worth it?” Now what do you think he would say? I am sure he would say, YES, yes it is worth it because I am a champion.
Today I am beginning a new series on marriage. In this session the title of my message is “The Real Deal – How To Have a World Championship Marriage.” You see, I have got great news for you on this Easter weekend. God, that’s right, our loving and transcendent God wants all of us to have world champion marriages. Now I know what some of you are thinking. You are saying to yourself, “This is kind of odd. I am here on Easter weekend and this skinny guy who just got back from Las Vegas in November is talking about marriage on Easter! That doesn’t really jell, does it?” But I beg to differ. The implications of the resurrection of Jesus Christ have to play out in our important relationships. The next most important relationship to Jesus Christ is our relationship with our spouse. The message of Easter is simply this, folks. God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all of our sins. All the people held their breath because they thought Jesus was down for the count. But God brought Him back from the dead and the same power that brought Christ back from the dead is available to resurrect your marriage. And that is exciting. That is some good news.
Now marriages here are in a lot of different stages. A few marriages look like the real deal but in reality they are an ordeal and you are looking for a new deal. Others marriage partners here feel like they are on the ropes, like they are being bombarded by this punch and that punch. You are having problems. Others here feel like your marriage is down for the count. The referee is counting you out. Conversely, we have some marriages here that are great marriages, I mean marriages that you could write books about. But there is help in this series for you , too. A lot of people here are unmarried. You are single adults and you are wondering how these messages will relate to your life. Studies show that over 90% of singles will get married. And, singles, you desperately need this information because you need to know as much as you can prior to walking down the wedding runner. So this series is for all of us as we talk about how to build a stronger and more God-centered marriage.
There is something in fighting that is really interesting. There is something called the tale of the tape. When you go to a boxing match, the tale of the tape is kind of an overview of the fight. It compares the fighters fist size, rib size, waist, record, punches. It tells you what is going on. It is a synopsis of the battle. I want to give you over the next few moments that remain, the tale of the tape for this series. Now I am just going to brush over a couple of things that we will talk about in the ensuing weeks as we look at the state of the union of our marriages or, for the singles here, our future marriages . So having said that, let’s jump right in. I want to talk to you about three crucial components to a world championship marriage.
The first crucial component is increase your intimacy. God says that He wants you to have a great marriage and He says throughout His word, increase your intimacy. I am going to do something that I have received permission to do. I am going to read you a love letter written by a man who is in this crowd to his lady. This is some hot stuff here. Are you ready? I won’t tell you who it is to, I will just read. “I dream about you every night and I think of the day when I will be able to see you in person and tell you how much I love you. Princess, with every beat of the clock, my love grows for you…..” Now, I won’t read the rest of it. Take a wild guess who penned that letter. I did. I wrote that letter to my wife years ago.
Now some of you would think that when Lisa and I met it was love at first sight. You might believe that our romance and intimacy have grown exponentially every month for the last 20 years that we have been together. If you are saying that, nice guess but no cigar. Lisa and I have a great marriage. However, our marriage has gone through certain stages. I want to share with you some stages of romance that relationships find themselves in.
The first stage is the kisses and the roses stage. You remember that, don’t you? It is when you are smitten with love. You are infatuated. You can’t be with this person enough. You make futile attempts at poetry, you take her out to incredible restaurants. Ladies, you are continually daydreaming about him. Remember those half hour kisses? All couples go through this. I have conducted hundreds and hundreds of weddings and I have seen the look, during that first stage of romance.
The second stage of romance is the wake up and smell the coffee stage. That person who you once thought you could never get is now the person you can never get rid of. You discover this is not some kind of two year contract with a one year option. You are in it for life, Jack. And you are going, WHOA. You might have said something like this. You see in the kissing and roses stage, a man might say he loves her because she is so neat and clean. When he wakes up and smells the coffee, he says she is so compulsive she even irons my socks and boxer shorts. Ladies, in the kisses and roses stage you might say he is so relational, he has so many friends, you just love that about him. When you wake up and smell the coffee you say that he would rather be out with the guys than with you. Men, you might say in the kissing stage that you have finally found someone who is refreshingly naive. When you smell that coffee you say, I have married somebody who doesn’t have enough line on her reel.
Let’s talk about the third stage of romance, the metamorphosis stage. That is after a couple of years, or maybe ten years, your husband changes from Tom Cruise to Chris Farley. Husbands, you see your wives transform from Tyra Banks into Rosanne. Then from the metamorphosis stage we move into a very serious stage, the swan dive stage. That is when so much animosity and resentment builds up that you walk out on the end of that diving board, curl your toes and realize that it is decision time. You say to yourself that you can not live with him (her) so you do a swan dive into your work, your recreation, childrearing or illicit relationships outside the marriage. Others, though, look at the option and they see how far the dive will take them and they turn around and walk back down the diving board, scale down the ladder and ask God for His help to do it His way. That is our prayer for you. We have a lot of marriages here that need to hear God’s word.
Here is what the Bible says about marriage. Ephesians 5:31. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” Talk about intimacy. The Bible describes it as a oneness and that is God’s plan. And next week we will spend the entire session talking about sex, about romance and about intimacy.
I have to answer, now, a couple of questions. Why do we have trouble with intimacy? I will tell you. Most of us enter the most relationally intensive union known to man with underdeveloped communication skills. We have gone to college. Some of us have masters degrees, some even doctorates and we know about the arts, sciences and history yet we don’t know how to communicate on an intimate level with our spouse. You see, men, the same speech you use with your golfing foursome won’t work with your wife. Do you ever feel that way? We will talk about those skills in this series. Another reason that we have trouble with intimacy is because we don’t realize the work it takes. Remember when you were dating? Remember all the romance capital you invested in that relationship? Romance and intimacy take work; scheduling work, prayer work, childrearing work, discipline work. It takes work.
Boxers are notorious for retiring and coming out of retirement, aren’t they. They do that all the time. And a lot of us are in retirement, romantically speaking. We have our romance museum. We say, “See those trunks over there? I wore those when I was romantic. See those gloves over there? See that cologne? Oh, yeah, I had it together.” God wants us to come out of retirement.
How do you do it? I want to give you two challenges. Number one. I want you to make every session for the next month because this information from God’s Word can make your marriage into a championship marriage. It can change the course of your life. Number two. I want you to do all of the homework. Here is your homework assignment. I want you to share one meal alone with your spouse over the next seven days and I want you to identify the particular stage of romance that you are in and what you need to do to improve your romance and intimacy. Once you do that work, we will be ready to rumble, as the announcer says, as we dive into the Recipe For Romance next week. The first crucial component, increase your intimacy. That is what God wants us to do, to move toward a oneness.
Manage your money is the second crucial component. It will get quiet in here now. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that some marriages here are under some financial pressure. I know that is just a shot in the dark. But let’s just say that some of us are. Money is a pressurized thing. It is expensive to live, isn’t it? Gallop says that it is one of the top causes of marital conflict. We need to manage our money. And how do we do that? Most of us have to cool it financially because we are into swimming around in some dangerous water, the financial water that I call the cash lagoon. We just float around in the cash lagoon and we disregard the signs that say “Warning – there is a big, ugly green creature in the cash lagoon lurking under the water.” We float on credit cards. Credit cards make poor location devices. We are not worried about it. We are kind of floating on interest here and there, yet little do we realize that beneath the surface is the creature from that cash lagoon. When he sees an arm drop over the side of the credit card, or a leg, he jumps up and grabs us and brings us down into the depths of debt and we feel we are drowning. Do you know what the Bible says? The Bible says this in credit card language. Most of us are on an American Express to spending. Instead, we need to read the Master’s Card where we will Discover a Visa for financial freedom.
You have got to love this verse from Proverbs 21:20. “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.” Well, how do we spell relief? BUDGET. Budget. Now, what is a budget? A budget is just planned spending. How many of you own an automobile? How many of you own an automobile that has a gas gauge? We all do. Now we wouldn’t think about buying a car and saying, “I want to buy that car, but could you remove the gas gauge.” The salesman would wonder if we were crazy. We want to have a gas gauge because without one we would be driving along 114 and run out of gas. Yet I talk to husband after husband, wife after wife who face life without a spending gauge. Planed spending, budgeting, is telling your money where you want it to go instead of wondering where it went. Here is your homework under managing your money. In this meal that you share with your spouse, discover what you owe, discover what you own and also discover where you are spending your money. Make some budget decisions. And here is the kicker. Make it a mutual decision. Too many of us keep one spouse an arm’s length away from our finances. We kind of hide everything. You can’t know what is over here and over there. Manage your money. And we will address over the next month, how to spend money, how to save money, how to share money.
The third crucial component and the last one we will talk about today is to reconcile your relationship. You see the moment that we put on the ring, we step into the ring. You are going to have conflict in marriage. Now some of you in the roses and kisses stage think that you will never have conflict. You believe that your relationship is going to be different. You will have conflict. And too many husbands and wives are in the middle of the ring duking it out. You are throwing low blows, bolo punches, head butting, biting. When I went out to Las Vegas in November, Tyson and Holyfield didn’t step into the ring and say “Hey, let’s just make up the rules as we go.” The rules were governed by a boxing commission and OK’d by the State of Nevada. They were decided beforehand. And many husbands and wives need to decide rules for conflict beforehand. God wants you to do this, folks. He wants you to take off your gloves, turn your palms heavenward, embrace and reconcile.
The Bible says it this way in II Corinthians 5:18. “All this from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” The ministry of reconciliation. What keeps us from reconciling problems in marriage? I’ll tell you what does. Dr. Larry Crabb pinpointed it. Dr. Crabb says that it is self-centeredness. It is the most prominent problem in marriage. Crabb writes that a lot of our secular psychology and a lot of the self-help stuff is fine and dandy and good and keen and cool and hip but, he says, unless you deal with the problem of self-centeredness first, you can talk all day and night about dysfunctional families, about your parents treatment of you, about being depressed or hurt without hitting the most important thing. You see, I am a self-centered person naturally and the message of Easter is that our self-centeredness separated us from God and our other-centered God commissioned His other-centered Son to die on the cross for our sins and to rise again. And once we make a faith decision, we have the ability and the power to become other-centered . Then we can’t stand the fact that we are separate from our spouse. We can’t stand the fact that we are trading blows, we can’t stand the fact that they are on one side of the ring and we are on the other side of the ring. We have got to reconcile because we have been reconciled to God. We have got to be reconciled in the next most important relationship in our life which is marriage.
Talking about reconciliation, many of us understand that. Some here don’t and I want to talk to those who don’t. You know our church welcomes people from all walks of life. We love you. I don’t care what color your skin is. I don’t care if you are white collar, pink collar, blue collar. We love you and we want to point you to a personal relationship with Christ. But many of you who don’t understand reconciliation are kind of away from God. You think that you are near God. You think that you are a Christian, but in reality, you are not. If you knew the truth you would realize that you are apart from our Lord.
Recently I had lunch with a guy. I was talking to him and I asked him this question. “What does it mean to be a Christian?” He answered, “Well, I keep a moral code and I talk to God and I share with people.” I said, “Man, that’s good. But if you want me to, I will share with you what the Bible says about how to become a Christian.” He said, “OK”. I told him that the Bible says there are two ways to get to heaven. The first way is the way I would call Plan A. A lot of people here are on Plan A without realizing it. Plan A is the performance plan. It is the plan that says I will perform my way into heaven. I will pray harder. I will work harder. I will give more. I will jump through all these hoops and be a good guy or a good girl and once I come to the end of my life, God will pat me on my head and say that I have performed my way into heaven. There is one problem with Plan A. God says that you can get to heaven by following Plan A if you live a flawless life, if you never sin one time, if you never have one lustful thought, if you never say one impure word. If you bat 1,000 every time up to the moral plate, God will say that you earned your way in. But Plan A for me went in the tank a long time ago. And I think it is that way for everybody. In fact, I know it is. There is only one person whoever performed perfectly and that is Jesus, who is living today. So if you are on Plan A, you are going to be disappointed when you meet God one day because you will not be spending eternity with Him.
God didn’t say that Plan A was it and it is too bad that no one can perform their way in. God is a God of love. We matter so much to God that He gave us Plan B. Plan B is the grace plan. It is the plan that I am on. It is the plan that many here in this room are on. Plan B was devised because God loves you so much. He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all of your sins and to rise again. He did it for you. You didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve it. I told Bill that if he would come to a point in his life where he would receive that, where he would admit the obvious about himself that Christ would come into his life. Once you ask him and once you receive him, an incredible transaction will take place. All of the guilt and all of the sin and all of the frustration that you have been carrying around on your shoulders will be transferred to the shoulders of Christ, and Christ’s righteousness and holiness and love and forgiveness will be transferred to your life. I asked him, “How about it.” He thought for a second and I knew what was hanging in the balance. He said, “Ed, I am ready to take that step.” And the moment that he prayed that prayer, he was reconciled to God in a nanosecond.
And if you never see me again, or if you never walk in the doors of a church again, think about what I just told you. If you are on Plan A, it is not going to take you where you want to go. You have got to go with Plan B. I am not talking about religion or denomination. I am talking about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We can talk on and on about marriage, about intimacy. We can talk about money and reconciliation but until you make that faith decision to be reconciled to God, your marriage or your life will never, ever be what God wants it to be. So how about it? Won’t you join me on this adventure? Because once you discover what God says about marriage, your marriage will be a world champion union.