STATE OF THE UNION SERMON SERIES
SUNNY AND SHARE
APRIL 27, 1997
On Easter weekend I kicked off a brand-new series on marriage entitled STATE OF THE UNION. Over the last several weeks, I have been talking to you about what the Bible says concerning intimacy, conflict resolution and finances in marriage. Today I have decided to change things up a bit. Instead of me talking to you about marriage, I have arranged for four couples to talk to us concerning the state of their union. I have subtitled this message, Real World Stories, because we are going to hear from real people and how they do marital life on the rugged plains of reality.
Having said that, let’s meet our panel. First, we have Chris and Cass Covey. They have been married for sixteen years. Next is a couple who has been married for eight years, Mark and Libba Hanna. Then we have a couple of newly weds, having been married forty years, Dean and Carolyn West. Finally, we have Gary and Leslie Hazlewood. They have been married for fourteen years. You all have a seat. Relax. This is no problem, just pretend that you are in front of 4,000 of your best friends. We will just chat a little bit about marriage.
I began this series talking about intimacy in marriage. You know a lot of people tell me that their marriage is not working because the romance is gone, that they no longer feel feelings like they used to. They think that because they no longer feel those feelings, something must be really out of whack. I want to talk to Gary and Leslie about intimacy. Does intimacy take work or is it just something off the cuff? Is it natural? What do you all think?
LESLIE: It takes a lot of work. Over the last fourteen years Gary and I have tried to remain best friends like we were when we were first dating. In marriage, you go through different stages of change. Right now, in the fourteenth year, we don’t have as much time together as we did when we were first dating. So we have to make time a priority. We have three children and they are involved in lots of activities. We have got lots of activities. We have found that if we don’t make special quality time outside of the home and away from our children, then we just don’t have time for each other.
We have a lot of open communication. We talk on the phone still, after about fourteen years, about four or five times a day.
ED: Now let me stop you right there. Now, guys, that is impressive. I know we have hundreds of single guys out there and single girls. This is something. Talking and communicating daily. Now, Gary owns his own company. It is not like the guy is just kicking back at work. And Gary, you normally take those calls from your wife, don’t you, when she calls?
GARY: Yes. She talks, I listen.
ED: That is another helpful hint guys. See how much we are learning here? But talking about creativity and intimacy, Gary, what are some things that you have done in the romance realm that you would identify as creative? We are not wired up, guys, to be romantics like women are.
GARY: I’d like to be wired up that way. When Leslie and I were dating we had so much fun that we kind of made a pact between ourselves that we wouldn’t let the wedding ceremony change the excitement and fun and spontaneity that we had while we were dating.
ED: Now, Gary made a good point. Just because you put on the ring doesn’t mean it should be bor…ring.
GARY: Actually it was really like we were just dating until we had children.
ED: Yeah, I’ve heard that effects your marriage some.
LESLIE: Yes, you need to become a little more creative.
GARY: Probably the most creative thing that I can think of quickly happened about two years ago. For one of her more special birthdays, they are all special, but one of the more special birthdays, I wanted to do something out of the ordinary. I decided that I would send her on a wild, exotic treasure hunt.
ED: Now wives, please do not elbow your husbands. I know this story and it is a good one.
GARY: We have about four acres out in Colleyville, so I knew that I could have a lot of fun planning a treasure hunt. Basically, I hid clues, buried clues and did all sorts of things to make her figure out how to get to the ultimate prize. When I left for work that morning I put an envelope on the table and on that envelope I had specific instructions laid out for her. Those instructions said that she was not to open the envelope until ten o’clock. She actually waited and when she opened it up, she read the instructions. She could not call me for help. She could not call the office for help. She had to go through all ten clues. The final clue led her to an X that was buried beneath briars and timber out in the woods.
ED: So the present was really underground?
LESLIE: Very deep underground.
ED: Now I want to ask you a question. I feel you are saying that the present was not the important thing, but what was important?
LESLIE: When I finally opened the gift box the message told me to go shopping that day and then to the spa and finally meet him at 7pm when we would go out for dinner. I was so taken back, not only by the things that I got to do that day, but by the effort that he put into making that day so special. I will never forget it. It meant so much. Now I can’t wait for the next special day!
ED: Well, creativity takes work. We are all creative. Don’t ever say that you are not creative. We are created in the image of a creative God. God is the ultimate creator and He wants us to unleash our creativity. When we dated our mate we worked on that process. We can really learn from these folks and continue to work like they do in the intimacy domain of their marriage. And talking about intimacy, let’s now move to Dean and Carolyn West. They have been married forty years. I did a message called Recipe For Romance: How to Have Sex that Sizzles. What were you all thinking after that message?
CAROLYN: Well, I thought it was a great message and it was very timely. I told my husband that we had to go home and have sizzling sex.
ED: Well, that is great, Carolyn. Thank you very much. You know what is sad though. The church for far too long has been quiet about sex. But we let the world talk all about sex. God is not quiet about sex. So if you ever say that this church talks about sex regularly, well the Bible talks about sex regularly. You guys have a wonderful marriage. I have known Dean and Carolyn for a long, long time. Carolyn volunteers in our office and Dean is one of the pillars of our church. They don’t just talk the talk, they walk the talk. What would you guys say is one thing that you do to make a great marriage?
DEAN: We belonged to a church before we were married that taught us to have a time with God every day.
ED: Now, Dean, are you talking about prayer?
DEAN: Early morning Bible reading and prayer. And we have made that a priority of our lives. We do that every morning. We have grown together spiritually and that is where the real bond of marriage is. We have the same values that God has given us. We are not at odds with one another. We are not going in different directions. I think that morning time with God has been the single greatest thing about our marriage.
ED: Now how does that play out in conflicts. You do have conflicts, yes? How does spending time with God help when you are having a conflict?
DEAN: Well, if there is a problem, it is usually me.
ED: See how much we are learning, guys. Did you hear what he said? Don’t miss that. I figured out a long time ago that the biggest problem in my marriage is me.
DEAN: Carolyn is very sensitive to my needs. She meets them sometimes before I know I have got them. If you are at odds with your mate, you can’t go in the morning and sit down and talk with God very well. She is a gift to me from God. I am responsible to Him for how I treat her. Therefore, I have to be sensitive about that. He has made me more sensitive over the years during those daily quiet times.
ED: Well, God’s way works. There is no question about it. You can look at this couple and know that to be true. Now let’s move to Mark and Libba. That is a great name, isn’t it? Libba Hannah. Now these folks were childhood sweethearts and they have been married for eight years. And they recently have added someone very special to the household.
LIBBA: Yes, in December we welcomed our daughter, Regan Elizabeth. She is now four months old.
ED: I am sure prior to this, being together for seven years without children, you were footloose and fancy free.
LIBBA: And then all of a sudden we got home from the hospital with this wonderful gift from God that was a 24-hour a day responsibility. We were suddenly responsible for meeting all of her needs. No longer could my full attention be devoted to Mark. Time together didn’t just happen. We had to really work to find time together. We had to work to focus on each other’s needs.
ED: What have you done to learn about prioritizing and keeping your relationship at a high priority?
MARK: One thing that has benefited us greatly is a course that was taught here at Fellowship that is entitled Preparation For Parenting. A lot of our friends have taken and benefited from that course. It helped us to be objective about our marriage. We were childhood sweethearts. We had grown up together basically. Time was an abundant commodity for us. We never really had to be disciplined about how we spent our time. Suddenly, with Regan, there was a time crunch. Through the course we really began to understand God’s principles for marriage. We know that she is not the center of our marriage but a welcome addition to our family. But it is important for us to realize that God and our relationship with Him has to come first. Then our relationship together as a married couple has to come second before we can meet Regan’s needs.
ED: You know I have heard couples who are having trouble in their marriages say they will have a baby since that will bring them together. No, it adds more stress.
MARK: A child is a wonderful gift and blessing but can be a conflict creator.
ED: Going back to what you said about the class. Our church offers courses week in and week out on various topics. We offer Preparation for Marriage, Preparation for Parenting, Parenting Preschoolers. The list goes on and on. And these classes have helped Lisa and I very much, not only in our child rearing skills but also our relationship.
I was at Tom Thumb recently shopping. I saw this body builder walking down the aisle, biceps bulging, holding a little child, obviously his daughter. All of a sudden when the little girl saw something she wanted and he said no, she threw a world-class fit. You would think that this bodybuilder would be in control, be the authority. “What do you want, baby. I will do anything for you. Come to Daddy.” It was a sad scene. Why? Because this little girl is dictating to the father what is going on. There comes a time in every little child’s life when they sit in their playpen, cross their arms and say they are going to take over the joint. And they test the waters. They test to see where the relationship stands. And it is wonderful to see a young couple who puts their marriage above their relationship with their children.
MARK: Actually there are times when her needs do take precedence. If she is not feeling well, is ill, we recognize that. But for the long haul we can’t meet her needs they way they should be met if we don’t keep God first and ourselves second.
ED: Our children watch us so closely regarding how we resolve conflict, how we prioritize.
MARK: We have already seen her at four months of age take clues off of Libba and myself. So it happens early.
ED: Thank you guys. Well, lets talk to our last couple. Chris and Cass Covey. When I met this couple four years ago, I though of the singer Cass. They are from California. They look like California, don’t they? Laid back, chilled out, just waiting for me to ask them a question. Tell me a little bit about your spiritual pilgrimage, how you actually came into the personal relationship with Christ. Let’s let you speak to that Cass.
CASS: OK. When we came to the Fellowship of Las Colinas a few years ago, a day-to-day walk with God was not part of my life. Chris and I were definitely seeking. We wanted something more in our lives. We enjoyed the services, but the first few months church was just a Sunday thing. There came a point when I realized that I needed to step over the line and make my faith and my walk with God an every day thing. We got more involved in the church. We joined a home team. Since the church is so big, the home team gave us close friends. At first we went reluctantly. We were not sure what was going to happen there and neither of us had much Bible knowledge. At the beginning we enjoyed it but did not have a commitment to go on a regular basis. But now, we have gotten so active we are home team leaders.
ED: Wow, that is a fast track story. A big church does allow people to come and remain anonymous and check things out. However, it is easy just to remain anonymous and not get involved. That is why we work and try to be intentional about getting people from the crowd and into the community and ultimately into the core of believers. We push our home team ministry strongly. Home teams are groups of either single persons or married couples who meet at least twice a month in people’s homes around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for casual Bible study and for getting into each other’s lives. The New Testament church is said to be a large group which met together. Some early churches had as many as 70,000 persons. But they didn’t stop there. The Bible also says that they met together corporately and then they met during the week from house to house. So it is great that we come together and worship God corporately. The Bible commands that. It is not optional. But the Bible also commands us to get involved in small groups and that is where real life change takes place. Chris tell me how the home teams have impacted your life.
CHRIS: We all know that most men do not have very deep relationships.
ED: Yes, men are basically shallow, guys. We just swim around in the baby pools of life.
CHRIS: I think that developing Christian relationships with other men is just fantastic. What happened is that I was traveling out of town for a period of time and I experienced a fairly traumatic test of faith with a family member. It was really a trying experience. I got home late at night after the dinner. I was really just shook up. I called Cass around midnight. The next phone call that I made was to our former home team leader. I shared the problem with him in an emotional way and he was a great help to me. Now if I had not built up some Christian friendships in that home team, I would not have had the support that I needed at that time.
ED: I don’t see how marriage without Christ in the center and without Christian friends make it. I traveled around the country with my teammates and I was the only Christian on the team. These guys had no concept of God, Christ, church, walking with the Lord, etc. I have spent hour after hour with them. We would eat a pre-game meal, spend hours in practice and in the weight room, etc. I spent far less time with these people on the stage than I did with my college teammates, yet I am closer. Now why is that? We have a common bond which is Jesus Christ. Now we should not just divorce ourselves from an ungodly word. The Bible says were should be salt and light. We have got to get involved in their lives. But, our best friends have to be Christian.
When you have the common bond, which is Jesus who is the author of relationships, it changes your whole relational world. Just think about some people who you know who are not Christ followers and compare that to your relationship with others who are Christian. The former pale in comparison.
OK, we are pretty much through with the interview process. They are all fabulous couples. They all have good marriages. They are not problem-free but they are wonderful. What is the take home? I want you to think about what they said. Let’s go back to Gary and Leslie. The operative word in their life happens to be creativity. We can never say that we are not creative, not innovative. That is mockery in the face of our holy God. God is the creative Creator. He has given us all creativity and we are to unleash it. He especially wants us to unleash it in the most important earthly relationship known to man, the relationship between husband and wife. Ask yourselves, married couples, are you being creative? Weekly are you being creative in the romantic realm of the relationship? Are you dating your spouse? Are you spending time with your spouse?
The second operative word when I talked with Dean and Carolyn is sensitivity. Dean and Carolyn are sensitive to God. They have a dynamic relationship with the Lord. Because of that, look at their marriage. They are sensitive to each other and the sensitivity comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. The moment that we receive Christ, He puts the Holy Spirit inside our lives. The Holy Spirit says that if we are sensitive to Him, He will show us how to be sensitive to each other. Ask yourselves this question. Am I being sensitive to God and to my spouse?
Now Mark and Libba have been married eight years. Things have changed for them. Their operative word is objectivity. From teaching and from some leadership, they have been able to prioritize their time. They have been able to say God is first, our marriage is second and our relationship with our child is third. It is a constant tweaking process, a changing process. Are you objectively looking at your life? We have a lot of people here whose schedules are just wild and wacky. We have got to look objectively at our lives and prioritize. Objectivity.
The final theme that I thought about as Chris and Cass shared is the theme of accountability. You hear a lot about that these days. Every team has got to have a roster and God says that you need to be on the roster of a local church. Jesus said over and over again that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Move from the crowd into the community and then into the core. We try to make it easy for you to get involved here.
Most of us are hitting a level in our lives where we are going to make the most money. Well, here is what happens even to good Christian marriages. Another car, then a vacation home, maybe a time-share or a sail boat. Money equals options. And I have seen a lot of Christian marriages where the couples get involved in so many weekend things that they slowly begin to move away from the church. Little by little. They miss a weekend here and a weekend there. Suddenly they decide that they can just have their own church, that they can worship God out in nature, on the ski slopes of Colorado. And sadly, because we usually hear about it when it is over, sadly the kids end up just going south and the marriage is up for grabs. And they say why, why, why, since they had it together at one point. We have got to stay connected to the local church. Accountability.
Are these words operative in your life? Can you look up here and say you have creativity, sensitivity, objectivity and accountability?
My five-year-old son, EJ, is playing T-ball this year. He was walking off the practice field Wednesday afternoon and he stopped in his tracks and said, “Mommy, LeeBeth, there is a baseball buried in the dirt.” Well, Lisa and LeeBeth walked over and told him it was not a baseball. EJ insisted and when Lisa looked closer, she thought it might, indeed, be a baseball. She began to dig with her keys and sure enough out of the red clay infield appeared a baseball. Isn’t that something? Here it is, right here.
Multiple marriages here are kind of like this baseball. You may say that you marriage is buried in the depths and dirt of despair. You think there is no way God can change your marriage, that no one can know your situation. But, if you allow God, Himself, to apply these principles which we have learned, He will dig out any marriage from the depths and dirt of despair. All I have to do when I go home is clean this thing up and I have got a great baseball. How about it? How about it? Do it God’s way because when you do, you will have an incredible state of the union.