Friday, November 22, 2019

How to Save Your Failing Marriage (Resources)

Our back yard

(I re-post this a lot, just to keep this ball in play.)

Linda and I are always meeting with couples whose marriages are failing. We consider it a privilege to do this. We also feel with these couples and at times agonize with them. We feel a holy desperation about the state of marriages in America today. In America Christian marriages are in no better shape than non-Christian marriages.

If your marriage is struggling to the point that you are wondering if you will make it, we suggest the following six things.

  1. Look at your own self. Be open to the idea that you are the problem, and not your spouse.  You are your marriage and the reason your marriage is failing. If you do not have this heart-insight then expect no more from your marriage than what it already is.   If you don't see yourself as 100% contributing to your marital failure your marriage will not be saved. Of course the same is true for your significant other. It will take two to do this. But you are not the one to give them this insight.
  2. You won't be able to help yourself. If you keep being "you" in your marriage your marriage will keep seeing the same results. Therefore, get help for your marriage. If you are a Jesus-follower your pastor can pray for you and love you as a couple but may not be skilled enough to counsel you. In Southeast Michigan the two places I recommend are here and here
  3. Get help for yourself even if your spouse won't. It's not unusual for only one partner to realize #s 1 and 2 above.  
  4. Trust your counselor. Be helpable. Be open and willing to look at your own marital failure. Your counselor will not be shocked by anything you say and will not condemn you.
  5. Trust God. Enter deeply into God's presence. Pray. Read Scripture and meditate on it. Read John chapters 14-15-16 and follow Jesus' advice.
  6. Know that your marriage can be saved. Linda and I have never met a marriage that we thought could not be rescued and transformed. This should give you hope! I have written some things about this here.


Can Your Marriage Really Be Saved?

Bolles Harbor, Monroe

Can a failing marriage really be saved? If a marriage is an absolute train wreck, can it be transformed? If you are a follower of Jesus, you have to answer "Yes" to these questions. 

This is because, with God, all things are possible. Nothing is impossible for God. If God created the vast complexity of the universe, then rescuing a marriage is well within God's cognitive and creative abilities.

For the person whose marriage is in cardiac arrest, it all looks unresurrectable. But from my vantage point, and even more so from God's, the dead can be raised. I have seen it happen with marriages, many times. The person in the marital ER won't see it, because they have no experience in saving marriages. But Linda and I have. We have worked with hundreds of marriages at every level of sin and dysfunction. We have seen God work through us and others to set things right and make things better than ever.

The couple who looks at their troubled marriage and concludes, "This could never work", commits the "fallacy of hasty generalization." Here is a benign example.

1. I polled two college students who said Coke is better than Pepsi.
2. Therefore, Coke is better than Pepsi.

Such reasoning is faulty, because the sample is too small. One can't go from 1 to 2. To do so is to reason hastily. 


1. I have never seen a disastrous marriage like mine be helped.
2. Therefore, my marriage cannot be helped.

But I have. Linda and I have a large sample group of hundreds of marriages we have worked with, and you haven't done this. 

In addition, this reasoning doesn't work:

1. I have friends whose marriages failed.
2. My friends are telling me to get a divorce (failure loves company).
3. Therefore, my marriage won't work.

Never look at the failed marriages of your friends to validate the death of your marriage. To do this adds another fallacy to the irrationality, the "fallacy of faulty analogy." No two marriages are the same.

Have we seen train-wreck marriages fail to come together? Yes. They fail because one or both partners refuse to: 

a) get humble and get outside help; 
b) look at their own selves and the faults they bring to the marriage; and 
c) look to the God they say they worship. 

All it takes is one of the two partners to bail out and refuse to get help. 

Sometimes Linda and I look at each other and say, "I doubt if this marriage will ever come together." And then, it does. God does it. We must trust that, even as we do our very best in counseling marital couples, God is doing infinitely better.

God loves to save marriages and families. It happens when:

a) Two people humble themselves and get outside help.
b) Two people look at their own selves and the faults they bring to the marriage.
c) Two people get on their knees and turn to God.

Note: Read Gary Chapman's One More Try: What to Do When Your Marriage is Falling Apart. Excellent!


Marriage Takes Work

Saving Your Marriage: You Can't Derive 'Ought' From Feeling 

Your Marriage Can Be Saved (Especially for Husbands)

Marriage Counseling Material 


Understanding and Overcoming Unrighteous Anger

This morning at Redeemer I was working with our Kids Church. Tim Curry was in the sanctuary and preached on understanding anger and being healed of unrighteous, irrational anger. I have heard many things today about the excellent job Tim did (thank you!). Linda was one who told me what a great message Tim gave. She has already recommended to some people that they listen to his message online, which should be available in a week.

One good result is that our people today are thinking about their own anger, understanding it better, and have hope for healing from sin that emerges from anger.

I'm in some good dialogue tonight about this subject, so I'm re-posting a few things I've written about this.

Dealing with Anger in Relationships

In every good marriage, in every good friendship, in every church, and wherever there are people, feelings of anger happen. I once had a friend tell me, “I never get angry.” My thought was this: here is a person out of touch with what’s going on inside of him. Even God feels anger. Even Jesus felt anger.
When I feel angry, what can I do?  

1. Recognize your anger. 
“Anger” is the emotion a person feels when one of their expectations has not been met. For example, if I drive across town expecting every light to turn green when I approach, I am going to be an angry person. Because this expectation will not be met. Therefore...

2. Identify your unmet expectation. 
Fill in the blank: "I am angry because my expectation that ________ was not met."

3. Evaluate your unmet expectation. 
Is it either: a) godly, reasonable, good, fair; or 2) ungodly, unreasonable, bad, unfair. In my "driving" example above, my expectation was irrational.

4. Reject ungodly or irrational expectations. 
If, for example, you expect people to clearly understand every word that comes out of your mouth, you are now free to reject this as an irrational expectation. Or, if you have the expectation that other people should never make mistakes when it comes to you, I now free you from that ungodly, irrational expectation.

5. If the unmet expectation is godly/fair, then ask: Have I communicated this to the person I am angry with? If not, then communicate it. 
For example, my expectation that persons should take off their shoes before entering our living room may be both rational and of God. But if I have not communicated this to others, my anger at the unfulfilled expectation is still real. My expectation that people should know such a thing without being told is unfair.

6. If you have communicated it clearly to the person you are angry with, then communicate your anger this way: 
Say “I feel angry because my unmet expectation is __________________.

Communicate this in your own way of saying things. Begin your sentence with “I” rather than “You.” For example: “I feel angry…” rather than “You make me feel angry…” Doing it this way asserts without aggressing. For the person who hears this, it does not feel so attacking.

Get rid of irrational or ungodly expectations. As you get free of these things you’ll find yourself less angry.

Remember that from the Christian POV, “anger” is not sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin.” We are not told never to feel anger. There is a righteous anger, and that is not only appropriate but necessary. But when we feel the emotion of anger we are never to sin. In all relationships we are never to be harsh, demeaning, vindictive, or abusive. Remember that  in every close relationship there is anger. The anger-free relationship is a myth, and probably is a sign of unhealth when claimed.

Finally, Ephesians 4:26 says, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Which means: deal with anger quickly, and in a loving and truthful way. The goal is always restoration of relationship and reconciliation.

I am thankful that only a few times in our 44 years of marriage have Linda I fallen asleep angry with each other. The reason for this is not that we’re some special, exceptionally compatible couple. We are this way because we were taught to do this by godly people who spoke into our lives. We were sufficiently warned about the cancerous bitterness that arises when anger is “swept under the carpet.” We don’t want satan to gain even a toehold in our hearts. We have asked God to help us with this, and He has!

If you have allowed the enemy entrance into your heart because, in your anger, you have sinned, then confess this to God.

Then, receive God’s forgiveness and give Him thanks. 1 John 1:9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

Acknowledge, before God, that you are a new creation in Christ.
Ask God to help you, and trust that He is now doing so. 

Face-to-Face Your Anger and Interpersonal Conflict (Not Facebook It)

Never use things like Facebook or texting to share negative things or work out interpersonal conflict. For such things Face-to-Face is best.

Henri Nouwen writes:

"When you write a very angry letter to a friend who has hurt you deeply, don't send it! Let the letter sit on your table for a few days and read it over a number of times. Then ask yourself: "Will this letter bring life to me and my friend? Will it bring healing, will it bring a blessing?" You don't have to ignore the fact that you are deeply hurt. You don't have to hide from your friend that you feel offended. But you can respond in a way that makes healing and forgiveness possible and opens the door for new life. Rewrite the letter if you think it does not bring life, and send it with a prayer for your friend."

Think, and pray, before you text or speak.

Using Logic to Manage Anger in Relationships

I'm presenting this to my MCCC Logic class tonight. It's an example of using logic to counsel people, in this case with conflict in relationships.

Note: there is a small but growing Philosophical Counseling movement. See here; and here

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Marriage vs. Living Together: What's the Difference?

(Monroe County)

In this week's Time magazine there's a little article citing the benefits of marriage over living together. 

"More People Think It's Fine for Unwed Couples to Live Together. Here's Why Many Still Think Marriage Is Better."

Here are the points.

  • Two-thirds of the married individuals trusted their partners to tell them the truth; only half of the unmarried did. 
  • About three-quarters of married folks trusted their partner to act in their best interest; fewer than 60% of the unmarried felt the same way. 
  • And while 56% of married partners believed their partners could be trusted to handle money responsibly, only 40% of cohabiters felt the same way.
  • Married couples were more satisfied with the way their partners handled most of the usual couple chafing points: parenting, chores, work-life balance and communication.
  • Research suggests that the commonly expressed view that people should live together to test the relationship is ill-founded. Over seven published studies, we’ve found that living together before you’re engaged is just riskier.
  • If it’s commitment you’re looking for, being married is a pair of hiking boots and living together is a pair of stilettos. Both can get you where you want to be, but only one is designed with that in mind.

A Wedding Is a Welding

(I re-post this periodically.) 

In Matthew 19:1-9 we see large crowds of people coming to Jesus, and Jesus healing them. After this happens “some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’”

This was one of the most controversial questions of that time. It refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4, where we read that a husband can divorce his wife if he finds “something indecent about her.” The debate was – what does “something indecent” mean?

There were two schools of thought about that. The school of the rabbi Shammai said, “something indecent” means "adultery." The school of the rabbi Hillel taught that “something indecent” means anything, even something so trivial as burning your husband’s bagel. “So, what do you think about this,” the Pharisees asked Jesus? Jesus’ response is brilliant. Instead of dealing with Deuteronomy 24 he takes them back to Genesis 1 & 2.

"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." A very cool response by Jesus. Why?

Because Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is about troubleshooting. Genesis 1 & 2 is the heart of the owner’s manual. Yes, there is a time for troubleshooting. But Jesus asks, don’t you remember what "marriage" really is? It’s male and female, united in marriage, becoming one flesh, whom God has “joined together.”

It’s this “joined together” thing that’s especially important. The word means, literally, “welded together.” New Testament scholar R.T. France says, “It would be hard to imagine a more powerful metaphor of permanent attachment.” A wedding is a welding, done by God the Master Welder.

I asked a friend who welds to give me a definition of welding. Welding, he said, is a fabrication process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. “Coalescence” is the process by which two or more droplets of metal form a single droplet and become one continuous solid. No wonder they call it “wedlock!”

Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “Don’t you remember what God said about a husband and wife? God has weld-locked them together. Don’t let any person try to separate them!"

Instead of saying he’s for or against divorce, Jesus lifts up marriage. The Pharisees seem to have thought that the very legislation about divorce, within the law of Moses, meant that Moses was quite happy for it to take place. Since there's a law to tell you how to do it, that must mean it's OK to do. That would be like seeing a sign that says “In case there’s a fire, take this emergency exit,” and then concluding “It must be OK to start a fire in this building.”

Jesus shows the flaw in their thinking by pointing back to God's original intention. Marriage was meant to be a partnership of one man and one woman... for life. Marriage was not meant to be something that could be split up and reassembled whenever one person wanted to end it.

This summer it will be 46 years ago that Linda and I got welded, wed-locked, together. The result is that a lot of her has gotten into me and a lot of me has gotten into her. I am deeply influenced by her, and her by me. God fused us together into “one flesh.” What a great idea! You can’t get that by cohabiting.

I remember the bond.

I remember when God welded us together.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm now working on...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart 

Technology and Spiritual Formation

I co-edited, with Janice Trigg, Encounters with the Holy Spirit

Then, Linda and I intend on writing our book on Relationships.

The $20 Wedding

(Yes, I wore a tux...)
( I'm re-posting this, to keep it in play. Also, see THIS.)

In 45 years as a Jesus-follower and pastor I have officially performed one bazillion weddings. That is a lot of rehearsal dinners and wedding reception dinners.

1. I have done one bazillion weddings.

2. Therefore, I am overweight.

When I think of these weddings what I remember is not the food, but the people. The most beautiful weddings I have seen have to do with the marital couple, who they are, and what they can one day be. 

All the money in the world cannot cover over two clueless people. But a groom and bride who submit their lives to God and to the serving of the other shine like stars in this materialistic darkness of "happiness." I am thinking of some of them now. They loved, and still do. Their love influenced others, without trying to.

It's really about preparing for marriage and life together, not the wedding day. The more the former happens, the greater is that special day.

I present to you a wedding plan. Here are the costs, in my Monroe community.

  • Wedding planner - $0. (I charge nothing for this advice.)
  • Officiant - $0. (I charge nothing to officiate your wedding.)
  • Building rental - $0. (We can have your wedding outdoors. We've had weddings in our backyard, on the river.)
  • Groom's tuxedo - $0. (The groom wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
  • Bridal gown - $0. (The bride wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
  • Flowers - $0. (From your mother's garden.)
  • Photographer - $0. (Because all your friends have phones.)
  • Food - cost per plate - $0. (Your friends bring finger foods. That's what Linda and I did, and we had 350 people at our wedding.)
  • Miscellaneous costs - $0.
  • Marriage license in Monroe County - $20.
  • Pen to sign marriage license - $0. (I will lend you mine.)

Total costs - $20

Stress - less.

Relationship - more.

I have done weddings like this. I remember them for the inner beauty of the couple and the presence of God.

See also:

"Is Simplicity the Newest Wedding Trend?"

"Does a Big Wedding Equal an Unhappy Marriage?" (Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Three Book Recommendations on Understanding American Culture

(Me, in Eldoret, Kenya)

I'm halfway through these three excellent books on American culture and how we got here.

The Assault on American Excellence, by Anthony Kronman.

Pagans and Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac, by Stephen Smith. 

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick Deneen.

Who Did Jesus Think He Was?

Show Business, Quantification, and the American Church

Image result for johnpiippo technology
Chickadee, in my back yard
I am in the early stages of writing Technology and Spiritual Formation. I am reading, researching, and collecting.

Two important books are by Neil Postman, former professor of Culture and Communication at New York University. They are, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

As I read, I am always thinking of the American Church, which to a significant degree operates in the embrace of show business. Postman gives us "the world," the culture; Romans 12:1-2 asks us to not conform to it. 

Show business metricizes and quantifies "success." Please note: you do not have to do this. This is a relatively recent historical development. Many cultures have not looked at "success" that way. But we do. To metricize, to quantify, is the shape of "this world's mold." Mostly, Americans (to include church folk) have fully conformed to this. Metrics - this is the air we breathe.

Aristotle, for example, refused to equate truth and knowledge with numbers. Postman writes: "Indeed, to the Greeks of Aristotle's time, and for two thousand years afterward, scientific truth was best discovered and expressed by deducing the nature of things from a set of self-evident premises." (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 23)

University logic courses still teach the way of Aristotle. I know this, having taught logic at our local community college for seventeen years. I also know that, when I teach that "truth" is not a function of numbers, and hence cannot be quantified, I am speaking to students whose eyes are glazed over, having been fully captured and chained to utilitarian concepts.

We moderns embrace the "equation of truth and quantification. In this prejudice, we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sovereignty of numbers. Many of our psychologists, sociologists, economists and other latter-day cabalists will have numbers to tell them the truth or they will have nothing." (Ib., 23)

My two books are:

I'm working on #s 3 and 4 - hopefully out in 2019:

How God Changes the Human Heart (A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation)

Technology and Spiritual Formation

AND... I recommend two new books by two good friends:

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Can Jesus Be the Only Way?

If You Really Want to Know Jesus...

I'm a follower of Jesus. Since 1970.

When I got rescued by Jesus I experienced a great desire to know my Rescuer. I began to study Jesus. 

I have read and studied the Text over and over. One of my doctoral qualifying exams at Northwestern University was in ancient Christology. I have a library of books on Jesus. At Redeemer I and others preached through the four Gospels - it took seven years. Seven years of deep, focused, Jesus studying and experiencing!

I have a "Che Jesus" t-shirt. Here it is.

I wore this t-shirt a few times when teaching my philosophy classes at Monroe County Community College. One professor saw me, and told another professor, "Piippo is wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt." The other professor corrected him. "Piippo is actually wearing a Jesus t-shirt."

The Real Jesus is, among other things, a temple-cleansing, idol-smashing revolutionary.

A leader is one who has followers. Therefore, Jesus is the greatest leader in all human history.

I have been on a Real-Jesus-knowing rampage for almost fifty years. Do you want to know him, too?

Dallas Willard writes:

"If you really want to know Christ now, you have somehow to set aside the cloud of images and impressions that rule the popular as well as the academic mind, Christian and non-Christian alike. You must try to think of him as an actual human being in a peculiar human context who actually has had the real historical effects he did, up to the present. You have to take him out of the category of religious artifacts and holy holograms that dominate presentations of him in the modern world and see him as a man among men, who moved human history as none other. You must not begin with all of the religious paraphernalia that has gathered around him or with the idea that his greatness must be an illusion generated by an overlay from superstitious and ambitious people—mainly that “shyster” Paul—who wanted to achieve power for their own purposes. 

Just look at his teaching and his influence for what it has been through the ages—there is really no secret about that—and be clear-minded and fair in your estimate of what kind of person could have brought such teachings and influence upon human life." (Willard, Knowing Christ Today, p. 67)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Silence Before God Is Different Than Entertainment In the Church (The Presence-Driven Church)

Button bush, Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

"Silence is the discipline that helps us go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives."

Henri Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing, p. 49

Years ago I taught a course on prayer in the D. Min. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. One of my students was an African American leader and pastor in Chicago, named Joe. I remember the first day of class. When the students arrived we did a few introductions. Then I sent them out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus.

When they returned from class I asked, "How was that for you?" Joe was crying. He said, "I haven't prayed for an hour in 20 years."

Jump ahead four years. I'm teaching the same class, in the same place. When the D.Min. students arrived, there was Joe. I asked, "What are you doing here? You've already taken this class!"

Joe said, "I wanted to take it a second time. There is still so much for me to learn."

Joe is the only student who has taken my class twice. I asked how he was doing, and how his church was going. Joe shared this. 

"After that class four years ago I went back to my people and preached on a Sunday morning on Psalm 46:10 - 'Be still, and know that I am God.'"

"What happened?" I asked.

"I simply read the verse, then sat down. There was silence for 40 minutes. Finally, one person stood up and spoke a word from God. Then another did the same. We just stayed there, silently, in the thick presence of God. Gradually, one by one, people began to leave."

"How was it, Joe?"

"It was... electric!"

Wow! Joe has a hopping, dynamic church. What a radical idea God gave him. This story confirmed a number of things I believe about pastoral ministry, and the nature of the church.

  1. This kingdom of God is about God's presence, in which God rules and reigns.
  2. Therefore, desire God's presence.
  3. Dismiss the idea that we need to entertain our people, that what they need is more entertainment so they'll stay with us.
  4. What our people most need is God.
  5. Cultivate a Presence-Driven environment that moves with and responds to God's presence.
  6. Usher people into God's presence. Here is where the "audience" dissolves, and engagement with God begins.

My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation