Mark of Dysfunction: Keep this Deadly Secret

shhhOne mark of a dysfunctional marriage, family, or church is that others within the system are not supposed reveal the secret.

What is the secret?

You are not to tell anyone about the way things really are in this marriage, this family, or this church.  After all, what would people think?

Of course, I do appreciate husbands and wives who obviously love one another.  It is really nice to see husbands and wives who still have much affection for one another after many years.

I do remember seeing an interesting Facebook status one day.  It said something like this:

Twenty-five years ago I met the man of my dreams.  We have loved together, laughed together, and dreamed together.  I am so fortunate to be this man’s wife.  Looking forward to the next 25 years.

Now many people enter a status like this one on their anniversary or spouse’s birthday.  What struck me as odd about this particular post is that it never occurred to me (and I suspect many of their other friends) that she in any way adored or treasured this man.  In fact, it really didn’t appear that they valued each other very much at all.  The way they treated one another each day made such a post on their anniversary seem odd.

It was almost like she was trying to sell something to the rest of us.

Ministry Inside.99

mask_photography4But what will people think?

Years ago, Charlotte and I were walking across a parking lot of a large church building in Kansas City.  We had an appointment with a marriage therapist.  This was our first visit with him.

I was nervous.

I was nervous that someone who I knew might see me.   I was nervous they would find out that we were going to a counselor to talk about our marriage.

The truth is that I was more concerned about how we looked, than the reality of our our lives.

No, we were not in a crisis.  We were not dealing with any sort of trauma or disaster within our marriage.  But, we were dealing with an important issue.

We were stuck.

We knew we needed to make some real adjustments but we were unsure what to do.

Yet, I was not as concerned at that moment about addressing those realities as I was the appearance.  I was more concerned about the possibility of another’s perception than the reality of our relationship.

This is not a good place to be.  In fact, it is embarrassing to think about this now.  Yet, sometimes church leaders can find themselves worrying more about a possible perception instead of addressing the reality of their lives.

Unfortunately, this can get even worse.  Church leaders can attempt to control and shut down what their family members are actually experiencing.

Church leaders can communicate to their families that they need to act like everything is ok, even when it isn’t. There are some real consequences to this behavior. 

A Question About Dads

dad heartI’m curious.

Many people grow up with memories of a father relationship that was less than adequate.  I’ve heard many stories of some fathers being emotionally and/or physically absent.  Other fathers regularly made critical remarks to their children and had no significant relationship with them.

In your experience, how does emotional absence and even disconnection, by a father, impact a young son or daughter?

10 Ways to Murder a Marriage (Part 2)

Learn-How-to-Heal-Your-Broken-MarriageThe following post is a continuation of an earlier post (find it here) describing behaviors that can murder a marriage.

6.  Refuse to forgive.  Some couples fight and refuse to forgive.  They stuff their anger, their resentments and their bitterness.  They refuse to forgive and move on.  The old negative behaviors of the past are allowed to accumulate in one’s heart and mind, like smelly garbage that is never taken out.

At some point, when this couple is in a heated battle, they open the garbage bag and drag out the past failures of their spouse.  Out comes nasty resentments and more anger.

Refusing to forgive can destroy the intimacy in a marriage and put one another at a distance.

7.  Be disrespectful to one another.  I once knew a couple who regularly showed disrespect toward one another.  They didn’t just disagree.  They wanted to hurt one another.  She would accuse him of not being a real man with any backbone.  He accused her of being cold and unresponsive.  Their language toward one another was demeaning and hurtful.

Disrespect can slowly destroy the tenderness that a couple may have had toward one another at one time.

8.  Act in an untrustworthy manner.  A man in his late thirties has been on a number of business trips with his company.  He never wears his wedding ring when he travels and is very flirty with female co-workers.  At one point, his co-workers were shocked to learn that he was married. Eventually, his wife found out about his reputation at work.  Now she refuses to trust him.

Behaving in an untrustworthy manner is a major breech in a marriage and destroys the trust that might have once existed.

9.  Be manipulative.  Manipulators attempt to get what they want without being honest enough to be transparent.  A woman once said regarding a family member: “I feel like he is always up to something.”  The manipulator is always trying to put himself at an advantage so that he can get what he wants.

Husbands and wives who manipulate one another destroy their opportunity to practice self-giving love while they opt instead for power and control.

10.  Put yourself first.  

Putting yourself first in your marriage destroys the opportunity to follow Jesus while you decide you choose instead to go your own way.

10 Ways to Murder a Marriage

marriage-broken-eggThe following is part 1 of a two part post in which I reflect on how to destroy a marriage. We have been married for 34 years and have had a front row seat to many, many other marriages.

1.  Create an atmosphere that no one would want to come home to in the evening. Do nothing but stare at your television night after night.  Complain.  Gripe at her or him for mistakes.  Go to bed angry and resentful.  Repeat the next day.

Constant carping, complaining and whining can destroy the atmosphere of a marriage. 

2.  Use pornography.  This is an ever increasing temptation not only for men, but women as well. You can lose yourself in a make believe world.  Pornography creates the illusion that sex is basically about the enjoyment of one person, instead of the mutual service of two people.  You don’t have to grow.  You don’t have to mature.  You don’t have to work at the give and take of relationship.

Pornography can destroy intimacy in marriage.

How to Grow in Marriage and Parenting

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

“I have no idea what I am supposed to do.”

That statement came from a very gifted and intelligent young man who was about to be married. I appreciated his honesty. He had never seen a marriage up close before. His parents divorced when he was very young. He deeply loved his mom and dad. Yet, he had never been close to a healthy marriage and so it was difficult for him to imagine what it would be like to be married.

Many other people have seen a marriage up close but it was a dysfunctional marriage with dynamics that were anything but healthy or even godly.

So what is a person supposed to do?

1. Plan to unlearn. So often, we are at a disadvantage because of our own faulty assumptions. “Surely this won’t last my entire life.” We also make assumptions about sex, parenting, and other roles. Our assumptions often come from a variety of sources and experiences. Yet, they sometimes set us up for failure.

For example, much unlearning often has to be done regarding sex and marriage. Some people enter marriage with assumptions borrowed from this culture. A person might think that sexual experiences with multiple people give one an advantage in marriage. Really? Where did that assumption come from? Did the creator ever tell human beings that this was a good thing or an advantage? Sometimes unlearning has to be done due to a long history with pornography. Such a history will often give a person some very unreal expectations regarding marriage.

2. Be intentional about learning. Maybe you have never seen a healthy marriage up close. Or, maybe you are realizing that marriage is more complex and more difficult than you imagined. Read good marriage books, particularly those that address marital concerns from a Christian perspective. Talk with people who have been married for many years and obviously love one another. Invite a couple who you admire over for coffee and desert and ask questions about marriage. Look for resources in your church. Bottom line: Be intentional about learning.

If You Are Not Praying for Your Children

(I am away on a vacation/study break during the month of July. The posts that appear during the month are from the archives.)

If you as a parent are not praying for your children, then who is?

This occurred to me a few years ago as I thought about my prayer life and my own children. If I am not praying for my own children, then who is? Perhaps one of the greatest gifts that I can give to my children is faithful prayer.

Our children, whether small children or adults, live in a very difficult world. How important and encouraging for mom and dad to lift them up in prayer every single day of their lives.


My two children are now adults. Both are married. They each live a great distance from Charlotte and me. In some ways, we have little influence over what they do each day.

Yet, we lift them up in prayer each day, believing God will work intimately and powerfully in their lives wherever they are. We believe that God loves them, cares for them, and calls them to live under his rule. It is important that we pray for them.

Keep Your Marriage Out of the Ditch

Some people are married for a few years and then they get stuck in the

I want to reflect on this page about marriage and how to keep it out of the ditch.

As I write this particular post, I am thinking about couples in their 20s. Perhaps you’ve been married for a few years. You may even have a small child or two (but not necessarily).

So you’ve been married for several years. Perhaps you both have jobs. Yes, the economy is a real issue but so far you’ve been able to do much that you’ve wanted to do. If you went to college, you’ve probably been out for several years. Now you have jobs. You are paying off school loans. You have responsibilities.

You are married.

Let me suggest a few problems that sometimes surface in marriage during the early years.

1. Am I still cool? You may be out of college and paying a mortgage. Yet, you may still want to prove that you have what it takes. For some women/men, this impacts the way they dress and the way they relate to the opposite sex. Far too often married men and women flirt with others at work to prove to themselves that they still have it. This may include suggestive and risque texting and FB messaging. This is a very dangerous game to play.

2. Why do we have so many arguments? Some married couples seem to fuss with one another a lot. You may find this to be familiar ground. Part of this frustration is that often a couple feels as if they are getting nowhere in these arguments. Some explode while others withdraw. Some argue with insults and put-downs. Unfortunately, some couples do a poor job of forgiving one another.

3. Why doesn’t he grow up? A woman once told me that she had four boys. She had three sons and was married to another boy. She was frustrated that he wouldn’t grow up. No, this is not limited to men. (There are certainly young women who refuse to grow up as well.) Picture a young mother with three children. It is Saturday. She is trying to clean the house and prepare lunch. Her husband is sitting in his recliner with the television blaring. He gets upset because one of the kids is screaming during his game. To her, this relationship feels lopsided. These are our children. This is our house that needs cleaning. He mutters something about this being just the way he is.

4. I didn’t know it was going to be like this. He had expectations. You had expectations. “Wow, this is not what I expected.” Many Christian women have said, “I thought he was a spiritual person. He talked a lot about his faith when we were dating. Now I have to practically drag him to church. Why can’t he be more like other husbands who seem to be such godly men?”

How do you adjust your expectations? Where did your expectations come from? Do you just shrug your shoulders and give up? Or, do you dig in your heels, determined to get your way.

5. We are stuck. Some couples are stuck. She may say at one point, “We really need to see a counselor to talk about our marriage.” His response may be, “I don’t have a problem. I’m doing just fine. If you have a problem, you go to counseling.” Later, as she finally disengages emotionally from her husband, he is alarmed and wants to get help. She has no interest at this point.

Some couples get stuck but they do very little that is constructive to help them get unstuck. Many couples are more concerned about their image than their reality. Consequently, they attempt to communicate to their friends and others that they are doing very well, even though their marriage is coming unraveled. To complicate matters even further, some men and women will not read or do anything intentional to learn, grow, and develop.



Which one of the five issues mentioned do you most relate to from your own experience?

5 Ways to Kill Your Marriage

Some marriages die from neglect. marriagebroken.jpg

Below are 5 ways to kill a marriage. Perhaps you can think of more.

Don’t worry about being gracious.

One day you and your wife are running errands. She says that she would like a Coke. You reluctantly pull up to a convenience store. You turn off the engine and say something like, “You go get it yourself. It’s not me that wants a Coke.”   

You have been invited to join several other people for dinner at your friend’s home. As you enter this home, your friend says, “Watch where you step. There is no telling when my wife last vacuumed the floor.” (Yes, this really happened.)

A lack of graciousness communicates more than bad manners. Rather, it reveals a lack of grace in the relationship. Spouses who practice graciousness communicate, “I will not embarrass you or humiliate you in any way. You can count on me.”   

Say whatever happens to pass through your mind.

Excuse yourself by saying, “I’m just being honest.” Really? Do we really believe that it is loving and wise to say whatever happens to enter our minds with no filter whatsoever? Words can be deadly. In fact, one can crush a spouse with careless words.

Pay little attention to your friendship with your spouse.

It is amazing how many couples stop being attentive to one another’s friendship. I’ve seen this again and again. A couple begins pulling away from each another. Two years later their divorce is finalized. At some point, they often stop being friends. It is not that they are hurtful to one another. Many couples who divorce do not deliberately try to hurt their spouse. Instead, what often happens is they stop investing in their friendship with each other.

Charlotte and I have been married for 33 years. I can not overemphasize the importance of genuine friendship in marriage. Not only is she my wife but also my closest friend. This alone has great implications for marriage and commitment to one another.

Be a different kind of person when your spouse isn’t around.

Marriages begin to come unraveled when trust and trustworthiness end. After all, friendship is grounded in trust. Quite often men and women will begin to live divided lives. That is, a man will go to work and speak to other women in ways that would disappoint and even anger his spouse if she knew. Or, it could be that a spouse behaves in ways that are totally self-absorbed. I once heard of a woman who spent money with reckless abandon when her spouse was not around. Yet, when they were together, she projected a much different attitude toward their finances. Marriages are damaged when husbands and wives realize that they can no longer trust their spouses.

Keep part of your life secret.

Secret texts.

Secret calls.

Secret email accounts.

For some, this begins innocently when one’s spouse is on Facebook and gets a friend request from a former high school classmate. She accepts his friend request. They begin messaging. Often, there is nothing inappropriate said for awhile. Yet, the communication is frequent and regular. She/he may mention to their spouses that they heard from an old friend. Yet, they may not be sharing either the content or the frequency of these exchanges.

All I’m saying is that this kind of secrecy has a way of eroding a marriage over time. Intimacy is built on transparency not secrecy.


What other behaviors can contribute to the death of a marriage over time?

5 Jobs That Helped Prepare Me


These jobs helped prepare me for life and ministry.

I learned much through these experiences. Years later, can I see how God used them. The following are the jobs I had in earlier years:

1. A paper route for The Dallas Morning News. My route consisted of four long streets in Dallas. This meant getting out of bed by 4:00 AM and being on my bike minutes later. On Sundays, the papers were so large that my mom drove me, folding these papers while I threw them from house to house (the newspapers had to be on the porch in those days). In the early morning hours, I noticed much about these houses. Different smells. Who had a dog. Whose lawn was manicured and who didn’t really have a lawn.

2. I worked for several years at a fast food restaurant. This was a Jack-in-the-Box. Drive through only. However, it was on a major street in Dallas. I worked nights and often throughout the night. This was my first job in which I dealt with people — lots of them. This was often dirty work. I remember coming home at nights reeking of grease from the deep fryers.

3. After I graduated from high school, I worked at Manor Bakery one summer. This was the hardest job I ever had. (This was a huge bakery. Bread, rolls, buns that would be distributed to grocery stores and restaurants throughout north Texas.) My job was working next to a huge bun oven.   A larger conveyor belt would take hundreds of buns through this oven at one time. The buns would come out of the oven and huge suction cups would lift them out the pans and drop them onto another belt. I would then grab the pans that had just come out of the oven. It was a hot job in the Texas summer. I have memories of lots of burns that summer.

4. I worked for a couple of years for Hunt Oil Company in downtown Dallas. I worked on the 27th floor of the First National Bank Building, in the file room, shuffling files to this or that office. Occasionally I was sent to locate a file in the archives, which was four or five blocks away. I got there after morning classes and work the rest of the afternoon.   I worked with a middle-aged, single parent who lived in Oak Cliff. She had no car and was totally dependent on the bus to get her wherever she wanted to go.   She had two dresses. A blue and a red one, which she wore to work on alternate days.

5. For several years, I worked for United Parcel Service. Loading trucks. Unloading trucks. Driving and delivering.   This was a good job. I began working there my last two years of college. Again, I worked nights. I have a lot of memories of conversations with the managers. These were often people who had been sent to work in Dallas from places like New Jersey, Salt Lake City, and Denver. I begin to notice that some of these people had now been through divorces and affairs. For some, work seemed to be the center of their world. It wasn’t that they loved their jobs. Rather, it reflected seemed to be the absence of any other center.

No doubt you’ve had your own experiences. You’ve had jobs maybe similar or quite different from these. Looking back, however, I can see how God has used some of these experiences in my life to help me connect with a variety of people.   Yet, in some ways it doesn’t really matter whether or not I understand how these experiences have been useful. What matters is that I trust that God works through my history and through my present situation.


What about you? Is there any particular job you’ve had in the past for which you are especially thankful now?