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Love to Stay: Habits That Hurt, Habits That Heal

"Love That Lasts" is based off the teachings of Rev. Adam Hamilton and his work "Love to Stay." This sermon uses his teachings as a framework, working my own stories into the mix. I'm grateful for Rev. Hamilton's work and hope you are as blessed as I am with this series. 

Habits That Hurt, Habits That Heal    May 13/14, 2016
Scripture: Ephesians 4: 29-32, 1 Thess. 4: 1-7

There’s a story I once read about a wife who desperately tried to get her husband to fix the broken lawn mower, but every time she asked, he always had something more important to do. Whether it was making his next tee time or working on his sports car, he never seemed to get around to fixing the mower. Finally, the wife had enough. When her husband got home from work the next day, he found her slowly cutting each blade of grass with a small pair of scissors. After watching silently for a few moments, he ran into the house and grabbed a toothbrush. Handing it to his wife, he said, “After you’re done mowing the lawn, you might as well sweep off the driveway.” He thinks, after the surgeon is done, that he’ll one day walk again.

We’re in the midst of a sermon series on marriage and relationships called “A Love That Lasts.” And we’ve been learning that relationships are one of God’s greatest gifts to us. We’ve been created to live in community, to bless, build up and encourage. When these elements are present, relationships are strong and healthy. Making a commitment to blessing the other can go along way to building a love that lasts. Yet even the strongest of relationships have their challenges. Conflicts, disagreements and differences of opinion are normal. They’ll happen. Most of these are small, like forgetting to put the toilet seat down or leaving the car on “E.” And healthy relationships find a way to laugh and work through their conflicts so that small things don’t grow into big problems. Every relationship has small problems. That’s normal. But occasionally there are bigger issues and conflicts that can lead to broken hearts and broken lives. This is where we’re going to spend our time today.

I don’t think anyone ever enters a relationship intending to hurt another person, but sometimes we cause each other pain with our decisions and actions. In our survey, you listed a number of items that cause conflict in your relationships, ranging from communication and money to not fulfilling household responsibilities and battling addictions. Those are very real threats to the health of relationships, and if you sense that these are beginning to drive a wedge between you and your spouse, it’s best to act now and seek help. But today I want to highlight two very serious issues. Several of our respondents indicated they’ve lived through failed marriages and they listed two primary reasons for their divorces that are consistent with statistics across our country: abuse and adultery. We’re going to learn about these threats and offer ways to either avoid them or work through them.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20 people experience physically abuse by intimate partners every minute. This equates to more than 10 million men and women each year. On average, 1 in 3 women and 1 and 4 men have been abused in their lifetimes.[1] This is a sobering trend. When I think of the meaning and mission God has for our relationships, to bless, lift up and encourage, it’s easy to see that something has gone terribly wrong. These stats are the opposite of building and lifting up. And it doesn’t stop with physical violence. The Alice Paul House, which promotes awareness of domestic violence in Indiana County, suggests that abuse also comes in emotional, mental and sexual forms, such as name-calling, withholding money and keeping partners from seeing friends and family.[2] Abuse comes in many shapes and forms and destroys lives, personal dignity and relationships. And it isn’t right.

When you look at your relationship, do you bless, lift up and encourage? Are you doing these things? Because that’s what God intends from you. Or do you belittle and demean, criticize and put down? The apostle Paul, who in understanding our ability to harm others, describes for us in Ephesians God’s intentions for holy living: Do not let any evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…along with every form of malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. As Paul suggests, evil talk and action come out of our mouths and hands, but they don’t begin there. They begin in the heart. Often these actions point to something that’s going on inside of us. Abuse rarely begins with physical violence. It’s usually a reaction to things left unchecked, like small problems that were never properly handled and became large problems. There is no excuse for abuse, but there might be ways you can begin to understand why you do the things you do. If you are willing to say, “There’s something wrong” and “I want to change,” then there are ways to make that happen. But you have to be willing to reach out for help. It might not repair the relationship, but it might calm the personal storms within you.

If you are in an abusive relationship, I want you to know that God weeps with you. Sometimes we do a grave injustice when saying things like, “God hates divorce.” Even though it pains God when relationships end, the thing God hates even more is witnessing his children hurt and harmed. If you feel your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are in jeopardy, please don’t pretend it’s not happening or try to sweep it under the rug. I would encourage you to reach out and talk with one of your pastors or one of our Christian Counseling Associates. We are here to help you and get you healthy again.

Some of you responded that abuse led to the destruction of your marriage, but the number one reason you indicated your marriage failed was adultery. And this is no surprise. Infidelity is the leading cause of divorce in America today, and it’s an age-old human problem. There’s a reason it made God’s list of the ten important commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery. Again, I don’t think we take our marriage vows expecting to renege on them. When we stand at the altar and proclaim Yes! to the question, Will you forsake all others? we usually mean it! We fully believe that we will honor our commitment to saying “no” to others for the rest of our lives. So if that’s the case, how does adultery happen?

First off, let’s get something straight. Attraction is not the problem. That’s human. It’s normal to notice the positive characteristics in another person. People have good, attractive qualities about them, and the only way we could avoid these is to walk around with our eyes closed all the time. Being attracted to others, even making connections with others, is simply a fact of life. The problem begins when we allow those attractions to occupy more and more of our thoughts. And the more we think about something, the more likely we are to act. And when you couple wandering thoughts with unmet needs, temptation becomes a reality.

During one of my first years of ministry, I had a knock on my door. For the next hour, I listened to a man sob and confide in me that he had cheated on his wife. He felt horrible. He hadn’t meant for it to happen, but he made an emotional connection with a co-worker, a connection that he had seemingly lost with his wife. That should’ve been a red flag. He spent more time at the office than he did at home, and his conversations at work seemed to be deeper than the ones at home.  Soon, one thing led to another: A listening ear became a hug, a hug turned into an embrace, and embrace led to sex. And now this man was asking me how he could save his marriage. He pledged to do anything. When adultery occurs, I believe healing can happen, but not without the hard work forgiveness and years of building back broken trust. The only surefire way to prevent adultery is to create the type of relationship where affairs are undesirable.

One great place to start is worship. Before I agree to do perform a wedding ceremony, I ask my pre-marital couples to commit to worship together on a weekly basis. This is an important habit that draws us together, but even more importantly, worship gives Jesus space to fill the deepest yearnings of our soul. No spouse or partner will ever truly fulfill our deepest needs. Only Christ can do that. Only Jesus can feed our deep spiritual needs, remind us who we are and give us strength to overcome weaknesses and moments of vulnerability. We need Jesus to be at the center of our lives and relationships, which is why weekly worship is so important.

In addition to worship there are other strategies you can use to protect your relationship against infidelity. One such strategy are the “5 R’s,” offered by fellow UMC pastor Adam Hamilton. Whenever you have those lingering thoughts of someone other than your spouse, here are 5 things you can do:

First, Remember who you are. Your identity is not in a momentary feeling. You are a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, a husband or wife and a mom or dad. Is what you are feeling or about to do consistent with you who are?
Second, Recognize the consequences. Have you really taken the time to think through the repercussions? What will you be feeling, thinking and regretting ten minutes from now?
Thirdly, Rededicate yourself to God. Remember what Jesus did when tempted in the desert? He relied on God’s strength. Take time to pray, to read Scripture and ask God for grace and strength.
            Fourth, Reveal your struggles to a trusted friend. It’s harder to act when we know a trusted friend will hold us accountable. Find someone you can tell.
            Fifth, Remove yourself from the temptation. If your marriage or relationship is important to you, then you might need to make some pretty drastic choices and changes. Creating distance between you and the temptation is vital, even if it means cutting off a friendship, leaving a job or moving. These might seem like extreme measures, but these things might happen any way if you continue down a road of infidelity.[3]

I realize that we’ve covered some tough topics today, but the gift of relationship must be nurtured and protected. As challenging as relationships can be, it is possible to establish lasting love. And it’s possible to move beyond habits that hurt and create new habits that heal. Our world is filled with stories of people who were done and couldn’t’ take it any more, but by God’s grace, the rips in their lives were mended and made new. How does this happen? It happens by reaching out and asking God for help! God is in the business of making all things new and he’s been there. He knows our temptations and our struggles, our weaknesses and our challenges. And he is willing to forgive, give us grace to heal, and offer us a chance at a new beginning. Maybe today is a new beginning for you. Wherever you find yourself on your relational journey, God can give you a new beginning today. Amen.  

[3] Love to Stay; Adam Hamilton


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