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"Let's Talk About Love"--2018 Sweetheart Dinner Dance Talk

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Principles for Good Marital Communication, Gospel Presentation

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I. Introduction

- What a night, huh? Delicious food. Fantastic music. I'm having a blast. I hope you are, too. We're glad you're here.
- And thank you for that introduction. You heard that I'm a former television news reporter. That surprises a lot of people since I've often been told that I have a real face for radio. (Pause.) Some of you will get joke that on your drive back home tonight.
- We're talking about talking tonight. We're talking about communication, how a husband and a wife can best communicate with each other.
- And you might be wondering, "Alright, hot shot. What makes you the expert on communication?"
- Well, let me tell you why I think I'm eminently qualified to talk to you tonight about communication.
- My last two years in seminary, my family lived in the guesthouse owned by the president of the seminary. I mean, less than 50 yards from the home the seminary president and his wife and their children lived in.
- One weekend, my wife and our children were going out of town, but I was staying behind to do some work. Knowing that I'd be home alone, the seminary president and his wife asked me to their home for dinner. They told me we'd be having venison burgers. That's deer meat to us less-highfalutin' types.
- Now, I really, really don't like venison. But I wasn't going to turn down a dinner invitation from the president of the school at which I was both a PhD student and an adjunct professor, the very same person graciously letting us live rent free in his guesthouse.
- But since I didn't know how I was going to choke down the food I had been invited to eat, I thought I had to text my wife about the predicament I found myself in and we'd share a laugh about it.
- So, I texted my wife Sara, "The Spradlins have invited me over for venison burgers tonight. Then in all caps. THAT'S DEER MEAT! As you know, I don't like venison." And I hit send.
- Except . . . I didn't text that to Sara. . . . I texted that to the wife of the seminary president!
- You know those times in life—even if you have a bad memory—when you remember every single detail about a situation? This was one of those situations. When I made the horrible realization that I had texted the wrong person, I remember where I was sitting, what time of day it was, what the weather was like, what I was wearing.
- I also remember thinking, "Ok, if I could somehow manage to have a heart attack right now, I wouldn't have to face them ever again." I mean, I was wondering where my family was going to have to move to. It was bad.
- I immediately began trying to do damage control with apologetic texts to this nice lady who had invited me to her home for dinner. No reply.
- I called Sara and told her what her goofball husband had done, and she called the seminary president's wife, and, thankfully, Sara called me to say that they had a good laugh about it.
- I actually still went over to their house that night for dinner, but I went with a white rose in my hand, playing Brenda Lee's "I'm Sorry" on my phone as I went inside.
- And after all that, we had venison burgers. And you know what? They were actually pretty good.
- So, as you can see, I'm something of a communication expert. Because now I know the first lesson in communication: Be sure you're talking to (or texting, in my case) the right person!
- I'm grateful, Wes, for the opportunity to talk about communication, and specifically communication between husbands and wives, here tonight.

II. Practical Help in Communication in Marriage

- Go to google.com (Not right now!) and type in "communication." Among the top five ways Google will suggest for you to complete that phrase in your search, two of them have to do with marriage.
- So many people are searching for help in communicating in their marriage that you only have to type the word "communication" in Google to have Google begin to suggest resources to you for help in improving communication in your marriage.
- I read an interview between two marriage counselors, and one said, "Most of our marriage counseling that we do now . . . the communication issue is the No. 1 issue."[1]
- What are some of the things we think are essential to a marriage? Children? You know couples who for various reasons don't have children, but who nonetheless have a thriving marriage. A nice house, nice cars, a big 401(k)? Nah. You know wealthy couples who can't stand each other and couples under the poverty line who are enraptured with each other. How about a passionate sex life? A couple that can't keep their hands off each other? Now, hey, don't hear me say that that's not really, really nice. But I know couples where one of the spouses has a profound physical disability that makes almost any physical intimacy impossible. And I could point to some really tremendous marriages between couples like that.
- So, those are some things that really—though they're all great to have—are apparently not absolute necessary for the kind of marriage we all really want to have.
- But do you know what your marriage must have if it's going to be healthy? Do you know what a thriving marriage absolutely cannot do without? A pattern of good communication between the husband and the wife. I don't hesitate to say that it's nearly impossible for a marriage to fail in which the husband and wife are communicating regularly and well, according to the principles I'm going to give you here tonight.
- Your marriage can be a blessing to both of you even if it doesn't have some of the things we tend to enjoy most about marriage. But it can't be a blessing to both of you if it isn't marked by a pattern of regular, good communication.
- So, let's talk about what I mean when I say "good communication" in the context of marriage. I want to give you three principles with some really practical ways to put these into practice.
- First, good marital communication requires intentionality.
- Intentionality is just a big word for the idea, "If you're going to have strong communication in your marriage, it will happen on purpose, not by accident."
- This is a truism for virtually every area of life, but it's certainly true in the context of marital communication: The most helpful, most valuable things in your life don't arrive by accident. They happen as a result of thought, planning, and effort. In a word, work.
- But you're not going to work to produce what you don't think is valuable. And I want you to really grab onto the fact that your marriage will not thrive if you and your spouse aren't regularly communicating well. Don't you want a healthy marriage? Don't you want a marriage that both you and your spouse are happy to be in? I know you want to leave work eager to get home instead of leaving work dreading the relational climate in your home. No one wants a bad marriage. And every married person wants a terrific marriage. Well, one of the essential ingredients for the kind of marriage you know you want to have is good communication. There's the value. And anything really valuable requires some work to attain.
- Well, let me give you some tools to put in your toolbox.
- If you and your spouse aren't talking to each other face-to-face at least one night a week—without devices, or the television on in the background, or children present—let me challenge you to make that your aim: to, without distractions, sit face-to-face with your spouse at least one night this week. 15 minutes. You can get a lot done in 15 focused minutes. And if it turns into a half-hour or an hour, great!
- And though these times are really good for ironing out certain details—talking about your family's finances or about how the washing machine will get repaired or that the teacher wants a conference about your son's math grade—make sure you let your hair down some in these times. Ask your spouse about their favorite vacation as a child or try to remember the circumstances surrounding when you met or your first date. Sara still kids me about how nervous I was when I went into the ice cream shop where she worked in college to ask her out. I was holding my keys in my hand, and I was so nervous, she heard the keys jingling the whole time I was talking to her. And then let the conversation go wherever it goes. If you have to Google conversation starters, that's fine. The important thing is to start talking.
- Sara and I have a dear friend named David. When we see him, at some point during the visit, he'll pull out a 3x5 index card he calls sort of tongue-in-cheek "interesting chit chat." It's just stuff that he's thought of that he wants to remember to talk with Sara and me about when he sees us again. I've done that. I've made notes to myself so that I'd remember to tell Sara that I saw that funny thing or remembered that event. I'm just talking about giving some thought to it, some effort. Intentionality. On purpose. But it's worth it. Your marriage can be fantastic without lots of things. But it probably can't be healthy without regular, good communication.
- (Intentionality) Second, good marital communication requires intimacy.
- As soon as I say "intimacy," men think, "Yes! She needs to hear this!" And women think, "Oh great. The last thing my husband needs is a bigger libido."
- I'm not talking about sexual intimacy. Men, I'm sorry. And ladies, you're welcome. Although, you know, it occurs to me that many a good session of marital communication ends up with a good session of marital physical intimacy. But that's not the point of my talk tonight, and fellas, let me urge you not to have the bedroom in mind every time you try to employ that intentionality principle I just talk to you about. Let good communication be an end to itself.
- So, what do I mean when I say good marital communication requires intimacy? I mean that it involves getting past the surface level. It involves being vulnerable. And it involves being accepting.
- Each of you needs to be a safe place for the other. In 2009, my mother died after a roughly two-year fight with pancreatic cancer. From the time of my mother's diagnosis to watching the disease run its course to my mother's death, I knew Sara was a safe place for me to bear my soul about what I was going through.
- Husbands and wives, you ought to be the safest place in the world for each other. Good marital communication is marked by an ability for husbands and wives to lay open their souls to each other, to expose their vulnerabilities and failures and thoughts to each other, and to know that the other will still love and accept them.
- I hope you have plenty of goofy communication. Sara and I have a kind of language that's all our own. No one really understands it but us, and we don't speak it with anyone other than each other. There's lots of room for silly communication. That's important, even necessary, I think. But good marital communication doesn't stay at the surface because we're not surface creatures. We're deep, complex. And so we need to engage in communication that ranges as shallow and deep as we are . . . even though what it means to be deep and complex is different for men and women.
- You're aware, of course, that there are profound differences between men and women. I've heard a thousand clichés. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Men are microwaves, women are Crock-Pots. Men are clams, and women are the clam knives that try and pry them open. Some of the comparisons seem laughable, but I think, if we're honest, we'd admit that there's truth to all of it. There are differences in men and women. There are differences in how we communicate.
- Men, we're kinda like the guy who went to the marriage counselor with his wife and his wife said, "He never tells me he loves me anymore!" The counselor asked the husband, "Is this true?" And the husband replied, "Look, I told I loved her on our wedding day and that if anything ever changed, I'd let her know!" And our wives are, relative to us, open books—much more desirous to connect and share emotions and hear about the seemingly unimportant parts of our day. We men tend to think in the "need to know" realm, only talking with our wives about something if we think it's something they need to know.
- So, yes, men and women are profoundly different. The Bible makes it plain in the account of creation in Genesis that God created men and women differently and that our differences each help to reflect His image, the image we bear.
- But one thing that we have in common is a need to have a spouse with whom we can be safely vulnerable, a spouse with whom we can be intimate in a way we're not intimate with anyone else in the world. There are things about you, vulnerabilities about you, that should be between you and your spouse alone—not your children, not your co-workers. Let me take this opportunity to warn you that exposing this intimate side of yourself to someone who's not your spouse, particularly to someone of the opposite sex is like juggling a hand grenade that's had the pen pulled out. It's a recipe for absolute marital disaster.
- The kind of communication I'm talking about here is special, designed only for the marriage relationship. Like with physical intimacy, which God designed only for the marriage relationship, intimate, deep communication is designed for the marital relationship.
- So, have funny, light conversation with your spouse, but good marital communication—the kind of communication no good marriage is without—goes to the deepest levels of a husband and wife, too.
- (Intentionality, intimacy) Third, good marital communication requires humility.
- What do I mean when I say humility? Someone said it well. Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.
- Humility isn't saying or thinking, "Boy, I'm an idiot." 'Cause then your attention is still on yourself, even in a self-deprecating way. No, humility is selflessness, others-focused. An others-centeredness instead of a self-centeredness. A spouse-centeredness instead of a self-centeredness. That's what I mean by "humility."
- Humility isn't a word that might immediately come to mind for you when you think about characteristics of a marriage where the husband and wife communicate well and often, but humility is absolutely essential to good communication—really between any two people, but especially between husbands and wives.
- Humility is essential for good marital communication because humility makes us good listeners. If you're going to communicate well, you know that the conversation has to have some give and take, it has to be a two-way street. A humble wife, a humble husband communicates with their spouse with an acknowledgement that the other person has a different, and often equally valid, point-of-view.
- Genuinely humble people are more apt to be better listeners because genuinely humble people recognize they have things to learn. This might come as some surprise to you, especially you fellow husbands, but our wives know more about some stuff than we do. And they know stuff about things we don't know anything about. The same is true, of course, wives, in regard to your husbands—though I don't know that many wives are listening to their husbands and thinking, "He has no idea what he's talking about" unless he's trying to convince you he can fix the toilet and you're remembering the last time he said that and the $2,000 you spent getting the bathroom floor replaced.
- So, when I'm talking with Sara, if I'm communicating with humility, I'm really listening to her, seeking to really understand what she's saying, seeking to be informed by what she's saying—not assuming I know everything that's needed for whatever we're talking about.
- And another reason humility paves the way for healthy marital communication: it makes me really slow to take offense. It assumes the best possible interpretation of what a spouse says instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation of what a spouse says.
- Ladies, when your husband says, "Sweetheart, dinner was really great tonight," do you think, "What? Like it's not great every night?!" And men, how about when your wife texts you at work, "When will you be home?" Do you assume she's just wanting to plan the evening, or do you think, "Good gracious! I'll get home when I get home. She's probably had it up to here with those kids. Does she have any idea how much work I have on my desk?!"
- Healthy marriages, marriages that are a blessing to the husband and wife, marriage where good communication happens regularly, are marriages where humility is a key component in the relationship. Humility makes us better communicators because it makes us better listeners, and it makes our default mode in hearing what our spouse says not the worst possible interpretation, but the best possible interpretation.
- Intentionality, Intimacy, Humility. You put those three tools in your toolbelt, and your communication with your spouse can’t help but improve, and as a result, your marriage can't help put improve.

III. Gospel Proclamation

- Now I have a confession to make: I know I haven't said anything new or ground-breaking, or even, frankly, particularly insightful to you tonight. None of the principles for good communication in marriage that I've given you tonight are all that eyebrow-raising. None of them really defy logic.
- Why, then, is communication so doggone hard? Why are marriage counselors saying that communication is the number one issue they're dealing with in troubled marriages? Why is it so natural to be bad at communicating with my spouse, and why does it take so much thought—so much work—to do well at communicating with my spouse?
- To answer that question, I want to tell you about something I used to play with at my aunt and uncle's house where I grew up in rural southwest Georgia. My aunt and uncle had a deep well with one of those really old cast-iron hand pumps.
- I didn't know what it was, but I knew that handle would move when I pushed and pulled on it, and one day when I was messing with it, out of the spout came water! And can you guess why water came out of that spout? Turns out there's a pretty simple explanation: It's because water was down in the well! That's pretty obvious, huh? What's down in the well comes up in the bucket, you might've heard someone say.
- Jesus said something similar in the Gospel of Luke: "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
- Did you catch that last part? "Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
- That's another way of saying "What's down in the well comes up in the bucket." Or, to put a finer point on it, "What comes out of our mouth reflects what's in our heart."
- The reason why communicating well with our spouse is so hard, why it doesn't come naturally, is because of the condition of our well, our heart.
- Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, diagnosed our hearts—every heart, my heart, your heart—with a terminal illness when he wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
- The reason why we have such a hard time speaking life-giving words to our spouses is because the source of our words—our heart—is so messed up, so self-centered, so quick to assume the worst—even when it comes to those we love most. Haven't you seen that in your life? We don't like the way we communicate with our spouses, our children, but when we think about ever doing it differently, it seems insurmountable. It seems impossible that we'd ever change.
- But I have good news for you. Your heart, my heart, that the Bible says is so desperately wicked? God offers you a chance to exchange for a brand-new one. God said through the prophet Ezekiel, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
- A new heart. Think of it! A heart no longer deceitful above all things, a heart no longer desperately wicked, a heart that we're no longer unable ever to understand!
- That's the best deal going! I hope you're thinking, "How can I get in on this?" Well, I'm glad you asked.
- God, with indescribable love, saw that the people He created—you and me—had wicked hearts. Hearts that didn't naturally love Him and hearts that didn't naturally love each other. The Bible says that God will judge sin and will, at the end of this present world, cast those who have not believed in Him into a place the Bible calls the Lake of Fire. The eternal destiny for a person with a wicked heart is a place the Bible describes as "utter darkness," a place where those in the Lake of Fire forever and ever weep and gnash their teeth, the Bible says.
- That's the destiny of people with wicked hearts—that's all of us. And He knew we were utterly, utterly powerless to do anything about it.
- So, in love the depths of which we could never fathom, He sent His only Son, Jesus, His beloved Son, His perfect Son into the world to die a violent death on a cross to pay the penalty that we owed for our sins.
- And Jesus, having been killed as a substitute for sinners, and having been raised to life three days later, has made it possible for anyone who wants to exchange their wicked heart for a brand new heart to do just that.
- How? Jesus said in the book of Mark, "Repent and believe the gospel."
- What does it mean to "repent and believe the gospel?" Very simply, it means to acknowledge that you are a sinner and that you need to turn from your life of sin and turn to God, believing that when His Son Jesus died on the cross, His death paid for your sins. It means forsaking your sin and giving Jesus your life, trusting Him with everything.
- I know we're thinking about love tonight. There's slow dancing and heart decorations and Valentine's Day is next week. Listen, friend. God's got the market cornered on love.
- Think of it. God, Who we have rebelled against and flouted at every turn, Who had every right to flick us right off the planet, instead gave His beloved Son to die for us, His enemies.
- I'm urging you, please, if you are not a Christian, turn to Jesus Christ for salvation, even tonight. You can be saved from your sin. You can have your wicked heart become a new heart even tonight.
- But I know that I'm talking to many here tonight who have been given a new heart, who have been graced by God to see their sin and turn from it and believe on the Lord Jesus. That new heart you've been given needs to be worked, it needs to be exercised, just like any other muscle.
- Now, the good news is that God hasn't just given you a new heart, He's given you the strength to work that new heart so that it loves selflessly and sacrificially and all the ways we want to love that don't come naturally to us. So Christian husbands and wives, I want you to recognize that though you have a new heart, a heart that is a source, a well, of life-giving communication to your spouse, you need to tap into that and cultivate it. It will take effort from you, too.
- What love, what selfless love, that we who have been rank mutineers toward God, can be forgiven and cleansed and be given new hearts by the very One we've wronged. What love.
- "Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on Earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky."
[1]Conversation between Jim Daly and David Clarke, 7/6/2017 episode of "Focus on the Family, accessed February 6, 2018
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