“Houston, we have a problem!” April 13th, 1970, and the Odyssey’s Commander Jim Lovell uttered words that would go down in History. That wasn’t how Lovell thought he’d be remembered, he thought that he would go down in history as the fifth man to walk on the moon, but a faulty oxygen tank would destroy that dream and almost end the lives of the three astronauts who manned the Apollo 13th project.

You know the story, maybe you’ve seen the movie “Apollo 13” or maybe you read the book “Moon Lost” but you know that when Lovell uttered those historic words the reaction of flight commander Gene Kranz in Houston’s mission control was something like, “Roger Odyssey we copy that message but we need to let you know that right now we are struggling to find ourselves, and feel like we have un-met needs of our own.

“We understand that the success of this mission is important to you and well we are committed to seeing it through you need to understand that we seem to have different agendas for this relationship, and you just aren’t pulling your share of the weight. And so, Jim I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need a little space to re-evaluate where we are going. I hope things work out for you Fred and Jack but please understand that it is your problem and you’re going to have to solve it before we can go any further, Houston out.” NOT.

I don’t know what the actual words were, but I do know that for three days the technicians at Houston mission control did everything that was possible and several things that were impossible to get the crew of Apollo 13 back safe and sound. I am pretty sure that Gene Kranz didn’t actually utter these words but, in the film, when he told the collective ground crew that they were going to do everything in their power to get Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert back to earth safe and sound he said: “Failure is not an option!”

I have been pastoring for more than forty years now, I have performed umpteen dozen (that’s the precise term) weddings for couples ranging in age from their teens to their seventies and I am convinced that we need to add something to the vows we need to add the words “Failure is not an Option”

I am trying to figure out some way that I can legally arrange for couples that I marry to sign a waiver saying that if they get divorced that they will buy me something big, a convertible, or a boat or send us on a cruise. I’m not sure it would actually help, but . . .

I’m getting a little tired of hearing about friends both inside the church and outside the church who are calling it quits in their marriages. I’m getting a little tired of not wanting to ask friends how their spouses are doing because I’m afraid of the answer. I’m getting a little tired of the good excuses and valid reasons for couples splitting up.

I remember when Deborah was nine, and came home, after spending a week in Moncton with one of her best friends and telling us that her friend’s parents had split up but it didn’t seem to faze Deborah that much because all of her friend’s parents are split up.

When I was a kid, I knew of one of my friends whose folks had split. Do you remember when people stayed together for the kids if for no other reason? Oh, by the way, that has proved to be a valid reason.

Studies done by secular researchers at Stafford and Harvard into the effect of divorce on children have shown that it can really mess kids up. Lower marks, higher dropout rates in school, higher crime rates, higher teen pregnancy rates, and higher teen suicide rates are the harvest that we are reaping in the children of broken homes.

Kids aren’t nearly as tough as we thought they were, the secular world is finding out what God’s word has told us for thousands of years and that is that the best home for children is where their natural parents are.

But that really isn’t a factor anymore because those are things that may happen tomorrow but right now, I’m not happy and I want to be happy.

And so now I struggle with how to pastor a church where marriage is highly valued, but where we are able to accept and love those who are no longer married.

How to say on one hand, “God wants you to stay together” but on the other hand not reduce those who have been divorced to second-class Christians.

My message today for those of you whose marriages have ended is that God loves you, and God forgives you. My message today for those of you who are still married is that God loves you and He wants your marriage to last.

But how? How do we make marriages last? Good question. But not an easy one. I think Helen Rowland had it right when she said “Marriage is like twirling a baton, turning handsprings or eating with chopsticks. It looks easy until you try it.” This morning though we are going to try and figure out some things that will increase the chances of our marriages staying together and we might as well start by listening to what some others had to say on the subject.

Anne Landers gives us Twelve Rules for a Happy Marriage. 1. Never both be angry at once. 2. Never yell at each other unless the house is on fire. 3. Remember that it takes two to make an argument. The one who is wrong is the one who will be doing most of the talking. 4. Yield to the wishes of the other–as an exercise in self-discipline, if you can’t think of a better reason. 5. If you have a choice between making yourself or your mate look good–choose your mate. 6. If you feel you must criticize, do so lovingly. 7. Never bring up a mistake of the past. 8. Neglect the whole world rather than each other. 9. Never let the day end without saying at least one complimentary thing to your life partner. 10. Never meet without an affectionate greeting. 11. When you’ve made a mistake, talk it out and ask for forgiveness. 12. Never go to bed mad.

Dr. Billy Graham’s wife Ruth Bell Graham said “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.”

It was also Mrs. Graham who when asked by an interviewer if she had ever considered divorce said “Murder yes, divorce never”

Henry Ford was asked on his 50th wedding anniversary for his rule for marital bliss and longevity. He replied, “Just the same as in the automobile business, stick to one model.”

Ephesians 5:32–33 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

1) Respect one another

Now, ladies before you get all bent out of shape, about the respect thing, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:7 In the same way, you husbands must give honour to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together.

The word translated respect and honour, were actually the same word in the original language and it means to revere.

Can I ask you a question? Sure, I can I have the mic. Do you revere your spouse? Have you ever revered your spouse? If you don’t now, and you did then, you have made a conscious decision to stop.

I am often shocked. Nah I’m not, I’ve gotten over that, I’m not often shocked anymore but I am dismayed at the way people often treat or are treated by their spouse.

This is supposedly the person you loved more than life itself, the person that you would do anything for and yet you would never consider speaking to a total stranger or even a casual friend in the same manner that some people speak to their spouses.

It’s not harmless you know if it was, we’d treat everyone that way. When psychologists Cliff Nortarius and Howard Markman studied newlyweds over the first decade of marriage, they discovered that couples who stayed together uttered 5 or fewer put-downs in every 100 comments to each other. But couples who inflicted twice as many verbal wounds — 10 or more putdowns out of every 100 comments — later split up.

Watch what you say! Little, nit-picking comments are like cancer in marriage, slowly draining the life out of a committed relationship. Take a minute and decide to treat your spouse with respect, maybe even revere them. You say, “not until they smarten up” The problem is that while you’re not responsible for their actions you are responsible for theirs, remember what Christ told us in Luke 6:31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

Do you do that? If your spouse could only presume that the way you treat them is the way you wanted to be treated yourself what would their behaviour be like? After all success in marriage consists not only in finding the right mate but also in being the right mate.

2) Don’t Lose Your First Love Can you remember back far enough to remember how you felt about your partner when you got married. Or how about when you were courting? There are very few people in our society who have to get married, even those people who say, “well you just don’t understand Denn we had to get married.” You didn’t have to get married, you chose to get married.

Most of us get married because we want to. Because we love our partners, and we want to spend the rest of our life with them. It’s too bad we couldn’t bottle that love so when we feel it slipping away, we could take it down and take a big snort of it.

In the book of Revelation 2:1–5 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:  “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars.  You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.  “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.

Throughout the New Testament marriage has been used as an analogy for the relationship between Christ and His Church. As a matter of fact, the same analogy is used for Israel and God in the Old Testament.

Here in the Revelation, a letter is written to the church in Ephesus, the same church that Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians to. And in this message, Christ says that the Ephesian church should be proud of a whole bunch of things “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars.  You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 

Wow, that is some kind of Church, but Christ goes on to say “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.”

A church that did all the right things but didn’t love Christ, I mean they used to love Christ but at some point, they stopped loving Christ. And He told them to remember what it had been like, how far they had moved away from that first love.

For a moment this morning would you be willing to remember what your love was like? Would you be willing to remember at what point it changed, and became greater or less than it had been?

And would you be willing to admit that wherever it is now is because you, not somebody else, but you made a conscious decision for it either to become better or worse?

3) Take out the Garbage I hate taking out the garbage, but it’s one of my jobs has been since we got married. It’s engraved in stone somewhere “The husband shall take out the garbage”. But the reality is this “If you don’t carry out the garbage, one day your house will become a dump.”

You make a deliberate conscious choice to carry out the garbage, you can’t think it out, you can’t wish it out, it won’t walk out by itself.

If it’s going to get out of the house somebody has to take it out. In Ephesians 4:26–27 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,  for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Years ago we had a psychiatrist in the church who told me something which has had a real impact on my thinking.  He told me nobody could make me angry. That anger was a choice, and I could choose to get angry over something you might say or do, but you didn’t make me angry.

I needed to hear that. But sometimes we do get angry and sometimes we get angry at someone we love whether we should or not is a different story. Somebody once said, “Marriage is nature’s way of keeping people from fighting with strangers.”

Paul gives us some advice for when we get angry, he says “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,  for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Take the garbage out, don’t let it collect because it never gets easier to take out just more difficult as it collects. Learn to deal with it and when you have dealt with it don’t tuck it away to drag out as ammunition the next time you need it. 1 Corinthians 13 is called the love chapter and it talks a lot about what love is and isn’t and what love does and doesn’t in verse 5 it says Love keeps no record of wrongs.

The actress Marlene Dietrich obviously understood this because she said “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.”

 And it applies equally as well to husbands. After all, it was Christ who said in Matthew 6:14–15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Do you really think that Christ would require us to forgive everyone except our spouses? And if He does require that of us then He is telling us if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven, and if I understand it if we aren’t forgiven then we don’t get into heaven, so the choice is really to forgive or go to hell. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

4) Communicate One of my pet peeves is drive-throughs, you know at Macdonald’s or Dairy Queen or Horton’s.

You pull up and hear “MMmMMMMm” and you presume that what they said was “Good afternoon can I take your order” and so you say “Yes, I’ll have a Big Mac, a large fry, an apple pie and a diet coke” and they say “MMmmMMmMmmm”. You get to the window, and you have chicken nuggets, a salad, and a chocolate shake. In Australia the fast-food joints had done away with the squawk box and added an extra window with a real person who would say “Good afternoon can I take your order”

Marriage Counsellor Gary Smalley recommends that when we are having difficulty communicating that we try repeating what we think we hear because sometimes they can be very different.

When I was 17, I spent a summer on one of Irving’s oil tankers, and I was the helmsman, which means I got to steer. I had my driver’s licence for less than a year and got to drive a 630-foot ship full of gasoline.

And when we traded off at the helm, we would tell our relief what course we were steering, then they would repeat it to us, and we would repeat it back and only then could then take the wheel repeating the course back one more time. So, it might go like this steering 154, 154? 154 OK steering 154.

When Apollo 13 got into trouble, the only way they got out of it was by communicating with Houston Control. If you don’t talk to one another, your marriage is doomed. And I don’t mean Hi, how are you? It’s a nice day unless it rains!

I mean talking at the feeling level. And realize that men and women speak a different language and what you hear your spouse say may not be what they meant to say. If you are married and haven’t read this book, you should. (Men are waffles, women are spaghetti.) 

5) Today isn’t forever Recognize that the problems you are having today aren’t eternal. Couples have problems for different reasons. Maybe it’s stress at work, or the kids, or school, or finances. We go through different stages and phases in our lives, and sometimes they contribute to problems in our marriages. I have said time and time again, “Divorce is a long-term solution to a short-term problem.” It’s like cutting off your head because you have a cold, it might solve the problem, but it’s probably a little drastic.

1987-88 was not a good year for Angela and me.

In June, we moved out of our home and into a basement apartment while we waited for the new parsonage, a 120-year-old house, to be renovated. In July there was a conference and camp meeting in New Brunswick, August and September were spent renovating, and we moved again the first of October.

During that time, I was pastoring a church, and I was in the midst of a building project overseeing a million-dollar addition to the old church.

I was president of Colchester Right to Life and president of the Truro and area Ministerial. I was district director of Young Adults, as well as organizing a young adult’s rally in Washington DC.

I came home to eat and sleep, and sometimes just to sleep, and we had some marriage stress which is like saying that sometimes it rains in Nova Scotia. I often said only half-jokingly at the time that Truro Wesleyan Church was my mistress, which wasn’t really true because I was spending a lot more time with her than I was with my wife.

Angela had two kids at home, a newborn and a three-year-old, and she could very well have been a single mom. Except a single mom wouldn’t have had to put up with me when I was there. We often say that we had to stay together, or I would have lost my job, which may not be a bad way to deal with the divorce problem.

But you know what we got through 1987, even though it could be described in the same way that Queen Elizabeth described 1992 as her annus horribilis. And what would have happened if we had just walked away from it all if we had gotten divorced to solve our problems? We solved our problems a little more creatively. We moved to Australia, but our marriage is stronger than ever because problems don’t last, but marriages are supposed to.

6) Ask for help. When Jim Lovell radioed Houston control and said, “Houston, we have a problem, what he was saying was, “HELP” We need to recognize that sometimes we can’t do it by ourselves, we need friends, and sometimes we need professional help. Face it, sometimes when you have car problems, you can fix them yourself, but sometimes it’s going to take a professional to fix it, and when it does, you pay the bill because you have to.

If you need professional help, get it, I’m a shade tree mechanic when it comes to marriage counselling. Sometimes I can help you fix a little problem but face it. I’m a preacher, not a counsellor, so sometimes, my best advice is for you to find a pro, and I can provide you with the names and numbers of pros.

And you might be thinking that a marriage counsellor is expensive.  Maybe, but trust me, they are nowhere near as expensive as a divorce lawyer.

And don’t forget God, He’s got a stake in your marriage too, and He wants to help. It might not hurt to pray together.

Have you ever looked at a braid? It looks like two pieces of hair, but two pieces of hair can’t make a braid. They need the third piece to hold them together. God is the third strand in the braid of our marriage, and He wants to keep us together, so maybe it’s time to ask Him to help.

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