Matt Sturdevant: Well, good morning. I’m so excited to be starting this new series, The Proven Playbook: God’s Plan for Family. Back in the fall when we were planning, we knew that Pastor Harold was going to be having surgery, so the plan that we laid was that Pastor Brian would do the December series. Pastor Ben would do the January series, and then at that time, I had the February series. As things turned out, I had no idea that we would be making the announcement we made last Sunday that I would be the lead pastor elect. So this week, I was thinking, “Wow, talk about pressure when you’re trying to prepare for a series and a message.” But I really am excited that we’re starting this series, because we get to take a look at the connection between two of the most important things we have in our lives. Those two important things are one, God’s Word, the Bible, and the other thing is our family. We’re going to take a look at those during this series.
In fact, that’s why we’ve called the series The Proven Playbook: God’s Plan for Family. Because if you didn’t know this, God’s actually the One who invented this thing we call family. Not only did He invent it and create it, He also gave us this critical resource so that we could know what He expected and what’s His best. He gave us this resource of His Word, the Bible. If you want to win in football or really any team sport for that matter, you’ve got to have a playbook, and not just a playbook but a proven playbook. A playbook with plays that you know if we run these plays we’re going to be successful. Well, a playbook, what is that? It’s simply a collection of your plays and strategies. In fact many of us being from the Dallas Fort Worth area, we say “Tom Landry” and we know who we’re talking about. We have a freeway named after him out there. He was the head coach for the Cowboys for 29 seasons, and he had a playbook.
I found this picture here on the internet of his 1972 playbook. It actually sold at auction a few years back, and these are some images of his actual playbook. In order to have a chance of success, the team’s got to know what’s in the head, in the mind, of their head coach. They’ve got to know what he thinks, what he expects, so they can run those plays. God has similarly given us a playbook. As followers of Jesus, we want to know what God’s thinking, how does He work, and what does He expect from us. He’s actually given us all that information in His Word, and we’re going to take a look at that. Every successful team needs a proven playbook, and this is our proven playbook, the Bible, God’s Word. When you think about marriage specifically, the very best marriages take a lot of hard work and intentionality. We’re going to be focusing today specifically on marriage in a couple of minutes. We’re going to take a look at what does the playbook say about marriage. Not only just the playbook, but I’m also going to share some experiences from my own life. I’ve been married for just over 18 years, and I’m going to share some of the experiences I’ve seen others with successful marriages and how they’ve run the plays that we find in the playbook.
Last month on January 4th, my wife, Jessica, and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. When I look at that picture, two things...One, if you wondered what I looked like with hair, there is a picture of it. The other thing, I look back at that picture, and I see just a couple of kids who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into. I mean, really, do we really ever know what we’re getting ourselves into until we actually get married and find that out? One of the things that Jessica and I were committed to is that we were both individually committed to living our lives based on the playbook, God’s Word. So when we got married and started our family and our family life, we had that same commitment that we were going to live our lives according to the playbook even if we didn’t want to in any particular moment. I can stand before you now, 18 years and two kids later, and say that we do not have a perfect marriage. There are no perfect marriages, but we have a really, really, really good marriage as a result of making the playbook a priority in our lives and in our marriage.
And lest you think that you’ve had a nearly easy life, we’ve not had an easy life. We faced our own challenges in our 18 years of marriage. We’ve faced some serious health concerns; we’ve faced financial challenges. We faced a season of unexplained infertility, and now we have two children. We have the great joy and privilege of being in our 40’s with a four year old and a two and a half year old. One of the things I get to do is I get to train young men and women who are looking towards a ministry career. One of the things I tell them is that if it is at all possible, start your family younger because you have more energy when you’re younger. We have two, precious, wonderful children who have a whole lot more energy than their parents do. Regardless of the season and the challenge that we’ve faced, we have been and we are committed to living our lives according to the playbook. I can tell you that we have been able to experience joy and blessing over those 18 years because of that choice.
Also as we get started, I feel like I need to make this quick disclaimer. So we started out with the “February series,” then as I was putting some things together I thought, “Let’s do a football themed series, because it’s Superbowl Sunday, right?” Football is something that most of us Americans can relate to in one way or another. Then, I’m kind of a casual guy, so I thought I want to wear a jersey on stage, and I want to invite all of you to wear your jerseys and your favorite team colors. So, here we are. My disclaimer is this; that by doing this series and this message today, we are not endorsing any team, any player, any sport. We’re not endorsing the Super Bowl; we’re endorsing the NFL, Fox, or any other tv network. We are also not endorsing anyone affiliated with the above who may say or do something inconsistent or contrary from the message of the Bible. What are we doing? We’re just having fun on a day that most Americans are thinking about football. Okay? That’s what we’re doing today.
Brian mentioned you have a listening guide there in your program if you want to follow along. As we begin this series, I want to begin by sharing with you the approach that we’re taking to this entire series. It includes today but the entire series as we think about family. We all come from different backgrounds, and we’ve had different experiences. So, I want you to know the angle that I’m coming from as we approach this series. For starters, the Bible is God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word to us, and if we’re going to do a series about The Proven Playbook: God’s Plan for Family, I want you to know that we believe the Bible. We are basing it on the Bible because the Bible is God’s Word to us. If you were to look on our website, you’d find a statement that says, “We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It’s accurate, authoritative, and applicable to our everyday lives.” This is our position as a church. This is also my personal conviction as a follower of Jesus Christ and a pastor, that the Bible is God’s Word to us.
In fact, one of the key Scriptures on this is 2 Timothy 3:16. It says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” This is why in addition to being in a gathering like this on Sunday mornings, we’ve got to spend time in God’s Word individually on our own because the Bible instructs us on life. It instructs us on how to live. The second thing you need to know about the approach to this series is that God doesn’t think like we do. He doesn’t think like you; He doesn’t think like me. I think, especially as Americans, it’s easy for us when we picture, “What is God like?” We think, “Well, of course He’s bigger and all knowing and smarter and all powerful, but He’s a lot like me.” That’s actually not how God is. God does not think like you; He doesn’t think like me. He doesn’t think like an American. He doesn’t even think like a Christian. He is God, and the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “‘My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,’ says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’”
This is why I’m so grateful that my college mentor relentlessly got after me with the question of, “What does the Bible say about that?” What does the Bible say about that? What does the Bible say about that? We find the mind of God and His thoughts contained in the Bible. As it turned out, what God thinks and what the Bible says was very different from much of what 19 through 22 year old Matt thought. I’ve continued to find that true over the years as I read God’s Word and I find out what He thinks. It’s different than what sometimes I think. That being said, I want to encourage you because we’re going to approach this with the Bible being God’s Word to us and with the understanding that God doesn’t think like we do. If you hear something today or something in the series that you don’t like or that you disagree with, I want to challenge you not to check out and just dismiss it but actually check it out. Spend the next four weeks with us checking it out. Don’t check out; check it out.
Another thing that’s really important for us as we approach this series is I want to acknowledge the tension that exists. It’s a tension between God’s ideal and a broken world’s real. What do I mean by that, God’s ideal and a broken world’s real? Well for starters, we’re all a mess. I’m a mess; in case you didn’t know, you’re a mess, too. We’re all a mess. There are no perfect marriages. There are no perfect families. There are no perfect children. None of us are perfect. In fact if we took a survey of everyone here this morning, I guarantee you that there are some here who are riding on a high right now. You’ve had just a wonderful week, and maybe you’ve had the best Christmas time ever with your family. When you think about family, you think about joy and peace and wonderful times. Then there are others here who are feeling and experiencing the exact opposite right now. There’s real pain and hurt and this is just a difficult time for you. Some of us have recently gotten married or had a child; others have recently lost a spouse or a child through illness, disease, abandonment or divorce. This is what I mean by there’s this tension between God’s ideal and the broken world’s real.
We ought to ask, “Where did this tension come from? How did we get here?” Well when God created this world and everything in it, He created it perfectly. He created a perfect world, perfect people, but those first perfect people, because God gave them the freedom to choose, chose to do the very thing that He told them not to do. They rebelled against God, and when Adam as the first man rebelled against God and sinned against God, he acted as the head of all mankind. From that moment, this world that we live in fell into a state of sin. That’s where we have this broken world reality that we live in now. We live in a broken world with broken people. Therefore, those broken people are in broken relationships with one another. It’s possible to experience joy and happiness and beauty even though we’re living in a broken world, but when you think about the pain and the problems and where it comes from, this is where it comes from. We live in this real tension, a tension between God’s ideal and a broken world’s real.
Because of our sin, we’re all separated from God. There’s nothing that we can do on our own to bridge the gap between Him and us. We’re separated from Him. That’s part of the broken world reality that we experience and that we live in. But God, because He loves us so much and He wants to have a relationship with us, took it upon Himself to rescue us, to provide a way for us to be reconnected with Him. That way is found in a person; the Person is Jesus Christ, His very own Son who came to this world to live the perfect life that we couldn’t live to die the death that we deserve to die so that we could be reunited back to God our Father. That is the Good News; that’s the gospel right there. In fact I heard it once said that the gospel in a nutshell is that you don’t have to stay the way you are. Because of what Christ has done for us, we don’t have to stay the way that we are.
We go back to the fact, though, that we’re living in this broken world reality, and we experience this tension on a daily basis. What is my goal and my desire for us today and as we go through the rest of this series? It’s this that we look at what the Playbook says. God, the Author of life, the One that gave us His Word and His plays...I want us to look and say, “What does the Playbook actually say?” Then I want each one of us to identify where we are at today. When we think about that tension between God’s ideal and the broken world’s real. Where are we at? How can we identify a step that we can take from wherever we are, a step in the direction closer to God’s ideal? We’re going to acknowledge that we live in this broken world reality because I tell you this. As we make a shift and we walk closer in the direction of what God has said, we can experience real joy and happiness in the middle of this broken world reality.
I don’t know where you’re at in your family. I don’t know where you’re at in your marriage, but what I do know is you don’t have to stay where you are, wherever that is. With God’s help, you can experience change in the midst of whatever you’re experiencing right now. That’s going to be our approach to this series. I want to spend the rest of our time today specifically looking at marriage. What does the Playbook say about marriage? We want to look at the core purpose of marriage, and then I want to look at seven ways we can team together in marriage. We have to start a series on family with marriage because marriage is the core foundation of the family. I’ve listed some key Scriptures there for you in your handout, and we’re going to look at those in just a second. Personally, I wish that God, as He gave us His Word, that somewhere in the 66 chapters that He would have just given us a book of marriage. Right? So there’s the book of marriage and the book of first child and the book of second child, the book of third child, the book of McSpadden that talks about having nine children. That would have been really great if that is how God had put the Bible together. Right? But in His infinite wisdom, that’s not what He did. That’s not how He chose to do it.
Instead, what we find is He specifically talks about marriage in the Old and New Testaments. Then, throughout the entire Playbook, He talks about relationships; He talks about our purpose. He talks about family. He talks about all these other things that relate to the marriage relationship and family, so we have to look at the entire Playbook to actually understand what God’s plan for marriage and family is. A couple of key Scriptures...first of all, God is the One who thought up marriage. We see that all the way in Genesis 2 verse 24. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” God thought up marriage; He’s the One who invented it. Fast forward to the New Testament to the Gospels, and Jesus affirmed that. He said, “Have you not read that He who created them made them male and female and said, ‘Therefore, he shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.’” God created it, and then Jesus affirmed it.
Then when we dig further into the New Testament, the apostle Paul and other leaders of the early church helped give further clarification on how we’re supposed to relate to one another in the context of marriage. We see in Ephesians 5, “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” You might be thinking, “Matt, that’s great. That’s what the Bible says about marriage, but what are we supposed to actually do? What is the purpose and the point of marriage?” Because quite frankly, that is something not within the church but within our culture and our society right now, that’s a big question. What’s the purpose of marriage? Why even get married? God has given us something very clear. He’s given us a purpose for our marriages. If you look at the entire Playbook, not just those few verses, but if you put the entire Playbook together, here’s a simple summary statement about the purpose of marriage. It’s this. The purpose of marriage is to team together in doing the will of God in the earth. To team together in doing the will of God in the earth...marriage is not just two people who saw each other from across the room and then decided to get married and start a family. God actually intends us to in our marriages to team together, to be friends, to be companions, to work together. That thing we do in working together is to do His will in the earth.
Then we have to ask another question. What is God’s will in the earth? Looking at the entire Playbook, we see that there are three basic elements to God’s will in this earth. What we should be doing individually and those who are married… Us and our spouse get to team together to do God’s will. Those three elements are these...honoring God through the mundane. Honoring God through the mundane is commonly referred to as the Great Mandate. We find it in Genesis 1:28. It essentially says to raise a family and play a role in society. As we go about our days, honor God in the mundane. I changed a pull-up this morning when one of my children woke up. Talk about something that’s mundane, but I’m to go about my day and honor God as I go through my day even through the mundane things.
We honor God through the mundane; next is loving God and people. We commonly refer to this as the Great Commandment. We find it in Matthew 22. As we go about our days, God’s will is that we do it in a way that is loving God, and we’re loving people. Then the third part is that as we go about our days God’s will is that we would advance His kingdom. We commonly refer to this as the Great Commission. We find it in Matthew 28. This is the core of what our lives are to be about. Whether you’re single or you’re married, this is what your life should be about. If you’re married, you team together to do this. The purpose of marriage, simply stated, is to team together in doing the will of God in the earth.
There’s no perfect marriages, because there are no perfect people. But I want to be clear that the only way we can fulfill the purpose of marriage is to understand and live within the Biblical definition of marriage. We believe, according to God’s Word, that a marriage was designed by God and is to be between one man and one woman as a life-long commitment. That is to be something honored by everyone. That’s the definition of marriage that we find in God’s Word. If our purpose is to team together doing God’s will, we have to go back to that fact that we’re all a mess. We have to realize that that in and of itself creates some problems and some challenges because each one of us are broken and each one of us are sinners. You have husband sinner with all of his flavors and preferences and wife sinner with all of her flavors and preferences. Sometimes those complement each other well, and you’re able to team. And other times, you do this (fists hitting together).
One of the great challenges we have in a marriage is we have to make a mindset shift. We have to shift the mindset from me to we. When we get married, we’re no longer just a me. Really, each one of us is hard-wired for selfishness and arrogance. You never really had to think about yourself. We do that automatically. It’s easy to think about me, but the second you get married there’s now a we that you have to begin to think about and to consider. In fact, that “we” expands; you have one is the me. Then two is the husband and wife, and it gets bigger when you add kids. One kid and then another kid and then another kid...so shifting this mindset from me to we. The best quarterback in the world...I’m not going to give you a name. You can decide who that is. The best quarterback in the world is just one of 11 players on the field for his team. He can’t win alone. At a bare minimum, he’s got to have somebody snap the ball. Right? Even if he can do all the running himself and he can find the hole and score the points, he’s at least got to have somebody pass him the ball. Usually you need somebody to block; you need somebody you have the option to hand it off to or to throw to. There’s this shift from me to we, this collective we.
I want to look at seven practical ways that we can team together in marriage. Some of these we’re going to hit pretty quick because they relate to other weeks coming up in the series. Wherever you’re at in your marriage or as you’re thinking about this, I want to give you just seven practical ways that we team together. The first one is by playing your position well. If you look at football, you have 11 players on the field for each one of the teams. Every player on the offense and on the defense each have a position; they have a role, something that they’re going to do to try to help their team win. On the offense, you’re trying to score as many points as possible. On the defense, you’re trying to stop the other team from scoring points. When we think about our marriages and our families, God has uniquely designed us male and female. Both men and women have equal value and equal worth before the Lord, but the way He has designed it, the way He has put things together, is that we have different roles to play in our marriages.
In your handout, I’ve listed several of the verses. You can read on your own all the verses that talk about husbands and wives, but as a study of all those verses, it boils down to this. It boils down to the fact that God has given the husband the role to lead courageously, and He’s given the wife the role to follow aggressively. It can look a lot of different ways in your marriages, but basically if you’re married and you think about your marriage team, husbands, it’s your job to lead courageously. Wives, it’s your job to follow aggressively. So what is that supposed to look like? Well, it’s looked different over my 18 years of marriage, but I want to let you into a near real time example of how that’s looked in our marriage. Recently, we walked through this season as we were considering me taking the position of lead pastor of Hope Church. That was a real opportunity for Jessica and I to team together. That was a real opportunity for me to lead courageously and for her to follow aggressively. So, I just want to give you a brief insight into what that looked like. I have Jessica’s permission and blessing to share that. By the way, if you ever want to share insider things in your marriage, it’s helpful to get your spouse’s permission before you share it with hundreds of people.
My job was to lead courageously. What did that look like? Well, for starters, I mentioned I was on this roller coaster. As I’m thinking and considering, I’ve got to pray. I’m praying, and there’s a verse that talks about “pray without ceasing;” I pretty much got to experience that in the fall. I’m praying and talking to God throughout this time. I’m getting some counsel and some input from some of my advisors. I’m considering and re-evaluating my original call into ministry, what that looked like from several years ago. And, does this fit into that? Then, I”ve also got to lead Jessica through this process, which means I’ve got to talk to her. I’ve got to share with her my feelings, my thoughts, just things that God’s speaking to me about. So that’s what it looked like for me to lead. I’m the leader; I’ve got to courageously lead us and move forward, but she’s got to follow aggressively. What would that look like? That looked like her praying a lot, her listening to me as I processed. Another thing that it looked like was her asking me some really good and some really hard questions. Based on what I was sharing with her and what I was processing and feeling and thinking about, she was asking me good and hard questions.
In fact at one point, this is where you need to have a good teammate who will reflect Truth back to you. At one point, I was sharing some things with her, and she just looked at me and said, “I think those are really excuses and not reasons. I think that God might really be preparing us as a family and has been preparing you for this role.” She spoke Truth to me when I needed to hear the Truth. What Jessica did not do was just say, “Yes, sir. Whatever you say, sir. Let me follow you, sir.” That’s not following aggressively. In that moment I needed a teammate who was right there with me, who was involved with what was happening. I needed to play my role, but I needed her to play her role--ask me questions, reflect Truth, and encourage me when I needed to be encouraged. So I can stand in front of you last week and this and on into the future and say that I feel confident that this is the next step that God has called me to in being the lead pastor of Hope. In part, that’s because of the aggressive following that my wife did being the kind of teammate that I needed when I needed her. So, we’ve been given positions and roles.
The next one is remember who your Head Coach is. We all have a Head Coach, and in our football analogy, the Head Coach is really God. The teammates, it kind of looks like this; the teammates, a husband and a wife, need to speak to one another and communicate. But God is our Head Coach, and we communicate with God individually because each of us have our own individual walks with God. Then as we are increasing our walk with God, we’re actually being drawn closer together. One of the beauties in the way that this works is that before Jessica is my wife, she is actually a daughter of God, which means that as she is pursuing her own relationship with God, He is giving her insights. He is changing her if she needs to be changed, and it’s not my job. Then for her, as I pursue God, He is changing me, and that’s not her job. That eliminates a lot of the conflict that we sometimes experience in marriages. Remember that God is your Head Coach.
The next thing is by huddling often that’s another way that we can team together. On February 16th, we’re going to take a look specifically at communication and conflict. The key here is that you actually have to communicate. If you’re married, you actually have to communicate with your spouse. Guys, let me talk to you here for just a second. Guys, we have to do more than grunting. One, your wife, if she tries to read your mind, she’s not going to be able to, and it’s going to drive both of you crazy if she does. We have to communicate more in our marriages. We’ll talk more about that on February 16th.
Another way that we team is by calling an audible when necessary. The quarterback is on the field, and he’s looking at the way things are lining up. He knows the play that the coach intended for them to make, but then he’s going to read what’s going on. If he sees that he doesn’t like the way that the defense is lining up, then he’s going to call another play. The next play that he calls might be different than what was agreed upon in the huddle, but the goal is still to get them to the endzone to score. In our marriages, we’ve got to be willing to call an audible when necessary because again life is messy and unpredictable. If you’ve got a plan, then you can change the plan, but you’ve got to be willing and ready to adapt when necessary.
Another way that we team is by watching out for fouls. Remember that you and your spouse are on the same team. You’re not on opposite teams, even though at times it may feel that way. We actually have a real opponent, and we’ll take a look at that on February 23rd. The key here is to remember that you and your spouse are on the same team, but because we each have our own version and flavor of brokenness, there’s going to be times when we get crossways. We commit fouls against each other. We need to watch out for that. Two of the most common fouls are comparison and complaining. We want to watch out for those. We want to minimize those and clean them up when necessary.
Another way that we team is we call a timeout when necessary. Sometimes you need more than a quick huddle. You need to call a timeout; you need to step back. You need to get off the field for a minute; you need to get some perspective. You need to get some help, maybe. One of the ways that we want to help you get some perspective is we’re excited to bring back Dr. Nathan Lewis this spring. Coming up on the weekend of March 27th and 28th, Dr. Lewis will be here. Back in the fall, he did a parenting through the stages seminar for us. This spring we’re going to look at key relational practices that allow marriages to thrive. You want to mark your calendars for the weekend of March 27th and 28th, and we’ll have more information for you to come. Sometimes the way we take a timeout is we get some perspective that we can take back into our marriages. Another timeout that we need to take, and I’m saying this as a parent of a four year old and a two and a half year old, is that sometimes a timeout involves no children. Because as parents, we’ve got to have a time for ourselves to reconnect. That means paying money for a babysitter. That means doing whatever you need to do to have that time.
The seventh way that we team is by remembering the win. It’s been awhile since we’ve had that memory here in Dallas, but in our marriages, we need to remember the win. Going back to the purpose and the goal is to team together to do the will of God in the earth. Sometimes we’re so consumed with what’s right in front of us that we forget the win. We forget the goal. We need to step back; we need to remember the win. Now in football, if the clock is running down, you’re in a position where you need to have some plays that make a big impact in a very short amount of time. So what do you do in your marriage when you feel like the clock is running down, and you need to get some plays that have maximum impact in a very short amount of time? I’m going to give you two of what I call my “game-changers.” These are two of my go-to game changers, and I want to give them to you to use as you see helpful.
The biggest game changer we have is simply to pray. Stop what you’re doing, and pray. If you don’t know what to do, pray. If you think you know what to do, pray. Pray and ask God for help. James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” In those times, in those moments of stress when you don’t know what to do, the thing you can always do whether it’s marriage, whether it’s parenting, whether it’s any other area of your life, is just stop and pray and ask for help.
The second game changer is to introduce and live love and kindness. Our society has unfortunately reduced love to a feeling. Right? Well, I feel in love, then as the wind blows, I don’t feel love. But, that’s not what the Playbook says love. In fact, love in the Playbook is not just this feeling that comes and goes, but it’s actually an action. 1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “Love is patient and kind…” I could just drop the mic right here, and we could go home. Introduce love and kindness through patience into your marriage, and you can experience a game changer. But I don’t know what you may currently be struggling with, but just imagine for a minute whatever tensions or struggles you might have. What would it look like if you stopped and prayed, asked God for help and wisdom, and then you committed to be the one who took the first step of love and kindness? The best marriages take a lot of hard work, and they take commitment. Every successful team has a proven playbook, and the purpose of marriage is to team together. As we do that, this is our proven Playbook.
I want to invite the band to come back out, and I’ve asked them to play a special song for us. As they play, I want you to listen, and I want you to pray and consider what next steps God might have for you as you approach family, specifically your marriage. Because we live in this broken world reality, one of the things that’s really easy to have happen is to get overwhelmed, especially if you have small kids in the house or if you’ve got teenagers in the house or teenagers out of the house. It really doesn’t matter, but with marriage and parenting and family, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. If we get overwhelmed, it’s easy to get into discouragement. If we get discouraged, it’s easy to stop moving forward towards the goal, towards the purposes God has for us.
I want you to listen to this song; the first verse goes like this: “God, I look to You. I won’t be overwhelmed. Give me vision to see things like you do. God, I look to You. You’re where my help comes from. Give me wisdom to know just what to do.”