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It was a muggy Tuesday morning, a subtle signal that summer in Iowa wasn't quite over. I rose early, kissed Barb good-bye, and drove out to the new campus of the large, growing West Des Moines church where we are members. Barb and I were in the final stages of preparation for the kickoff of our national Divorce-Proofing America's Marriages campaign. The launch would take place in only a few days with our first major conference right here in our home church.
The purpose of that early morning meeting was to pray with the church's pastors and elders about the upcoming conference. We were all too aware that the marriages and families in our church were under attack. Satan is just as active in West Des Moines as he is in your community, attempting to damage lives, destroy marriages, and divide families. We were gathering that Tuesday morning as part of a determined counteroffensive. As church leaders, we were drawing a line in the sand to say corporately, "No more, not here. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
I arrived early and walked through the sanctuary, praying over every seat, anticipating what God would do in the lives of the approximately eleven hundred people who would attend the conference. By God's grace, we were going to take back some territory that the enemy had wrongfully claimed as his own. As I prayed, I sensed a rekindling of the call God had placed on Barb's heart and mine: to lay down our lives in ministry for the families of America. Faith rose within me. I knew God was ready to do great things in the marriages and families of our city and around the country.
I had just completed my sanctuary prayer walk and had begun praying with the elders when one of the elders who had left the church early hurried back into the sanctuary. He had received a call on his cell phone and had returned to relay the message to us in somber tones. "My wife says there's been a plane crash in New York City. We need to turn on the TV. They're saying America is under attack."
It was Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001-a date we all refer to today simply as 9/11. Like Barb and me, you will never forget where you were that morning.
I joined our pastors and elders around a television set in the church office. We watched in numb shock as the sky around the first World Trade Center tower filled with smoke. Then a jetliner slammed into the second tower, exploding into a ball of flames-right before our eyes. I was horrified and grief-stricken, realizing that hundreds of people had died in that incident alone.
News coverage cut away to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the smoldering remains of a third airplane crash. Soon there was news of another crash outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a crash that perhaps was connected to the others. It was a terrorist attack, everyone on TV now said. Where would they strike next? We prayed together as a group, then we rushed out to the parking lot and headed home to our families.
Barb had been watching television when the whole event unfolded before her eyes on the screen. When I got home, we called our two grown daughters to comfort them and reassure them. Then we watched in horror as the first and then the second tower collapsed. The early projections were staggering: thousands of innocent people killed in the attack. What kind of people were behind such a diabolical act?
We were awestruck by the irony. At the same time I was praying against the attack on the families in our church, terrorists were unleashing the most devastating peacetime attack on the United States in its history. The spiritual battle in West Des Moines, Iowa, was only a microcosm of what was happening across our great country. The reality burned into our hearts: We are in a spiritual conflict with eternal ramifications, and we dare not become complacent.
If we learned anything from 9/11, we learned that the world is not always a safe place. As pleasant and positive as most people are, there are also bad people out there, people who-for whatever twisted reason-are out to hurt instead of help, to wound instead of welcome. If we forget this reality or become too complacent in a sense of comfort and safety-wham!-someone with evil intent will take advantage of us. It happened one fall morning in New York City, rural Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. It happens every day in every corner of our fallen world. It's not only good common sense; it's a code to live by: be careful, be alert-or be sorry.
The battles against terrorism and other destructive influences in the physical world are not even half the story. We know that we are also in a spiritual battle. God's archenemy, Satan, is the ultimate terrorist, intent on bringing down anything God chooses and cherishes. The enemy works from the inside out, assaulting our minds and hearts, tempting us to sins of commission and omission, tantalizing us to compromise our obedience to Christ. We must be constantly on guard against this scheming devil whose mission is to "steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10).
No wonder Jesus offered warning after warning during his earthly ministry. Be on your guard, he said, against hypocrisy (Matthew 16:6-12), against greed (Luke 12:15), against persecution from others (Matthew 10:17), against false teaching (Mark 13:22-23), and against spiritual laziness and being unprepared for the Lord's return (Mark 13:32-37). "Be careful," he said in Luke 21:34, "or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation [another word for wild living], drunkenness and the anxieties of life [wildness may not be your problem, but maybe worry is]" (NIV).
The same caution echoes throughout the Scriptures. Take note and let each warning sink in:
* "Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you." (Deuteronomy 5:32, NIV)
* "Be careful that you do not forget the Lord." (Deuteronomy 6:12, NIV)
* "Be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses." (Joshua 23:6, NIV)
* "I am the Lord your God; ... be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 20:19, NIV)
* "Give careful thought to your ways." (Haggai 1:5, NIV)
* "Be careful to do what is right." (Romans 12:17, NIV)
* "Be careful that you don't fall!" (1 Corinthians 10:12, NIV)
* "Be very careful, then, how you live." (Ephesians 5:15, NIV)
* "Be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short." (Hebrews 4:1, NIV)
Be careful. Watch out. Be on guard. Because if you don't get hit today, you can bet you will be hit tomorrow or the day after. This is no action-adventure movie we're living in; it really is a hazardous and dangerous world out there.
Families under Attack
The warnings of Scripture are very relevant to our marriages and families. You and your spouse, along with your children, are near the top of the enemy's hit list. Your marriage is God's creation; your family is God's joy. So Satan is working hard to destroy your family relationship, demoralize you, and discredit your witness. He wants to isolate you from each other, from the Lord, and from other Christian families.
That's why we need the Lord-as individuals, couples, and families. That's why we need each other as husbands and wives. And that's why we need other believers around us: fellow church members, a Bible study group, a home fellowship group, or an accountability group. As a spouse and parent, you need someone to watch your back, monitor your blind spots, and walk beside you over the long haul. It's nearly impossible to guard your heart, your marriage, and your family alone.
For this very reason, our Divorce-Proofing America's Marriages campaign challenges couples to band together to study God's Word and apply biblically based divorce-proofing principles to their relationships. The enemy of our souls is not the kind of enemy you want to tackle one-on-one. When the crunch comes, you want other couples to stand with you and battle with you for your marriage and family.
The apostle Paul must have been thinking about these kinds of relationships when he wrote a few words to his friend and protégé Timothy. The old missionary soldier wrote, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7). When you are nearing the end of your life, wouldn't you as a couple love to send a letter to your grown children, your grandchildren, and your dearest Christian friends and boldly say something like that? "It's been a bloody fight against the enemies of our relationship, but we have battled to the end. It's been a tough race, but we're going to cross the finish line as winners. It's been a constant battle to keep our marriage on track, but here we are, still in one piece, and still together, ready to face our Lord."
Paul was alone sometimes during his ministry, but even then he depended on the friends who sustained him in vulnerable moments. Timothy was Paul's friend through ups and downs, hot and cold, thick and thin. Who are your friends? What other couples are praying for you as husband and wife? Who is checking in on you from time to time? If you don't have at least one or two other Christian couples who are standing with you prayerfully, you are particularly vulnerable to attack. A hungry lion in search of dinner watches for prey who have been separated from the safety of the herd. Similarly, Satan stalks about like a ravenous lion, looking for easy pickings. He knows that you are easier to bring down when you have no one to support you and protect you.
Behind every attack on your marriage and family is the master terrorist, Satan. Whatever strategy he may use to come after you, he always goes for the heart. That's why we need to guard our hearts. Because just when we begin to relax our guard, thinking our marriage is invulnerable to attack, he swoops in and nails us. As you will see shortly, if the enemy can get to your heart and the heart of your marriage, he has a good chance of bringing you down.
Why Listen to Us?
Why should you listen to us? Why do Barb and I have anything to tell you about marriages under attack, about guarding against the enemy of your heart, your marriage, and your family? Is it because I have a degree in counseling? No. My degree has equipped me to better understand the dynamics of marriage and family relationships, but the degree isn't enough to give us credibility to discuss the importance of guarding against attack.
Should you listen to us because Barb and I head a national ministry called America's Family Coaches, conduct marriage conferences around the country, and speak to hundreds of thousands of radio listeners every day on our live call-in program? No. Even though the ministry God has called us to has given us a broad platform to help men and women divorce-proof their families, it also isn't enough to give us credibility to say what needs to be said about guarding your heart.
Our number one qualification for helping you take a stand against the enemy of your marriage and family is that we've been there. We know what it means to be attacked. We came to understand the serious potential of unguarded hearts early in our marriage. Barb and I took a major hit that had the potential of derailing everything God had in store for us as individuals, a couple, and parents-and the attack would have hit our two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Missy, as well. We know that the heart of a Christian couple is vulnerable and in danger of a sinister and crippling attack because we lived through a subtle attack that slowly, almost imperceptibly, drew us apart emotionally. We tell the story in greater detail in our book Divorce-Proof Your Marriage, but let us summarize it here.
Nailed to the Wall by a Five-Year-Old
While I was completing my doctoral program, life was rather hectic for us. I was holding down a full-time job, studying most nights at the university library, and trying to be a good husband and father. And I thought I was doing a pretty decent job of it. Then one day little five-year-old Sarah brought me a picture she had drawn. "Daddy," she said, "look at the picture I drew of our family. Do you like it?"
As I studied the colorful crayon family portrait, I noticed an obvious omission. She had drawn herself, her mommy, and her sister, Missy. Even our dog, Katie, was there. But I was nowhere in the picture.
Pointing to her artwork, I inquired, "Sarah, where's Daddy?"
"Oh," she replied, "you're at the library."
Sarah's simple picture and explanation stunned me. It was the same kind of feeling I had seeing those airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers. I was immediately aware that something was very wrong, that I had been blind to an evil plot against my marriage and family. That day, suddenly, it exploded in my face. Our daughter saw me in the house nearly every day, but somehow she didn't see me as part of her family.
Staring at the picture, I was deeply shaken. Here I was, on the verge of becoming a professional Christian family counselor, and my own family relationship was in crisis. But instead of responding to Sarah and the situation at that time, I shut down emotionally and did nothing-mostly because I hadn't a clue about what to do.
I taped Sarah's picture to the dining room wall where Barb would see it. I didn't have the courage to show it to her myself. She saw it but said nothing to me. I wanted to talk to her about my extended absence from the family, but I didn't know what to say. I was in agony.
At the same time, Barb was also struggling. She had been as excited about my pursuing my doctorate as I was. We went into the grueling program with eyes wide open and completely in agreement. But as I became more and more of an absentee husband and father, she was tired and hurting-for good reason. I wasn't pulling my weight as a husband and father. Barb had always been optimistic, but even that was changing. She cried more often, growing more resentful toward my schooling, complaining more about my absence. Then she began to shut down emotionally. Our marriage was clearly under attack on both sides.
One night, weeks after Sarah showed me her picture, I crawled into bed and asked Barb a question. The lights were out, and I wasn't even sure she was awake. I said, "Did you see the family picture that Sarah drew?"
"Yes," she whispered.
Then I posed a simple, childlike question: "Barb, may I come home?"
I didn't have to explain. Barb understood. She too had sensed that I was no longer with her as I used to be. My body ate and slept at home, but my heart was far away from the very people I claimed to hold dearest. That night I acutely felt the loneliness Barb and our girls had been feeling for months and perhaps years. I wanted to come home, but I wondered if I was welcome anymore.
Excerpted from Guard Your Heart by Gary Rosberg Barbara Rosberg Copyright © 2003 by Gary and Barbara Rosberg. Excerpted by permission.
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