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July 24, 2012Leadership

Date Your Wife: An Interview with Justin Buzzard

I'm in Myrtle Beach this week with my family for a few days. While I'm here, I'll make a priority of taking my wife out for a nice date. This is not something we do occasionally, though. We do this often. Donna and I make it a priority to make time for one another.

That's why I was encouraged to see Justin Buzzard's new book Date Your Wife. Justin is a church planter in San Jose, Cali., and our paths have crossed a few times in the past. Throughout the book, Justin emphasizes the role the gospel should play in marriage. It reminded me of Erwin Lutzer's well-known phrase: "In marriage, the goal is holiness, not happiness." Happiness comes as a result of the holiness.

Justin will be hanging around the site today to answer questions and respond to comments. As a special bonus, I have three prizes to give away to commenters today-- a pair of $25 AMC Movie Theatres gift cards, and a copy of Justin's book. Just comment on the post below, ask a question, or tweet about the post to be entered in the giveaway.

What is the last foundational truth you want men who read your book to remember?

The difference maker in your marriage isn't you, it's Jesus. Jesus' presence is what changes everything, not your presence. Your exciting calling is to date your wife, to love your wife, to help your wife become her future glory-self--to help her become the woman she will one day be on the other side of the grave. But your job is not to be your wife's savior. Your wife needs only one Savior. Your wife needs only one Jesus.

You be you. And let Jesus be Jesus. Date your wife. And let Jesus save and sanctify your wife. The point of your marriage isn't you. The point of your marriage isn't your wife. The point of your marriage is to date your wife in such a way that showcases Jesus and his power to a world of husbands and wives, men and women, boys and girls, in desperate need of a God who can rescue, reconcile, restore, and redeem their broken lives. Marriage isn't ultimate. God is ultimate.

God created marriage so that we could better know and enjoy him. As we date our wives, as we experience the good, the bad, and the new in our marriages--the cycle of failure and grace and growth--we get to know what God is like. Marriage becomes a place where God shows up. We get to know a God who loved us, saw us leave, and fought to get us back. The point of marriage is the point of life: to know, enjoy, glorify, and experience our Triune God.

We often hear that it takes two to make a marriage work, but why do you think a great deal of responsibility rests on the husband's shoulders?

God gives men enormous responsibility. And the weightiest responsibility he gives to a man is a woman--a wife. In this union, a man's ability to cultivate and guard is put to the greatest test. Will the man lay down his life in order that his wife may flourish? That is the question that measures a marriage. In order for the garden of marriage to be properly cultivated and guarded, a man must give more than he's ever given.

Many men avoid this responsibility. Some men abandon this responsibility. A few men appreciate this responsibility. No man can handle this responsibility.

God has given man the ability to be the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to a marriage. Before you can be the best thing that ever happened to your marriage, you must see that you have always been the worst thing that happened to your marriage. If you want to change a marriage, change the man. Why? Because the man is what is wrong and the man is what, made right, alters the course of everything.

Do you think if men did a better job shouldering their responsibility marriages would be better?

Responsibility is a problem, but it isn't the heart of the problem. The problem is power. God gives men a mission. God commissions husbands to cultivate and guard--to date--their wives. This mission requires responsibility and power. The problem with men isn't the responsibility; the problem is men think they have the power to carry out the responsibility.

So, how do men get rid of their problem?

I think most men are fairly aware of their responsibility as husbands. They know they need to drive the car. But across our world men are sitting in their cars turning the key wondering why nothing is happening. Men don't see that their battery is dead. Men don't see that they need power from the outside, power that comes from someone else, in order to carry out the mission. I've told you the second most important truth to learn from this book: it's your fault--you are the worst thing that ever happened to your marriage. You needed to hear that first. Now let's hear the most important truth: Jesus makes men new--Jesus turns husbands like you and me into the best thing that ever happened to our marriages.

Responsibility: My response to his ability.

You crush a man if you only talk to him about responsibility. You empower a man if you talk to him about "response-ability"--about living life in response to the power and ability of God.

Manhood, husbandry, and Genesis 2:15 were never meant to be carried out in isolation from God. God gave the first man, and God gives us men, a mission that can be completed only through dependence. God doesn't demand men live life on the basis of their own resources; he summons us to live in confident dependence on his resources. He has the power. Our responsibility is to respond to his ability.

Jesus wakes us up to the life we were created to live--a life powered by God, not self. When Jesus gets a hold of a man, he makes a man new. He gives power. Jesus takes men with dead batteries and puts them in relationship with the living God. It's as though men experience Genesis 2:7 all over again: "Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."

Life feels new. The breath of life, the power and Spirit of God, begins taking over the operating system of a man's life. Trajectories change. Husbands who were stuck begin to move forward, begin to steer their marriage in a new and better direction.

What is behind our performance-based identity, and how does it impact a marriage?

Pride is what drives this. It's disguised pride. It's the worst kind of pride. When I base my identity on my performance instead of what God says about me, I'm putting myself at the center of my life instead of God. I measure myself instead of letting God measure me. I find my identity in myself, not in God.

Adam did it. I do it. You do it.

The heart of sin is building your identity on yourself instead of on God and his grace. The Bible calls this idolatry. You can't be the husband God wants you to be until you understand the idolatry in your life. Idolatry isn't bowing down to carved statues and dancing around totem poles; idolatry is putting something other than God at the center of your life.

Men are really good at idolatry. Men are really good at twisting the mandate of Genesis 2:15 and building their lives around the things they do rather than the gracious God who created them. Take this book as an example. The message of this book is not for husbands to start working hard at dating their wives and then to base their identity, marriage, and standing with God on how well they do at dating their wives. That message would only lead to deeper idolatry in a man's life--when a husband is performing well he will be proud of himself; when a husband is performing poorly at dating his wife he will be disgusted with himself. Whether it's good performance or bad performance, both responses are self-centered--both are the result of a man building his identity on what he does, not on the grace of God. Instead, the message of this book invites a man to discover a whole new identity, a whole new center to his life in the gospel of God, and for this new power to enable a man to relate to his wife in a whole new way.

How important is it for a husband to be a "dreamer" in his marriage?

There is one right way to respond to God's grace: with faith and a new dream. For the gospel to be a real power in your life and in your marriage, you must respond to it with faith--you must believe it. This isn't something you do once; this is something you do daily. Being born again, becoming a new man by the power of God's Spirit, is a miracle that happens only once. But everyday we face the opportunity to either rebelieve and live consistent with the miracle of grace or stay stuck in the mud of old ways. Because Jesus changes everything, every day we face the opportunity to pursue a new dream--a new vision for what life and marriage can look like.

Nothing happens without a dream.

Think about it. Think about any great accomplishment in world history--a big dream drove the accomplishment. Brave-hearted William Wallace defeated the English army with a small band of Scotsmen because he dreamed of a better future for Scotland. Charles Lindbergh completed the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris because he dreamed that he could do what no one else had done. Martin Luther King Jr. faced extraordinary odds and violent opposition to lead the Civil Rights Movement and to bring new freedom to America. Why? Because he had a dream.

Husbands should be big dreamers.

Men, you should have a bigger dream for your marriage than your wife has for your marriage. You are the leader of your marriage. And, men, you should have a bigger dream for your marriage than you have for your work or any other responsibility or interest in your life. Next to your relationship with Jesus, your biggest dream should revolve around how to steward the marriage God has given you--how to best cultivate and guard the wife God has entrusted to you.

What are the practical ways a man can date his wife?

A man needs to plan. You need more than passion to lead your marriage into new territory; you also need a practical plan. Once a man recovers a God-given, gospel-powered dream for his marriage, I encourage him to view his marriage in one-year chunks and to draft an annual plan for how he will date his wife.

There is no one right way to do this. Every marriage is different. Every wife is different. You need to create an annual plan that's unique to the dream God has given you for your marriage and your wife.

We are seeking to do for our wives what God has already done for us. When we least deserved it, God started a relationship with us and spoke vows of love over us. He began planning his relationship with us long before he created us. Think about it. God has made vows with you that he plans to keep, no matter what. Remember the vows God has made to you, remember the vows you have made to your wife, and come up with a fresh plan for how to keep those vows--how to date your wife.

You can look at chapters 10 and 11 in the book for specific examples of dating plans I've created for Taylor.

You write about the "air war" and the "ground war" in marriage. Explain what you mean by that.

The air war perspective allows you to dream, come up with big plans, and view your marriage in idealistic one-year chunks. The ground war perspective on your marriage is entirely different. You can see only a few feet in front of you: life is messy--full of stress, bills, and dirty dishes. When you think of developing a ground war plan you don't think in terms of twelve months, you think in terms of seven days. A complete Date-Your-Wife Plan includes a ground war plan, a general plan for what Sunday through Saturday looks like for you and your wife. Think of it like two wheels on a bike-- you need a front wheel (air war) and a back wheel (ground war) to ride a bike. If you have only one wheel, you won't get very far on the bike.

Cultures don't change overnight; they change slowly and steadily as new ideas and practices spread and gain ground over old ideas and practices. Buildings aren't built overnight. They're built brick by brick, until one day you wake up and see that what started with one brick is now ten stories high.

Men, God is calling us to lead a cultural revolution in our marriages. Some of us have a lot of work ahead of us, while others of us have less work to do. We're all reading this book from different positions--some of us have broken marriages, some of us have mediocre marriages, and some of us have uniquely happy marriages. Whatever our position, we all see change that needs to take place. We all have a war to fight and a wife to date. Let's set up a great air war as we plan to date our wives and let's set up a great ground war. Let's take big trips to Alaska (or wherever your wife likes to go), and let's build brick by brick--taking one ordinary, messy day at a time to love and date our wives.

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Date Your Wife: An Interview with Justin Buzzard