John Fuller: Last time on “Focus on the Family, Lee Strobel described what it was like for him to be an atheist with a wife who had become a Christian.
Pastor Lee Strobel: I was jealous of Jesus, ’cause I’d always been the man in Leslie’s life and all of a sudden, there’s somebody new in her life and it’s this Jesus person. And all of a sudden, she is committed to following Him. Well, what am I all of a sudden, chopped liver? I mean, where do I fit into this?
End of Recap
John: Well, where do I fit into this? We’re gonna answer that question and perhaps some others that you have on today’s “Focus on the Family,” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, in that clip Lee says, “I was jealous of Jesus.” Imagine how you would feel if you were an unbeliever and you’ve been married for a while and suddenly, your spouse becomes a believer in Jesus Christ. I mean, and they start talking about him all the time, reading the Bible, going to meetings. It’s be very easy to become jealous in that situation.
John: Well, I think that’d be pretty natural, a pretty normal response and there probably would be feelings of resentment and anger and if I’m that jealous spouse, I’m just not gonna be interested in hearing about Jesus. I’m getting enough of that already and I’d probably feel turned off.
Jim: Well, that’s exactly the situation that developed between Lee Strobel and his wife, Leslie, when she became a believer. And he was still in his words, an argumentative atheist. I mean, they must have had some interesting dinner chats. If you missed part one yesterday, contact us for the CD or the download or you can get the app for your smartphone.
John: Yeah, we have that for android and IOS and it’s a great way to listen on the go. You’ll find those at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or if you’d like to order a CD, call us. Our number is 800-232-6459. Well, here are Lee and Leslie Strobel at Willow Creek Community Church and we’re gonna start with just a little bit of a roll back to pick up Lee’s concluding thoughts from last time.
Lee Strobel: God used this very difficult time in our marriage to mold Leslie into someone she never could have possibly become had she not gone through the pain of a spiritually mismatched marriage. In other words, it was in the depths of this marriage, in the trials, in the tribulations that Leslie learned how to pour herself out to God in prayer in an authentic way. It’s when she learned to be 100 percent fully dependent on Him. It’s when she learned to wait on His timing, instead of taking things into her own hand. It’s when she learned forgiveness and grace and patience and love and sacrifice.
And I want to tell you something, she is a different person today–a person of deep prayer, a person of dependence on God, a person of spiritual courage. Why? Because God took her through that valley of pain in our marriage. And friends, I want to tell you something, if you are a Christian married to someone who’s not a Christian, this is not a wasted time in your life. Yes, it’s difficult, but God can and He will use this experience to mold you into someone, to shape your character and values and outlooks and attitude in such a way that He never could have done had you not gone through this pain.
[The] Apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans chapter 5. He said, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.” Friends, there’s hope; there’s hope. And if you’re in a spiritually mismatched situation, God has not abandoned you at all and you can learn from what the Bible teaches us. H-E-L-P: harness the support of others; exercise restraint; live your faith; don’t just talk it and pray, pray, pray. And as you do that, God is gonna use something in you to change you as He works on your spouse.
So, those are four things that Leslie did right. I only did one right thing that whole time. The one right thing I did is, I said the word “maybe.” Maybe this is true. Leslie is definitely changing for the good. Maybe, maybe God is not just a myth. Maybe this is not the product of a self-help group or you know, some sort of a positive mental attitude thing. Maybe God is behind the changes in Leslie. And because I said “maybe,” I cracked open the door of my heart and I began to investigate the truth of Christianity.
I did that for two years, till November the eighth of 1981. And I realized, based on the evidence I had seen in the life of Leslie, but also in history and archeology and so [on], that God is real; that Jesus is who He claimed to be. And on November the eighth of 1981, I bent my knee and I received Jesus Christ and He began to change my life and He began to change our marriage.
And I want to say something. You know, I look back on our marriage and the first years of our life when neither of us were Christians, we were happy, but it was like our marriage was a movie filmed in black and white, 16 mm film with scratchy sound. That’s all we knew and so, we thought this is great. But now that both of us are followers of Christ and we can relate together in the most intimate spiritual level, I look and I say, “Now our marriage is like Technicolor with Dolby stereo. We didn’t know what we were missin’. We were happy, but we didn’t know how happy we could be. We didn’t know how fulfilled we could be. We didn’t know how deep our relationship could go, ’cause we didn’t know God.
So, I just want to say, as I close, if you’re a seeker today and you’re married to a believer or not, say the word “maybe.” What have you got to lose? Crack the door to your heart open and check it out for yourself. So, our mismatch had a happy ending, but I want to say, it doesn’t always; it doesn’t always. You may be married to a person who isn’t a Christian and that person is gonna go to their grave never having received Jesus Christ as the forgiver of their sins and the leader of their life.
And you know what? You cannot let false guilt wear you down. You are not responsible for the spiritual decision that your spouse makes. That is his or her responsibility. All the Bible says you need to do is love God; love your spouse; live out your faith as best you can. And as a friend of mine likes to say, “If you honor God with your everyday life, then He will honor you for a lifetime, even in the midst of a spiritual mismatch.”
So, that’s sort of the picture of our situation together. We wanted to, you know, spend a few minutes and take some questions that you all have e-mailed in or maybe a few from tonight, just spontaneously. By the way, Leslie, she’s like the biggest introvert you’ll ever meet in your life, so, it’s really hard for her (Chuckling) to do this. But I’m gonna ask her to come up and where is she? Oh, there she is. Come on up, Hon and we’re just gonna do as best as we can (Applause) with some questions. (Applause)
Lee: Do you want to sit here? Okay. Where is John? Oh, there he is.
Leslie Strobel: There he is.
Moderator: Hey, let’s just dive right in. This is a hard question for you. So, we’ll start hard.
Lee: Oh, fine!
Moderator: Well, you’re a smart guy, Lee.
Lee: Leslie can take it.
Moderator: Is it okay to leave a marriage when one person is unwilling to consider a relationship with God?
Lee: Yeah, that is a hard question. And, you know, we have to go to the Bible. What does the Bible say? If you’re a Christian married to a non-Christian, in other words, isn’t that reason enough to abandon the marriage? Basically that’s the question.
1 Corinthians 7, verses 12-13 says real explicitly, “If you are a Christian married to a nonbeliever and that nonbeliever wants to continue the marriage, you must continue the marriage.” So that’s real clear. If the only reason you’re saying, “I’m thinking of leaving my spouse,” is they’re not a follower of Christ, the Bible says, “Nope, don’t do it.”
Now the Bible does talk about other circumstances that, you know, can lead to divorce–adultery or abandonment and so forth. And when there’s abuse going on, if the children are being abused, if you’re being abused, that raise[s] a whole other can of worms you need to think about. But what I want to say, whoever sent that question in, you know, it’s one thing to say, “Here’s what the Bible says.” You probably need some personal help
Moderator: Okay, well, I think we’ve all heard enough from Lee.
Lee: Yeah. (Laughing)
Moderator: So, Leslie (Laughter), in this journey you were in, what gave you hope?
Leslie: Well, you know, during the journey, there were days that I didn’t have hope. I mean, there were just times when I thought, “Maybe on his deathbed, if I’m lucky, he will finally recognize that there is a God.” On the other hand, there is hope, because God loves me; He loves Lee and He knows what His call on our life is to be. And so, I found the hope that in the midst of, like Lee had said, my growth in Christ, God was changing me and He was helping me to see Lee in different eyes, that he mattered to God.
And so, the hope that I had was God loved Lee more than I do and I had to trust that He had a plan for Lee and He had a plan for me and I just trusted in that and held onto that, knowing that ultimately it’s up to Lee and God where Lee was gonna go. It wasn’t, as he said, my responsibility, but I found the hope in Christ, that He strengthened me through the process. I knew He did. I could see Him strengthening me, giving me the words to say and the Spirit that I needed in a situation. And I could tell that He was helping me through it, so there is hope in it.
Moderator: What role did your community play in giving that hope, the people who were around you, as Lee mentioned that was an important part of this?
Leslie: Right, well, it was huge, because you do feel very alone. When you’re under the same roof and you’re feeling so different towards the most important thing in your life, Christ, you need that outside support. And so, between Linda, who was my mentor, between the Bible studies I went to here at Willow, they were a safe haven for me to go to, to air my frustrations, but just like Lee said, when you’re with mature Christians, they understand what you’re going through, but it doesn’t become a battle between you, them and Lee. I mean, it’s an understanding of your situation and helping you navigate through those waters. So, it was very important.
Moderator: At one point Lee mentioned that you exercised restraint in your interactions with him.
Lee: Most of the time.
Moderator: And he was very kind. Is that true?
Leslie: I was gonna say, he makes me sound so wonderful.
Moderator: Did you do that well? (Laughter)
Leslie: I made so many mistakes and again, having Christian women around me who I was close enough to, where I would say, “You know what I did? I left this book out and I underlined it and I know he’ll just be helped by that.” And they’d kind of looked at me and you know. I mean, they were there to say, “You know, that might not be the best way to reach him.” And ultimately, it was Linda’s advice that I just allow God to continue to grow me up as to who He wants me to be, to allow my character and my personality to change, Christ in me would show and hopefully, that would reveal Christ to Lee.
And that is what happened. I don’t recognize that. I mean, looking back, Lee says that’s what brought him to Christ, is the changes in me. And at the time I didn’t see that happening, but ultimately that was the case and so, that would be one of the encouragements I’d give to anyone, is to continue to grow in Christ.
Lee: Could I add something to that? You know, there are people, though, who like Leslie, who cooperate with God and they become very godly people and their lives are really um … spiritually exemplary and so forth. And yet, the spouse never becomes a Christian, you know.
Leslie: Right. That’s right.
Lee: And then you see people who could be poster children for hypocrisy anonymous and their husband becomes a Christian or wife becomes a Christian. And you go, “What’s goin’ on here?” And I think, you know, ultimately, as Leslie said, it was my choice. And all she could do was love God, cooperate with God as He changed her and to love me and pray that God would use that in my life. But there is the question of free will and, you know, I could have walked the other way. I thank God, though, I didn’t.
Leslie: And it’s very common for women especially as new believers, you feel very responsible for your husband and so, you do feel obligated to bring them over the line of faith. And it took a while for that to really sink into me, because I felt so guilty that, you know, if I only prayed more, if I was a better Christian, if I knew my Bible better, certainly he would accept Christ. But after a time of just really having that wise counsel of wise women around me, I recognized Lee … it is Lee’s choice. And nothing I’m going to do is ultimately gonna make that for him. He has to make it himself.
Moderator: I may actually ask you to come back and teach next week, Leslie? (Laughter) I don’t know what your weekend’s like.
Lee: We did a thing at a Valentine’s Day event here years ago and a Q&A thing and afterwards some guy came up to me and said, “Now we know who has the brains in the family. (Laughter) It’s not you Lee.” (Laughter)
John: You’re listening to “Focus on the Family.” It’s a Question and Answer session with Lee and Leslie Strobel and this reminder, you can get their book, Spiritual Mismatch: Hope for Christians Married to Someone Who Doesn’t Know God, when you contribute a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. Just call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or donate and request that book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Once again, Lee and Leslie Strobel, answering questions from the audience at Willow Creek Community Church.
End of Program Note
Moderator: Well, here’s another question. Some of us here in the audience tonight are not married; we’re single. Is it okay for us to date people who are not Christians?
Lee: Boy, in our book we talk, we have a whole chapter addressed to singles and just say, “You know what, the Bible says do not become unequally yoked.” Even in a casual dating relationship, I say no; don’t do it.
Leslie: You know what? Can I say something?
Lee: Yeah, go ahead.
Leslie: All you guys, you know, you’re so sweet, the boys they’re just adorable, but guys are kind of focused on when they fall in love with a girl, to get the marriage thing done. They get real focused and they, you know, they are goal oriented. And so, they’ll do whatever it takes to get the marriage thing done. So, they’re likely, not with a mean spirit, but in an attempt to win this wonderful girl over, sure, go to church, read; do some Bible study together. And if they aren’t a legitimate Christian, then after the wedding and after the honeymoon, suddenly it’s time to go to church and they just would rather stay home and watch the game.
Lee: It’s really true.
Leslie: So, there [are] really issues that need to be discussed early on in a relationship.
Lee: That’s true.
Lee: See, I mean, we know people, personal friends, who they married a guy and they thought he was a Christian. He had all the lingo down; he went to church and everything. As soon as the marriage was over, it’s like, “Who cares about God?” I mean it was like, “You know what? You go do that.” And they realized that it was all a game to them, not intentionally maybe, but they were playing a role to win her and once they did, their true colors showed.
So, our book, we have 15 things to look for if you’re dating somebody else, to really try to test their heart to see if they are followers of Christ, ’cause you can’t really always, as Leslie said, depend on what they’re saying or how they’re acting.
Moderator: Okay, so what if both people in a relationship are believers, but have a different type of relationship with God or a different approach to their relationship with God? How should they reconcile that difference?
Lee: Yeah, can I start with that? We find this a lot where both are Christians, but one is growing spiritually and the other one’s kind of lagging behind. And one’s all excited about serving in the church and giving to the church and be participating. And so, the other one is kind of lackadaisical; they’re not really into it, but they believe they’re [a] Christian.
And what we’d say, a couple of things: first of all, you have to ask the tough question; Is my spouse really a Christian? Because the Bible says when you receive Jesus Christ as the forgiver of your sins and the leader of your life, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in you and you are gonna change over time, maybe not dramatically, but you are gonna change over time. And if there’s no evidence of that, you have to ask the question, “Have you really received Christ?”
And so, those kind of tough conversations have to take place. Sometimes I recommend they try another church. Because what happens, sometimes spouses will come to church together and one of ’em engages with the church. This is a perfect church for them; the personality of the church fits them and they grow and grow. And the other one, it’s not a good fit. The methodology of the church isn’t quite [what they like], the personality; every church is a little different. And so, sometimes I say you need to find a church where both of you can flourish.
Another thing I’d say is encourage your spouse when you see any steps of spiritual growth. You know, cheer ’em on. Don’t be a faultfinder looking for the things they’re not doing, but encourage them when they do, you know, take little steps in the direction of growing in their relationship with God.
And then, finally I’d say, you know, maybe they haven’t discovered their spiritual gift. [The] Bible says every Christian is given a divine enablement to be able to serve God and serve other people in a way that brings excitement and energy and joy and adventure into your life. And sometimes the spouse has not discovered that for themselves. And if you can help them learn what their spiritual gift is, sometimes that’s the trigger that helps them to want to grow and to serve and to participate at a more meaningful level.
Moderator: Lee, you mentioned in your message there, at one point you had an angry outburst that your daughter saw.
Moderator: How did the tension and the journey you were on together affect the life of your children?
Lee: Yeah, how’d that affect the kids? Well, you could probably talk about that better than I can.
Leslie: Well, it’s very difficult for children. And it can be very confusing and upsetting. You know, kids are worried about the family fracturing. They want to have the security to know Mom and Dad are gonna stay together. And so, really at a point it was clear to me, you know, Lee and I had a talk when the kids were in bed one night. And I said, “You know, we have to have a truce when the kids are around. We cannot talk about this. We can’t discuss it. We have to put it aside till they’re asleep and leave those discussions for just between you and me, because I’m afraid it’s gonna damage the kids.”
And he realized that, but he was acting out on emotion. So, we both knew we had to control ourselves and leave it to another time. And that would be what I’d say. You just really need to be very careful and protect children from that.
Also, you need to keep the lines of communication open with your kids. We had a habit where Lee would go in and say good night to the kids and I would go in and read and then we could talk. And it was during those times of just talking, where I made sure, particularly if I sensed there was something going on, that I’d try to draw that out of them, so that we could talk about it and I could reassure them that regardless of what was happening, it wasn’t their fault, first of all. And second of all, it was between Dad and I.
And they’d ask. “Well, does Daddy not believe in God?” And I had to be honest. So, I would say, “He doesn’t and that’s Daddy’s viewpoint.” I’d explain mine. And we would just openly talk about those things. So, you really do have to be as honest as you can be, but as encouraging as you can to keep them secure.
Lee: Yeah, I think that’s the key word, “secure,” ’cause when kids feel an uncertainty, then they get really scared. You know, “Are Mom and Dad gonna split up? I heard ’em arguing. Are they gonna get divorced? Don’t they love me anymore? Don’t they love each other? Did they stop loving each other?” And I think those conversations you had with the kids, where you could just reassure them, “Mommy and Daddy love each other very much. We’re not goin’ anywhere. We love you and we’re [not going anywhere].”
Leslie: “We just feel differently on this topic.”
Lee: Yeah, yeah.
Moderator: On sort of the flip side of that, Lee, when you came to a point where you wanted a relationship with God, what effect did that have on your children?
Lee: Oh, well, that was, you know, huge. I mean, after I became a Christian and we got on the same page spiritually. And now, we had a common plan to raise our kids. It wasn’t Lee and his atheistic plan and Leslie and her Christian plan. It was, we got a plan together through Christ to raise our children. And I mean, I remember standing right here and baptizing my daughter. And I remember baptizing my son here. I mean, they both became Christians. Let’s see, Allison’s teaching in the Christian school. Kyle, a Christian philosopher, whatever that means, I’m not quite sure. (Laughter)
Leslie: He’s going to seminary.
Lee: (Laughter) Now he’s getting a second degree. And I said, “Oh, good,” ’cause I’m thinking, yeah, maybe, what? Mechanical Engineering, something he could make some money. (Laughter). He said, “Yeah, I’m getting another [one].” He said, “Dad, I want to get two more Masters.” “Okay, like what?” “Church History and Old Testament.” (Laughter) “Yeah, good.” (Laughter) So, I don’t know. I’m sure God’s leading him. (Laughter), I just don’t know where.” (Laughter)
Moderator: Well, we want to give any of you who have a question [an opportunity. If] you’d like to stand up and yell that out, now would be the time.
Woman: What would your opinion be on a husband going to one church and a wife going to another?
Lee: Hm, you know, that’s really hard. I would really encourage the couple to get together and find a church where both of ’em can really grow. You know, churches, as long as they’re doctrinally okay–that’s a huge deal—there [are] a lot of different styles. Like Leslie and I and Bill Hybels used to talk about this, too. He’s like, you sit down and you say, “Let’s go out to dinner.” “Okay, great. We’re both hungry; where do you want to go?” “I want to go to Chinese.” “No, I don’t want to go to Chinese. How about a steakhouse?” “No, I don’t want to go to a steakhouse.” “Italian.” “No, I hate Italian.” And it’s back and forth and you say, “Seafood.” “Oh, yeah, we both like seafood. Well, we’ll go to a seafood restaurant.”
And you know, churches are a bit like that. They are a lot of churches that are doctrinally right on, but they have a different personality, a different methodology, a different approach to ministry; they’ll [have a] different personality. And I would say, find a place where you both can serve together and grow together, ’cause you have a common experience.
And the experiences you may have in church, say you’re going to Church A and he’s going to Church B and you have a wonderful experience. And then you get together and you say, “Man, I had a great experience today.” “Well, what was it?” And you gotta explain the whole thing and then, “Oh, you weren’t there and it’s hard to really explain what happened.” It’s better if you both experience it together. It gives you commonality and something to talk about and experience together and grow together.
Moderator: Well, just in closing, Lee, if you had one sentence that you could say to a nonbeliever here and Leslie, if you had one sentence you could say to a believer, what would those be?
Lee: Say to a nonbeliever? I would say, ask the “maybe” question. Say, maybe; could this be true? I mean look around you. There are people who believe to the depths of their soul that Jesus Christ is real and they say they’ve met Him and they know Him and they grow in their relationship with Him. And you know what? Either they’re all nuts or somethin’ is really goin’ on and I would say, it is worth it for you to crack open your heart and say “Just maybe. Let me investigate it. Let me check it out.” I have confidence that if you do that with an open heart and open mind, you’re gonna find Christ and then you’re gonna be coming to the point where you have to make the choice. “I found Him. Do I say yes to Him or do I say no to Him?” Is that more than a sentence. I’m sorry. (Laughter)
Leslie: He gets to do more than a sentence–
Moderator: Yeah, only a journalist (Laughter) would call that a sentence.
Leslie: I get to do more than a sentence.
Lee: I used to get paid by the word when I was a reporter. I think that was the problem. (Laughter)
Leslie: I’ll keep it short. It would be three little things, real quick and it would be continue to grow in Christ. That’d be No. 1. No. 2, build on what you had with your husband. Like Lee had mentioned in the message, you married this guy for a reason. There [are] things that you have in common. Build on that commonality. Then three, do your best to get a mentor or a support group of some kind, because you need that to navigate through it. And that would be what I’d like to have people do.
Moderator: Leslie would you close our time in prayer?
Leslie: Father, thank You so much for loving each and every one of us more than we know, for loving our spouses more than we do. Thank You for a church that has a place to come to get our questions answered, to have support that we need. Thank you, Lord, that You have made a way in Your Word to learn what Your ideas are about this and to guide us through it. So, now we just ask that You would touch the hearts of every person here and help them to be filled with Your love and peace, to know how to guide them in all that they’re navigating through, whether it’s a good marriage or a difficult one, Lord. And we just thank You for your Word and for who You are. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Lee: Amen. (Applause)
John: And with that encouragement, we come to the end of two-day “Focus on the Family” broadcast featuring Lee and Leslie Strobel, sharing very honestly about the struggles they faced early in their marriage when Leslie was a new Christian and Lee was decidedly not.
Jim: Well, and that’s how he described himself as an argumentative atheist. I mean, that had to be tension filled. But over about two years, Lee watched God change Leslie’s character and for the better and he thought, maybe there’s something to this. Isn’t that interesting that the spouse’s faithfulness made an impression on his heart.
As a journalist, Lee investigated the claims of Christ and found them to be true. Let me say that again for all those who doubt. Lee, the argumentative atheist, the journalist, investigated the claims of Christ and found them to be true. That led to Lee’s salvation, as well as his best-selling book, The Case for Christ, which Jean and I have given away boatloads of the book and we’re grateful now that it’s a movie by the same title and it comes out today.
John: And it looks like it’s gonna be great, with a lot of folks seeing it. Do pray for that effort, for a lot of people to encounter Jesus at the theater. It’s from the same folks who made “God’s Not Dead.”
Jim: And it’s so amazing that God would take Lee’s (Chuckling) knack for investigative journalism and use it to turn his life upside down and to help others see the evidence for the claims of Jesus Christ. From skeptic to evangelist, that’s a powerful testimony.
Now not every marriage is gonna see that kind of miraculous solution and I’m aware of that. If you’re struggling, please get in touch with us. We have counselors here who would be happy to talk to you and we also offer our Hope Restored intensive counseling experience, which has an almost 85 percent success rate.
I’d also want to recommend Lee and Leslie Strobel’s book called Spiritual Mismatch: Hope for Christians Married to Someone Who Doesn’t Know God. And when you make a donation to support the efforts here at Focus of any amount to strengthen and save marriages, we’ll send you a copy of that book as our way of sayin’ thank you.
Now before we sign off, I just want to give everyone an update on the 40th anniversary cruise coming up November 13 through 17. We’ve chartered an entire Disney Dream Cruise Ship to the Bahamas and we selected Disney Dream because it’s been awarded the best cruise ship for families. Um … there’ll be something for everyone to enjoy from grandparents to grandchildren, especially since we’ll be celebrating the 30th birthday of Adventures in Odyssey with many activities featuring your favorite Odyssey characters and a few surprise guests, too. Come share the fun with us if you can do it.
John: And you’ll find a link to the Focus cruise at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. We’ve put together a web page where you can see all the fun that we’re planning to have. You can see a video of Jim riding the aqueduct water coaster and you can book your stateroom. It’s filling up fast. It’s going to be a ship full of Focus on the Family friends, so check it out today.
You can also call us if you’d like. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. We’d