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Encouraging Marriages in Your Sphere of Influence

Air Date 01/26/2018

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Pastor Ted Cunningham discusses the value of couples encouraging and supporting their friends' marriages, and allowing friends to support their own marriage as well.

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Episode Transcript



Pastor Ted Cunningham: I challenge you, do a - next restaurant you go to, just stop at the bus station and grab that pitcher of water and just start walking around the restaurant filling up empty water glasses. (Laughter) At first, the wait staff will be like, what is going on? But after about two minutes, they’re, like, smoke break, and they’re out the back door. (LAUGHTER) Man, it - it gives you a charge!(Applause)

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well it might give you a charge, it’s gonna give somebody a little surprise and it’s a great idea for having some fun in a restaurant. Now that’s Pastor Ted Cunningham and it might sound a little extreme but what he’s really trying to teach us and what you’ll hear today, especially for husbands and wives is how we can better serve one another. This is Focus on the Family, your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I tried that actually not long ago. I was topping off coffee at a restaurant.

John: Oh, were you really?

Jim: The wait staff didn’t like it so much. I think they thought-

John: Were you in their way?

Jim: Yeah, I think they thought maybe I was saying you guys aren’t doing a good enough job.

John: Oh!

Jim: So it turned--

John: So be careful there--

Jim: --but the customers loved it actually! I got hot coffee to them right away. So I think I made a little bit in tip money...

John: Well good. (laughter) Nice.

Jim: Hey, you know what, it’s always great having Ted on the broadcast. He pastors Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri and he’s one of our favorite pastors because he’s such a huge advocate for the family and for marriage in particular. It’s what he talks about a lot. So we invited Ted to speak at our staff chapel just a few months ago and his message was so encouraging and insightful that we want to share it with you today.

John: Here now, Pastor Ted Cunningham on today’s Focus on the Family.


Ted: Every marriage is a duet in need of great backup singers. And we take this from the Song of Solomon, Chapter 1 Verse 4, you know, that great book of the Bible where Solomon, the shepherd King and the Shulamite woman, their duet is forming in Chapters 1 and 2. And in Chapter 3, they get married. They have a wedding. In Chapter 4, they’re on the honeymoon. And Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8, they’re talking about commitment and faithfulness in marriage. I love the daughters of Jerusalem in the Song of Solomon. They’re the backup singers to the duet of Solomon and the Shulamite woman. The first time we hear them, this is what they say about this young, budding love. “We rejoice and delight in you. We will praise your love more than wine.”

They come in, begin to celebrate what God is doing in this couple. And that is the desire in our church for all of our congregation, every member of our church to be a backup singer to the duets all around them - their family, their friends, their other church members, their coworkers.Can you imagine every family member, friend and church member as a backup singer? According to Hebrews 13:4, marriage should be honored by all, should be esteemed as highly valuable, whether you’re young or old, married or single. We’re all called to esteem marriage as highly valuable.

I love thinking about a church that is passionate about marriage and equipping every member to be a backup singer, getting involved in the lives of other couples. Now, I have a face that screams retail. I can’t explain it any other way. But when I go into stores and restaurants, I get asked the question all the time, do you work here? (LAUGHTER) You laugh, Jim, but I think you’ve got a similar face. I got to be real honest with you. How many times have you been asked that question? I’m so tired of being asked that question, I don’t fight it anymore. I just go with it. How may I help you is my standard response.

How may I help you? I want to get involved here. I’ll go back. I’ve been in the back room getting shoe sizes and shirts. I’ll do whatever I can.

And so we were at one of our favorite little restaurants one day in Branson called Sugar Leaf. And as I’m walking to the restroom, I noticed this senior couple sitting at the table. And they’re frustrated. They’re mad. I just went oh, I got a second. So I walk over to their table. And I simply ask them, how was everything? (LAUGHTER) This is so much fun. It’s become a new hobby for me. I said, how was everything? And he goes, I got to be honest with you, we’re pretty ticked. I said, oh. I said, I hate to hear that. What seems to be the problem? Well, your sign outside said bratwurst. And we stood in line for 20 minutes - OK? - waiting for bratwurst. We get to the front, and you’re out of bratwurst.

Now, I’m only 43. But I can’t wait for the day in my life when the biggest issue of my day (Laughter) is a store being out of bratwurst. I know Ken’s going, he should take this a little more seriously. He should take this - I said, sir, I hate to hear that. What can we do to make this right? I want to make this right. I don’t want you leaving here mad. His whole attitude started to change. I said, what if I get you a piece of pie? Listen, pie, with senior adults especially, changes everything. (LAUGHTER) We have another little saying in our church. It goes like this. Don’t get a divorce. Get a donut. You cannot fight while eating a donut. I promise you that. It’s impossible.

So I said, sir, what if I get you a piece of pie? Completely different mood, attitude totally changes. I go, I stand in line. I buy him a piece of pie. I bring it back over. I set it down on the table. And he’s - thank you. He starts asking me questions about the restaurant. And I’m like hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t work here. (Laughter) That’s my family over there. And my whole family waves from across the restaurant.And then I get back to the table and I’m just, I’m fired up. I can’t explain it, but I’m charged up. Like, kids, did you see that? I just impersonated the store manager. (Laughter) And I served them. And I said, kids, this is exactly what every day of our lives should be like, because we should be serving people with zero expectations of anything in return.

That’s why that was so fantastic.I challenge you, do a - next restaurant you go to, just stop at the bus station and grab that pitcher of water and just start walking around the restaurant filling up empty water glasses. (Laughter) At first, the wait staff will be like, what is going on? But after about two minutes, they’re, like, smoke break, and they’re out the back door. (LAUGHTER) Man, it - it gives you a charge!

So I imagine a church where every member, every follower of Jesus, is a backup singer. And when someone needs help with their marriage and they approach someone in that church, they don’t get, go talk to that guy over there. They get a, how can I help you?

I love, in the Song of Solomon, after Solomon and the Shulamite woman get back after the honeymoon, they have conflict. Conflict takes place around the bedroom. Solomon leaves. The Shulamite woman goes looking for him. And on her journey looking for him, she runs into their backup singers. And this is what they say in Song of Solomon, Chapter 6, Verse 1. Where has your beloved one gone, most beautiful of women? Which way did your beloved turn that we may look for him with you?Not, he’s a bum. You knew this was going to happen. This is all men. No, they’re an ally for the marriage, not just the spouse.

Years ago, I was at an event. I did a session called From Anger to Intimacy. And this lady came up to me afterwards. She was shaking. She was so mad at me and what I had just shared. And she walked right up to the book table, and she said, Pastor! I said, yeah? She goes, I need to say something to you. I was like, wow. I said, what’s that? She goes, my husband left me. Do you know why he left me? (LAUGHTER)

I’m getting a little picture of it, but it’s just a real small, little picture. (Laughter) And this is what she said. You hear this all the time among family and friends. I don’t know what the issue may be brought to you is. But in this case, this is what she said. My husband left me because he couldn’t handle being married to a successful woman!

And I said, ma’am, can I pastor you for five minutes? I said, your success did not cause your divorce. She said, what do you think it was? I said, well, it had a little bit to do with your... (LAUGHTER) And then I stepped back, call security. This is just a - a protocol that we do. (LAUGHTER) Eagle one, eagle one is in the lobby. (LAUGHTER) She - she started to leave. I said, now, wait a second. I need to share with you two of the greatest things I’ve ever learned that my mentor taught me - Dr. Gary Smalley - about anger, and I want to share it with you right now.

Number one, unresolved anger is like drinking poison expecting the other person to get sick. I said, ma’am, some people sip this each day, but you’re drinking it by the gallons!I said, the second thing is you never bury anger dead. You always bury it alive. I said, and you buried this anger, and it’s going to come out in relationships with your children, relationships at work or relationships with your second or third husband. You can do something about this.I noticed it from across the room. She said, what’s that?! I said, the ginormous chip on your shoulder - I go, you’ve got to do something with it. I don’t know who said what to put it there. I don’t know how long it’s been there. But I’ve got great news for you. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that can raise your lifeless soul - keeping in mind, I had a - a book table between us the whole time I was doing this. This is very important. You got to have a little bit of a barrier for safety.

And - and she started to calm down just a little bit. And I - I - and that, to me, even when you’re directing one spouse to speak of the entire marriage - and those who are absent are protected here. In this conversation, I’m only going to be able to talk to you, because your husband isn’t here. But I - I can’t - I can’t stay focused on the issue because it isn’t about your success. It isn’t about money. It isn’t about job or career. There’s something else going on. Let’s get to the root of that.You never know the whole story. You have to avoid rewriting history or being a part of changing the narrative when one spouse wants to change that narrative. Every backup singer needs to be an ally for the marriage, not just the spouse.

Every spouse- now this is on me, this is on you- needs to turn down bad back-up singers and turn up good back-up singers. You can work with a couple in counseling, you can give ‘em all the skills you have in your arsenal, you can throw it at ‘em and they can begin to see some good, positive change. But if you send ‘em back to the same environment or the same voices, the same people speaking into their marriage-- and here’s some examples of bad back-up singing. I just want you to be happy. You deserve better. There’s someone out there better for you. No one should have to put up with that. You’ve tried everything to make it work. He (or she) has changed. And I always love the flip-side of that-- He (or she) won’t change.

Be very intentional with who you invite onto your team and who the backup singers are. So in the few moments we have left, I just want to share with you some ways you can identify a great backup singer for your marriage and how all of us who claim the name of Jesus can be a great backup singer to all of the duets around us, our - our marriages of our family members and friends and coworkers.

Number one, promote and celebrate dating and engagement. Getting back to that, we do this at our church. I love it. I - I’ve had a couple of times and my favorite time was a lady sent me a letter. And she said, you know, I love how you’re encouraging the young guys to date and get married. I love that, but don’t forget about us old women. I was like, wow, OK, I love it. She goes, why don’t you start finding some dates for the widows in your church?

So I stood up one Sunday morning in our congregation. And before our congregation, I read this letter from a lady named Deb. And at the end of reading the letter, she listed all of her assets. I live on the lake. I got a good pension. I got two... (LAUGHTER) ...Two Jet Skis. She had it all out there. And at the end, I simply, in a pastoral tone, asked, where are the men for Deb? And five guys in our first service stood up. (LAUGHTER) The first two guys, uh, came forward after the service. Hey, can you show us a picture or point Deb out? I go, be happy to.The third guy walks up - true story - looks over his shoulder, looks at me and says, hey, Pastor, do you have a picture of those Sea-Doos? (LAUGHTER) And I did not introduce him to Deb.

But getting back to saying, it’s a good thing. We rejoice and delight in this. I have friends that tell me all the time. When they tell me they get engaged, I go crazy celebrating with them. And I have - I can’t tell you how many couples have told me, you’re the only one we know who’s excited for us. I go, really? Yeah. Friends and family are scared to death that we’re not ready.

Every marriage is a duet in need of great backup singers. It’s not just a program we’re talking about this morning. It’s about a DNA change in the church, about changing the way we think about everybody being equipped.

Uh, number two, leverage weddings and funerals. Leverage weddings and funerals. More people are attending - more unchurched are attending weddings and funerals at our church than are actually attending our church.

To be able to not just celebrate with couples, hey, you made it, but to tell their story and to share their story. I want the young couples in our church to talk to Grandma and Grandpa, to go out on a double date with them. I want them, the - the people that have the antibacterial product hanging all over their purse, I want them to talk to a grandma who let her kids pick up cigarette butts and chew on them. I want that to happen. (LAUGHTER)

I - I had a guy come up to me the other day and said, hey, can you talk to me about discipline? I said, let me tell you about discipline. Let me - my dad’s greatest form of discipline was sending me upstairs to wait for my spanking. That was worse than a spanking. I have to - how many of you remember going down to remind your dad that he sent you up to your room to wait for your spanking? I said, I’m probably not the one to talk to about this.But we need - we need Grandpa who let his kids ride in the back window of the car to talk to the one who straps his kid in like he’s going to outer space, right? We need - we need those conversations happening, leveraging that.

We need to, number three, focus on feelings, not issues, just like that lady who was angry. Let’s get to what’s really going on. Let’s talk about your heart. Let’s talk about unresolved anger. Let’s talk about how to, above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life, and how to move on from no longer blaming your ex-husband or blaming the situation of that marriage, and moving into the issues of the heart.

Number four, to be a great backup singer, know the resources, have them ready to go - what small groups to plug into at your church. Send them a video of a sermon. Let them know of a book. Send them to marriage 911, which is what our church used. Let them know about the intensive program that Focus on the Family offers. I mean, all of these resources, to have them ready and ready to go.

Number five,don’t hit the like button on Facebook when one spouse goes on a rant about the other or shows pictures of a new boyfriend or a new girlfriend.In the culture that we live in, this dating while divorcing - haven’t even filed the paperwork yet, but I’m dating someone new. It crushes me as a pastor to go on Facebook and to see members of the church - members who’ve sat under marriage teaching for 10, 15 years - to begin putting lines of bad backup singing on that post.

Just want you to be happy. So glad you’re finally happy. And I always say don’t ask me to celebrate a new relationship while I’m still mourning the death of your marriage. Don’t hit that like button.

No. 6, don’t let attacks on your past attempts keep you from reaching out now and in the future.No. 7, and finally, don’t let anger from a hurting family member or friend or church member keep you from loving and caring for them now. Press in. Lean in. Ask the question, how may I help you? How can I help you, rather than yeah, go talk to that person? Yeah, go do that. You have been - they have come to you. They have a relationship with you. Leverage that to be a backup singer to that duet.

And I want to close our time sharing with you about one of the greatest backup singers my wife and I ever had. It was in her grandparents, Lloyd and Lorraine Freitag. I got a call one day going into a meeting in Branson that Lloyd had gotten up from the chair, and he broke his hip and he broke his leg. And he was at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. And we’re in Branson. Amy’s parents, Lloyd’s son lives in Branson. And I told my wife hey, get the kids ready. Call your parents. Have them be ready in an hour. I’ll come home and get you all.

They said Lloyd doesn’t have much time left. And so we’ll drive through the night to say goodbye to Grandpa Lloyd. And we did. We drove through the night. I’ll never forget walking in that day to Lloyd’s bedside. And he’s on oxygen and you could tell he was declining quickly.

And I’ll never forget my father-in-law falling on his dad, blessing his dad. A kid couldn’t ask for a better dad. I love you, dad. Just speaking words of high value, honor over his dad. And then my wife, Lloyd’s granddaughter, falls on him and then my children, his great-grandchildren, fall on him. I’m the in-law. I’m, like, the last to walk up. And Lloyd had a great sense of humor.

I walk up to Lloyd’s table - or to his bed - and the very first thing Lloyd says to me is Teddy, is there anything you can do to speed this up? (Laughter) And I said well, I guess I could step on some of these hoses and pull some of these plugs. But they frown on that. (Laughter)

And we had such a great day. And I didn’t get this with three out of four of my grandparents. I know many of us in this room did not have that opportunity to be at the bedside to say goodbye and to have a prolonged departure from this earth. But it was such a great day. Lloyd enjoyed it so much. He decided he was going to stick around for another day and decided that the next day would be the day. And I remember the doctor coming in while I was standing there saying, Lloyd, we want to put you on dialysis. And he just kind of shook his head and said, no, we’re done. We’re done. I’m ready to go be with the Lord. That’s where Lloyd was at.

I remember we went out to dinner that night. And I dropped my father-in-law back off because he wanted to watch one more Minnesota Twins game with his dad. And Lloyd said come back, tomorrow I’m going to go home. It’s time.

And I’ll never forget going into his hospital room. And we prayed together. We took the Lord’s Supper together. We sang together. It sounded horrible! I can’t even begin to tell you how bad it sounded. But when we were done with those three things, I’ll never forget Lloyd saying goodbye everyone, I got to go. And they start shutting off his pacemaker, taking his oxygen out. And he leaned back. And I’d been in these situations before to know as the family members looked on thinking this could be any moment, I’m going, this could be hours, days, could be weeks.

I’ll never forget it, my daughter would sit there most of that afternoon and just rub Lloyd’s arm. Twice during that time, Lloyd came to. And I’ll never forget his expression. He popped up. And I remember his expression turned from this to “Aw, come on!” (Laughter) And he went right back to this position. (Laughter) And four hours later, he went to be with the Lord. And we all were a mess. We just lost the patriarch of our family — a loving, honorable man. And we all walked outside of the room into the hallway. I’ll never forget my daughter was crying. My son, Carson, 7 at the time, was not. And Corynn says, “Carson Matthew Cunningham, why are you the only one in this family not crying?” And no kidding, my 7-year-old says, “Sissy, I have learned to control my emotions.” (Laughter)

And I’ll never forget Lorraine coming out of the room, walking up to me and hugging me and said, Ted, would you do our family the honor of preaching his funeral next week? And I said it would be my great honor. And so a week later in Austin, Minnesota, I stood up before about 300 family and friends. And I start every funeral the same. Ecclesiastes 7, Verses 1 and 2, “a good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death is better than the day of birth. For it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. For death is the destiny of every man and the living should take this to heart.”

And I said today, we’re here to take to heart the death, of Lloyd Freitag. And the Scripture says it’s better to go to a funeral than to go to a party. And the reason for that is because a funeral is a recalibrating event. A funeral should change the way you think, and it should change the way you live. I don’t get that at a party. I don’t walk away from a party ever going, well, that changed my life. It was good fellowship. It was good medicine as we laughed together.

But at a funeral - and I’ve sat there - I’d - in 20 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve sat at a funeral of a child who died from SIDS. And I said, this is the - this is why going to a funeral is better than going to a party, because I sit there and I think about this family who has lost their child.

And I think, you know, the day before, how ridiculous was it that I got on my kids for making a mess and splashing around too much in the bathtub? See, that’s what a - a funeral begins to bring up those questions. A funeral begins to say, I’m not living the right way. I need to change some things.

And I’m going to go home today, and I’m going to teach my kids how to use the toilet as a diving board into the bathtub. (LAUGHTER)

I said, today, we’re here to take to heart the death of Lloyd Freitag. Let’s talk about Lloyd. I said, here is a man that went when he was just a boy halfway around the world to literally save the world for us in World War II in the Navy. He came back. He meets this fiery redhead named Lorraine. And they go on a date. He invites her on a date on a Saturday night. Date went so well, at the end of that date, invited her on a second date. On the second date, the next Saturday night, he asked, are we going to get serious or what? And she said, what do you mean? Do you want to get married? Second date came a proposal, and she said yes.

And before Lloyd went to be with the Lord, they celebrated 65 years of marriage. He worked at a Hormel meat-packing plant for 42 years, so he knew something about commitment, loyalty, duty, sacrifice and honor. And I’m looking around the room at many marriages of family and friends gathered around the room. I said, today, taking to heart the death of Lloyd Freitag means we do something with what we’re learning today about his life. This man loved his Lord, served his church faithfully, served his wife faithfully, served his family faithfully.

And today, we get to take to heart that message for us. We’re all a mess. We go graveside. And I’ll never forget my wife’s uncle, Uncle Wayne, comes up to me graveside. And he said, Teddy, would you promise me one thing? I said, what’s that? He goes, will you preach a funeral that good for me one day? And I looked right at him and said, you got some work to do. (LAUGHTER)

Don’t we all? Don’t we all? We have great models all around us to - to lead us and to guide us and to encourage us and to challenge us in our marriages. The second challenge today, though, is that we would be that person to inspire and encourage the couples all around us. Every marriage is a duet in need of great backup singers. And my prayer for you is that you would be that great backup singer. Thank you very much, Focus, for allowing me to speak. (APPLAUSE)


John: Pastor Ted Cunningham was our special guest during the recent Focus on the Family staff chapel.

Jim: What a wonderful message from Ted and a beautiful story there at the end about the legacy of a great marriage. I hope we all aspire to have that kind of an impact upon the generations of our own families. I also appreciated Ted’s insight, John, about how we can become stronger advocates for the marriages of our family members, our friends and those in our community. You know, the fact is, folks, the world is watching us as Christians, Christian marriages, to see if we can do it. Are we any different in how we treat each other? How we resolve our conflict? Do we uphold the commitments we made in our own wedding vows? Are we a good witness of God’s forgiveness and grace in our families? I hope you enjoyed Ted’s message today-- in fact, we’d like to provide that to you as a free download, so please, pass it on to others who may need to hear this kind of encouragement. Please be generous with your giving so we, together, can continue to strengthen and support marriages throughout 2018.

John: We’d love to hear from you today. Find that download and how to donate at or call 800-232-6459 to learn more. 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Now whenever we address the topic of marriage, we’re very aware that some listeners are in difficult relationships and it may be that you’re struggling. Perhaps you fear that your marriage is doomed to fail. If so, please know that we can help. We have a counseling network of course and Hope Restored, where we provide intensive counseling for couples who are in trouble, many on the brink of divorce. The success rate there at Hope Restored is amazing! More than 4 out of 5 couples who go through Hope Restored are still together two years later. So please, contact us if you need that kind of assistance. Our number again, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or details about Hope Restored at

We hope you have a great weekend with your family and then join us on Monday. You’ll hear advice on how to create a clutter-free home.


Joshua Becker: When we just organize one thing one season, we have to do it a month later, a month later, like- there’s no end to that. So the solution is to remove things permanently from our life.

End of Teaser

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Ted Cunningham

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Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Mo., a comedian on the Date Night Comedy Tour and a popular conference speaker at churches and events across the nation. He has authored several books including Fun Loving You and Trophy Child. He has also co-authored four books with Dr. Gary Smalley and one with his wife, Amy. Ted and Amy have two children, Corynn and Carson.