Ten Important Things I Want My Children to Know About Marriage

I am thinking about marriage this week. On Sunday I am kicking off a sermon series entitled “My Crazy Family” and the first sermon is “My Crazy Spouse.” I have been reading scripture, looking through marriage material, reflecting on my marriage along with what I have seen through the years of working with people in the Church. Here are some big thoughts.

1. Living Together is Not Marriage. I know everyone seems to be doing it, but fight hard against it. Two separate lives under one roof is not the same as working together as one. In fact, not only does it disappoint God and your parents it will destroy your marriage. Divorce is two or three times higher for couples who live together first. You do not honor marriage by avoiding it, rather you embrace it and live as God intended.

2. Marry Someone with a Common Faith. This is HUGE. It will not seem like it at 18 or 21, but when the years roll by, and you are trying to build a healthy lasting marriage and family, you will need to be on the same page spiritually. I know several couples who ignored this idea and deeply regret it now.

3. The First Ten Years Are the Hardest. You are repeatedly going to want to give up. Don’t do it. Even if your friends are doing it. Even if it seems much easier. Stick with it. It will get better, I promise.

4. Work Through Your Issues and Don’t Avoid Them. Talk to each other. Clear communication about what you are feeling is vital. Go to a counselor. Talk to a Pastor. Get connected to an older Christian couple who can help. Avoiding issues will only make them worse.

5. You Can Only Control Your Actions. You do the right thing. Complaining and whining never fixed anything. Be the best spouse you can possibly be every day. You will have to answer to God for what you did. Give your marriage your full effort and serve your spouse selflessly.

6. The Little Things Make a Big Difference. I remind couples that termites destroy more homes than earthquakes. Marriages are usually destroyed by neglecting little things. Say the words “I love you,” even when you don’t feel it. Pick up your clothes and put away the dishes. Help with meals. Send the text and make the call. Buys cards and give gifts. Do little things your spouse enjoys, and it will make a big difference.

7. Love Your Spouse More Than Anything Else (Including Your Children). One day the kids will move away. One day you will retire. One day it will be just the two of you. Will you have anything left? Many couples never learn to love each other, and it falls apart down the road.

8. Avoid the Comparison Trap. Other people will look like they have a wonderful relationship all the time. You will think you are a failure because theirs looks so good and yours feels so wrong. Don’t believe it. One thing I know after years of working with couples is those who push how wonderful their marriage feels are the biggest mess. It is all a show. Don’t let their fake relationship be a model for the real thing.

9. It Will be the Hardest Thing You Will Ever Do. Marriage is made to last 50 to 60 years or more. It will be with you when you work, when you sleep, when you rest and when you grow old. Nothing other than your relationship with God will consume more of your time, energy and emotions. There will be days that are simply hard work. Do the work.

10. It is the Most Rewarding Thing You Will Ever Do. There is no way to thoroughly explain to you what it is like to have a deep long-term relationship. Done right, you will have suffered together, loved together, work together, parented together and shared every intimate detail. You will be known, and you will know your spouse. There will be moments and seasons that will make you feel more deeply than you ever thought possible. Hang in there until the end.

These are my thoughts. What would you add to the list?

Marriage is a long beautiful journey with someone you love. I hope you will find the right person and commit deeply for a lifetime. The journey is long, and the reward is great.

Weekend Reading

I read numerous articles this week but only a few really spoke to me. Here are the best of the best for this week. Read and enjoy.

When Bad Christians happen to Good People – I liked this article by my friend Rusty. The numbering is off, but I forgive him. Still good stuff.

TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski responds to the death of Chester Bennington – Some great thoughts about suicide.

The Internal Battles of Even the Best Pastors

Big Churches And Small Churches: Contrast Without Criticism

Why I Don’t Preach “Turn or Burn.”

A lady stopped by my office and was talking to me about a preacher she knew. She said, “He is a real ‘Turn or Burn’ preacher.” She continued, “He ain’t afraid to preach about Hellfire and Brimstone, you know.”

Yes, I know the type of preacher of which you speak. Every sermon lands on the judgment of God, and if you are not right, then you are going to hell. I have heard those preachers in my life, many of them at old-time revival services.

After this conversation, I wondered if anyone would ever consider me a “Turn or Burn” preacher. Honestly, I hope no one calls me by that description. I know some people have said, “I stepped on their toes” occasionally, but I hope that is as close as I get. Here is why I feel that way.

1.God’s Judgement is the Path to Grace. I think the whole framework of “Turn or Burn” preaching is set up wrong. For me, the two options are judgment or grace. The Bible reveals a God who hates sin and seeks to destroy everything that stands against him. This idea is gently laid alongside the cross. God’s wrath is poured out on Jesus, and we can now receive grace. As a result, I want my primary message to be about the grace of God more than judgment.

2. Many Biblical Topics are Not Judgement Sermons. People need to hear more than just about accepting grace. They need to understand about being a better husband, father, and son. They need to know about being a better wife, mother, and daughter. The letters of Paul often contain a statement about how to relate to other believers. The pages of Scripture are filled with teaching about family, marriage, communication, worship, discipleship, prayer, and a variety of other topics. I want to preach the whole Bible, not just one topic.

3. I Like to Preach about Next Steps. Telling people to “Turn or Burn” is not very helpful. I want people to take their next step on their journey of faith. Following Jesus and accepting God’s grace are the first steps on our walk with Christ. What is the next step? How are you letting your faith impact your work life, your church life, and your personal life? I believe that God always wants us focused on our next step of faith in light of the final step. I want to find practical ways to help people move forward.

I want people to know about the ultimate judgment of the universe by our God. All of us will one day die and stand before the judgment seat. That is only a small part of what I preach. I want to be known for a message that is full of grace and helps people on their journey with God. Sure, sometimes that message might be hard to hear because we like to stick to our traditional ways of doing things. I hope that change is motivated by love and grace instead along with fear. Your loving Father in heaven wants the best for you, and you can trust his plan.

Reflections on My Visit to Show Me Christian Youth Home

Yesterday my wife and I along with my two oldest boys delivered all the items we collected during VBS to Show Me Youth Home in Lamonte, Missouri. It was my first formal visit to the campus, and I received the full tour with an hour of explanation. It was amazing to see this ministry that our Church supports financially. Honestly, my wife and I woke up talking about all we had seen and heard while touring the facility. Here are my initial thoughts for those who know this ministry or one like it.

1. The Need is Great. Seeing the buildings and hearing the stories of success are compelling. I can easily see how they need lots of money to keep this ministry going. The hard side is that they are sometimes forced to turn children away. They do not just need our physical and financial support to stay afloat but also to thrive and grow. The impact of this ministry is great, but they could always do more.

2. The Children are Precious. Walking around the site, we stopped at one of the homes. The kids were so excited to see us. They wanted to talk and share their lives with us. In talking to my boys afterward, it was hard for them to imagine not growing up with a “normal” family. These kids have it rough, some of them have been bounced around from house to house. It is great they have a place like Show Me for them to learn and grow and be loved.

3. Remember the House Parents. In talking to our guide, he said the house parents at Show Me usually last 4-5 years. The national average is ten months. It is hard for the kids to learn to trust and feel love when their house parents are always changing. I would encourage you to pray for the parents of these kids in every way.

4. Prayer & Money Help, But They Need Other Help Too. The home could use all kinds of donations. They need food, clothes, school supplies and even furniture. Think of all the things you get from your parents in life, even as an adult, and then imagine you have no parents to provide them. Show Me was very excited when we dropped off peanut butter, toilet paper, notebooks and outdoor toys for the kids from VBS. All donations are important. The other side of that issue is that they can always use physical help. They love to have people come over, especially as a group and take on a summer project. This year they have torn down their old pool and reinstalled a new one with a beautiful deck. Volunteers and private donations did all of that. There are always ways to help.

5. Keep Listening to God and Dreaming. The one other thing that came up in our discussion with our guide is the future. They would love to build more homes at all five of their locations. They would love to do more. I quickly started dreaming about how wonderful it would be to have our Church save up money to buy and build an entire home. Sometimes we dream about traveling overseas to help someone when there is a powerful ministry in our own backyard. How might God be nudging you to help the kids at Show Me?

These are some of my initial thoughts. My family had a wonderful visit and are discussing ways we might be able to help in the future. I am already excited about buying Christmas gifts for the kids this winter, but I am sure there is so much more that can be done.

If You Want to Get on the Preacher’s Bad Side

Being a preacher is an incredibly challenging and extremely rewarding. I get to see people at their best during weddings, baptisms, graduations, anniversaries and on Sunday. Numerous people are praying for me daily, and I have people who regularly bless my life just because I am the preacher. I am truly blessed beyond measure.

Then there is the other side of ministry. The ugly side that makes me questions my calling to preach and lead a Church. Here are some of the things I find that make ministry difficult.

1. Gossip & Slander. The Bible lists these as sins, but we seem to accept them today as a part of life. The truth is that they are very destructive. I have seen people’s lives torn apart because someone was spreading stories about another person or group. The issue is not always whether the story is true or false. The damage is done because it is judgmental, mean, divisive and does not bring healing. Every time you spread a “secret” you are slowly destroying the kingdom of God, and it upsets me as your preacher.

2. Criticize Leadership Decisions to Everyone. First, I am not saying the leadership of the Church is above reproach, that is far from the truth. I have seen the leadership make enormous mistakes in their judgment at times. Even when they make a bad decision, frequently the criticism that follows is the most destructive thing. Public criticism is not the way of Jesus. He confronts people to their face and gathers all the facts. His way seeks forgiveness and unity.

The flip side to this issue is also important. Most of the time in decisions the leadership has far more information than the average Church member. For example, I once had a lady criticize the fact that we didn’t help a family who had a particular need. What the lady didn’t know is that the leadership had met with the family. We had helped them once in a big way and then offered financial counseling and they denied it. We did not want to run this family down, so we decided to keep quiet and let people criticize what they knew very little about. Many decisions are the result of numerous discussions, prayer and situations you might not know completely. Dividing the Church through constant public criticism is very upsetting to me as a preacher.

3. Create Unnecessary Conflict. I understand that some conflict is necessary. We need to confront sin. We need to push people toward growth. Sometimes we need to make difficult decisions. Those conflicts are expected, and I am prepared to handle those issue. The ones that upset me are the conflicts over unnecessary topics. The decorations, the paint color, the clothes I wear, the carpet, the coffee, my office hours and insurance company we use are not reasons to start a fight. Those are minor parts to the big purpose of Church. And yet, these are the things I have experienced in most Churches fights. Creating conflict over non-Biblical issues always make me frustrated.

I know there are other issues that build walls in my ministry relationships but these are the biggest to me. Interestingly enough these issues always involve the mouth. The people who spend more time talking than doing are often the biggest source of headache. Maybe the question for today is simply, “Are my words helping the Church or hurting it?” If you are not sure, ask your preacher, he will tell you.

Behind the Scenes of a Tough Church Decision

Last week the VBS leadership had to make a decision that proved unpopular to at least three people. I am sure others felt disappointed but never told us as these families did.

The leadership decided to close registration for our Jr. Mission program at 30 kids on the second night. As a result, we turned away three families and told those attending not to bring any of their friends.

At first glance, this might sound crazy. The Church should never turn people away. We should put together every program for anyone who shows up. Today I want to take you a little deeper into the events preceding this decision to close the group.

First, six months before VBS we publicly stated the date we had chosen and the time that everything would happen in 2017. Then we began asking for volunteers to help with each area.

Second, we had four volunteers to lead our Jr. Mission program. There were at least six other people asked personally, and all of them declined for various reasons.

Third, we looked at the attendance from previous years and knew that we had never had over 28 youth registered in any previous year. Praying that God would give a few new faces this year the plan was put together for 30 Jr. High students to participate.

Fourth, a decision was made not to place the Jr. High group on any of our advertising. This group would primarily focus on developing the students of our Church and not be a community outreach program.

Fifth, all details were put in place by our four volunteers. This meant that each person involved would need a background check on themselves. Since our Jr. Mission group is focused on leaving our Church facility and serving in the community we also needed to secure locations to serve. This also reaffirmed our decision to plan for 30 kids because most places cannot accommodate that many young servants at one time. Finally, rides for all 30 had to be prepared for each night of travel.

Sixth, we opened up online registration. Again you need to know that this group was not advertised but was only known through word of mouth based on previous years. All total we had ten children signed up going into the first night.

Seventh, then the Jr. High students arrived. 26 total on the first night. A deep sigh of relief and forward they went. The second night more students came, and we hit 30 total immediately. Remember that we only had rides for 30 students to leave campus along with only four volunteers. A quick meeting and the decision was made to close the group. We had to turn three students away and felt unsure of doing it but knew the situation was beyond our control.

Eighth, people started texting, calling and emailing their suggestions on how to open the group up for more kids. This is where it gets more complicated. We did not just need more rides and drivers. We needed background checks for safety. We needed insured and inspected vehicles. We also did not have the room for them to serve at any of our planned locations. The plans were made for 30 total kids months before. The leadership simply did not plan on filling all of those spots so quickly since we had no advertising.

Ninth, after several conversations we decided to keep registration closed and leave it at 30. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best for our volunteers and the group that had already signed up. We all agree that we should have made the limitations public before the first night. Numerous events have limits on numbers, and that is just how some events work. Honestly, we had no idea this would be an issue based on previous years and previous registrations.

Finally, I want to be honest and straightforward here. If you had an issue with the way it was handled, I am sorry. Know that the best solution is to sign up and help next year. Numerous people were asked to serve in this area, and they declined. When an event is being planned, help at the last second is no real help at all.

I hate that some kids were not allowed to be a part of such a great week. It was not a total momentary decision. It was the result of six months of planning and preparing. Next year we will be better prepared and handle it better.

I do want to say thank you to all those who did volunteer and lead this group. Thanks for your kindness, patience, and service. Those 30 Jr. High students were blessed and thanks to people like you, these young people saw the light of Christ.