Why Pastors Like to Stay Indoors

6.25.14Yesterday was ministry in a nutshell, a microcosm of what many pastors face week in and week out. The first half of the day was idyllic. I cocooned myself inside my office, spread out my Bible, commentaries, online tools and a pen and paper, and went to town. I brainstormed, researched, read, prayed, and planned. I created sermon series ideas for the next school year, dug into some of my favorite biblical texts, and imagined how successful all these upcoming sermons were sure to be. It was a carefree, clean, tidy, optimistic morning.

But then I did something I knew better than to do: I stepped out of my office. Inside my office, there are no problems. Outside my office, outside the church walls, there’s the mess. I ran into two recovering addicts who’ve come on and off to my church. They’ve been more ‘off’ than ‘on’ when it comes to church attendance. They’re clean and sober, but they’ve still got an uphill climb in life from years of mistakes. Victory in their life will never be quick or easy.

Then I found out about two marriages on the verge of divorce. One divorce will be final in the next few months. One is on its last legs. Both are couples recently in our church. One actually sat in my office for counseling (that’s the one that’s already calling it quits). Kids are involved in both marriage. No one is winning there.

Now you know why some pastors like to stay indoors. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s clean and tidy. We can sit at our desks and wax eloquent about deep biblical truths that only other seminary students care about. But that’s not where we’re needed. Pastors are needed outdoors, offering hope to addicts and hopeless marriages.

Every time I get out of my comfort zone, every time I step outside, I’m reminded why I’m a pastor.

Five for Friday (5.23.14)

five red buttonWho’s ready for Memorial Day Weekend? Here’s some interesting articles to keep you reading through the holiday. Enjoy!

Kirsten Powers: Liberal’s Dark Ages - Must Read! Great article that captures the hypocrisy of the ‘tolerance’ movement.

Author Debunks Myths About Divorce Rates, Including of Churchgoers –  Great news for married people!

What is the Link Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking? – Insightful article from my buddy Tony Merida.

Do We Do Discipleship Wrong? – Derwin Gray asks a critical question for churches today.

Southern Baptists Struggling to Attract Younger Generation, Says New Report – Research to back up what we’ve known for years.

Debunking the Myth of the ‘Soulmate’

11.6.13I heard about it a lot growing up. There was a ‘soulmate’ out there for me, someone uniquely created for me that was going to fulfill my every longing and desire. While in high school, that prospect excited me and comforted me.

Once I was in my 20s and started actively searching, the idea of a ‘soulmate’ terrified me. What if I couldn’t find her? What if I made a mistake? What if I chose the wrong one? Or worse, what if I let my soulmate go by because I wasn’t convinced, and I would be forced to live the rest of my life on the outside of God’s will for my life? The thought was paralyzing at times.

Our society has created the myth of the ‘soulmate’ because it sells well. It makes for a great movie, a great ideal, a great dream. In reality, this myth has devastating consequences for young adults. We’re never given any criteria for how to find our soulmate, so we just ‘feel it.’ You know when you find your soulmate when they send tingles up and down your spine, when your heart goes a flutter just by being in their presence. Obviously, they’re the one. They’re the soulmate.

But then what happens when the magic wears off and you get into the grind of making a marriage work? Some people make the tragic mistake of thinking that they made the wrong choice. In their mind, a soulmate would never grumble or be selfish or be anything less than perfect. Some believe they made the wrong choice about marriage simply because they have to work at it.

Think about it from God’s perspective. Does it sound very loving for God to give you only one compatible spouse out of the six billion people walking on the planet? Does it sound loving that God would base your entire life’s happiness on your ability in your early twenties to find the one person out of the entire planet that’s right for you? That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

If you’re looking for a spouse, take some of the pressure off of yourself. Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice. Choose well, work hard, and don’t give up. You’ll have a beautiful marriage that will stand the test of time.

11 Reasons Why Marriage is Worth It

6.7.13A few days ago my local newspaper listed the names of those getting married and those getting divorced. Want to guess the score? 18 marriages, 38 divorces. Too many marriages are ending in divorce. The past two posts I talked about why marriages fail and how to improve your marriage. Today I’m giving you eleven reasons why marriage is worth fighting for.

1. A deeper love than you’ll experience anywhere else. There is an intimacy and transparency that I’ve only been able to find in a marriage. It’s one of the truly deep experiences that all humans should have.

2. You’re truly ‘known’ by someone committed to you. Marriage involves a vulnerability, as you open up your deepest self to someone else. But in this act of knowing and being known, there’s an innate longing fulfilled.

3. Lifelong companionship. If you do marriage right, your spouse will become your best friend. You can’t spend that much quality time together and not become best friends. God created us to live in community. Our spouse is ground zero for that.

4. You have a ‘help’ mate. It’s amazing how opposites seem to attract. My wife and I are perfect examples of that. She helps me where I’m weak, and I help her where she’s weak. She helps me achieve so much more than I could have on my own, and I help her do the same.

5. Spontaneous moments of pure joy. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed with love and joy. Most of the time, it’s in connection with reflecting on the blessings of God through my family. None of that would be possible without my spouse. She’s brought me more joy than anyone else on the planet.

6. Transforms your character. I tell people that my wife has been married three different times to three different people. They’ve just all happened to be me. Marriage is such a catalytic event that it will naturally change you. If done right, marriage will change you for the better.

7. Spiritual growth. Marriage has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a deeper dependence on God. It’s only with his help that I can be the husband and father that I need to be. The daily challenges of marriage have been one of the primary opportunities for me to grow spiritually.

8. Legitimate sexual fulfillment. Think of the gratification of sex without the guilt, without the shame, without the unintended consequences. When expressed in marriage, sexual fulfillment can reach its fullest potential.

9. Gives you a better picture of Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul inextricably links the union of marriage with the union of Christ and the church. To know one is to know the other. As you progress in marriage, you get a better understanding of the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church.

10. Best evangelism tool. Connected to the previous reason, since marriage and Christ are so connected, when you have a strong marriage, it’s an incredibly vivid picture of Christ to the world. A vibrant marriage will always be one of your best evangelism tools to the world.

11. Leaving a healthy legacy for your kids. Studies have consistently shown that kids do better in life when they grow up in an environment with a strong marriage. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage. Give them a better chance at success in life.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you add? What’s the best part about your marriage?

image courtesy of my wife’s Facebook account

11 Reasons Why Marriages Fail

6.3.13It’s marriage week here at MTVPastor. A few days ago my gorgeous wife Robin and I celebrated our 11 year anniversary. In honor of that, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on marriage in three different posts. Today I’ll share 11 reasons why marriages fail. Wednesday I’ll write on 11 ways to strengthen your marriage. Friday I’ll finish up with 11 reasons why marriage is worth it.

We see marriages around us fail for a multitude of reasons. Underlying the causes of divorce are some common themes. Here are eleven of them:

1. Lack of communication. Constant and meaningful conversation is the lifeblood of a marriage. You would think that all marriages have meaningful conversation, but they don’t. Couples don’t carve out time. They’re too tired. The husbands don’t want to talk. Television replaces conversation, and separation begins.

2. Busyness. We can be too busy for our own good. A career is good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Hobbies are good, but not if it comes at the expense of your marriage. Friends are good, but not if they come at the expense of your marriage. Even kids can drain away precious energy from your marriage. The couples that can’t cut back see their marriages float away in a sea of busyness.

3. Selfishness. At the core, marriage is about serving your spouse, about submitting yourself and your needs to the needs of your spouse. If the couples can’t grasp this, submit their ego and embrace the concept of mutual submission, then fault line cracks will appear at the base of your marriage.

4. Can’t overcome your family of origin. Many spouses were raised in broken, abusive, or dysfunctional homes. They walk into marriage knowing only destructive marriage habits from the example of their parents. If they can’t overcome and move past their family of origin, their parents’ destructive marriage will become their own destructive marriage.

5. Unwilling to grow in your marriage. Marriage is all about change. You change. Your spouse changes. If you’re unwilling to grow and change with your spouse, you don’t have much of a shot. The trick of marriage isn’t finding a perfect spouse who will never change, but to find a way to continuously fall in love with your ever-changing spouse.

6. Lack of investment in your marriage. Husbands, your marriage isn’t complete when you say “I do.” Without constant and intentional investment, your marriage will struggle. Just like a farmer’s work isn’t done when he plants the seed, neither is your work done when you walk the aisle. Marriage takes hard work, lots of it.

7. Addictions overwhelm a spouse. Sometimes a latent addiction can rear up and consume a spouse. An eating disorder, a pornography addiction, alcoholism, if left unchecked, will wreck a marriage. It takes two people to make a marriage work, but only one person to wreck it.

8. Bitterness and unforgiveness overwhelm you. Your spouse will hurt you more than any other person on the planet. They will continually remind you that they are a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. Because you’re the person closest to them, you will deal with the brunt of their imperfections. If you choose to hold on to past hurts and slights, bitterness will poison your soul and consume you.

9. You give up too easily. Make no illusions: marriage is tough. It’s not for the faint of heart. Every couple will come to points where divorce seems like the easy option. The marriage that works is the marriage that chooses to fight when things get tough, not quit.

10. Sin entices and destroys the marriage. Sin is always looking for a way to destroy the beauty of your marriage. It may use the approach of greed, selfishness, an affair, or any other number of enticements. If you’re not constantly on your guard, sin will destroy your marriage.

11. The love grows cold. Love is like a campfire that must be constantly tended to and stoked. If left alone, the fire will eventually burn itself out and grow cold. When the love grows cold, there doesn’t seem to be much left to save. Don’t let your fire grow cold.

QUESTION: What other reasons cause marriage to fail?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

The Biggest Lie Women Tell Themselves

3.27.13Earlier this week I ran into this lie again, one that too many women have fallen for. I had a conversation with a young lady who had gone through a difficult marriage and a terrible divorce. As she was recounting her actions and discussing where she went wrong, I heard the lie come out.

Here’s the biggest lie that women tell themselves when it comes to relationships: “I’ll fix him.” She said she knew that he wasn’t that good of a guy when she married him, but she figured she could fix him once they got married. My response (in a gentle yet mocking manner) was, “So, how’d that work out for you?” She laughed as she saw the fallacy of the lie that propelled her into a doomed marriage.

Marriage does change you, and spouses can and should have a strong influence on their mates, but this idea that a mature woman can quickly and single handedly ‘fix’ a immature man is ludicrous. Like it or not, men are who they are. Some are so stubborn, so set in their ways, that only God can change their hearts.

Ladies, a word of warning: If you’re dating someone that you’re thinking about marrying, and if he’s got more flaws than not, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’ll be able to ‘fix him’ once he walks down the aisle. You’re stuck with what you’ve got. Better to know that on the front end.

Be careful who you marry. If they still act like they’re in high school, throw them back and let them grow up a little bit. God-fearing, wife-honoring men are hard to come by, but they’re worth the wait.

QUESTION: Is there a bigger lie that women tell themselves when it comes to relationships?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

7 Reasons Why Your Marriage is Struggling (Repost)

8-6-12Don’t feel bad that you clicked on this blog entry. It’s not a sign of failure in your marriage. It’s a sign that you’re married. All marriages struggle, to one degree or another. If you find a marriage that has no struggles, then either one of the partners is dead or has given up a long time ago. Marriage is so fundamentally important that I’ll be writing on the subject of marriage every Monday.

I’m by no means an expert, but I’m still happily married after ten years, which means (according the Washington Post http://wapo.st/LiFXHX) that I’ve beat at least a third of the marriages in America. There are no quick fixes to your marriage, but by continually working on it, you’ll see improvements that will see you victorious in the end. Here are seven reasons why your marriage is struggling:

1.    You’re married to a sinner (and so is your spouse).

Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of the presence of sin in your life, you’re always going to struggle with a gravitational pull towards selfishness and self-centeredness, which works to destroy a marriage.

2.    You live in a culture that devalues marriage.

Several months ago ABC News reported on a study (http://abcn.ws/LiGMQU) that revealed that four in ten Americans think that marriage is becoming obsolete, and 11 percent spike from when the question was asked in 1978. Since the cultural value of marriage is decreasing, there’s not as much communal pressure to fight and make a marriage work.

3.    Your idea of marriage has been warped by modern media.

You don’t have to look far in the media to see that the whole idea of what a successful family and marriage look like is being redefined. With hit shows such as Modern Family, the classical idea of marriage is being redefined.

4.    You’re inclined to want the easy way out.

We like options. We like exit strategies. A contract is useless to us. If we want a new cell phone, we’ll simply pay the penalty and break the contract. If we get in over our heads financially, we’ll simply declare bankruptcy. When marriage gets tough, the lure of divorce can seem tantalizingly easy.

5.    We don’t like hard work.

One of the perks of living in American society is the constant advancement of technology designed to make life easier for everyone.  Why cook a meal when you can drive through and pick one up? Why work out when you can just pop a pill and lose weight? Unfortunately, marriage can’t be successful without hard work, a discipline too many of us are losing.

6.    We’ve bought into the myth that the greatest way to be happy is to focus exclusively on ourselves.

For us to be happy, we feel like we have to be the ones to ensure our own happiness.  If we don’t look out for ourselves, who will? This selfish “me-first” attitude can be crushing to a marriage if you have two self-centered people focusing exclusively on their own happiness. The Bible comes at it from a different perspective, stating “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

7.    The crockpot of marriage rarely survives in a microwave world.

We want a successful marriage, now. We want the marriage we saw in our grandparents without the fifty years of hard work it took to get them there. A successful marriage is built with small deposits over a long period of time. If we don’t have patience, we’ll never see the victory.

QUESTION: What other things do you think contribute to struggling marriages?

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Do 50% of Marriages Really End in Divorce?

Most of you have probably heard the statistic: 50% of marriages end in divorce. While we can’t quote a research study off the top of our heads to back this up, this statistic seems to be true, like an urban legend that’s come to life. What’s horrible is that this 50% statistic casts a pall over the institution of marriage itself. With a 50% failure rate, who would want to get married anymore?

If I told you that the bank you invested all of your hard earned money in had a 50% chance of going belly up and taking all your money, would you continue to invest there? What if I told you that if you drove your car to work this week, there would be a 50% chance that your brakes would go out and you’d suffer a catastrophic car accident? Would you still drive to work? No way! Even if I told you that if you walked outside to check your mail there was a 50% chance that a roving band of flesh-eating gerbils would attack you, it would make you think twice about going outside. And yet the failure rate of marriage seems to hover around 50%. Who would want to get married with those odds?

Today, let’s debunk that statistical myth a little bit. The average divorce rate is actually somewhere between 40% and 50%. Folks just like to round it up to a solid 50% to make it sound more ominous. What’s really interesting is when you begin to dig into the actual 50% numbers. The National Marriage Institute of the University of Virginia states, “The background characteristics of people entering a marriage have major implications for their risk of divorce.” In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller summarizes the findings from the National Marriage Institute this way, “the greatest percentages of divorces happen to those who marry before the age of eighteen, who have dropped out of high school, and who have had a baby together before marrying. ‘So if you are a reasonably well-educated person with a decent income, come from an intact family and are religious, and marry after twenty-five without having a baby first, your chances of divorce are low indeed. (15)’”

What does that mean for us today? Marriage isn’t as bad off as it seems. The majority of people that make up the “50%” of divorces enter into marriages in circumstances outside of societal norms (i.e. high school dropout, baby before marriage). For those who do marriage the traditional way, the divorce rate is far below 50%. So don’t lose hope. Marriage isn’t as bad off as it seems.

If you want to hear more about marriage, I’ve started a brand new sermon series on marriage titled “I Want a New Marriage!” You can listen to the previous sermons by clicking here.

QUESTION: In your immediate circle of family and friends, where does the divorce rate seem to stand? 

I Want a New Marriage!

“I want a new marriage!” Have you ever yelled this statement out in frustration? It might have been after a fight, after another disappointment, or after another broken promise. The beauty and enchantment of the wedding day has long since faded away, and now you and your spouse are stuck in the mud and mire of a monotonous marriage. You’re not sure where or when the marriage went off track, but you’re sure that it’s headed in the wrong direction. You didn’t sign up for this.

“I want a new marriage!” Your fights seem to be broken records. Always revolving around the same issues (with money being #1), always using the same arguments, never making headway. All your fights do is add another layer of baggage to roll out the next time you fight. Perhaps you feel your spouse stopped trying in the marriage a long time ago. He or she withdrew, emotionally gave up, and you’re no longer lovers. You’re roommates.

“I want a new marriage!” You and your spouse had high hopes for your marriage. You were going to be different. You weren’t going to be like your parents. You were going to make it work. And you both worked hard. But somehow, someway, you got off course. You started careers, had kids, lived the life that you’re supposed to live. You don’t know when you started to drift, but you did. It wasn’t intentional. But maybe you looked up after ten years and realized, this isn’t the marriage you wanted. It’s as if you’re being swept away by a current and can’t do anything to stop it.

“I want a new marriage!” Maybe you feel your spouse is incredibly selfish. They won’t admit it, but you know the truth. They’re spoiled, self-centered, and always taking in the marriage, never giving. Maybe you’re tired of always giving. Maybe you’re tired of being the only one that’s trying to serve the other. After awhile, disappointment turns into bitterness and resentment, resulting in contempt. You secretly despise your spouse.

Whether intentional or not, many marriages end up at this place. We don’t want divorce to be an option because we see the collateral damage it leaves on everyone involved. And yet, it’s tempting to take it as the easiest short-term solution. For those who want to fight for their marriage, our next sermon series at Mt. Vernon is just for you. For those who want a new marriage but don’t know how to get there, we’re going to spend the next several weeks helping you fight for a new marriage (with your current spouse, of course). If you’re not in the Columbus area, you can check out the audio files of the messages on www.mtvchurch.com/listen.

Spread the word about our next series (share on Twitter or Facebook below), “I Want a New Marriage!”, and we’ll see you Sunday.

Why Do People Get Married Anymore? (Part 2)

In last week’s blog, we talked about five different reasons people got married in the past:

  1. Protection
  2. Procreation
  3. Companionship
  4. Tradition
  5. Economic advantage

With advancements in society and culture, many of those reasons aren’t as necessary anymore. So, has society progressed beyond marriage? With the alarmingly high rate of divorce today, is this a sign that we no longer need marriage? As a twelve-year-old asked her divorced mother, “Why do people get married anymore?”

The short answer is this: Marriage is still God’s plan. God created it. He instituted it. He gave it to us for a reason. If you think you know more about life than the One who created it, then you might think marriage is irrelevant. Marriages today aren’t failing because we have moved beyond it. Marriages today are failing because we’re not operating our marriages God’s way.

Here’s why people should still get married today:

  • We’re still dependent creatures. As much as we might like to celebrate our own independence and self-reliance, we were created to be dependent. That’s why we pause three times a day to eat a meal and stop for eight hours a night to sleep. They’re constant reminders that we’re dependent creatures. We need other people. Marriage is a beautiful picture of how we’re dependent on others for our success. Marriage itself is a snapshot of our ultimate dependence on God.
  • We still crave community. We’re by nature drawn to other people. It’s how we’re hardwired. We want to live in relationship with others. We’re naturally drawn to other people because we’re relational. We want someone to share our life with. We don’t want to go through the majority of our lives alone. God created us to be in community with him. Marriage is a living picture of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like.
  • We still crave intimacy. Beyond community, we naturally crave intimacy (relationally, emotionally, and physically) with another individual. It’s not enough for us to simply have acquaintances. We desire to know and be known at the deepest level. That desire was instilled in us by our Creator. The proper framework that can offer intimacy while protecting our vulnerability is the framework of marriage. The intimacy of marriage is a picture of the intimacy God wants to have with each one of us.
  • We still want the best for our kids. More than just what the Bible says, studies have continually shown that children raised in two parent homes generally do better in life than children raised in single parent homes. There’s a synergy that happens between mom and dad that’s critical for our children’s development. If not for our sake, for our children’s sake, marriage is still the best option.

Marriage is still God’s plan because we’re still made in God’s image. It doesn’t mean that marriage becomes easy. A decision to get married in today’s society is a leap of faith. It’s trusting that God’s way is best, even though the megaphone of contemporary culture is screaming the exact opposite. Marriage is designed to drive you to depend on God. You have to depend on God to make it (which explains the high number of failed marriages today).

Just because marriage is hard doesn’t make it something to be avoided. Raising kids is hard, but I embrace that willingly, knowing that the joy of seeing a child grow up successfully far outweighs the hardships endured along the way. It’s the same with marriage. The joy of being in a successful marriage far outweighs the hardships you endure getting there.

So go out there, get married, work hard at it, depend on God, and stay married. The reward will be worth it in the end.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you give why people should still get married today?

Image courtesy of: www.freedigitalphotos.net