Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2After all these years, I still care deeply about marriage and helping couples have the best marriages they can possibly have.  I’m always a sucker for saying “yes” when a couple (especially a young couple) asks me for help.

Right now, I’m meeting with two young couples who are preparing to get married and I’m also going to be overseeing the ceremonies of two other young couples in the next couple of months.

Here’s what I can tell you about these four couples:  From what I can see, they all define marriage in a different way.

And that is their prerogative.  That’s true for all of us.

Each of us enter into marriage with some presuppositions about what marriage is and what we are hoping ours will become.  We have beliefs about marriage that have been carved out since our childhood (when we lived with our parent’s marriages) and got further refined as we watched marriages (both good and bad) in our adolescent and young adult years.

We come to conclusions about the nature and purpose of marriage by watching and listening. The differences between us is our sources of influence.  The people we watch. The voices who speak into our hearts.  The words we trust and have authority in our lives.

But make no mistake.  What our marriages are built on…what our marriages grow into…what our marriages ultimately become…are our choices.

I’ve said this before, many times.  I always ask couples why they want to get married. They are almost always quick to tell me it’s because they “love” each other.  Now, as noble and foundational as love is to marriage, that’s never the answer I’m looking for.  At least not in the form I’m hoping to hear.

How about some of these reasons:

“ I find my greatest joy in serving her.”

“I want to grow old together.”

“We are better together than we are separate.”

“I want to live absolutely and fully committed to him.”

“Our individual giftedness compliments each other.”

“I completely and totally trust him.”

“I am drawn to her character and example like no other.”

“He refines and challenges my shortcomings.”

“She inspires me to live out a higher calling.”

The reason I seldom, if ever, get these kinds of answers is because most couples are not thinking deeply about marriage and they are drawing their definitions of marriage from sources other than the nature, character, words, and example of Jesus.

So when it comes to your marriage (current or future), here are the questions to ask:

Who is influencing your thoughts and your process of defining marriage?

What is your source of moral and relational authority?

Is your marriage what YOU say it is, or are you submitting yourself to a greater influence?

No matter what, it’s still your choice.

Theology for Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers 4(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I want to teach you something that’s a little above your pay grade right now, but it’s definitely something you’re learning first hand these days, whether you know it or not.

It’s the value of repetition.

One of the things that separates people who just “get by” in life, from people who ultimately do amazing things in their world is how well they master the art of repetition. That means learning to do the same things over and over and over again, in order to do them better.

Holdie, in your short career as a little baseball player, you’ve already experienced the value, and the results,  of practicing the same exact patterns when you swing a baseball bat.  Back elbow down (not “up” like everybody tries to tell you), hands at your back ear, see the ball, front foot down early, swing for the fence.  Again and again and again and again and again.  Repetition.

Great soccer players understand this.  Great guitar players understand this.  Great doctors understand this.  Great debaters understand this.  Great husbands and wives and dads and moms understand this.  Great scientists and carpenters and dancers and teachers…and even old pastors….understand this.  Repetition.

I hope this sinks into your little hearts someday.  Repetition is a spiritual thing.  It can feel dull and boring, yet at the center of repetition you can find the fruit of self-discipline.  

You can be fooled into thinking there are so many different things you could be doing, other than deepening your skills through repetition.  Repetition isn’t the “fun” part. Practicing  the fundamentals gets no attention and no awards and no trophies.  But it’s the only real path to get you where you’re going.  And it’s the stuff of legends.

Through repetition:

  • A baseball swing becomes a work of art.
  • Reading becomes joy.
  • Dribbling becomes dancing.  
  • Mathematics becomes a symphony.
  • A painting becomes a masterpiece.
  • Prayer becomes intimate conversation.
  • Faith becomes the oxygen of life.
  • Hope becomes confidence.
  • Love becomes the abandoning of self.
  • Trusting God becomes instinctive.

These are pretty deep things, little newbies.  Most people don’t practice them enough to ever fully realize how awesome life can be when little things are mastered.  

Don’t run from repetition.  Run to it.

Be wise, Grasshoppers. 

Papi

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayAccording to my clock, I’ve still got about an hour before Tuesday is over this week, so here comes a Marriage Tuesday…

I have dozens and dozens of divorced friends.  The last thing in the world I would want is for my words to inflict any more pain on them than their own reality has already done.  It’s with that awareness these thoughts are offered.

There is no question the ones who feel the brunt of the pain of a divorce are the husband and wife.  It was not their goal to grow apart.  It was not their desire to draw loved ones into their conflict.  The needs of the children always weigh heavily on the parent’s hearts.

Even though one almost always feels more like the “victim”, neither is ever entirely blameless. Sometimes one feels like they are doing all the work, while the other is just going through the motions.  Some couples work and work and work to figure out what’s wrong and stop the bleeding and heal the hurts.  Every now and then it pays off.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

There is almost always a mess of collateral damage, also.  Some of it is obvious.  Finances. The house.  Loss of identity.  Loss of confidence.  Changed relationships with in-laws and extended family.  Holidays.

Here’s one issue that’s seldom talked about: How the divorce affects the church.  When the divorcing couple are both part of a church family (along with their kids), the church is living in awkwardness.  We don’t know the “whole” story…if we know any real story at all. Sides are often chosen and loyalties are declared.  Story lines are controlled by who’s talking and who’s listening.  Truth is slippery.

Worse yet, the church family can know absolutely nothing, because the couple has chosen to keep their struggle private.  Maybe they believe it’s nobody’s business.  Maybe they’re hoping it will get better and reputations can be spared.  Maybe they are simply living in denial, while their friends are living in the dark.  Until it blows up.

When that happens, we (the church) lose one, or sometimes, both of the partners.  Our children’s ministry loses their kids…at least half the time.  We lose their shared responsibilities.  We lose their financial support.  We lose friendship.  Their need to move on (for the health of their new relationships or just the need for a fresh start away from memories of their old life), leaves the rest of us just feeling loss.  And less than what we were.

And me?  Because I am usually more intimately involved with the couples, my feelings of loss are usually pretty acute, even though my emotions are mixed.  Somebody’s loss is almost always someone else’s benefit.  It doesn’t mean I have to like it!

So here’s the takeaway.  To all of my divorced friends:  My prayer will always be for your best. I hope the painful part of your life is in your past and you have found healing and strength in your new life…filled with new friends and new opportunities for you and yours.  May redemption be your song.

However, if you are still married and your relationship is less than what it should be…falling short of what it could be…hidden from what others see…held together by a veneer of social respectability, while it is crumbling below the surface in ways that only you and your partner know…it’s time to raise your hand.

It’s time to let someone in.  It’s time to swallow your pride.  It’s time to remember your vows. It’s time to live by faith and no longer by sight.  It’s time to ask for help.

It’s time to face the prospects of the potential collateral damage.  Before it’s too late.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshoppers-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were little, they grew up around music.  I played my guitar for them all the time.  Our youth group was always singing together.  I took them to concerts.  We listened to all different kinds of music, most everywhere we went.  Sometimes, me and Mimi would even have disagreements over the types of music I would let them listen to.  She still gives me “that Mimi-look” when I’m listening to some of the music I like.  It can get pretty loud and crazy!

One of the reasons I love music so much is because I believe God has put music inside our hearts.  It’s a form of communication that’s been around since…well, since people have been around.  The writers of the Bible wrote about singing and making music as much, or more, than just about any other topic.  Music can motivate us, soothe our sadness, touch our hearts on the deepest level, and speak for us when we have no words.

I want you to grow up loving music.  I want you to sing and make music in your hearts.  I want you to be little rebels in the culture you are growing up in and not be embarrassed to sing at church or in the school choir or at the top of your lungs in the car.  God made us to sing.  God gave us lungs to express our joy and sadness…and gave us music to make it beautiful.

I have a song I want to give to you.  Of all the songs I have ever heard, this is my favorite. It’s an old song (written around the time your daddies were born!)   It’s a really simple song and the style is no longer popular.  Just a guy singing and playing the piano.  I knew him.  His life and his story were amazing.  By the time you guys grow up, I hope he will not be forgotten.

rich-mullinsHis name is Rich Mullins and the song is called “If I Stand”.    Every single word of this song is important and it speaks to me in a very personal way. But there is one line that stands out.  To me, this one line is the single greatest line in any song that has ever been written.

It will always be my prayer that these words will come to mean as much to you guys, as they have meant to me:

“The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.”

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

 

 

Maybe someday you’ll watch “Ragamuffin”, the movie of Rich Mullins life.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Really. I’m just thinking.

brainSome things I’m thinking this afternoon…

We are getting teased with a little bit of Fall right now, but it’s going back to 90 degrees on Sunday.  This dance happens every year and I don’t like it.

Instead of complaining about Donald Trump being unfairly targeted by Lester Holt’s unbalanced questioning, the Trump camp should have been turning cartwheels.  More questions, more opportunities to control the debate…more opportunities to change the narrative.  He should have seized the moment.  Hillary’s the one that should be complaining about Lester Holt.

Here’s a little basketball in the midst of fall football and baseball chatter.  I have now become a massive OKC Thunder and Russ Westbrook fan.  Like, overnight.  They are now my new favorite NBA team.  Tired of the Clippers.  Mavs have moved into second place. Sorry Dirk, you’re still my favorite, but I need a team to root for that has a chance to win it all.  Russ > Kevin.  OKC > Warriors.

Some people can be good friends with most any kind of personality type.  Others are just too put off and uncomfortable with certain personality types or kinds of people to be good friends with them.  The wall goes up at first glance.  How sad.  We need all the good friendships we can get.

What is it with grandparents that makes them so deluded?  They look at their own grandkids and see the cutest, smartest, most gifted, better-than-any-other-grandkid-that-ever-walked-on-the-earth.  Guilty.

Being the guy who just had heart surgery really defined me for a few months.  Now it just seems like a distant thing of the past.

I wonder if people are walking out on Sunday mornings thinking the message they just heard was really nothing more than “try harder”?

I think one of the biggest problems people of faith present to the watching world is when we say God is good, but we act like spoiled, entitled children when our experiences are not.

The best new TV show of the season is Designated Survivor (my bias has been well documented).  People are openly wishing this show was the truth and not fiction.  I never thought I would say this, but President Kirkman is already greater than President Palmer.  

Best thing I’ve read this week…an answer Eugene Peterson gave to a question he was asked:

Q: If you were asked by someone to describe what is at the heart of the work of pastoring and shepherding, what would you say?

EP: I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

*humbled*

Pride says, “I know I am right.  I know you are wrong.  I need to tell you that.”  Humility says, “I think I’m right.  You think you’re right.  Let’s get some chips and salsa and talk.” Do you see the difference?

Back to sermon prep…

Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I’m going to tell you something today that lots of people will probably disagree with, but I’m your Papi and this my letter to you.  Not anybody else’s.  And you won’t be able to use this information for another 12 or 13 years.  And even longer for you, Tatumonster!

There will come a time when your parents will have no influence over your decision to be part of a church family.  Most people call this “going to church”, but I’ll explain why I don’t ever call it that some other time.  Anyway, it will totally be your choice.  100%.  All on you.  When your daddies lived at home with me and Mimi…long before they met your mommies…we made the decision about church for them.  If we went to church meetings, they went to church meetings.  It’s what we did as a family.

They could whine, argue, fake being sick, or negotiate, but in the end, they pretty much did as we told them to. (Even though they sometimes complained about getting up early on Sundays or having to stay late because I was usually the last one to leave, they experienced many of the good things about church life and most often enjoyed being part of it.  We only strung them up by their ears, occasionally.)

But once they moved out on their own, they got to do whatever they wanted to do.  And that’s the way it should be.  And it will be that way for you guys, too.

So I want to tell you something while it’s fresh on my mind.  Here’s my advice for choosing a church family:  Find a small one.  Close to where you live.  Don’t get all excited about the things a church provides for you.  That totally misses the point of “church”.  Be part of something where you can help it to grow strong and healthy.  Don’t be part of a church family where you are not truly needed and genuinely noticed.  

Make sure it’s a place that poor people feel welcome.  There is a special place in God’s heart for people in need.  The more people of different races, the better.  Oh…and make sure there are old people and young people and they have lots of ways to become friends with each other.  Rubbing elbows and lives is the real stuff of church.

Don’t ever be overly impressed with the skills of the person that does most of the preaching.  It’s not the important thing.  In fact, he’s not really all that important!  And I should know…  Be impressed with the kinds of conversations people have with each other.  Listen carefully to the way they talk about people who are different.  Find a place where loving others is not just talked about, but it is what people actually do.

Make sure it’s a group of people who respect and teach the Bible, but they also make room for differing opinions.  None of us are smart enough to have the whole Bible figured out. Church people seem to have the tendency to believe they are the only “right ones” and that they have more understanding of “truth” than the other guy.  There are always going to be disagreements.  People are not always going to see things alike.  Be with a group of people who listen carefully and who make room for doubt and questions.

Choose to be with people who respect women.  History has not been kind to women, especially in the church.  So find one where women stand on equal footing with men and they are challenged to explore and express every bit of their giftedness for the good of others.  

And this is especially true for the three of you:  Find a church family that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Be with people who love to laugh.  Find some people to stand beside and link arms with.  Make sure that Jesus is their example.  

That’s my advice.  I hope it serves you well, someday.  There are lots of other important things, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be smart enough to figure them out as you go along.  How do I know that?  I know where you come from!

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi