Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayI can still remember the first wedding ceremony I ever did that ended in divorce.

I was devastated.  They were kids who had been in my youth group.  I really cared deeply for both of them.

During their pre-marriage counseling, I told them they shouldn’t get married.  I saw huge red flags.  I knew them well and they weren’t on the same page in some really critical areas.

But they luuuuved each other.  They believed that their love was bigger than any problem they would face.  They were convinced God was leading them and that He would bless and protect them.

After a few years and a couple of children, it all ended.  They were good people.  With good hearts.  And lots of love.  But those pesky conflicting values, clashing theologies, and different world views did them in.

In my youthful commitment and unrealistic expectations of myself, I carried the burden of their failure for years.  I felt responsible.  I couldn’t let go of the guilt I felt for not doing more.  For not speaking up louder.  For not laying in front of the out-of-control bus I was convinced they were driving.

My young messiah complex was in overdrive.  For a long time.

And then somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany.  Or God opened my eyes.  Or I grew up.  Or the burden of carrying the messiah cross finally got too heavy.  Or I simply stopped being stoopid.

I can never be responsible for someone else’s marriage.  That job is completely reserved for them.

I imagine I have performed well over 300 wedding ceremonies in the past 35 years, and I am not responsible for the success, or failure, of any one of them.  I will do everything I can to help them make wise decisions and point them in the right direction.  I am never afraid to tell couples of my concerns for the long-term health of their marriages, if I have them.  I try to pass on wisdom and hopefully, some relationship skills they will use to grow deeper.  I try to set the bar high.  I even promise to be a continued resource and point of accountability, if they want that.

But I am not responsible for them.

They have to do that for themselves.

You have to do it for yourself.

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What I want

brainThe other day, I had a friend ask me what I hoped our church family would look like ten years from now.  That’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with.

I’ve been one of the ministers at North Point Christian Church for twenty years.  The past fifteen, I have been the primary leader of the staff and Sunday morning preacher-teacher-ringmaster (even though I didn’t fully stop doing youth ministry here until about three years ago).

When we moved our little SoCal family to the Great State in 1995, it wasn’t a conditional proposition.  It was clearly “all in” for us…and we have never, not once, regretted the decision, though our resolve continually gets tested during the disgustingly hot days of summer.  However, there’s no way I envisioned 2015 back then.  But over the past two or three years, I have thought a lot about the future.

I rolled out the answer to my friend’s question quickly.  “Ten years from now, I hope North Point is a just a better version of what we are today.”  My friend was not impressed.  I wasn’t either.  So he pushed a little more.  “Really, the one thing I want more than anything else is for us to be more diverse.”  Really.

Part of this desire is very natural for me.  I grew up in a racially and economically diverse community.  I have always been drawn to cross-cultural ministry.  But, as important as it is, the diversity I’m drawn to these days is way more than color and money.

I grew up in a church culture that strained for homogeneity.  I was raised to believe that my church was more right than your church.  And if you wanted to be right with God, then you needed to be right with us.  I hate admitting this, but I actually grew up holding every other faith group at arm’s distance, if they didn’t hold to the same doctrines we believed and taught.

Even though I got over that foolishness years ago, it took a while longer for me to come to the understanding that it’s in our diversity where we see the real difference Jesus makes.  If everybody in our church family is expected to think the same, interpret the Bible the same, and share the same behaviors and values, the power is in the hands of the governing leadership (the ones who establish the right interpretations, the right behaviors, the right values).  But that should never be.

We all walk different paths.  Our personal stories will always shape how we understand the Bible and how we respond to Jesus.  There are reasons why we parent the way we do…spend our money the way we do…vote the way we do…fill up our free time the way we do…choose the friends we do.  All should be welcome.  All should have a voice.  All should be given love and respect.

I realize my critics could put words in my mouth.  “Mike, what I hear you saying is you want a church where people can believe and act in any way they want.”  Well…no.  That’s not what I’m saying.  What I AM saying is the list of non-negotiables needs to be really, really small…with lots of room for differences.  I have two reasons for wanting this.

First, when we are forced to share life with people who are different, sometimes significantly different, than we are, we are pressed into doing something that’s difficult…something that really cannot be done without the new life and presence of God’s Spirit that has been promised to those who come to him by faith.

Diversity is the sandpaper that can smooth out the rough edges of relationships.  Diversity is medicine for the sickness of narrow-mindedness and I’mbetterthanyouitis.  Dealing, face to face, eye to eye, with people with whom we disagree is surgery for the soul.  I’m convinced it’s what God uses to shape our character into the character of Jesus.

To put it in simpler terms, hanging out with people who always think, talk, and act like we do is easy.  You can do it in your sleep.  It really requires no effort.  Hanging out with “those OTHER kind of people” (and truly loving them as family) is impossible without supernatural help.  And who doesn’t need some supernatural?

Second, I believe when people see honest unity in the midst of obvious diversity, its life giving.  When people of different color, culture, values, politics, church heritage, education, social skills, socio-economics, interests, hobbies, and even loyalties to sports teams can figure out how to lay down what separates and give room for true respect (and belly-fulls of laughter), it’s a beautiful thing.

And isn’t it about time people outside our walls saw something attractive inside our walls?

Marriage Tuesday

Marriage TuesdayLife can be difficult.  Unpredictable.  Scary.  Frustrating.  Tragic.  Erratic.  Intimidating. Volatile.  Terrifying.  Maddening.  Full of grief and all kinds of sorrow.

In life, we move from the protective covering of our parents.  Our children grow up, move out, and make lives of their own.  Friends and extended family have messes of their own to contend with.   As much as we would like to lean on them to help us get through the muddle, sometimes they just can’t.  Or won’t.  Or shouldn’t.

But the one physical constant we have through the messiness of life is our partner.

Anybody can be married when things are great.  When money’s rolling in.  When the kids are kicking butt, making grades, and doing you proud.  When the job is stress-free.  When your ride has the new car smell.

But we live in a broken world.  We live every day under the sentence of death and everything that leads up to it.  Our journey will be filled with questions pressing us from every side. Loneliness and darkness hover.  The Enemy is always present.

What happens to your marriage when you get that phone call or that envelope or that email?

What happens to your marriage when death knocks at the door?  What happens to your vows when disaster comes flirting?  What happens to your “richer-poorer-sickness-health” promises when the unthinkable becomes reality?  What happens to your love when fear or sadness grips your soul?

This is why we never take our marriages for granted.  This is why we cultivate and nurture our life partnership.  This is why we invest in communication and forgive constantly and put up protective walls.

And listen carefully to the Author of marriage.

So simple

Log EyeTonight I wrote a response to a person who wanted to know my opinion on a particular sin.

Based on my answer, I suppose they will make a decision whether or not they will come and visit North Point in their search for a new church family.  I’m guessing they won’t be joining us any time soon.

But I’ve been surprised on lots of other things.  We’ll see.

But as I processed my response, I had another thought.  One that is much more profound than my opinion on a particular sin.

The worldlike, the whole worldwould be a better place if we all followed Jesus’ teaching on how to view ourselves BEFORE we start evaluating the sins and shortcomings of others.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:1-5

Such a simple teaching.

Look at your own sin FIRST.  All the time.  Every time.  Before you ever start getting all judgy and angry and hacked off at how far short somebody else is falling of the perfection of God’s expectationstake a long, hard look at yourself.

And if you don’t see a broken, jacked up, needy, imperfect messyou’re looking in the wrong mirror.

However, the moment you see yourself accurately, you change…and the sins of others take on a whole new perspective.  The planks begin to look like dust.

And the world becomes a better place.

YOUR world becomes a better place.

It’s my journey

My JourneyI have started and stopped this post multiple times.  No matter how sensitive or understanding I try to be, it has continued to come off sounding snarky and judgmental of my culture.  The thing I have always been critical of others doing, is the very thing I find myself being sucked into.

I will try again.

It has been an amazing honor for me to be able to travel to other parts of the world throughout my life.  It has been totally humbling.  I know I am part of a privileged few.  I know these opportunities are mine because I have the financial resources and opportunities that 95% of the world’s population don’t have.

I know how disingenuous it sounds for the wealthy to be critical of the wealthy.  So I won’t.  I just need to look at myself and you’ll have to trust me that today, I’m not trying to slip something past you. 

I know I am part of the wealthy 5% and I am who I am, in large part, because of that.  I have good health and access to some of the best health care in the world.  I go to a gym.  I eat fresh, healthy food.  At least most days.  I am educated.  My heritage affords me no limitations to pursue whatever dreams I have ever had.

I have unlimited fresh water to drink every day.  I can even put my mouth up to the shower head and drink my fill.

I could go on.  You know I could go on.

Today, I worshipped with people of humble means.  They are brothers and sisters.  They are part of the same group of people I call my family.  As I sat and stood and sang and ultimately, preached in this body, I couldn’t help but be grateful.  But not necessarily for the riches of this life I have.  I think my gratitude went much deeper than that.

My gratitude is that I find solidarity.  By God’s grace and the road I have traveled, the differences I have with people do not matter.  We are all drawn to different tastes and smells and activities.  We come from incredibly different places, but the patterns and lifestyles do not push me away or put me off.

Fear of the differences does not exist.  Judgment is not tolerated.  I simply cannot make light of the customs, nuance, or traditions of people who are different than I am.  It would just hurt too much.  Any feelings of moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority vanish in a shared experience.  Common laughter over the cultural peculiarities of our backgrounds are always had with the greatest of respectand loving sensitivity.

This soil I am on today is the land and culture of my brothers and sisters.  How could I ever act or think or talk  with anything less than love?  There is a reverence reserved for all.  The Creator poured worth into His creation.  Am I a reflection of the Creator or not?

I don’t deserve the life or experiences I have.  My thankfulness extends far beyond my life at home.

Gratitude is just not a big enough word.

I’ve had an amazing couple of days.  Here are a few pictures from it…

Wedding 1

A beach wedding…

Don Pepe

A stop a Don Pepe’s Authentic Tex-Mex…

BK

A local Baskin Robbinsvegetarian style (no dairy).  mmm?

Church Building

A Tamil-speaking church that I preached at today…

Congregation 1

There were about 200many who are recent Hindu converts…

Congregation 2

Yup.  That’s me, with my translator, Sam.

Senior Pastor family

Pastor Solomon and his family.  He was a student of mine on my first trip to India…

Youth Pastor family

Pastor Wesley and his family.  A very cool youth pastor…

Young Disciples

Some of the young dudes of the church…

Yes.  A good day.  Bring on week #2…

A late Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2Check out this story from last night that appeared in Deadspin:

“A Bears-fan husband and his Packers-fan wife placed a bet regarding last night’s Monday Night Football game involving stakes far greater than money: the winner got to use a taser on the loser.

 After the Bears pulled out the closely fought battle, however, and John Grant claimed his prize of sending a few thousand volts through his beloved, his wife called the police.  According to the Beaver Dam (Wisc.) Daily Citizen, police responded to a local bowling alley (because where else would someone taser their spouse for fun) and arrested the man.

Police did confirm that the woman consented to the bet, but the husband was still arrested and could face up to six years in prison for use of an electric weapon. At least the Bears won, right?”

Now there are some marriage lessons to be learned from this show of true love…

First…just because something seems like a good idea at the time doesn’t mean it really is.  Let’s be honest.  People have done a lot of stupid things in the name of love.  

Second…there’s really no place for competition in a marriage.   One…or both…of you may be competitors.  You may love the game.  But ultimately, whenever there is competition, there is a loser.  Okay for football.  Not okay for marriage.

Third…if it involves the intentional inflicting of physical pain on the other person, it should probably be avoided.  Don’t be a moron.

Fourth…don’t do anything that gets the police called.  It may just be an unintended consequence, but third parties are never a good thing in a marriage.

Fifth…choose your team loyalties wisely.  Being fans of the same team is definitely the preferred option…especially if you are a competitive moron.