Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2In a few weeks, Wanda and I will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary.  I’m sure we will have some kind of Covid-inspired, shelter-in-place, socially-distanced festivity to remember that fine moment on the first day of summer in 1975.

Generally speaking, you probably don’t reach 45 years of marriage by accident.  There has to be some intentionality.  To be sure, we didn’t see the purpose behind many of the decisions we made at the time.  At least, not clearly.  Looking back, though, some things make a whole lot of sense now.

Here’s one that is as fresh today as it was in the late 70’s.  Living south of San Diego, near the U.S. – Mexico border…in a military town…meant growing up in the heart of cultural and economic diversity.  It would serve us well as we got older, married, and moved away.

In our earliest years of marriage, we stumbled through a learning curve in both our personal lives, as well as our partnership.  As young followers of Jesus,  we were challenged to see our lives as gifts from God.  We were inspired to see our resources, our status, our influence, our life experiences, our education, our health, even our “privilege” (tho it wasn’t called that back in the dinosaur days), as nothing we had earned or deserved.  

We were taught by those older and wiser than our young, know-it-all-ish selves, to view who we were, what we had, what we had done, and even what we would do with our lives in the future…as something that belonged to God, and we were just the stewards or caretakers of those treasures.

When King David said, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), I suppose we were just crazy enough to take Him at his word and foolishly trust Him.  

One of the reasons our marriage has withstood the winds of change and opposition and fear and difficulty that so many marriages have succumbed to, is we chose to use those gifts God had given to us, for the benefit of others. 

We learned to serve side by side and see all the good, all the advantages, all the blessings, as things to be shared, rather than simply enjoyed by us.  We didn’t run from the message that we were to see others as more important than ourselves.

By living out the Great Commandment to love God and love others…like, ALL others…all the time, no matter what…and to submit our needs and desires to the good and well-being of other people like Jesus did…we found the purpose in getting, and remaining, married.

What is your marriage built on?

Why Mexico? Why now?

whyNOWThere is a group of North Point men who are leaving next Thursday to go to Juarez, Mexico to partner with Amor Ministries and local church members to build a house for a family.  This is a partnership that began 18 years ago and we are excited to be going back after a three-year hiatus due to the violence in that region.

A number of people (including me!) have asked a great question in recent days.  “In light of the tragedy in West, Texas, why are we still going to Mexico?  Wouldn’t our effort and money be better spent helping our neighbors just two hours south of us?”  Let me try to answer that.

First, we made the commitment, of both money and manpower, to our friends in Juarez months ago.  North Point has been right in the middle of this project from the beginning.  Amor Ministries asked our church to be the first US group to go back into Juarez with them, since the regional violence caused them to shut down their work back in 2010.  We consider it an honor and an obligation to serve in this way.

Second, there’s a practical reason we are not going to West.  Right now, there’s really nothing for us to do as “outsiders”.  As of last Sunday, the authorities in West have asked for the donation of all supplies of any kind to stop.  There has been so much donated, it has created storage and distribution problems for them.  They have asked that help be limited to money donations only, for the time being.  You can check out the details here, if you want to personally respond:

Also, local and governmental agencies are just now beginning to create a coordinated effort for volunteer relief by individuals, churches, and humanitarian organizations.  There have been random groups that have already gone in to help with clean up, but many of those just add to the confusion.  It has been my experience with relief effort, that it is best to wait for clear direction from those in charge, before we come to help…especially if we don’t live in the immediate area or have specific, personal contacts.

We are currently discussing the possibility of a “West Relief Work Week” for North Pointers, as soon as the doors open for this kind of work and we are able to find the right agency to partner with.  Would you like to be part of a group to lead this effort?  Let me know.

Look, we take God’s Word seriously.  His command to take the Gospel to all nations is a declaration that God’s love knows no boundaries.  There is no nationalism in God’s economy!  When it comes to loving and serving and giving, there is no “either/or”, there is only “both/and”.   We will help both here at home…and those who have needs outside our borders.  It’s what Jesus would do.

We will continue to serve as many as we can, as much as we can, with as much as we have to give.  That’s what it means to be part of the North Point family.

Marriage Tuesday

here’s a marriage tuesday curveball…

you’ve got to make time for others.

…and i don’t mean separately.

i realize when you get married,  you have had years of developing the “single” lifestyle.   you’ve been used to doing things your way…on your time schedule…with your money…for your own pleasure.   marriage definitely delivers a blow to that way of living!

…and for the record,  i’ve never understood the idea that men and women still need to have a weekly “guys night” or “girls night”…where you go out and act like you’re single again.   gimme a break.   once in a while?   yeah.   i buy it.   but not all the time.   you’re married!

no.   the “others orientation”  is something different altogether.   it’s making time to give yourself to people.   to enter into their stories.   unselfishly.   not for your own benefit,  but for their good and well-being.   not for any payback.   not to get something in return,  but freely.

unselfishness is like the grease that keeps the marriage mechanism moving smoothly.   giving to others enlarges the heart and makes room for more love…not less.   when we live a life of seeing what others need and extending grace to them,  we move ourselves out of the way.

and that’s where our marriages really begin to deepen.

marriage,  by it’s design,  can become self-centered.   instead of giving and serving and pouring out our best for our partner,  we can easily become demanding.   living side-by-side…all the time…can grow a demanding spirit.   we can develop a set of expectations…stated and unstated…that become the litmus test of our love for each other.

over time,  it can become easy to take each other for granted.   we develop routine.   kids and jobs and chores and finances and extended family can suck the joy and emotional energy out of our relationship and leave us with nothing more than a shell…an existence.

and a bizarre form of self-centeredness:   apathy to our partner.

i don’t have all the answers to this problem,  but i can tell you what works for me and wanda.   live a life of giving to others.

let serving define you.   invite others deeply into your life.   don’t settle for relationships of recreation.   push for something with substance.   risk putting yourselves in places where others need you.

i believe one of the greatest gifts we ever gave to our boys was teaching them they weren’t the center of our world and there was always room for others.   parenting…just like marriage…is not an exact science,  but i figure that anything we can do to keep the world from revolving around us is a good thing.

and the effect of making room for others on our marriage?   it refines us.   it rubs off the bristles of a me-first mentality.   it deepens our orientation to love with patience.   it stretches spiritual muscles that develop atrophy,  if all we do is think about our tight little family circle.

love is meant to be given away.   it’s how god made us.   the more we give,  the more we have to give.   love is not like gas or food.   it doesn’t run out.   it replenishes itself.

try it.  i dare you.

My love-hate affair with church attendance…part three

years ago,  i created a table that reflected what i really believed about church attendance.   i’ve taught it to my youth ministry classes over the past three decades.   it was pretty specific to youth ministry in those days,  but looking at it with fresh eyes today,  i think it applies to any age group…in just about any context.

here’s how to interpret it:   in this discussion,  there are four “levels” of spiritual maturity when it comes to participating in church programs.   the lowest level of spiritual maturity are people who don’t come to our programs for all the wrong reasons.   lame excuses like,  “i don’t have the right kind of clothes”,  or  “so and so hurt my feelings”,  or  “i’m going to a movie instead”,  or  “i stayed up too late last night”.   i think you get the picture.   people who don’t come and their reasons don’t hold water.

the next level of spiritual maturity is reserved for people who come to our church programs,  but for all the wrong reasons.   guys who show up because there are cute girls to hit on…or girls who come to get out of doing chores at home…or people  who show up hoping to impress god with their attendance or to work off guilt from the night before…or men who want to get their wives off their backs.   sure…it’s attendance.   but there’s no heart…no passion…no integrity.   it’s generally better than not coming at all,  but only slightly.

the next level is where we want most believers to find themselves.   these are people who come for right reasons… for study or fellowship or commitment to serving or ministry responsibility or relationship building or worship or personal growth.   it’s all good.   they are coming to our programs for healthy and honorable reasons.

but here’s a curve ball.

i think the highest level of spiritual maturity might be reserved for the unlikely…for people are mature enough to make decisions to be somewhere other than our church programs.   even on a regular basis.   these are people who don’t come…for right reasons.

these are people who take personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and development…so they can spend their time investing in others.   especially in those who don’t regularly darken the doors of our church buildings.

maybe it’s a teenager who decides to spend wednesday nights at home with her parents…eating dinner,  handling the clean-up and dishes,  and then sitting with her folks and talking or watching television…in order to develop a deeper relationship with them and show them the love of jesus in a tangible way,  simply because they need it.   instead of going to the youth group bible study.

or maybe it’s like the guys in my youth group years ago who intentionally developed friendships with some mormon guys at their high school.   based on those friendships,  the mormon guys invited these boys to join them for basketball on the same night as our weekly high school bible study.   so they came to the next bible study,  told the group what they were going to do and asked us to pray for god to use them to help these other guys see jesus.   it was incredibly cool.

or maybe it’s a mom or dad who need to put food on the table in a difficult economy and the only job they can find requires them to work on sundays.

…or any number of legitimate,  honest and purposeful reasons to miss church programs to meet a greater need for the  good for the kingdom.

it’s not a perfect way to evaluate attendance,  but understanding these four types of people has always enabled me to keep the bigger picture in mind…and the greater goal  in front of people:  the goal of forgetting self and offering our bodies as living sacrifices for the good of others and the honor of god and his kingdom first.

just sayin’…

Community Life – One

this week,  north pointers are deeply connected to lives that have been touched by tragedy.

for the past five days,  many of us have been working together to help bonnie get her house ready to sell in the aftermath of her husband’s motorcycle injuries nearly two and a half years ago…landscaping,  painting,  tiling,  siding repair,  plumbing,  packing…a huge job that people are willingly sacrificing their time and money to see happen.

we also have two families,  in particular,  that have been deeply impacted by the tornado in joplin.   logan and aanna and adam and autumn each have many friends and family that reside in joplin who are living through the devestation…even as i write this.   today,  they are coordinating the collection of emergency supplies and will be leaving in the morning to drive to joplin…to deliver help and encouragement over the memorial day weekend.

these two,  unrelated efforts have got me thinking.

we live in a culture that celebrates the individual.   for most people,  life is lived out in an individual vacuum.   i take care of myself.   i look after my own.   i respond to my own needs first.   i do what i want.   i go where i choose.   i function in my own best interest.   i live for my own comfort…my own security…my own happiness…my own future…my own well-being.

sounds awfully…self-centered.   but practically speaking,  that’s how we live our lives until somebody else’s life is rocked to the point that we must look at how our lives can impact the life of another.   and many…tho not all… take action.

it’s a little ironic to me that the very best way of celebrating the individual  is always found in the context of community.   it is when we really begin to sense that there is something greater than ourselves…and that something greater is only truly discovered when we stop isolating ourselves and disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world.

as a follower of christ,  i know that my great example emptied himself  (philippians 2) for the good and well-being of others.   it was there that his purpose was declared.

the same should be true of any who bear his name.

What’s your vision?

i went for a walk through my community tonight.   i bet i walked nearly three miles…up and down streets…downtown… through most of the different parts of the neighborhood.   i always have better conversation with god when i’m walking.   tonight was no exception.   here’s what i saw as i walked…

an afternoon or evening tutoring program for kids

make NP a music venue for local talent

marriage and family counseling for people who cannot pay

a low-cost wedding chapel for couples that are economically strapped

small groups that meet in local establishments

a bus to pick up kids in the neighborhood for programs

an athletic park  (baseball, soccer) at the lewisville rodeo

a frat house  for guys to live in while they serve the community

day care for mom’s who can’t pay

a coffee house

sunday groups that meet inside  local business establishments

tree trimming for overgrown houses

new partnership with christian community action

community outreach partnerships with other local churches

convert abandoned warehouse into a gymnasium

ESL classes

after school program at college street elementary

low-cost office space for start-up businesses or ministries

parenting classes

community theater presentations…in the LV playhouse

volleyball league or tournament

neighborhood movie nights on the big screen…with free barbecue

invite our community to join us in a challenge  (planned famine,  benefit for CCA, etc…)

host a local debate at the flying pig

host a concert at the new grand theater

i guess i’m just wondering if there are any others that are having the same vision for what north point can become as i’m having?

do we have people who are willing to get “radical” with their time and money…for the honor of god and the good of others?

are there folks that are ready to trade the “american” dream… for a “kingdom” dream?

Marriage Tuesday

it may sound odd,  but one of the greatest honors wanda and i have is the privilege of walking through life’s messiest and most difficult situations with people.

we get to be there when loved ones die.   we get to be there when marriages are falling apart.   we’re drawn into situations of betrayal and lies.   we get to talk to people when they are angry or hurt.   or when they are totally confused about life or faith.   we get to be there when they are overwhelmed with disappointment or embarrassed beyond words.

we’ve sat with people who were all alone…sad and lost…or living in complete denial.   you name it.

like i said…it’s an honor.

i know it sounds a little risky and at times it has demanded more of our time and money and emotional energy than we ever thought we could give,  but it has been our life together.   it was a sacrifice that we willingly gave because we’ve always viewed our lives as not our own.

periodically,  we’ve had some wisdom or insight to pass on…or even some direction in tough times.   but mostly,  we’ve just offered our presence.   and not because we thought we were anything special,  because clearly we are not.   we didn’t live this kind of life because we believed we had some kind of great marriage that we thought others needed to follow or imitate.   quite the opposite.

it was living out this kind of relationship that made our marriage.

do you want a strong marriage?   do you want the stuff that will make your relationship stand the test of time and the assault of day to day?   here’s my advice for today:

invest in others.   pour your life out for others.   spend your money and time and energy for the good of others.   invite others deeply into your lives…and take the risk of letting others see you as you really are.   open your doors wide.   beware of worshipping at the altar of balance.   live on the edge.   but do it together!

What’s changed?

back in 1976,  i was part of a youth ministry where 15-20 high school kids…yeah, kids…went to a local nursing home every sunday to lead a worship service for the old folks that lived there.

every sunday these kids would come to sunday school and worship services at our church and then they would get organized and leave around 11:30.   we had a couple of kids who could play guitar and they would lead singing.   there were a group of kids who would sing a special song (like a choir).   there was one kid who handled most of the preaching…although there were others who would do it.   that kid ended up being a pastor in church!

this was their church.   they really cared about those old folks.   they knew them by name.   they would sit with them and talk and learn their stories.   going to the nursing home every week was way more important than anything else that happened on sundays!

nobody had to remind them to do it.   they met together to plan their weekly programs.   they were totally invested in it.  no adults organized it for them.   sheesh…the only thing the adult youth leaders did was help them with transportation,  since many of the kids who were part of this ministry didn’t even drive!

this commitment lasted for a number of years.   the older kids passed it on to younger kids.   it was amazing.

when i look back on those days…and then compare it to now…i’m left with a lot of questions.

could we ever get a group of high school kids to do that now?   what happened to our attitude to old people?   why is it so difficult to get people to invest in things that move them outside their comfort zone?   why does it seem like it is always asking too much to get people to think about the needs of others first?

i’m going to say this again…these were 15 and 16-year old kids who ran their own church!  they pastored people and cared for their needs.   they met together and set goals and planned programs and shared responsibilities…and didn’t need any adults to help them!

i wonder what we have done wrong in the church over the past 30 years that has helped created a culture of people who can’t (or won’t) assume responsibility for leadership in the church or compassionate ministry in the hearts and lives of people?

what has happened in the church that has cultivated a what-will-you-do-for-me attitude,  instead of fostering a what-can-i-do-to-help-reach-and-serve-others attitude?

more importantly…what are we going to do change this atmosphere?

these are exciting times…

Marriage Tuesday

trust me.  my goal is not to be controversial today.  my goal is stronger, healthier marriages.  that’s it.

according to scripture, i am the head of wanda.  scripture says it.  i believe it.

for the husband is the head of the wife as christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior.  ephesians 5:23

even though that’s the only place in the whole bible that says that the husband is the head of the wife, i still believe it.  the goal throughout my lifetime,  as the head of wanda,  has been to understand that title properly and biblically, and live accordingly.

the “traditional” explanation of headship (the one i was taught by my church and the one that is held by most conservative, evangelical churches) is that the husband is the spiritual leader of his wife and family.  hey, i don’t have a problem owning up to spiritual leadership.  i’m a pastor.  i have sold out and dedicated my life to leading people in their spiritual journies and being responsible for the care and equipping of the body of christ for life and ministry.  i don’t shy away from the responsibility of spritual leadership.

but i have two observations, though,  regarding applying the concept of spiritual leadership to the word head. bear with me.

the first  is a general one.  bible interpretors have always  had to work hard not to apply modern word definitions to first century concepts.  the discipline of sound interpretation always focuses on what the original writers and hearers would have understood the word to mean…in their context…before we place more modern or culturally relevant definitions to those concepts.

practically, what that means to me is this:  our culturally modern definition of the word head immediately conjures up the idea of leadership, ownership, boss, president, executive, responsibility, chief decision-maker, and the like. i’m not sure that definition is exactly what the apostle paul had in mind when he used head to define my relationship with wanda.

second, the definition of head actually appears right in the text, and traditionalists pretty much ignore it…favoring the more “culturally relevant” definition.  paul is clear what it means for the husband to be the head of the wife:

husbands, love your wives, just as christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  in this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  he who loves his wife loves himself.  after all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as christ does the church– for we are members of his body.  ephesians 5:26-30

my role, as wanda’s head, is to love her…which means to always place her needs above my own.  to serve her and give my life to her.  to deliberately and willingly lay aside what i want in favor of what she needs.  according to this passage, she does not exist to cater to my dreams, my career, my interests…but rather, mine to hers.  her well being is to be my only focus…to help her become everything that god has called her to be.  it is my calling to affirm her and graciously submit my best interests to hers.  period.

if you want to define leader as servant, i’m all over the concept of being the spiritual leader. but leader does not have to be defined as decision-maker, boss, “i’m-out-in-front…you-follow-me”, the responsible party. that’s cultural.  and not necessarily spiritual.

what do you think our marriages would look like if husbands actually took the words of the apostle paul seriously?  what do you think  our marriages would look like if husbands actually followed the example of jesus… instead of the examples of corporate ceo’s, politicians, bosses and modern leaders…when it comes to defining the meaning of head?

men, we have a long way to go…

“pastor mike, pastor mike…” – seven

this past week while i was in colorado, i had the privilege of addressing a whole group of youth pastors on what stood out to me in the first seven chapters of the gospel of john.  even though it was a large chunk of scripture, there was one section that didn’t just stand out to me…it screamed!

in thinking about john the baptist, check out these excerpts:

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  1:6-8

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ. ” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No… in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, `Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”  1:19-23

Now some Pharisees who had been sent  questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  1:24-27

To this John replied…He must become greater; I must become less.  3:30

john the baptist is the model for anyone who seeks to be a servant in kingdom.  it is never about us.  it is never about our reputation.  it is never about about the one speaks on behalf of jesus.  it is about jesus.

it’s his church.  it’s his rep.  it’s his agenda.

the pedestal that pastors perch on perilous.  some pastors believe they belong there.  some believe they have earned it.  some believe god has put them there.  some conclude that they are the holy men of god.  some believe they are to lead from the pedestal.  some feel that they can only be effective overseers if they are up in front.

other pastors are placed on the pedestal…by people who have an unbiblical and unhealthy expectation for what a pastor is supposed to be and do.  pastors are not to be honored any more than any other servant in the church. pastors are not to be revered…only god himself is to be held in “awe”. pastors are not to be lifted up…jesus said, “if i am lifted up, i will draw all people to me.”

my counsel to this assembly of youth pastors was to crawl of the pedestal…quickly…intentionally…before they fall off or someone shoots them!

pastors are good people who are called to serve…called to be a voice in the wilderness.  pastors are not worthy to tie the laces of the sandals of jesus.  pastors are leaders.  pastors are to lead the way in becoming less, so that jesus can become greater.
that’s it.