Marriage: A Walk of Death

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Kati and I had the privilege of contributing to a 30 day Marriage Devotional Book with our friend Dean Fulks, Lead Pastor of Lifepoint Church in Columbus Ohio. Your Next 30 days of Relationships will be published in a few weeks. Here is some of what you will find in this book.

Fifteen years ago my wife, Kati, andI were married in our hometown of Bossier City, Louisiana. Today we live in Fort Smith, Arkansas and have three children and a dog! Life is pretty good. However, like most, Kati and I navigatethe difficulties of marriage and family daily. I once heard this question asked, “Do you know what you get when two sinners get married? One big sinner!”  That is so true, at least in our case. 

As Kati and I reflect on our early struggles, we can now laughabout them. But in those early moments, marriage was very difficult. Kati was raised to make her bed…I was not (on one occasion she actually made the bed with me in it!). I left my shoes in living room floor to be picked up later…Kati put her shoes away immediately. I liked to eat junk food…Kati was very health conscious. I like television…Kati likes to talk. We even argue differently. The truth is all of those differences can be a recipe for disaster if not filtered through the lens of the One who created man and woman and designed them to be united in marriage.   

There is no question that marriage can be difficult. And if the statistics are right, every first time marriage has a 50 percentchance of lasting—not great odds! Imagine if on your wedding day, you looked at your husband or wife and said, “Honey, I hope we make it!” But the truth is, that’s statistically how most marriages start. 

One of the most important questions we should be asking is, what must we do in order to make our marriages last? Kati and I would like to suggest two truths to consider for the health and longevity of your marriage. 

1. We must die.

Every wedding ceremony should begin with those words.But that’s what it means to enter into a covenant, and marriage was always meant to be a covenant. If there’s one thing that will kill a marriage, it’s selfishness. 

What exactly is a covenant? Merriam-Webster defines a covenant as, “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement.”When God made a covenant with His people, He designed it to have eternal and lasting implications, and His people in the Old Testament took covenants very seriously. 

In fact, the Old Testament covenant ceremony involved a “walk of death,” which constitutes the core issue of the covenant. An animal was killed and split down the middle. The covenant participants would walk in a figure eight between the halves of the animal, reciting the duties of the covenant, and returning to face each other. The figure eight, a symbol of eternity, was an acknowledgement that the covenant was forever. This covenantal “walk of death” said one important thing: I am dying to myself and giving up the rights to my individual life to become one with my covenant partnerTHAT is what God intended when he officiated the first wedding.

And right from the beginning, we see that Adam and Eve were made to be in covenant with each other; they were made to be one:

Genesis 2:22-24 – And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be call Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Notice the description of this event in the text:

“Bone of my bones”

“Flesh of my flesh”

“One flesh”

This is the core of a covenant marriage—onenessWhen you see your marriage relationship as “two becoming one,” the game changes.

“I” is transformed to “US”

“Me” changes to “WE”

This sentiment of oneness is also implied in Song of Solomon 2:16:“My beloved is mine, and I am his….” 

So, what’s the takeaway? Selflessness is the key to any successful marriage.Still, as Christians, our marriages are meant to accomplish more than simply fulfilling each other’s physical needsor raisinga family. This brings us to the second truth.

2. We are a reflection.

Marriage is not an earthly creation of man, but it was designed by God to reflect Jesus’ covenantal relationship with His church. We see this true purpose of marriage in Ephesians: 

Ephesians 5:31-32– “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 

In other words, our covenant with our spouse is meant to reflect God’s eternal, everlasting covenant with us. So, marriage is so much more than an earthly relationship. It is a mirror that reflects eternal realities. Therefore, the highest meaning and ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display for the world to see.

Key Concept: Marriage exists to reflect Jesus’ covenant with his church

So, every time a couple “ties the knot,” they are making a death march, of sorts. However, God never wastes anything. Just like in nature—death leads to life, the same is true in marriage. When “me” becomes “we” and “I” becomes “us,” you are fully alive to reflect God’s glory in a new way. 

However, I want to we, when it’s convenient for me. What I really want is a consumer marriage. More service at a lower price. I want the discounted version of marriage…the one on the clearance rack, where I get something good that doesn’t cost me as much.

The problem is obvious. Reflecting Christ means that I reflect His sacrifice, as much as humanly possible. Our spouses should see and sense that. I don’t know that God gets much more glory than two people willingly submitting their desires to another in the same way that He submitted Himself to the Cross in our behalf.

God Bless

There will be days when you don’t feel like following Jesus

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Being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. As a matter of fact Jesus warned His followers that it would be hard:

John 16:33 “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” 

There will be days when you don’t feel like following Jesus. I know that sounds strange but I believe most professed Christians resonate with the sentiment. There will be days when you feel that contradicting the teachings of Jesus would make your life easier. For example:

  • Money is tight so not giving would make life easier 
  • Marriage is hard so divorce would make life easier 

The list of temptations to walking in the flesh is endless. But the list to overcome the flesh is pretty narrow.

Galatian 5:16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh

Living a life abandoned to the teachings of Jesus regardless of how you feel or what you think would make your life better is paramount to being a disciple of Jesus. The rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus but he wanted his possessions more. He went away sad. Our ideas of what’s best will ultimately leave us wanting. Jesus’s teachings will ultimately leave us with abundance. (John 10:10)

This is a hard teaching and certainly one that I or anyone else has not perfected. With that in mind, I want leave you with a truth that has helped me battle my flesh and grow in my dependence upon Jesus and trust more that Jesus’s teachings on how I should live is better for me even if when my flesh disagrees. Here it is:

100 years from now all that will matter is Jesus. 

Revelation 11:15 The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying,

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom
of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.

When it’s all said and done Jesus will be all we need. What a motivating truth to cultivate that relationship now above everything else. And in doing so everything else is stimulated toward abundance and contentment. (See Matthew 6:33)

Marriages are stronger; parents are filled with an eternal parental purpose. Friendship and community are deepened. Success is redefined. And the Kingdom of God is experienced today when we live like that’s all that will matter tomorrow. 

God Bless 

“You can impress people a distance, but you can impact them only up close.”

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Howard G. Hendricks wrote in his book, Teaching to Change Lives that “You can impress people a distance, but you can impact them only up close.”

That statement reminds me that Jesus embodied that very thing, a closeness that impacted the world. For generations God interacted with His people at a distance. When instructions were given from God to His people to build The Temple with a Holy inner room called the Holy of Holies was Gods way of dwelling with His people. But this dwelling would be at a distance. The Holy of Holies was cover by a veil and only High Priest could enter to offer blood sacrifices and He could only enter one time each year on Yom Kippur.

This went on for generations. And then Jesus shows up as promised. Jesus, God in flesh, came to tear the veil that kept sinful man and Holy God at arms length. The Father will no longer dwell with His people from a distance but will dwell with His children up close and personal.

Hebrews gives un insight into this truth. That we can now approach God with boldness and not be consumed by His holiness because we have Jesus!

Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.

How does this truth relate to ministry? I believe there are two actions for us to consider as we pastor and minister in the Local church.

  1. Develop relationships within your congregation.

That seems like a no-brainer but you would be surprised by the fact that many pastors serve the people of the church from a distance. You will have greater impact within the congregation when you make yourself available to the church. Yes fill the pulpit but also make time for people.

2. Develop relationships with the City

Imagine a scenario where pastors worked the streets of their city like they worked the hallways of the SBC annual meeting! Who cares if you are known among the evangelical “elite”! Kingdom impact doesn’t happen ultimatly there. It happens where you live, work and play!

The point is to be a pastor who is available to Gods people and is involved on the life of the city his church is in. That is when impact happens. When we are up close and personal with the very people we are called to shepherd and the city we are called to reach.

God Bless

The point is to be you. Not a lazy version of you but the best version of you!

There is no shortage of leadership advice out there. Books, blogs, conferences, and podcast to name a few are all available to anyone wanting to grow as a leader. We should take advantage of all of them and never stop developing our leadership potential.

In the midst of the all the noise there is one principle that I believe we should never lose sight of. That is the principle of being you. In my earlier years of ministry I noticed that I was very different from most “young preacher boys.”

  • I didn’t wear suits
  • My shirts were usually un-tucked
  • I had a beard
  • My hair wasn’t slicked back
  • I have never owned cuff links

As I saw these things about me I attempted to do something that we as leaders should never do, I attempted to be someone else. Here is what happened, I started to get exhausted. Trying to keep up certain appearances, as someone else is exhausting!

Dr. Jack Graham, Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano Texas, said something once that has always stuck with me. He said, “Nothing will burn you out quicker than faking it.”

He is right! This is true spiritually and physically. Spiritually you don’t have to conform to man made practices ideals. I see this with marriage advice. Not every marriage requires a weekly date night or nightly devotions that unpack your love language. Find out what works for you and do that. The same is true spiritually.

  • You don’t have to get up at 4am and do a quiet time.
  • You don’t have to journal everyday of your life.
  • You don’t have to have blog.
  • You don’t have to write a book.
  • You don’t have to fast every Thursday.
  • You don’t have to read 1,000 books every year

Physically you don’t have to conform to man made practices either. Dress, walk and act like you and not someone else, be you! I am not advocating for laziness here. Be the best version of you, but ultimately be you!

  • You don’t have to be a morning person to be a good leader.
  • You don’t have to have to be an extrovert to be a good leader.
  • You don’t have to get up at 3am and go to the gym to be a good leader.
  • You don’t have to shave your beard.
  • You don’t have to have a “slick” hair cut.
  • You don’t have to drive the cleanest car.

The point is to be you. Not a lazy version of you but the best version of you! Find out who you are and how God has wired you and grow from there. Anything else is faking it and you will eventually get tired and exhausted as a leader.

I love this verse:

” Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all his good things with the teacher” Galatians6:4-6

Learn them. Like them. Launch them.

This is an excerpt from the Arkansas Baptist Evangelism Conference where I shared a few thoughts on reaching the next generation.

On of the most magnificent proclamations in the history of the world: 

 Matthew 1:23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuelwhich is translated “God is with us.”

God putting on flesh and walking among us! What did this communicate? It communicated just how depraved mankind really is and how much we needed a savior! And in doing so He also displayed an unconceivable amount of grace and love toward his creation! The creator of the world befriended us! And His friendship is shown by allowing us to be apart of His redemptive plan.

John 15:15 I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.

Christ’s desire in this text is that His disciples would have joy. And that joy is caught up in their obedience to the things he has revealed to them. And we can clearly see all that Jesus taught His disciples was a preparation for His going and their being sent.

Sent to do what? Make Disciples.

Matthew 28:19-20 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Every church, every Christian has a command to reach EVERY generation! 

But not every church or every Christian is committed to reaching every generation! We must change that! Specifically we must change our attitudes toward reaching the next generation.

You know the same is true in a home as it is in a church:

Biblical homes cultivate multi generational faithfulness

Biblical churches cultivate multi generational faithfulness

Here are three very practical ideas to consider as you seek to reach the next generation:

  1. Learn the next Generation

It easy to make excuses for not reaching the next generation.

  • Church is too small,
  • Church is too old,
  • Music is too old school

The list could go on and on.  If GABC can do it any church can. The truth is we are not the “coolest” church in town! There are a lot of churches in our town that have skinnier jeans than us! But you know what we are learning: The Next Gen is drawn toward passion over a perfect well put together modern church. Meaning vision draws them! But not just any vision a vision that is saturated with mission of God!

   2.  Like the Next Generation

I was recently in a meeting with pastors from all over and the topic of conversation was reaching the next generation. That conversation was a little disheartening to say the least. Our time together consisted of jokes about the younger generations and how churches in their town were “stealing all our young people with gimmicks and fun”. Of course there is room for discussion on healthy strategies to reach the next generation without compromising the Gospel. But I am convinced that what churches and leaders convey by what they say and what they do is that they don’t like the next generation! This is a problem.

Through jokes stereotypes and a lack of desire change methods churches put to much distance between them and the next gen. And the result is the church dies.

Like the next generation by being willing to learn them and adapt methods to ensure the future of the local church.

   3. Launch the next Generation

Churches are really bad at not leveraging this season of life! Not married, No kids, all the time in the world to do ministry. Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth! Churches need to stop looking down on the next generation and start leveraging their youthfulness and availability.

  • Give them your time Pastor! You are not too busy to poor into the next generation of local church leaders.
  • Give them ministry opportunity. Set up a pathway for future leaders to be discipled toward ministry.
  • Give them a passion for the local church! The local church is Gods plan to reach cities! Teach that to the next generation.
  • Give them a platform to set an example as to what they are able to do during this season for their lives.

The task ahead of us is not an easy one. We must act and if we cross our fingers and hope they come into our churches without intentional efforts, we will lose the next generation! 

God Bless!

Four of the many lessons I learned in my first year as a Lead Pastor

I am not AT ALL an expert on the pastorate. I have been in full-time vocational ministry for seventeen years and have been a lead pastor for four of those. I write this knowing that I have just begun to scratch the surface of what it means to be an effective pastor.

Please don’t read this as me being arrogant or having an “I have arrived” spirit. I have found that when something is fresh on your mind get it out there. I have a ton of fresh lessons I have learned, and many more coming as I serve God and His church.

Here are four:

1. Learn Names

Pastors are in the business of leading people. We are called to shepherd people’s heart toward the Worship of God, toward Growing in his/her understanding of God and His mission, and to see them Go and take the truth of God to the world. When people know you care for them leading them is smoother. Knowing names is a great start. I served on a church staff in Missouri and I would watch the pastor walk through the hallways of the church, calling people by name. At lunch one day he humbly boasted that he had memorized 3000 names! That said a lot about how much he cared for the church, and how he desired to be the best pastor he could be.

2. Walk Through The Room Slowly 

Surprise!! This is not an original thought. I have heard pastors say this on numerous occasions. Now that I am a pastor, the importance of this has never been truer. If you pastor a larger church the interaction you have with a good portion of your church is limited to mostly Sunday morning. Being early and leaving late gives you an opportunity to engage more people in the church. It can go along way as you lead. People remember a handshake and a hug as much as they remember distance and unavailability. Make yourself available.

3.  Go To The Balcony

One Sunday morning I was walking through the sanctuary before service started and I decided I would go to the balcony to talk with people there. The next day I had several emails from church members thanking me for doing that. One person commented, that in all the years she has attended our church she had never known a pastor to do that. The point isn’t to brag, but to encourage you to go to back rows or balcony and meet people. Believe it or not, it helps to gain trust and allows for more effective leading.

4. Pray

People need to know their pastor is praying for them. We are spiritual leaders before we are anything else. If people know anything about you, make sure they know that you pray for them. I send out letters to people every month giving them the day and time I will be praying for them. I ask them to email me with specific prayer needs. Some do not respond but most do. Most are overwhelmed by the fact that their pastor would set aside a specific time to pray just for them. Their surprise is sad and alarming. Pastor, if you are not praying for the people you lead then you are missing a big part of what it means to be a spiritual leader.

I am aware that context matters. I am not suggesting that the above points are the only ways a pastor can engage the people he pastors and leads. The bigger point here is to not forget that you are a pastor and not a distant super star that thinks he is too busy or big to talk with people. Remember, other pastors may think you are a big deal, but to the people who attend the church you serve, you are just their pastor.