Everyday Greatness series #5 “An Allegiance Thicker than Blood”

Everyday Greatness Series Artwork

Jesus fame is spreading and the crowds are growing larger and coming from greater distances. Yet, as the crowds grow Jesus uses it as an opportunity to plant the seeds for a new relationship that reorients the priority of family. Without undermining the importance of family Jesus illustrates how in Him, we evaluate our family relationships through the higher priority of our relationship with Jesus and His body, the church.


Fairy Tale Marriage

One of my great joys as a pastor is getting to share in the excitement and happiness of a couple preparing for marriage. I never tire of listening to couples talk about one another, how they met, how perfect they are for each another, and how everything is so much brighter when they are together. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic, and even though I try to hide it and play the part of the macho man, I want to see those sappy romantic comedies as much as my wife does.
One of my great sorrows as a pastor is witnessing a couple who has been swallowed up by the dark side of the vulnerability of love. The twinkle in the eye is gone, the idealism has eroded, and all that is left are broken memories of what was and what could have been.
I have yet to meet a couple who steps into my office or my home with the intent of giving marriage a try for five years or so and then deciding whether they would like to move on to other endeavors or not. When we get married we want it to last for life and we want the happily ever after. The problem is that the happily ever after takes work. It may be a tired cliché but it is true that the shine of love fades when you have to pick up the dirty socks and underwear that somehow ‘missed’ the laundry basket and ended up in an entirely different zip code or when the pounds begin to pile up around the midsection. It was a real eye opener for my wife on that first morning after we got married when she turned to kiss her ‘perfect man’ and was engulfed in a cloud of simple chronic halitosis. I knew it was true love when she fought through it and kissed me anyway.
It would be wonderful if kissing your spouse even when they have a serious case of bad breath were the only thing required for a good marriage, but we all know there is more to it than that. So what is the secret to a good marriage? What is it that keeps a couple together for ten, twenty-five, fifty years, or ‘til death do us part. What is it that allows them to go on sharing an ever-deepening love with one another?
The trouble is that this question is very easy to answer, but it takes a lifetime of hard work and commitment to carry out. No matter who we are, there is a need to be constantly reminded of the foundation upon which happy and healthy marriages are built. So at the risk of appearing trite, shortsighted, or completely out of touch with reality, I’m going to attempt to share two ‘simple’ principles that help build that happy, healthy, hopelessly romantic marriage we all dream of.
I learned a long time ago that in order to give something we have to have it or have experienced ourselves. One of my favorite ancient writers applied this to love when he said, “we love because [God] first loved us.” Some of us have enjoyed the luxury of growing up in the shadow of a marriage in which our parents modeled love for each other and love for us, but sadly many of us did not enjoy this luxury, and don’t desire to journey down the same path as our parents when it comes to love. Regardless of your personal experience with love, or what has been modeled for you, your surest source of receiving love and experiencing love in the purest sense is through knowing God. That same ancient writer not only said that love is from God, but that God is love. He perfected love because love is who He is. Marriages can and do survive apart from acknowledging God and His love, but only by both partners being in a place of regularly receiving the lavish love of God can a marriage soar. The only way to position ourselves to regularly receive God’s love is to receive the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Once again the ancient writer, John, sums this up beautifully, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son in the world, so that we might live (and love) through him.”
It’s not enough to just know love. Sadly, many who profess to know perfect love through a relationship with Jesus Christ end up with a shipwrecked marriage too. In many of these cases it is the result of forgetting a second fundamental principle; love is a giving thing. Our experience of love is richest and most satisfying when we are giving love away. It is paradoxical but undeniable. Think about what makes a great love story. It doesn’t take a PhD. to recognize the love found in sacrificing everything for someone else. It could be financial security, lofty dreams of fame, or even life itself, and though we may call it foolish, from a practical perspective, we can’t deny that the point has been made that love superseded anything else in life in these cases.
Lucky for us, living out the principle that love is a giving thing doesn’t require regularly making these kinds of momentous sacrifices. In reality, the healthiest marriages are the ones in which both partners have learned to make it a daily practice of giving love in the small things. It never ceases to amaze me how a little can go a long way. Time and again I have watched marriages in danger of caving, begin the healing process by simply committing to daily saying “I love you” in creative ways. From writing I love you on the bathroom mirror so it shows up when the steam from the shower collects, to a chocolate on a pillow, a random phone call, voicemail or text message, there is power in the realization that your spouse is thinking about you. And the truth is, most of us think about doing these things but just don’t take a few moments to carry them out. We did when we were dating, so what has changed? I am not saying that this will solve all your problems, but another ancient writer wisely observed that love covers a multitude of sins. When we know someone loves us there is a lot more we are willing to overlook, even endure. So find a fresh way to express your love every day.
Any seasoned marriage veteran will tell you there is so much more to a happy and healthy marriage than just these two principles. But without these there is not much of a foundation to build upon. Those who overlook these may enjoy marriage for a season, they may even stay together for a lifetime, but in order to experience that ever-deepening, satisfying love relationship with another human being that is the stuff fairy tales and romantic comedies are made of we must commit to these two principles. Allow God’s love, given to us through Jesus Christ, to be your deep flowing well from which your love gives selflessly and regularly to your spouse in little and big ways.

Faint Fumes

It was a beautiful Spring day. The sun was high in the sky and there was a warm breeze blowing just strong enough to alleviate the heat radiating from the sun. This was the first day that felt like spring after a pretty wintry winter, and since we were living by a lake all we could think about was being on the lake soaking in as much of the day as we could. So we called some family to join us for this picture perfect day trip. Little did we know this picture perfect day on the lake would be nearly ruined by what was under the surface.
Our day trip on the lake started out pretty normal. We packed up the car, headed to boat storage and prepped the boat for launch. As we were prepping the boat, Holly reminded me that the last time we had gone out there had been a faint odor of gas fumes lingering at the back of the boat. So we decided a little additional investigation was in order to insure everything was fine. What we found was that everything wasn’t fine. While topping off the gas tank, a friend who was watching the fuel gauge noticed the floor at the back of the boat was soaked. The boat had been wintered for a few months, so it hadn’t been on the water for quite some time. Being a curious kind of guy he made his way to the back of the boat and lifted the engine cover. To our surprise the gasoline that was supposed to be filling the gas tank was actually filling the bottom of the boat. We immediately stopped filling the boat with fuel and began to assess the seriousness of the situation. We had created a small lake of our own in the bottom of our boat, but this lake could have quickly turned explosive had we tried to start the engine. That’s not the kind of thing that rounds out a picture perfect day!
Fortunately we caught the problem before anyone ended up getting seriously hurt, and were able to put the boat in the hands of a qualified mechanic for repairs. The sobering thing is that had we not paid attention to the faint fumes and the subtle signs things could have ended very differently.
This incident reminds me of how things often work in our relationships. Broken relationships don’t just happen. It is not normal for a wonderful relationship between two people to turn sour overnight resulting in a bitter rivalry. Typically, things build up under the surface with nothing but subtle warnings above the surface. There is a harsh word here, a piercing look there, and if these things are brushed over then the next thing you know you’re in a lake of fire wondering how in the world you got there and what could have been done to prevent it.
Unfortunately as a pastor I see this happen far too often, but very seldom do people catch the signs and react before the fire breaks out. The fire is usually raging by the time we begin crying out for help. Instead of needing a mechanic to perform some necessary repairs that will prevent life-threatening injuries, we are in need of emergency personnel to save, salvage, and perhaps pieced things back together. Oftentimes, we’re left with a charred heap of rubble from which to salvage what we can, if anything.
Are there any faint fumes leaking and lingering in any of the relationships in your life today? Is your spouse speaking a little more harshly, kissing a little less passionately or, staying out a little later? Those could be fumes. Are your children avoiding eye contact or conversation? Those could be fumes. Do you smell any possible fumes elsewhere? If so, its time to take a look under the surface and see if you can identify and address what is going on before it turns into your own little lake of fire. Some extra attention never hurt anyone and a visit to the mechanic is a lot less expensive than dealing with a charred heap of rubble.

Laughing at Ourselves

My wife and I are polar opposites when it comes to embarrassing moments. She is like an embarrassing moment magnet whereas I can count on one hand the number of embarrassing moments I’ve had in my lifetime. So when I do have an embarrassing moment my wife relishes the occasion and reminds me of it frequently, in love of course. That is why our Christmas tree excursion of 2006 will go down in the annals of history as one of the best for my wife.
The weeks leading up to Christmas were a bit cluttered for us that year so we didn’t have a whole lot of flex time to utilize as we went about the usual Christmas decorating preparations of hanging the outside lights, redecorating and rearranging the interior then purchasing and decorating our live Christmas tree. We’ve always been a little nostalgic when it comes to Christmas trees, seeking to make the whole ordeal a memorable experience and not just a purchase. So we’ve always sought out tree farms and went the ‘cut your own and drag it back’ route. That was our desire in 2006 as well and though we were unable to cut our own tree it still was a memorable experience and not just a purchase.
It was business as usual as we arrived at the lot. We carefully trekked through the rows and rows of pre-cut trees and narrowed it down to three or four of our favorites and then went about listing the pros and cons of each one. One was scarce on the bottom but had a nice full top, another was nice and full on the one side but the other looked as if someone had taken a pair of hedge clippers to it. Still another one was nice and full but quite out of proportion. We finally settled for one that wasn’t quite as full but was proportional throughout. We paid for our purchase, had the tree shaken and bundled and then I began the process of securing the tree for transport.
Maybe you’ve heard it said, “The best laid plans of mice and men,” well I’ve heard it too and all I can say is that my idea for securing our tree looked a lot different in my head than it actually turned out. Our vehicle did not have a luggage rack so I had to find a little more creative way to secure the tree to the roof. Though I was never a Boy Scout I’ve learned to tie a pretty mean knot and exercised my craft on the driver door mirror of our little SUV. Satisfied with my handiwork I flung the rope to the other side of the car and looped it around the mirror on the passenger side door. I’m sure many of you can see where this is going already. Fortunately for me, for reasons no more profound than I couldn’t tie the knot tight enough around the mirror on the passenger side I chose to go a different route and opened the door and tied the rope around a handle on the ceiling of the car. Satisfied with my efforts I tucked the excess rope under the passenger seat told my wife to jump in and proceeded around the front of the vehicle. As I did I noticed two employees watching me out of the corner of their eyes. It appeared they were smiling and their shoulders were bouncing a little. I shrugged it off and thought nothing of it until I reached the driver door and tried to open it. It came open about an inch and stopped. It was clear now the two employees were laughing at what they knew was coming and now my wife had joined them. I had secured the tree and it wasn’t going anywhere, but neither was I, at least not through the driver’s side door. I walked back past the laughing employees, asked my wife to collect herself enough to please step out of the vehicle then crawled through the car to the driver’s seat laughing a little myself as I did. Like I said, we may not have got to cut down our own tree but it certainly turned into an experience.
Whether you are an embarrassing moment magnet like my wife or more like myself we all need to laugh at ourselves every once in a while. I’ll be the first one to tell you we must take life seriously, but let’s not take ourselves too seriously. There was a time in my life when I would have wanted to let my wife and those two employees have it for making light of my mistake and not warning me about what I was heading into, but what would that have got me? A night on the couch and a black eye or two, instead I got a good laugh and a memorable family experience to cherish. I’ll take the embarrassment and the memorable experience any day.

Associate Pastor of Family Ministry Search Team Presentation

This audion clip is from Sunday morning, June 13th at MorningStar Baptist Church.  The search team has spent the last six months prayerfully seeking to fill this pastoral position at our church.  This presentation is a report of their process.  After the presentation the search team turned the process over to the congregation who will take part in the candidating weekend and then vote.


Misery Meets Grace

            My eleventh Christmas started out as the worst Christmas experience of my life.  That was the year I had the bright idea that it would be fun to secretly find out what all my presents were before Christmas morning.  So, two weeks prior to Christmas I snuck into my parent’s room and spoiled the surprise. 

            Waking up that Christmas morning was worse than waking up for the first day back to school after Christmas break.  The guilt and shame were so heavy that I thought I would need the fire department to extract me from my bed. 

            As I trudged down the hallway to the living room that morning I was met by my overly enthusiastic little sister who was under strict orders to wait until I got into the living room before evening touching a single present.  She met me halfway and began dragging me down the hallway with the strength of two teams of firefighters.  Normally this would have been cause for evasive action, but this morning I welcomed the helping hand as I lumbered down my personal death row.  When we finally got to the living room I could barely look up at my parents.  Their smiles and excitement made my stomach convulse even more, a feeling that was further accentuated by the box that my sister thrust into my stomach with a giggle and a, “Merry Christmas Mark!”  I looked down at the box, “a lego set,” I thought.  You would have thought I was holding a king cobra.  In my mind I had dropped the box and stepped back screaming like a little girl, but on the outside I had mustered every ounce of willpower I had to keep hold of the box and forced a smile.  I had to do this for Mom and Dad.  I may have ruined my Christmas but I didn’t need to ruin theirs too.  Déjà vu resulted from each present that was placed into my hands; socks, coat, baseball glove, forcing me to fake surprise for the family.  It was miserable and as I came to the last present I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had a feeling my parents could tell something was wrong, so I hung my head and confessed every sordid detail right there in front of the Christmas tree. 

            I thought every present would immediately turn to coal.  Then I thought my parents would just gather everything that lay in front of me throw it in the trunk of the car and take it to some eleven year old who would really appreciate it.  Neither of these things happened.  Instead, my Mom began to cry and my Dad looked at me and said, “We already knew, we just wanted you to tell us yourself.”  It turns out I hadn’t been as covert as I thought I was.  Through her tears Mom explained to me how she had noticed something out of place in her closet a couple weeks ago but didn’t think much of it until she saw me getting more and more miserable.  She put two and two together and realized I had gotten into the Christmas presents.  My parents were disappointed over missing the surprise on my face as I opened the presents, but their hearts broke more over the misery I had inflicted upon myself.  Pushing aside their own pain they asked me if I had learned my lesson then gave me a hug and told me they loved me. 

What happened next turned my worst Christmas experience into my best.  While I was hugging my Mom and apologizing through the sobs, my Dad slipped something onto my lap.  I thought I was going to look down and see a present that would again prompt déjà vu but instead when I looked down my mind drew a blank.  Finally, I reflexively looked into my parent’s eyes with a face full of surprise, wonder, and a good measure of perplexity.  My parent’s faces beamed right back.  Maybe in spite of, maybe because of, maybe both my parents had secured one present for me they knew would be a surprise on Christmas morning.  As I tore into the present I didn’t care what it was and honestly I can’t remember what it ended up being.  I had already received the greatest present.  I knew I didn’t deserve this gift.  I knew I didn’t deserve my parent’s forgiveness and kindness.  I knew my parents were well aware of all this and still gave the gift. 

That Christmas, grace was the greatest gift I received, and as I look back now I realize how much my parent’s actions helped me understand the grace of God wrapped in a babe in swaddling cloths and lying a manger.  Its a gift we don’t deserve.  Its kindness and forgiveness we don’t deserve.  With full knowledge of this God still places the gift on our laps inviting us to receive it with wonder and maybe even a good measure of perplexity.

Why Family Ministry?

The following audio was recorded on a Sunday morning at MorningStar Baptist Church.  The church is seeking to step out in faith and hire an associate pastor in an area that they have never explored before, family ministry.  As the church forges ahead the leadership is continually seeking to help the church to understand and fully embrace the what it means to be a church committed to family ministry, what family ministry “looks” like, and why we are convinced that family ministry is crucial to the future of ministry at MorningStar Baptist Church.  Many thanks to those who have helped shaped my view of family ministry including: Voddie Bauchham, Mark DeVries, Brian Haynes, Reggie Joiner, Timothy Paul Jones, Jay Strother, and Steve Wright.  Just to name a few.  If you are currently considering the place and shape of family ministry in the church I pray these resources are helpful.



Spoiling Christmas

At the age of eleven I went through a phase in which I just needed to know what I was getting for Christmas before Christmas morning.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to know these secrets in my younger years; it’s just that my methods became a little less conventional.  In earlier years I would simply find out what my sister was getting for Christmas and then bribe her with the information.  For every two Christmas presents she would tell me I would tell her one, but her information was usually not very accurate and neither was mine really.  As my sister got older and wiser this method became less and less effective.  For some reason she didn’t want to know what she was getting before Christmas, if you can imagine that.  She mumbled some nonsense about ruining the surprise.  So I was forced to go it alone.

            As I look back on that Christmas season now I am amazed at how clever I was and how determined to uncover the secret wrapped in every last box displaying my name. 

Most of my operation took place on one night.  My family was headed to a friend’s house to make some hardtack candy, but I was unable to go with them because I had been in bed with a fever for a few days.  Although I was feeling much better I didn’t let on so that I would have the house all to myself for several hours.  The plan worked magically.  Mom kissed me good-bye then the family loaded in to the station wagon and drove out of sight.  As soon as they were out of sight I sprung into action.  I knew the presents were likely somewhere in my parent’s room so I slinked into their room and began my search.  There was no sign of presents under the bed.   Dad’s closet was empty too.  The storage trunk at the end of the bed was also a bust.  I was beginning to lose heart wondering if maybe the merchandise was being stored somewhere off site, but then I opened Mom’s closet and struck the mother-lode. (No pun intended)  There, staring me down from the corner of the closet was a stack of presents from floor to ceiling.  My pulse began to race as I checked the clock to see how much time it had taken me to find the stash and how much time I had left before the family arrived back home.  It had taken me much longer than I had hoped to find the plunder, but I still felt there was enough time to uncover the secrets hidden underneath the festive wrapping.

I quickly ran downstairs to the basement, grabbed the tools I would need from Dad’s workbench and ran back up the stairs.  I made a mental note of how everything was situated in Mom’s closet so I could put things back exactly as I found them, thereby leaving no trace of my presence, again, no pun intended, in the closet or the room.  Then I carefully unwrapped and rewrapped each gift with my name on it (I’ll leave out the detailed process so as not to corrupt any young and impressionable minds).  I was so excited as I came to the end of the stack and realized that I was getting everything I asked for.  My parents were great!  About two hours after the process began I was back in my bed grinning from ear to ear as much over my successful mission as the treasures that awaited in Mom’s closet.  But those feelings of elation quickly turned sour.

I got a lot more than I bargained for from that night of covert operations.  It was wonderful finding out what my presents were, but it just wasn’t the same as the wonder I had experienced on past Christmas mornings.  I was excited about what I was getting but I had no one to share it with.  I found out it’s not nearly as fun opening a present with no one around to share it with.  I was forced to hold all my excitement in and the longer I held in my excitement the less exciting it was.  Those two weeks before Christmas were miserable.  I got to the point that I could barely look my parents in the eye because I felt so guilty.  I went to bed on Christmas Eve with a pit in my stomach and woke up Christmas morning dreading the festivities.  It was the worst Christmas experience of my life.

            Though the curiosity about presents has never waned that was the last Christmas I sought to destroy the wonder before its appointed time.  I learned a valuable lesson that year; some things are meant to be enjoyed within certain boundaries and when they are taken outside those boundaries, there is still a measure of enjoyment but it pales in comparison.  The baggage that goes along with wonder outside of boundaries is far too heavy a load for me, or any of us, to carry.

The Power of Mixing 2 Great Things

The following is an article written for MorningStar Baptist Church’s monthly newsletter, Revelations.  Much of the content is an adaptation of concepts found in Reggie Joyner’s book, Think Orange.  Pray for us as we seek to fill this critical pastoral position in our church.

I have a confession.  I like to mix foods.  I have another confession.  The mixtures don’t always turn out.  Sometimes it flops, but when it does it’s tastebud bliss!  For example, Wendy’s frosty’s and French fries, soft pretzels and stadium mustard, sausage and syrup just to name a few.  These combinations may not appeal to your tastebuds, but I’ll bet to some degree you do the same (how many of you eat your eggs with ketchupL).

What I have learned from my culinary combining adventures is that oftentimes combining two great things can make them even greater.  It’s a principle God established at creation when He instituted marriage, making the two humans “one flesh”.  The wisest man that ever lived validated it as well when he said, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12).

At the heart of our search for an associate pastor of family ministry here at MorningStar is this conviction that combing two influences will make a greater impact than either influence can alone.  Our desire is to combine the influence of the church and the family in raising up future generations for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom in the world.  We are looking and praying for a man with a passion to continue to guide us on the journey of becoming a church that synchronizes church leaders and families around a master plan to build faith and character in our sons and daughters.

Our current task is one of prayer and understanding.  Praying that God will continue to lead us in this process to the man who passionately understands and embraces the direction God is leading MorningStar.  Understanding as clearly as we can the principles that will drive our family ministry approach and what it will potentially look like in the days ahead.  So let’s lock arms together and faithfully continue on this adventure for His name and renown!