2Oct

Two Types of Church People

It’s an old church saying. I remember hearing it several times in my childhood,

There are two types of people in church: pillars and caterpillars.

The pillars uphold the church. They’re the every Sunday attenders, the dedicated tithers, and the people who actually pray for you when they say they’ll be praying for you. They embody the fruit of the Spirit and are actively seeking out ways to serve others, especially the least of these.

Then there’s the caterpillars. They “crawl” in late on Sunday morning, drink some coffee, sing a few songs, and then crawl back out before the service is actually over.

I remember hearing this as a kid in church and looking around to see very few caterpillars.That was kind of the point, I guess. God loved pillars more and if you happened to be one of the unlucky caterpillars who crawled in that week you had better figure out how to be a pillar in a hurry so you could fit in with the rest of us pillars.

Now, honestly, I’m not so sure I’m a pillar and I’m a pastor. I try my best to be and I know in many ways I am. For example, giving/tithing has never been a problem for me. There have been months and years where it’s been harder to give than others but consistent obedience in that area of life has been extremely rewarding. Some of my friends really struggle with the idea of giving, though, for a myriad of different reasons. Many of these friends do a much better job than me of consistently cultivating a gentle spirit.

Maybe there should be a third type of church person, some sort of caterpillar/pillar hybrid. Maybe most of us belong in this third category, or at least at different points along a spectrum between the two.

The pillars are undoubtedly integral to the church. Without them, the church simply cannot exist. Dating back to the time of Jesus, the church has always had members who go above and beyond. They give more of their money, time and resources than the average church attender. There’s a statistic that’s generally true in many churches: 80% of the church’s ministry is accomplished by 20% of the church. This same 20% usually funds 80% of the ministry.

They’re often the…

  • thankless volunteers
  • consistent attenders
  • ones laboring in prayer for their church and community.
  • ones who listen attentively to sermons, not because it’s polite, but because they come expecting to hear the gospel heralded from stage every week, because they are keenly aware of their constant need for it.

One of my favorite moments in ministry came when I was meeting with a group of pillars. They told me, “Steven, we’re going to be here whether you are or not. We’re stable. We love Jesus, our church, and our community. We can serve you as a steady core of people that can provide you with a safety net of sorts to fall back on. So let’s be risky. Let’s do new things to reach new people with the Gospel.”

As a pastor, pillars really encourage me.

But I LOVE caterpillars. I think I love caterpillars so much because I don’t really know what it’s like to be one. I’ve been in church my whole life so I have never felt the anxiety many caterpillars have to overcome when stepping foot in church, or back in church, which can be even harder.

Caterpillars are often the…

  • ones with a past other Christians couldn’t look past
  • ones who are frequently and unfairly judged
  • ones terrified to walk into church
  • ones who are new or skeptic towards faith, unsure of the next step but they’re trying
  • ones with the most to lose if they were to make their faith with Jesus public

I love caterpillars because I know there are much more of them in our world and in our churches, than pillars.

Jesus loves caterpillars and pillars. He loves when caterpillars grow into pillars to reach more caterpillars.

I love Jesus because he never gets stuck hanging out with the pillars too much. That can be a common temptation for Christians, to only surround ourselves with people that think, act, and believe just like us.

I love Jesus because he spends much more time with the caterpillars. The skeptics. The non-believers. The disenfranchised. The disillusioned. The rebellious. When Jesus was in deepest need of encouragement, he retreated with some pillars, for a brief time. But he always found the bulk of his mission among the caterpillars.

So…what type of church person are you? A pillar or a caterpillar? (See: 6 Questions Every Christian Needs to Answer)

If you’re a pillar, stay the course! Don’t forget to look to the caterpillars around you, to call them into a deeper walk with Jesus. Your tireless efforts truly count in the kingdom of God and nothing you do, no matter how small, goes unnoticed.

If you’re a caterpillar, be encouraged! Some of us have no clue what it’s like to overcome some of the obstacles you have in between you and faith. But thankfully Jesus has overcome all those for you and so much more. So, take your time exploring Jesus. Seek out truth and your identity within a community. See: Can You Love Jesus and Not the Church?

You’ll see in time that he’s faithful. But don’t take too long. We need you to grow into a pillar so we can keep advancing the kingdom in our world. God is excited to know you and use you right where you are. See: The Underground Church in…Texas?

Are you a pillar, a caterpillar, or somewhere in between?

1Oct

9 Resources for Parents: Navigating the Digital Age

I’ve had several conversations with parents over the last few weeks about frustrations, concerns, and questions about how to lead and their love their kids well in the digital age.

These parents are caring, loving, and simply want some help in tackling the ever-changing frontier of cell phones, social media, sexting and pornography. See: You Can’t #EndIt and Keep Porn

As a childless pastor I do not yet have personal experience in this area. But that’s no excuse to punt. Just like it’s no excuse to bypass having these tough conversations with your kids. New studies show that the average age of exposure to pornography is now eleven. ELEVEN. That means if you’re waiting to have these conversations until then you’re too late. But even late is better than never.

Even if I had personal experience as a parent, I have no reason to think it would be particularly helpful. Pastors don’t necessarily make great parents. But I would love to pass along a wealth of practical resources from a source I know well and trust tremendously. These are not my work – but they are the first place I would turn for help if I were in many of the situations you find yourself as a parent of a kid with a cell phone, iPod, etc. etc.

The 9 resources from the link below include:

  • Trend Alerts: ask.fm and the Bang with Friends app (can’t make this stuff up)
  • Parents’ Guides to Internet Pornography, Sexting, & Cyberbullying
  • Primers on Electronic Addiction, Social Networking
  • Family Digital Covenant of Conduct (If you don’t use this exact one, you need to be using something)

Find these resources and much more at the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding’s Digital Kids Initiative.

25Sep

7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor & a Therapist

It’s Friday morning and I’m already excited for date night! I hope you are planning for a date night with your spouse as well.

This is the companion article to our first post. If you missed that one you can read it here: 7 Questions to Ask on Date Night: From a Pastor & a Therapist. If dating your spouse is a new concept for you, our hope is that these two articles give you a great starting point to pursue the one person that matters most in your life.

Once again I’ve teamed up with my friend and licensed marriage and family therapist, Carrie Feero, to help me come up with some practical advice for date night newbies. If you’re in the River Valley area you can schedule a counseling appointment with Carrie by clicking here and/or follow her blog here.

Just like there are questions that are great to ask on date night, there are just as many you should never ask. Date night is about connecting with your spouse while pushing pause on your incredibly busy lives. Some questions/conversations allow aspects of that busyness to creep into date night and can ruin the evening.

7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night

  • How do you think ________ and _________’s marriage is doing?

Date night is about your marriage, not anybody else’s. Many of you know what it’s like to walk with friends through an unhealthy marriage, maybe even one that ends in divorce. As painful as it can be to watch your friends fail to honor their commitment to one another, their marriage is not fodder for your date night conversation. Those conversations are important to have, especially if you are genuinely trying to plan how to help, and not just gossiping.

P.S. Celebrity marriages (no matter how comically brief they may be) are also off the table for date night discussion.

  • How can we improve on our budget for next month?

Have a set time to discuss finances and other household responsibilities. While budgeting can definitely impact your marriage, date night is not the time to focus on finances. It’s about each other.

Read about how getting on a budget helped our (Steven & Hayley’s) marriage here: The 1 Thing We Fight About.

  • What did our daughter’s dance teacher say after her lesson?

Date night isn’t about the kids either. It can be hard to separate your marriage from the rest of the family, but research shows that healthy families require healthy marriages. Your kids learn from you; give them a good example. Often the best way for you to love your kids well is to model for them a healthy marriage, one where spouses see and treat each other as more than co-parents.

  • What are we supposed to bring to the tailgate on Saturday?

This is not the time to catch up on errands, to-do lists, and social responsibilities. You have plenty of time to do that stuff, like during the sermon at your church, on your way home from work, or after the kids go to bed.

  • What’s the score to the game?

Your date night should be focused on your spouse. If you’re on a date night, keep focused on each other, not the TV’s on the wall or music playing from the speakers. If that becomes too much of a distraction for you, find a place where you can have these types of conversations without all of the distractions. It may take some creativity.

When our date night takes us to a place with sports on the TV’s, I (Steven) try and make a point to sit on the side of the booth where I can’t see the game(s). With that said, we can never have date night at Buffalo Wild Wings, where there are no less than 83 TV’s in the main dining area.

  • When are we going to have kids?

Or insert any question that sparks debate or conflict here. Old wounds, hot topics, and points of contention are off limits for date nights. While there are absolutely times and places to have these discussions, date night is focused on being a positive, bonding experience where you can connect with each other, not start a heated or hurtful conversation.

  • Wanna swing by Wal-Mart on our way home? We’re out of __________.

In Arkansas, our love for Wal-Mart runs deep. But date night is for date night, not grocery shopping. If you’re out of bug spray, order from Amazon. They’ll ship to your door in 2 days for free! Nothing kills the mood on the way home from a great dinner quite like restocking on orange juice and toilet paper.

Click here to catch up on the first post in this series, “7 Questions to Ask on Date Night”

Feedback: What question(s) would you consider adding to this list?

22Sep

7 Questions to Ask on Date Night (From a Pastor & a Therapist)

I have written about the need for married couples to have a regular date night on several occasions. (See: Nobody Owes You Happiness and Who Has Better Sex?) However, I realized that I never really discussed practical advice about what to do on date night.

So, I asked my friend and licensed marriage and family therapist, Carrie Feero to help me come up with some practical advice for date night newbies. Carrie has more letters after her last name than Jarrod Saltalamacchia has on the back of his baseball jersey so you know she’s good. If you’re in the River Valley area you can schedule a counseling appointment with Carrie by clicking here and/or follow her blog here.

Two quick thoughts before we get started.

  1. Date night as discussed in the questions below is specifically focused on married couples. If you’re not there yet, read here: How to Date as a Christian.
  2. Date night is not a substitute for counseling. If your marriage is unhealthy, date night is not the solution and can actually cause some harm if you view it as such. See: 13 Questions to Gauge if You Need Marriage Counseling.

If date night is unfamiliar for you or if it has simply been far too long, our hope is that these questions can be a great starting point to have a meaningful evening together!

7 Questions to Ask on Date Night

(Stay tuned for part two of this series, “7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night”)

  • If you could only have 3 things on a deserted island, what would you pick?

Asking questions like this (and even funny ‘Would You Rather’ questions) help you learn more about your spouse in a fun and playful way. Not all questions during date night have to be super serious; it’s a time to play, have fun, and grow together.

  • What can I do to make you feel loved?

Sometimes being upfront and asking can be the greatest way to get feedback on how to love and serve your partner. When answering, it’s important to remember kindness, compassion, and humility – this is not a list of demands or time to criticize potential past mistakes.

  • What are some of your favorite days in our marriage so far?

Revisiting memories can be a great way to spark up feelings and moments of connection that you had perhaps forgotten. These memories don’t have to be big landmark moments like anniversaries or trips. It is just as important to celebrate the spontaneous and seemingly mundane, which are much more the norm in any marriage.

  • Who has helped contribute to strengthening our marriage the most?

Thinking and pondering about who has helped pour into your marriage can be a great way to process how far your marriage has come, weaker areas that have become stronger, and how you can continue to grow from this support.

  • If you could describe our life together right now in one word, what would it be? Why?

These relationship inventories can be good ways for each spouse to see how the other is currently perceiving the state of the marriage. It can also be an exercise on gratitude and contentment as you learn, together, how to cultivate an appreciation for where you are in life today, not tomorrow and not the next stage. Today. Together.

  • Where is somewhere you’d love to travel with me?

Dreaming together about future plans can be a fun way to learn more about each other and think about your future together. It’s not just pulling from the past, but living in the present and planning for the future that makes a marriage successful.

  • When have you felt closest to me?

This is helpful for both partners. For one, it helps to revisit and rekindle a time when she/he felt loved and connected. For the other, it helps to remind and refresh what he/she was doing or not doing so it can be repeated again.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, “7 Questions to NEVER Ask on Date Night”

Feedback: What question would you consider adding to this list?

19Sep

The NFL Needs a True Leader. So Does the World.

I’m sick of hearing about all the domestic abuse issues swirling around the NFL, and maybe that’s part of the problem. 

Today NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stood up and gave somewhat of an apology for the league’s inept handling of the Ray Rice situation.

However, it failed miserably as an apology.

It seemed forced, disingenuous, and scripted. Goodell’s purposeful misdirection and failed transparency has put himself and the NFL in a terrible light.

New details emerged tonight from an ESPN Outside the Line’s report that were conveniently absent from the commissioner’s address earlier today:

  • Ravens executives were made aware of the Ray Rice assault HOURS after it happened instead of what they originally claimed, that they simply had the testimony of Ray and Janay Rice.
  • A police lieutenant gave Ravens security director a detailed account of the assault while watching the first video, which was later released by TMZ.
  • The Ravens’ owner, president, and GM all petitioned Roger Goodell and the judicial system to have leniency on Ray Rice, which they did, initially.

The only decent man in this whole fiasco, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, requested the immediate release of his STAR running back and the FACE of his FRANCHISE (not an easy guy to cut) upon seeing the video footage. His request was denied by the Ravens owner and GM, a report the Ravens are currently denying – what a surprise. And it was that man, Coach Harbaugh, who the day after the incident was made public was shoved out there to deal with the press when that same owner, president, and GM refused to speak for their actions, or unbelievably lack thereof.

There aren’t enough words in the world to describe the failures of the NFL in general and Roger Goodell in particular over the last several months. But I’m not sure they would be all that helpful even if they could be found.

What the NFL needs is exactly what they don’t have. A leader who is motivated to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing.

Yet the need is not exclusive to the NFL. Around every corner the world is crying out for true leaders.

When Roger Goodell has chosen to act, it has only been at the prompting of public outcry, or letters written by sponsors threatening to leave a league they will never actually leave since it’s a cash cow.

True leaders lead when it’s necessary, not just when it appears to be beneficial.

True leaders refuse to cover up mistakes in their own leadership or the leadership of others in their organization.

True leaders make the right decisions even when it exposes their own wrong behavior.

The NFL needs real leaders. But so does the world.

How can you be the type of leader the NFL, and more importantly the world, needs?

16Sep

Can You Love Jesus but Not the Church?

Spoiler alert: No, you can’t love Jesus and not the Church.

It’s a popular pursuit, though, and I can understand it, to an extent.

Jesus is radically inclusive and some churches are radically exclusive, painting stark, impossibly narrow lines of faith that are only big enough to include their particular tribe. According to them, to truly belong to Jesus you must look, think, and act just like them.

Jesus is the complete embodiment of truth but some churches are incredibly misleading. Whether by false teaching or false living, the Church is not perfect. But Jesus is. And that’s the issue. You make a mistake if you expect the Church to be something (perfect) that Jesus (who’s actually perfect) never expected it to be.

 

 

Saying you love Jesus but not the church is like saying you love one person of a married couple but don’t really care for their spouse. You might even say you hate their spouse.

Maybe their spouse did something hurtful to you at one point. Maybe you didn’t have the most welcoming experience with their spouse.

No matter the reason, you’re only getting so far in a friendship if you don’t like the person your “friend” is married to…BECAUSE they are crazy about their spouse.

Likewise, you can’t say you truly love Jesus without loving the Church because Jesus is crazy about the church. So crazy about it that he died for it, loving it all the way the grave and back.

The Church will never be perfect. But it will always be something Jesus saw worthy enough to die for, right in the middle of all her brokenness and imperfection.

Ironically, this desire to love Jesus but not the Church actually exposes hypocrisy instead of being sourced by it…

Why do some expect the Church to be perfect, to be void of sin and brokenness when their own lives are like the rest of us, often far from being void of sin and brokenness?

 

 

Maybe it’s because if you can step back from community and keep the messy, broken body of Christ at arm’s length then you can put off truly dealing with your own messy brokenness.

A Way Forward:

  • To the churches: Be legit. Be authentic. Come to grips with your brokenness and imperfection, but then fight for holiness and purity. Strive to be a bride worthy of Christ all the while resting in the knowledge that you already are, but this is never because of your own goodness but because of the fierce love of God.
  • To the skeptics/spiritualists: If you feel you have created a way to love Jesus and not the Church you have created a false Jesus. Your indecisiveness or indifference about Jesus is in fact a decision about Jesus.
  • To the individualists: you cannot privatize your faith into solely an individual pursuit of God that doesn’t inform your public life. Especially in our current culture where  everything is being customized to meet your individual preference, real faith doesn’t work like that. It’s not all about you but it does include you.

Bottom line: If you truly love someone, you love the things they love most. You cherish the things they cherish.

You can’t truly love Jesus and not the Church.

It just gets awkward.

11Sep

When the Cool Kids Grow Up

There are not many universally binding truths, but I think I’ve discovered one:

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY wants to go back to junior high.

Some people sincerely wish they could go back to high school. Those years were genuinely the best of their life. That is not true for me but I understand how it can be for some. Others would say the college years were the best of their life. The tremendous amount of freedom as a newly minted “adult” mixed with the incredibly small amount of responsibility when compared to the real world has been able to produce a high level of satisfaction for many who have walked across the college campus.

But nobody ever says, “You know what year I really miss?!? 7th grade. Life has been crashing downhill since that majestic year.”

But why is it that some enjoy junior high? What happens to the “cool” kids in 7th grade when they grow up? Child Development, an academic journal, has the answers. They just published their findings from a 10-year study where they followed hundreds of students from ages 13-23. Their data shows that one can easily predict who will be a successful adult based on how they act when they’re just 13.

The study found that the 13-year old students found “cool” among their peers were the ones who acted much like older teenagers. They frequently made out with other students, regularly changing partners. They snuck into R-rated movies and wore excessive makeup in an attempt to look older than they were. In interviews with the research team it was actually the “cool” kids who expressed much deeper insecurities and concerns with being perceived as cool than the ones exalting them as such.

But why 13? The research team discovered that most teenagers they followed were participating in some version of these behaviors by the time they were 16-17 years old but the behaviors of the 13-year old “cool kids” had to keep escalating as they grew older in order to remain in the “cool” zone.

So what happened when they turned 22? 23? Most of them failed to graduate college. Virtually none of them had cultivated deep friendships with anyone and a large amount of them had serious substance abuse problems.

Conclusion? The “cool kids” in 7th grade might not be that cool when they grow up. In fact, more often than not they fail to grow into successful, stable adults who contribute to society and future generations, at least initially.

But there’s a deeper lesson here for all of us, not just 7th graders and 23 year olds:

Are you desperately trying to fit in at school? at work? Are you constantly seeking the approval of people you know you shouldn’t?

Do you find yourself deeply concerned with the opinions of people you know aren’t deeply concerned with you?

Today’s the day to make a change. The cool kids usually don’t stay cool so don’t worry about what they think. Be the you God made you to be. The world doesn’t need another “cool kid” or God would have made one. He made YOU. That’s what the world needs.

7Sep

What the Next Generation Needs from the Church

Last week our home was filled with people just like it is every Tuesday. The living room was full of laughter, genuine friendships, good food, and authentic prayer and discussion rooted in Scripture.

Our home group is comprised of a somewhat diverse group of people.

  • Expectant parents
  • Parents through adoption
  • Single parents
  • Married without kids (yes, we still exist!)
  • Single people
  • Doctors
  • Carpenters
  • 21ish-32ish year olds

Our living room is filled every week with a demographic largely missing from the evangelical (whatever that means now) church.

We have intentionally kept our group fairly simple, centered around just a few main goals/ideas. Yet our group continues to grow, both in number of attendees and in significance. I am not at all saying that we have figured out how to reach the highly coveted 18-32 demographic (when did the church turn into an advertising agency?) but I am saying that we have accidentally stumbled upon what seems to be working for the next generation.

With that in mind, I’d like to humbly suggest:

What the Next Generation Needs from the Church (3 Things)

 

1.) Encouragement to dream BIG.

  • For most 20-somethings, we’re at a time and place in life where it’s okay to take risks. It’s not too late to change careers or move cities. New skills can be learned dreams can be pursued much easier now than later in life. We need a church that will encourage us to fan those dreams into flame and call us to think deeply about how those dreams connect with the kingdom of God. We need a church that can celebrate with us in the process of figuring out what we want to do and why, not just on the other side when we have more stability and resources to contribute.

2.) Purpose

The extended adolescence of our time has no doubt become a very real issue. Teenagers are turning into futon-crashing 20-somethings that turn into 30-somethings that never quite leave the house. Part of me wonders if this prolonged emergence into adulthood could be shortened if more 20-somethings felt like their life had more purpose. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul writes,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Now obviously Paul did not move immediately from childhood to adulthood but it does seem like there was a more dramatic transition than some 20-somethings are experiencing now. One of my biggest fears as a pastor is how the separation of kids from “big church” coupled with the separation of students into the “youth room/building/get the heck out of my sanctuary” affects college graduates who have always had their own space that’s all about them but then fail to adapt to the real world. 20-somethings need the Church to remind them that their lives have purpose NOW. And that they might be missing out on some of that God-given purpose by mooching off Mom and Dad instead of getting a job and starting their own life.

The most important thing the Church can do to give the next generation purpose is to give them a faith with substance.

When the fog machine smoke from youth group fades and the endless “community” of college ends, has the Church given the next generation a real Christianity? Have we (the Church, not just its leaders) passed on the radically generous, self-sacrificing, compassionate faith of Jesus or have we been peddling a counterfeit faith that screams, “It’s all about YOU!”

3.) Belonging

Your first year in college you’re told over and over again to join a club, get involved, meet new people. It’s solid advice. I’ve given it before. (See: 4 Ways to Start College Right). The goal of joining so many clubs and/or activities should be that eventually you’ll find some like-minded people united around a common goal/interest who genuinely care about you and others. Enter: the Church. The Church has the ultimate thing 20-somethings are seeking…belonging. A place to call home. I lost most of my sense of belonging/home when I was 14 and didn’t really gain it back until just now, at 25. This is due in no small part to my group of like minded-friends (who I met at church), united around a common goal/interest (JESUS) who genuinely care about me and others.

To my 20s-ish friends: What else can the Church do to equip you to become a fully devoted follower of Jesus?

To my older-than-20s-ish friends: What advice do you have for the next generation of Christians?

1Sep

Stop Doing This One Thing in Your Marriage

When we were in premarital counseling, our leader told us many wonderfully helpful things. However, this one thing seemed to stick out from all the rest:

Don’t talk bad about your spouse.

It’s one thing that seems so simple, yet something at which so many seem to fail. Because it’s so easy. You see, we forget that gossip is still gossip even if it’s true. It’s slander if it’s false. If your spouse does something that ruffles your feathers, you still don’t have a license to go “vent” or “unload” or “blow off steam” with your friends. It’s just not okay.

I see this happen all the time with men and women.

At some point, it became popular among men to complain about their wives. They paint pictures (no matter how accurate they may be) of nagging wives who only have more chores or tasks for them to do. Who does this help? How does this convey marriage to the next generation?

More importantly, when you joke or complain about your spouse, what image does that convey about them as a person, as your person? What do your co-workers think about the one you’ve sworn to love and serve when you talk bad about your spouse? What about your mutual friends? What about your own kids?

Some studies have concluded that on average women speak 13,000 more words per day than men. The studies do not venture a guess at how many of those “bonus” words are used to speak poorly of their husbands. Sitcoms have set a bad precedent, portraying husbands as little more than bumbling buffoons who want little more than sex and a sandwich.While this may be the reality for some, it is definitely not for all. Many women are married to hard-working, kind-hearted, dedicated men who love and serve their wives well.

Both men and women frequently talk about their spouses to co-workers, friends, and family. These conversations can be harmless: recounting the weekend’s activities, keeping a friend updated, or answering a co-worker’s caring questions about one’s spouse.

Yet words spoken about a spouse can also quickly become harmful. I think this frequently happens accidentally, but it still needs to be fixed. With friends and co-workers, you should never even give them a chance to see your spouse as anything less than the way you see them, or should see them if you don’t currently hold your spouse in high regard.

However, family is different. When Hayley and I were in premarital counseling, our pastor especially stressed the importance of not speaking poorly about your spouse in front of our family. Parents, imagine if your child called you, hurt or frustrated by their spouse. Maybe it was a simple misunderstanding and feelings were unintentionally hurt or maybe it was an intense argument and deep seeds of conflict were sown. Either way, your child has not worked this out with their spouse yet and they’re passionately recounting the events to you over the phone…what’s your reaction? You will probably side with your child, even if they’re wrong. But that can make things really hard for a married couple, especially when newlyweds are trying to establish new relationships with in-laws.

So who can you talk to about with your spouse? You know it’s not good to keep some of those bitter thoughts bottled up. I would recommend two sources:

1.) Marriage counselor. These people are amazing. Super smart and super caring. They’ll sincerely listen and understand your frustration but they will also point out where you are off track and walk you through ways to make things better. Sharing openly and honestly about your spouse to a professional counselor shows you care enough to work at your marriage because you know it doesn’t just happen (See: Nobody Owes Your Happiness)

2.) A trusted marriage mentor couple. Hayley and I have unofficially had these at every stage in our marriage thus far. You’re looking for an older couple who you know cares about both of you and is not afraid to hold you accountable. They’re also not afraid to walk you down the wise path in your marriage. They are right there with you in the trenches. They are not just giving you trite marriage truisms. Instead, they regularly share real life advice born from real life relationships.

No matter the situation, never talk bad about your spouse. You don’t need to vent to your girlfriends or complain about your wife with the guys. When conflict arises in your marriage…

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

28Aug

What a Dentist Knows about Faith

Last month I went to the dentist…for the first time in 6 years. That’s right. Six years. Before you judge, think of all the money I saved.

I still stand by my story that every time “they” (whoever “they” are) said that you’re supposed to go every 6 months I heard 6 years.

To say I was dreading the dentist was a massive understatement. I’ve never been scared of the dentist, but who in their right mind enjoys the dentist? Due to a prolonged affair my mouth had with my thumb in my early years I did have to endure 3 years of braces as a kid. But other than that, I have had impeccable luck at the dentist’s office. No cavities ever. But if the wind blows the wrong way one day, my wife needs a root canal.

So in the back of my mind I was still resting comfortably on my “No Cavities and Fine Since 1989” status as I strode confidently-ish into the lobby of a new (Remember, new just means not the one I went to 6 years ago) dentist at 7 AM. Long story short: I maintained my no cavity status! Barely.

But in the time it took to have my teeth cleaned, three other people’s were cleaned by the same person. You see, because it had been so long since I had been to the dentist, I had all this plaque built up in all the nooks and crannies of my mouth I never really saw. Sure, on the surface level, everything looked fine. But it took a long time to clean all the bad stuff that I had allowed to build up.

As I’m about to gargle and spit for the 793rd time, my dentist tells me, “You know, Steven, if you would come when you’re supposed to it wouldn’t hurt this much.” Then it hit me…the same is true for our faith.

You know the feeling: You’ve been away from Jesus for awhile. It doesn’t really matter how long it’s been…weeks, months, maybe even years – but you definitely know it’s been too long. But the longer you’ve gone without Jesus being a real presence in your life (changing the way you think, act, and view others) the harder it can be to come back. “What will the people at church think?” you ask yourself. “Surely, they’ll judge me,” you tell yourself and it becomes easier and easier to believe that lie over time.

Much like going to the dentist, the longer you’re away from the presence of God, the harder it gets to return. You build up spiritual plaque that gets in all the nooks and crannies of your life, and the hardest part is it’s so much worse than you realize. Because on the surface we can be so good at making sure everything still looks presentable.

Instead of going to the dentist and getting the hard but necessary work done on your teeth, you may go pick up some Crest White-Strips. Instead of returning to the presence of God and doing the hard and necessary work of repentance, you may go out and try to be a better person and do good deeds.

Neither of these examples provide a real solution. They can actually do much more harm than good, as we’re able to deceive ourselves into not addressing the real problem. We can so easily become…

like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:27-28

But you know what’s different about going to the dentist? She guilts me into trying harder and doing better. And that’s her job! It’s her disappointment and mini-guilt trip that compel me into going back in 6 months instead of 6 years.

But not so with God. The Bible says it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). So when you return to the presence of God, when you return to church, when you return to your home group, you do so because of God’s kindness, not God’s condemnation.

Come back. Don’t wait any longer.

If you have time, watch this 11-minute video called God’s Chisel. It paints a great picture of what it means to truly grow in Jesus.

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