Good wedding, bad marriage

I love weddings.

To follow a bride and smell the flowers; to watch a groom and witness the kiss; to celebrate a moment and remember your own is a precious moment indeed. In fact, weddings are one of the high points of my profession. So I’ve got nothing against a beautiful ceremony.

But something is wrong.

Take a trip to your nearest bookstore and you’ll find a dazzling display of the most beautiful periodicals related to a couple’s big day. You’ll discover something for the traditional bride, the modern bride, the Martha Stewart bride, and every kind of wedding planner known to man. What you will not find is a magazine called Wife. Or Marriage.

In all of our efforts to create amazing weddings we never learned marriage.

I go to a fitness center where they have a running loop of motivational advertisements to get the clients to stay in shape. I always chuckle at the ads aimed at the engaged woman, encouraging her to get ready for her “big day” so she can fit into her dress. It’s all about the wedding. The ceremony. The special occasion.

Think about the cost of the average wedding. Thousands are spent on flowers and tablecloths and invitations and music and dresses and pictures. The cost of a typical wedding is now approaching the salary of a first year teacher.

We live in a culture where more than half of these couples who marry in pomp and circumstance will dissolve in a bitter divorce court. That same couple that would spend $500 on a bouquet of flowers won’t spend $150 on marriage counseling. The same woman that invested every spare moment of every day for six months in preparation for a wedding, finds herself annoyed at the prospect of dealing with her husband.

It’s all about the wedding.

We have mastered the art of weddings and failed in the art of marriage. We have mastered the big event, but failed in the lifestyle. Ironically, the very wedding that is meant to bless a couple often serves to bring strife, offense, and indebtedness to the couple and families involved.

There is nothing wrong with a wedding, but the real deal is a marriage.  Give me a weak wedding and a strong covenant over a magnificent ceremony and a weak covenant any day.

It reminds me of Christianity. Conversion-experiences are wonderful, but Jesus never said to go make converts; He said go make disciples. That’s the deal. It’s a wonderful thing to go to an event where you experience God. But learning to do everyday life with God – now that’s the deal.

We Christians love the big event; we adore the conference; we spend money on the retreat weekend; we buy the t-shirts and believe the hype: “This event will change your life!”  It’s Monday morning that trips us up. And Tuesday afternoon.  And Friday night.  We invest tremendous resources to create experiences that are absolutely unforgettable. The problem is simply that in our striving to manufacture our events we haven’t seemed to learn to live.

Good wedding, bad marriage.

In all our efforts to make converts and “do church” we forgot to teach people how to make disciples and do life.

So let’s ask the invasive question. Are you making disciples? Is there anybody in your life to whom you could point and say, “Now there is a disciple. That man is becoming a passionate follower of Jesus. That woman is changing her center from self to God. That teenager is learning to live by the words of God.” Take a step back. Are you a disciple? Are you learning the ways of Jesus even in the midst of holidays and finals and challenges at the office? Are the words of Jesus being tattooed on your heart?

Parents, we need you to disciple your kids.

Older men, we need you to disciple the younger men.

Older women, we need you disciple the younger women.

Do you have a strong marriage? We need you to disciple the weaker couples.

Are you a leader? We need you to do more than build your program; we need you to build people.

Let’s go do some marriage.

Entitled people are never grateful

Watch out for entitlement.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m thinking about that Samaritan leper healed by Jesus. Remember the story? Ten outcasts get healed, and only one comes back to say thanks. It’s a strange story.

Then Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18) Good question. Why would nine pure-breed Jews simply move on with life while a half-breed Samaritan comes back to give thanks to this Jewish messiah?

Because entitled people are never grateful.

You will not be grateful for the things you feel entitled to. You will not be grateful for the things you think you deserve. You will not be grateful when you feel like you have the right to expect something of people. Entitlement kills your thanksgiving. And your joy. And your peace. By the way, few things kill a marriage like a couple of entitled people living together, highly aware of how much the other person owes them.

Entitlement is anti-grace.

I’ll never forget the week I spent with persecuted Christians in Cuba. They challenged me in a multitude of ways, but one sentence in particular still rings in my ears. Life is a gift, not a right.

No wonder we’re not more thankful. My culture has discipled me to fight for my rights. The problem is, I never see gifts while I’m focused on my rights.

Let’s do this.

1) Go vertical. Give thanks to the Lord. Take some time to count your blessings. Name them one by one. Ultimately, recognize the amazing gift of the gospel and go practice your Spanish. Gracias. I love this word because it reminds me of it’s root: gracia. Grace. I don’t want what I deserve, and neither do you.

2) Then go horizontal. Make a few phone calls. Write a few notes. Send a few texts. Let a few people know you see them as gifts of God in your life.

Don’t miss the grace for the gravy. Happy Thanksgiving.

Quick word from Israel

Wild times in Israel. I have almost no time to write this and no chance to edit but here it goes…

17 of us find ourselves here in Jerusalem in the midst of what I hope does not escalate into a war. God only knows. For all of our faith family, rest assured, we feel safe. Every member of the group has peace. Israel knows what’s up – sharp people who have been threatened non-stop for thousands of years.

As a few of us met together for prayer this evening I realized how much deeper my passion was for peace in the middle east when I am in the middle east. When my children’s parents are in the middle east. While a missile was aimed at a city I am staying in. It’s really been a gut check for my prayer life. I prayed for Jews. And Palestinians. And Egyptians. And our president. Somehow I found myself praying as if I believed my requests just might accomplish something. Somehow I found myself wishing that believers everywhere would long for peace so deeply that they would pray for and hope for and work for it. FYI – Israel is surrounded by multiple nations that want them wiped off the face of the earth. You’d have to be here to understand just how vulnerable this little nation the size of New Jersey really is. At the international level, they are one of the least of these. Pray for them. And pray for Palestinians – especially the Jesus-loving Arabs inside the Gaza strip.

Can you imagine how much impact we’d make if we prayed for each other like we’d like people to pray for us? If we loved each other the way we’d like to be loved.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Thousands of years later and the words still have meaning. (You can pray for our safety as well.)

Last thought. We decided to memorize a passage together this week: Philippians 4:4-8. Perfect timing. Rejoice. We were there. Don’t be anxious about anything … How? In everything by prayer let your requests be known to God. It works. And the peace of God will guard your hearts in Jesus. So true. Peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

You’ll never make peace without prayer.

You will probably never have an audience with the leader of Hamas. Or the Prime Minister of Israel. But you have the audience of the King.

So pray. (Like you’d want to be prayed for.)


‘Twas the night before Elections

‘Twas the night before elections…

And I can’t shake the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Should we have such a concern?

There is a parallel thought in the book of Joshua. Commander Joshua is on the verge of his signature victory over the city of Jericho. The walls are about to come down and word is about to spread, but not before he has a life-altering encounter with a mysterious being standing with a sword drawn. Joshua’s mama didn’t raise a fool so he asks the rational question:

“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (5:13)

Good question. Whose side are you on? Is God a Democrat or a Republican?

The response is priceless: “No.”

No? What kind of an answer is No? What do you do with No? When it’s the angel of the Lord, you listen to rest of the message: “But I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” (5:14) Translation? I have not come to take sides; I have come to take over.

I am praying today for God’s will to be done on the earth as it is in heaven. I pray for God’s people called by God’s name to humble themselves and pray, and turn from our wicked ways. I pray for God to heal our land. I pray for the politicians that will give us the best shot of being on God’s side. I pray for our future president to have a Joshua-type encounter with God. I am fully aware that my country may be a drop in the bucket in the global plans of God; I am aware that our sins are many; I am aware that God will not gloss over injustice and innocent bloodshed; so I pray for mercy. I plead the blood of Jesus over my sins and the sins of my nation. I pray for my country to be a place where God might say, “Now I have come.”

By all means, vote. But enough natural.

You have not because you ask not. Get off the computer, put down your smart phone, and pray.

Come, Jesus. Take over.

How is a Christian to vote? -part 2

Tell us who to vote for.

Wouldn’t that be easy. But I’m not trying to use discipleship to do an election; I’m trying to use an election to do discipleship. It’s not that this election doesn’t matter. It does. But not as much as making disciples. I write for our little tribe of Jesus-followers to reconsider our approach through the eyes of Jesus.

Disciples think with Jesus.

I’m surprised at how many people want to be told what to think and how to vote. Following Jesus means you have to love him with all your mind, which means you’ll have to learn to think. I’m sharing my thoughts – not because you need to think like me – but because I want you hungry enough to get on a journey to think with Jesus, and question assumptions like our spiritual ancestors always have.

This means Jesus-followers need to do something more than vote; we need to embrace our prophetic call to shine light in a dark culture. Through our words and deeds we are the living spotlights that remind our culture about the priorities of heaven. Consider the early Christians. They stood out from the rest of their culture in some very radical ways that made them impossible to ignore.

  • Uncommon compassion and generosity with the poor.
  • Total opposition to blood sport. They refused to be entertained by the gruesome sport of the masses.
  • Unprecedented empowerment of women.
  • Opposition to sex outside of marriage.
  • Opposition to same-sex relations.
  • Unsupportive of Roman military conquest.
  • Unusual diversity and mixing of the ethnic groups and social classes.
  • Complete opposition to abortion and infanticide.
  • Jesus exclusivity. They claimed that Jesus was the only way to God.

I almost chuckle when I read the list. Half of the list sounds liberal, and the other half conservative. Because God’s agenda is neither left nor right; it’s neither progressive nor traditional; it’s another option altogether. This is why it’s dangerous to live predictably under any label. As soon as someone hears the label the judgment game begins – and everybody loses.

And we forget to shine.

Why does an election matter? Because it dramatically impacts the spiritual lighting of a nation. It determines what “sermon” a nation will be listening to for years to come. A politician does more than influence policy; he is given a unique voice. He possesses influence. He has a sway that turns the moral compass of a nation in one direction or another. To use church lingo, the issue is discipleship. Presidents “preach” and governments make moral assertions through the things they call legal or illegal. The greater the alignment between human laws and divine Law, the greater the light.

I contend that a central issue for any government and every Christian must be using our light to bring justice and power together. Elections influence how a nation thinks, especially about the least of these. And God judges the nations according to how they treat the least of these. There are many issues on the table. Foreign policy, the economy, national debt, Big Bird. I understand that. But I can’t escape the reality that governments are revealed by the way they steward their influence with the least of these. (See previous post here.)

The needy. The threatened. The voiceless.

This is why I argue that we must not only identify the priorities of heaven, but call government to line up. I hear people say that we cannot legislate morality. Imagine having that conversation with William Wilberforce, the man who devoted his life to end the slave trade in England. Of course we legislate morality. This is why justice and power must be brought together. Every law we pass is a moral statement into the hearts of a nation. Surely there were many issues during the political career of William Wilberforce, but this issue carried the most weight.

Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.” -Blaise Pascal

It’s one thing when an individual does not posses the same advantages that someone else has. The cards are stacked against her. The playing field is not level. This is not fair. It is dark. But it’s another thing altogether when the law is constructed in such a way that someone has no options. It’s beyond being dealt a bad hand; they’ve been given no hand. There is no access onto the playing field.

If we visited Germany in the early 1940s I’m sure there were many challenges and numerous needy people. But I hope we could agree that of all the people that may have been called less, the Jews were the least. If we visited the US in the 1850s we would discover a number of challenges. But I hope we could agree that of all the issues affecting the spiritual lighting of the nation, slavery was a darkness that simply had to be addressed. Slaves weren’t just less; they had no options. No cards. No access. Least.

So now I share my top political concern: justice for the unwanted unborn. Legally, they don’t just have bad cards; they have no cards. And I can’t figure out why the sense of urgency is so low among the people of God. People say you shouldn’t be a one-issue guy. I can just imagine how that conversation would have gone down with Wilberforce. Come on, Will. There’s a lot of other fish to fry. But slaves were the least. The Jews were the least. And right now, right under our noses, the unborn are the least. It’s a justice issue.

I sometimes wish I was wrong about this. But Scripture makes me tremble:

“Deliver those who are drawn to death, hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, Surely we did not know this, does not he who weighs the hearts consider it? And will He not render to each man according to His deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12) 

Let me sum it up:

1. Think with Jesus. Question assumptions.

2. Shine light. Stand out from your culture in such radical ways that you are impossible to ignore. Live it and speak it. We need your voice. Have the guts to stand for the least, not just the issues that have cool points attached. Make holy noise wherever you are. If you are in a movie and racism is depicted as right, I’m not asking you to shout. But you do have a voice. You could clearly stand up, make a scene, and walk out. If you are a conservative and you hear Republican priorities that cripple the poor, be their voice both politically and personally. If you are a liberal, and you attend a rally where the injustice of abortion is presented as a civil right, use your voice. Or walk out. But stop this awkward silence.

2. Vote for the person you believe will steward their voice to bring justice and power together.

3. Offer our culture a distinct approach at the qualitative level. When everybody else displays anger, wrath, and malice, choose peace, patience, and kindness.

4. Don’t forget where you came from. We were the least. We were weak. We were without strength because of our own sin. We were going to be drawn to death. Until Jesus. In Him something greater than justice and power came together; justice and mercy converged on a cross so that strangers stumbling to the slaughter could be rescued and welcomed into the ultimate country, ruled by the ultimate commander in chief. Because of love.