Deep Expression: Living complete

“May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT

My readings today came, not out of one of my devotional/reading plans, but out of the “scripture of the day” on my app. I sat down at the coffee shop, opened up my bible app and there it was. 1 scripture of encouragement. But it was the simplicity of the three-letter word that caught my eye.

“and”

Paul, the writer of this letter to the church in Thessalonica, was trying to convey there is a responsibility with the love of God. It is not either “full understanding” or “expression” but both. They need each other; they are incomplete without the other.

Let me explain my thoughts…

A full understanding is realized when it is expressed. And expression is deepened by a greater understanding.  I think of it this way: You can eat all the protein you want, but without a workout, you may bulk up but not in the way you’d want. On the other side of that, you can have all of the fitness classes and patterns, but if you don’t eat right (or at all), then your fitness will be shallow at best.

Unfortunately I’ve met people who’ve only chosen 1 part of this. I either hear about how deep they are or how active they are.  They’ve chosen to put everything into one part and walk away from the other. The pride displayed is nothing more than an overcompensation for the guilt of not developing the other part.

But the person who lives in both sides has no room for pride to drive them. You learn then you live; you’re living is derived from your learning. It’s like a children’s song that I used to sing called, “Deep and Wide.” You need both. You must deepen yourself with understanding AND you must put it into practice. The world you live in needs you to do both. To leave people with just an understanding that you are a “Christian” is not enough. There needs to be a full expression of the person and character of Jesus.

What does that look like in your community? How does that shape your work day? How does that shape your marriage? Your family?

What next steps can take to develop the side/part of this that, perhaps, you struggle with? What can you do today to deepen your understanding of the heart of God? How can you express clearly what you’ve received from God?

My prayer over myself and you is this: Lord, lead our hearts into a full understanding and expression of love in the places and homes you’ve placed us in.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Who Didn’t Warn Me? 10 Things I Didn’t Totally Realize Before I Got Married

I can’t say “nobody” told me about these things. But I can truthfully say that I may not have heard everything that was said to me in the barrage of life that was hitting. I wrapped up my internship, accepted my first pastoral position, went through 6 weeks of sickness, oh, and got ready for my wedding. So, yeah, life was busy.

For Anne and myself, our wedding was the finale to singleness. It was a goodbye to a year-long engagement (long engagements suck; the waiting, the temptation, the stress…). So the drive from our reception brought this sense of relief. It was like a 3-year weight (length of our dating) lifted off our shoulders. I think we physically walked taller with everything behind us.

I didn’t have to drive her home at the end of the day. We didn’t have to worry about sexual temptation between us anymore (praise God). It was just us and our honeymoon. Life was good.

I would say that it hit us 24 hours after we got back from the honeymoon. Our two worlds of every day, normal living would collide. It was that reality check that told us: the wedding wasn’t the finale, it was the launch. I know somebody probably told me that, but the reality of that didn’t sink in.

Marriage is designed for the long-haul. And part of that difficult and wonderful journey is becoming a student of your spouse, learning to serve without expectations, and constantly remaining teachable.  So in that vein of thought, I asked myself: What are some of the lessons that, I feel, nobody warned me about (or that I took for granted):

  1. You see a partial view of who they really are when you are dating.
    • When you are in the dating mode, you conceal some things. I’m not saying you are being fake; you’re trying to put your best foot forward. It’s why I’ll warn people about the person they’re dating. If it doesn’t seem like they’re even trying to make a good (or truthful) impression upon you, what is awaiting for you in marriage will severely disappoint you.
  2. I’m harder to live with than I realize.
    • I’m used to me. I had lived with me and my way of living for 22 years. So she must be the problem right? I took for granted how drastically different our upbringing was, the daily habits we observed, and the schedule we desired to keep.
  3. Fighting if handled correctly, can actually help bring us together. 
    • I knew we would fight. I just didn’t understand that it would be one of the greatest unifiers in our marriage. But the unifying component depends upon the intent of the conflict. Are you after the win for you? Or are you after the win for the marriage? The goal of resolution creates humility, forgiveness, healing, and growth.
  4. Quality time trumps quantity of time.  
    • I’ve been moving away from the word “balance” in a number of ways. And this falls into that. Anne and I chased after the balance of time.  The church gets “this” much time, the marriage gets “that” much time and so on. Trying to keep everything “even” was exhausting PLUS didn’t feel like it was balanced out. We changed mentalities to embrace quality and concentrated over quantity and diluted. Then there’s the question of what defines “quality time.” That’s for another blog.
  5. We need to forgive more often (amount) than we anticipate and more (depth) than we realized.
    • You didn’t marry the “perfect person” and neither did your spouse. The dating and honeymoon period tends to shroud the brokeness the two of you brought into the marriage. The reality of living together 24/7 reveals it. Don’t let forgiveness get old; practice it often in the same why Christ has given it to you.
  6. Fun is a relative word.  
    • Couples take for granted leisure activities and that is a HUGE mistake. It’s hard to tell you the amount of times Anne said, “are you going to watch the entire football game?” She knew what I like. I knew what she liked. We just took for granted the levels of dedication we had to what we considered “fun.” We had to learn that it was okay to enjoy things together AND things apart. Both are necessary.
  7. Temptation doesn’t stop; it takes on new forms.
    • We were virgins when we got married. So the temptation during that year of engagement was intense. And just because we were married, it didn’t eliminate temptation. The Enemy just targeted us differently. If anything, the greatest temptation we’ve face is the propensity to put “self” first before our spouse. It’s real. It’s an everyday battle.
  8. Sex is more than what society emphasizes AND more important than we realized. 
    • This is the one need that your spouse is equipped to meet that nobody outside of your marriage can provide. Yet our over-sexed media sweeps in to steer us toward dissatisfaction. From commercials to the movies we ingest, our culture constantly seeds false senses of expectations and air-brushed comparisons. Thus the reason why there is an importance of a consistent marital sex and a constant guard of our eyes/minds.   Sexual frequency fights frustrations; serving each other fuels sexual success.
  9. You will say, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
    • We’ve all been there (and quite possibly, visit again). These are the moments that catch us off guard and make us want to throw something at the pastor who did our premarital counseling. I feel we just take for granted the amount of work marriage is mixed with the blending of two people and all of the baggage that comes with it. Simply said: Marriage is tough. It is extremely hard to get your marriage to some place of health AND then try to keep yourself there.
  10. We didn’t realize how realize how much Matthew 22:36-40 would help us.
    • Saved the best for last. Putting Christ first in our relationship helped prioritize the necessity of our relationships. We discovered the love of God and experienced His grace it helps us to live it out to one another. The joy, patience, forgiveness, etc. is all a spillover from what we receive from our relationship with God.

Love you all. I’m sure this list could/should be longer. But there’s so much here already that I pray you might see something that could challenge you to step into a place of humility and teachability. And that’s a place where change is fostered.

 

Blessings.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

The 2 Things I Got Right in Marriage: A Blog for Singles (also married peeps):

Anne has been on me a while about writing a marriage blog to singles. I’ve been setting aside the idea for a long time.  But over the past two weeks, some comments have come my way, 

“I love reading about your mistakes. They help me correct my own.”

“Some of your mistakes help me to know what to NOT look for.”

So I’ve been asking myself a simple question: Of all of the things I’ve done wrong (the list keeps growing), what have I done right? 

I came up with two. 

That’s it. 

Obviously there’s more, but these were literally the first TWO that came to mind that, I believe, are the TWO FOUNDATIONAL decisions that has given me a great (not perfect) marriage. Again, I’ve gotten other things right in the past 18 years, but they’ve built off these two.

If you’re single, this is where you START.
If you’re reading this and your married, this is what you WORK ON

The FIRST thing I got right: I loved Christ before I loved Anne

There is no other foundational decision greater than this. Everything, and I mean everything, builds off this. Let me explain. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. He said, 

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

I cannot possibly love Anne the way she needs to be loved without first loving Jesus. I’ve had people take offense to that type of priority.  But when I love the Lord first, He teaches me how to love.

Why is that? When I encounter His love, it teaches me how to love myself AND others. It helps me live life through His perspective. I forgive completely because that’s how He forgives. I have compassion for others because He showed me compassion. I serve selflessly because He served me by laying down His life. I choose to love unconditionally because He choses to love me that way.

I’d love to say I’ve perfected all but, as you’ve read in previous blogs, you know I’m a work in progress as are all of us. But this is where I start from and CONTINUE to build on. Any season that I face, this is where I begin. And it’s given me a powerfully healthy perspective to have.

The SECOND thing I got right: I chose a woman who loved Christ before she loved me.

I didn’t ask her for an application followed with references and a dissertation. I saw her devotion to Christ.

When worship began, she entered in as a passionate worshiper.
When someone was in need, she gave without expectations.
When something needed to be done, she was the first to serve. 
When someone needed to be encouraged, Anne was the first to step up. 
But most of all, her reputation amongst people who knew her was the reputation of Jesus. She had the character of Christ (Galatians 5:22-23). 

She’s nowhere near perfect. Like me, Anne has plenty of flaws and it’s not my place to list them (that point may be for a future blog).  It’s my place to see her how Christ sees her. And that list what I saw. Her life was evidence of a Matthew 22 life. I knew if she loved Jesus completely, she could love me that way (because I’d love her that way). 

If you’re single, this is where you start. Instead of trying to find the “right one” for you, become the “right one” for others. Go after Matthew 22 passionately. As you encounter the love of Jesus, it’ll change you AND change what you look for in a spouse.

If you’re married and you didn’t start this way. Don’t scrap everything. Start a Matthew 22 marriage today by letting the love of God change you. And from you, let His love encounter and change your marriage. 

I love you all.  I believe in great things for you. Why? Because I know how great Christ is and I know, through you, great things can happen. 

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

What do I wish I knew before I started in ministry?

I was asked to speak to a group of soon-to-be ministers at a local Bible College.  I was given a ton of freedom of what to speak on.  One of the topics I was given was “What do I wish I knew before I started in ministry?”

So I found myself sitting in a coffee-house sipping some Costa Rican coffee pondering that question.  17 years and 3 positions are nothing to take for granted.  But if I knew some of these life-lessons, I wonder if they would’ve saved me from some sleepless nights, bottles of TUMS, and fits of frustration. I thought I’d come up with anywhere from 7 to 10 things. But they kept coming and coming.  I read them to Anne and she recommended throwing them into the blog.

So here it is.  I wrote them as they came to me, not necessarily in order of importance…

  1. It’s the greatest “job” ever…PERIOD!
  2. A “successful” ministry doesn’t matter if your marriage is failing. Cheating on your spouse with your ministry isn’t a mark of great pastoral leadership or a dedicated ministry heart.  It’s a sad display of misunderstood ministry priorities.
  3. Don’t underrate authenticity in the pulpit. If preaching was a lawn mower, authenticity helps lower the blades to help accomplish what the Holy Spirit has set in your heart to do.
  4. Laughter is grossly underestimated in sermons, services, ministry, and staff.
  5. Let your kids (pastor/missionary/evangelist kids) grow up as normal kids.  Don’t put on them the pressure of the “PK performance”.
  6. You’re children must feel like the most important children in the church to you. It’s has nothing to do with favoritism or them feeling a sense of entitlement because of who their parents are.  They need to know that they have their parent’s heart and attention.
  7. Build The Kingdom and not your empire. You’re not in ministry to build a denomination or a church but the Kingdom of God.
  8. Far too much time is spent on unrealistic expectations.
  9. Ministry doesn’t have to be lonely.  Get out of your church/denomination and make friends with other ministers.
  10. Some people expect you to be omnipresent.
  11. In many cases, productive and lasting associate pastorate ministry (youth, kids, small groups, etc) begins in year 3. It takes 1 year to develop relationship and another year to start establish ministry.
  12. The Lead Pastor honeymoon period can be as little as hours instead of days, weeks, or year.
  13. I MUST remember: I don’t have all the answers.  But the pressure is real.
  14. Discernment is undervalued.  We value vision, change, drive…but the “right” of the pastor to do things doesn’t necessarily make it “right” or make the timing “right”.
  15. The Lead Pastor doesn’t have to do everything.  Delegate and raise up leadership. Multiply yourself.
  16. What worked in one church community doesn’t necessarily work in another.
  17. I am not the epitome of creativity. Get inspired by other pastors/ministries/churches.  Look, listen, ask, create, get inspired.
  18. Message prep time with God doesn’t replace personal time with God. (had to fix that…my dyslexia flip-flopped it)
  19. Camp out between your greatest criticism and compliment.  You can’t believe your greatest compliment nor your greatest critic.
  20. Busy-ness doesn’t equate to productive ministry.
  21. It’s okay to say “no”.
  22. Take care of your body and mind.  Be active. Guard what goes into you (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually).
  23. As a staff member, as much as I thought I understood it, I didn’t grasp the pressure of the Lead Pastor.
  24. Interview the pastor/board as much as they are interviewing you.
  25. Longevity enhances pastoral leadership.  Yet longevity doesn’t equate to fruitful ministry. Follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance AND release.
  26. How you leave is more important than the decision to leave.
  27. Be careful who you talk to. Ministers need outlets and those outlets are probably NOT in your church.
  28. With great social network power comes great social network responsibility.
  29. Look for people’s filters and process their actions and words through that.  You will understand people a lot better.
  30. If I expect others to be generous, I (their pastor) need to be generous first.
  31. Don’t apologize for having free time and/or days off.
  32. Leaders are readers.
  33. More “productive” ministry is done at a table than at a desk. Relationships build the pulpit you will preach from.
  34. Mean people go to your church.  Every church has them.
  35. Deal with offense biblically…ALWAYS.
  36. Don’t just make changes, but lead through change.  Changes in church culture are more painful for a congregation than a pastor will realize. Feelings and memories are attached to buildings and ministry.
  37. Unity is blessed. Uniformity is not.
  38. Be cautious of those who are frantically trying to be close to you and work diligently to develop relationships with those who keep you at arm’s length.
  39. Yours isn’t the only way and may not be the right way.  Be open-minded about other methods.  The the principles and heart behind your method may be correct but the method is not.
  40. It’s okay to be wrong.  It is not okay to not admit it.
  41. Ministry is like life. It isn’t fair.  It just isn’t.
  42. Ministry isn’t the highest calling.  Obedience is.  So stop acting like a diva.
  43. Trust takes time to build.  Don’t expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon.
  44. Keep evolving/growing.  The way you do ministry now will be different in 5 years.
  45. Figure out a healthy schedule.
  46. As a younger minister, don’t take “young criticism” too personal. You’re young and/or younger than some people in the church.  It’s gonna happen.
  47. Be cautious about serving in your home church.  As someone who has served in his home church, the position presents different problems/pressures/challenges that do not happen in outside ministry opportunities.
  48. Criticism isn’t a bad thing.
  49. Funerals and hospital calls are a privilege and should be treated as such.
  50. Protect yourself from liability.  You can’t be too careful…EVER.
  51. _____________________________

As you can see, the list is incomplete.  Why?  Because you can’t EVER stop learning.  You can’t stop growing.

If you are reading this as a minister, do you have anything else to add to the list?

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Marriage Blog: Is it easy being married to me?

It’s a simple question to ask…But perhaps, it’s the most ignored question in marriage.

“Is it easy being married to me?”

Have you asked yourself that? I try to avoid the question. Why? Because of two reasons:

1. I’d rather shift the focus to my wife so, therefore, she has to be the one to change. That way, she can be the one to blame and I feel better about me.

2. If I answered the question TRUTHFULLY, then I have to be responsible for making changes necessary to be who my wife needs me to be. After all, if anyone needs to change, it’s not me.  My wife needs to change.

At the first sign of marriage issues, self-preservation and human tendency moves us to look for blame in someone else.  We desire to protect what we tend to cherish most: ourselves. This isn’t anything new to humanity. We see this in the beginning in the Eden incident (Genesis 3:12-13).   Instead of taking ownership of mistakes, we shift the focus upon something or somebody to preserve the way of life we want to embrace.

But that’s why the question is soooooo good. It confronts you with a reality that some of the issues that you are facing in your marriage (and/or the issues that will be forthcoming) can stem from a spouse (being you) that is unwilling to take a strong look in the mirror, recognize challenges, and strive for change.

“Why should I have to change?  Why can’t he/she change?  I’ve already sacrificed enough.”

Honestly, is it not easy to being married to you.  You may not think that’s the case.  You’re spouse might be too nice to really tell you.  But it’s time to take a step back and ask the all important question:

“Is it easy to be married to me?” 

I’ve had a running joke over the past 16 years of marriage.  I remind my wife how lucky she is to have married me.  With an odd grin, she always agrees (be it VERY sarcastically) with the statement.  She doesn’t say much more than that.  Why?  Because she knows the underlying reality: it’s not easy to be married to Dave Barringer.  I know she knows it.  Even better, she knows I know it.  But there are times I fail to remember.

I forget she’s married to a man who…

…deals with depression.
…brings his work home.
…is over-dramatic.
…loses all focus when football is on.
…lives with insomnia from a brain that won’t shut off.
…overreacts from stress.
…expects too much from his children because he forgets they’re only 12 and 15.
…wants more physical touch than she’s in the mood for.
…isn’t OCD and doesn’t care much about the cleanliness of the home.
…isn’t wired the way his wife is.
…has to share his focus between her, the family, and an entire congregation.

The list isn’t to create a “boo-hoo” moment for Dave.  It’s just a start of my list I use to remind myself that I am NOT always God’s gift to Anne.  I have more than a few moments that test the sanity of my wife.  There are times I forget what she has to deal with.  And when I do, I project the issue of the day as an “Anne” issue or suppose if there’s any change to be made, it’s definitely her that needs to grow.

I’d venture she’d have her own list to make (as most of you would).  But it boils down to you having the guts to ask the question.

“Is it easy to be married to me?” 

In Psalm 139:12, the Psalmist pens this words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

This is this heart we need to live toward God.  The answer will place your feet in a Kingdom lifestyle of humility and personal growth that will lead you “along the path of everlasting life.”  When speaking of our marriage, this is the attitude we need to replicate in our marriage.  And if you do, it will lead your marriage along the path of life that Christ can breath into you both.

And it can begin with asking yourself the simple question:

“Is it easy to be married to me?” 

The answer and your response (humility and teachability) can lead your marriage receiving a brand new breath of life.

 

…thanks for letting me ramble.