How to Give your Marriage a Fighting Chance...

Recently, I ran across some sage advice for making marriage work. Honestly, as I read through this list of 25 Things, I have to admit, I was mostly looking for the ones that were unnecessary and I could cut out. I mean, who can remember 25 Things?

My problem was that I couldn't find anything to cut out. The bottom line is, marriage is complicated. Marriage is hard work. Marriage is totally counterintuitive to any two sinful, selfish, self-centered, self-willed people (That's all of us, by the way...yes, even you. Especially YOU!) From a purely secular, logical standpoint, this just doesn't work on paper. The math is all wrong. All it requires for success is for two selfish people to live selflessly together, putting the other selfish person ahead of ourself in the pecking order. No problem, right? More like no possibility.

But, we fail to add to the equation our God who specializes in making the IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE. Turning the RIDICULOUS into the OBVIOUS. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in His crazy idea of marriage. 

With that in mind, I humbly submit to you this great advice from Dave Willis:

If you’ll apply these 25 principles below to your relationship, it could make a life-changing difference in your marriage!
  1.  Choose to love each other even in those moments when you struggle to like each other. Love is a commitment, not a feeling.
  2.  Always answer the phone when your husband/wife is calling, and when possible, try to keep your phone off when you’re together with your spouse.
  3.  Make time together a priority. Budget for a consistent date night. Time is the “currency of relationships,” so consistently invest time into your marriage.
  4.  Surround yourself with friends who will strengthen your marriage, and remove yourself from people who may tempt you to compromise your character.
  5.  Make laughter the soundtrack of your marriage. Share moments of joy, and even in the hard times, find reasons to laugh.
  6.  In every argument, remember that there won’t be a “winner” and a “loser.” You are partners in everything so you’ll either win together or lose together. Work together to find a solution.
  7.  Remember that a strong marriage rarely has two strong people at the same time. It’s usually a husband and wife taking turns being strong for each other in the moments when the other feels weak. 
  8.  Prioritize what happens in the bedroom. It takes more than sex to build a strong marriage, but it’s nearly impossible to build a strong marriage without it!
  9.  Remember that marriage isn’t 50-50, divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It’s not splitting everything in half, but both partners giving everything they’ve got!
  10.  Give your best to each other, not your leftovers after you’ve given your best to everyone else.
  11.  Learn from other people, but don’t feel the need to compare your life or your marriage to anyone else’s. God’s plan for your life is masterfully unique!
  12.  Don’t put your marriage on hold while you’re raising your kids or else you’ll end up with an empty nest and an empty marriage.
  13.  Never keep secrets from each other. Secrecy is the enemy of intimacy.
  14.  Never lie to each other. Lies break trust, and trust is the foundation of a strong marriage.
  15.  When you’ve made a mistake, admit it and humbly seek forgiveness. You should be quick to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” 
  16.  When your husband/wife breaks your trust, give them your forgiveness instantly, which will promote healing and create the opportunity for trust to be rebuilt. You should be quick to say, “I love you. I forgive you. Let’s move forward.”
  17.  Be patient with each other. Your spouse is always more important than your schedule.
  18.  Model the kind of marriage that will make your sons want to grow up to be good husbands and your daughters want to grow up to be good wives.
  19.  Be your spouse’s biggest encourager, not his/her biggest critic. Be the one who wipes away their tears, not the one who causes them.
  20.  Never talk badly about your spouse to other people or vent about them online. Protect your spouse at all times and in all places.
  21.  Always wear your wedding ring. It will remind you that you’re always connected to your spouse and it will remind the rest of the world that you’re off limits!
  22.  Connect into a community of faith. A good church can make a world of difference in your marriage and family.
  23.  Pray together. Every marriage is stronger with God in the middle of it.
  24.  When you have to choose between saying nothing or saying something mean to your spouse, say nothing every time!
  25.  Never consider divorce as an option. Remember that a “perfect marriage” is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other!
25 Things? Seriously? Yes, seriously. Why? Because marriage is serious business. It's not just my serious business. It's serious business to God. Heck, it's God's business for crying out loud.  My relationship with my wife is not just a legal matter. It is so much more. It is a relational matter. It is a key indicator of my emotional health and well-being. It says more about my spiritual health than my church attendance. Next to my relationship with Christ, it says more about who I really am than anything I do in this life and it effects the lives of more people than any of us ever allow ourselves to realize. Why 25 Things? Because this marriage thing is a BIG FREAKIN'DEAL!!!!!

I am fully aware that being married to me is no walk in the park. Fortunately, even when I've not been so great at some of these 25 Things, I've been blessed with a wife that is amazing and has picked up the slack. And, maybe, a few times I've picked up her slack. (I doubt it, but it sounded good.)

I dare you to be a 25 Things Man or a 25 Things Woman. You ask, "Even when my spouse isn't?" Simple answer: "Especially when your spouse isn't!"



The last time I sat down to write was the day before I went in to have spinal cord surgery. I shared my fears, as well as my trust. Well, I'm happy to share with you that my surgery went absolutely as planned. As soon as I started to come out of the sedation, I wiggled my fingers and wiggled my toes and they both wiggled. Then, I did my little "happy dance" (invisible, internal edition) and smiled wryly.  It was a good moment. It was a VERY good moment.

So, what did I learn from this experience. It might not be what you'd expect (it certainly isn't what I expected), but I'm glad you asked.

1.  If God can't slow me down long enough to get my attention, He will lay me down, by any means necessary.
The Bible says that our God is a jealous God. We struggle with understanding exactly what that means. The problem is that we hold jealousy in such a negative light. And, how can you attribute a negative characteristic on to a perfect and holy God? When His Word identifies Him as jealous, I believe it's saying that God wants to be our "one and only". He demands to be our "one true love". He wants to come first. He demands our attention. And, He will have our way or another.

In other words, we can do this the hard way or we can do this the easy way...but, we're going to do this. He WILL have our attention...undivided.

This is where I fail and fall so stinking many times. I (this is hard to write) fail to see prayer as productive. Don't misunderstand, I believe strongly in prayer. I pray every day. But, my definition of prayer and my definition of productivity rarely intersect.  In my warped little mind, productivity is reserved for something you can describe in terms of "this is the list of things I accomplished  today". Can't write it on the list? Then, you can't call it productive.

Contrary to me, God defines time spent alone with Him, talking to Him, listening to Him, dare I say, hanging out with Him, as one of, it not the most productive thing we will do in our brief stint on this planet.

And He doesn't just want it....He demands it! He WILL HAVE MY ATTENTION. The easy way or the hard way. Too often, I chose the hard way. He has to cut open my neck and play with my spinal cord and lay me on my back to get my, He does. Oh, that some day I'd pick the easy way. Maybe. Maybe not.

2.  It is not just OK (especially for us guys), it is actually GOOD to say, "I need your help".
I am a hard-headed, testosterone-infused male. Since I was 2 I've been saying, "I can do it". Somehow, my identity as a male of the species is caught up in my personal independence. "I need your help" is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of the loss of masculinity. You can lose your hair and you can lose your good looks, but don't ever ask for help or directions. It's part of the Man Code.

Who wrote the Man Code? I have no idea. Is it actually written? No, it's more of a spoken code. Actually, it's not really even spoken. It's more simply understood. There's no Man Police to take away your Man Card. It's not necessary. When you have to start asking for help, you just kind of know it's over and you give it up without even being asked. Bye. Think I'll bake a quiche now.

What BUNK. "I need your help" is not only what a real man does, its what a real man with a brain does. Its what a real, godly man with a brain does. How did your relationship begin with your God? Remember? Ours all took different routes, but they all actually began EXACTLY THE SAME. We said, "God, I've sinned and I can't un-sin". "I'm broken I I can't fix me". "I'm lost and I can't save myself and I NEED YOU TO SAVE ME". "I need your help". And, funny thing, that's how our relationship with Him has progressed too. "God, I need your help with ________". Just fill in the blank. And He does. And we love Him. And He loves us. And that's how our relationship grows.

And God says, "Tom, I love these people who don't know me. I NEED YOUR HELP". Wow! "People are starving or hurting or whatever...and I need your help". And, we say OK, I'm in. We say that to God! And, God says it to us!! So, why can't we say it to one another? Really good question.

3.  It really is the little foxes that spoil the vineyard. 
If you're not aware, that's a quote from Solomon...the wisest man that ever lived. So, what's he saying? It's not always the hurricanes or the wildfires or the plague of locusts that spoil (destroy, render useless) the vineyard. Sometimes it's the little things we'd never suspect...the things that we pay no attention to that wreak the most havoc in our lives.

I went into surgery scared of losing the use of my limbs. That didn't happen. But, I was really concerned about post-operative pain. None. I was really concerned about sleeping in a neck brace. Borrowed about 8 different recliners. Sleep in a neck brace? Piece of cake. (in my bed)

But, what I wasn't looking out for or prepared for, were the vocal and swallowing problems I incurred. I've been out of my neck brace for over a week now...with no neck pain. But, I just visited the ENT today. Let me tell you, I doubt seriously that many of you give much thought to your ability to swallow food or talk. Neither did I...until it was taken away. I never saw that coming.

And, that's just the way life is. What hits us the hardest are the things we never think about. The things we take for granted. We're blindsided. We're caught off guard. We're unprepared. And, it all goes back to..."I TOOK IT FOR GRANTED". What do you take for granted? When was the last time you told God how much you appreciated and how grateful you were for the ability to swallow? How about the joy of smelling? Or, the unbelievable miracle it is to walk to the kitchen every morning, smell the aroma of the coffee and then taste its deliciousness? Again, fill-in your own blank.  I believe I worry about 5% of my life regarding things that MIGHT happen, 99% of which NEVER happen, while taking for granted the 95% of my life that is a blessing and a gift that could be taken away at any moment. Because you know, it is the little foxes that spoil the vineyard.




Tomorrow's a big day for me.  After years of doctor visits and tests of every size, shape, type and ilk, it has been determined that my neck is a mess.  That's the Bad News.  The Good News is they found it before I lost all use of my limbs.  That's the road I was on. Left untreated would lead to quadriplegia. That's one of those words that when it comes out of your doctor's mouth, you don't hear much else of what he has to say after that.  You are emotionally caught, like a fish on a hook, stuck with your stomach somewhere in your throat.  You're never prepared for that one.

Anyway, tomorrow it will be addressed.  I'm having, as my doctor is so quick to point out, "spinal cord surgery". No, not neck surgery. It may look like neck surgery.  That's the region where they'll be operating. But, the reality is that it's all about the spinal cord.

I've known for a few weeks this is what's going to happen.  Had to wait on a few more tests, insurance companies to get their act together and decide if I deserved such attention, and the hospital and surgeon to find a time when both were available.  Lot's of moving parts.  So, I've learned a few things during the last few weeks.  What? I thought you'd never ask. Here's the big one.

The mind is the devil's playground. 
I truly believe I have a great diagnosis and a great surgeon.  I believe that he will do everything to benefit me. I believe that I will come through this procedure with great success. BUT...the enemy has used every possible opportunity to inflict any thought contrary to that into my mind. Whether it's the dream of waking up with no use of my limbs or the "worst possible scenario" talk that the doctor has to give you...because he just has to, or the person that tells you they saw this movie with a paralyzed guy and "thought of you"...the enemy is cunning and the battleground he has chosen to do his best work is right between your ears. If he cannot paralyze you physically, he will paralyze you with fear.  Same result.

If ever I have come to understand Paul's admonition to "take every thought captive", I do now.  More than once I have found myself telling myself right out loud in from of God and everyone, "STOP IT! THAT'S ENOUGH! SCREW YOUR HEAD ON STRAIGHT!" Paul said it better..."take every thought captive".  That means telling some of them they don't have any place in your mind.  Kick them to the curb.

I think we have the habit of looking for the bad guys "out there" somewhere.  I have news for you. He's not "out there". He's right in here.  That's why you miss him.  That's why he's so deadly. That how he "steals, kills and destroys".  While we're guarding the door, he's already in our head.  In fact, here's a real kicker...he even makes us think his trash is our trash.  Oh yeah.  He convinces us that those thoughts are our thoughts, not his.  Then, he plants his seeds of doubt. "Do I not have enough faith? Is God trying to tell me something? What was that supposed to mean? What made them say that?". Don't play dumb on me now.  You know you've been there. You know you've accepted a few of his deliveries and treated them like they were your own. You've felt guilty or depressed or scared or anxious...all over something that didn't even come from you...but, he's convinced you it did.

Again, Paul says, "We battle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of darkness". What's he saying? The same thing he said before. The battle's not "out there", it's right "in here".

Sometimes we need to pray, "Jesus, let me know the truth, believe the truth and stand on the truth, because the truth will set me free". But, sometimes, we don't need to pray.  We just need to exercise the power that God has already given us through Christ Jesus (because "greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world") and simply in the power of the name of Jesus, tell the devil, in no uncertain terms, "Get the hell out of my mind! That's right, go on and get out of here....because I told you so. Now, SCRAM!".

If you can win the battle in your mind, the war will take care of itself.  I've read the end. We win.



We woke up Sunday morning to have our world rocked once again to another senseless massacre of individuals in the name of something.  We are angry.  We are afraid.  We want action.  We want a place to assign blame.  We want someone to "fix this".

Is there anything that we can learn from this "most recent" bloody reminder of the world we live in?  I would hope so.  Let me suggest a few things that we, especially Christ-followers, should take away.

1.  We should be no less outraged at the loss of life because this happened at a homosexual establishment.  Some of you may wonder why I even mentioned that.  Some of you completely understand. the name of God (sadly...very sadly)...would have the audacity to say, "Well, you reap what you sow".  I'm curious...were you saying that after Columbine as well?  How about after the shooting of school children in Sandy Hook?  Same thing?   I think not.

QUICK REMINDER: Every one of those gunned down was created by the same God who created you.  They were loved by the same God who first loved you.  Jesus died for each of them, whether they know it or not.  The fact is, you'll never lock eyes with another individual that God does not love.  Write that down somewhere.  You'll need it more and more in future days.

2.  The answer is not getting rid of all the guns.  Hold on all you 2nd Amendment righters, before you shout "Amen!".  We may not be friends before I'm done.  I may not make a very good conservative...or a very good liberal.  Yes, I'm a strong believer in Americans rights to bear arms.  I want the ability to protect my family, and even myself, if I so decide.  But, let's be reasonable. Is it really necessary for you and I to have the right to purchase assault assault weapons?  I realize that many of you will answer, "Of course....that's my right".  But, how many of you are indeed purchasing them?  Got a stock of them in the bedroom?  Some of you will say yes, but most of you will say no.  But, it seems that some have taken the opportunity.  And, when I say some, I'm including in that group some who are actually mentally ill.  It's this group who's rights we seem to be hell-bent on protecting.  Especially, their rights to purchase fire arms.

My NRA friends, before you blast me off an email, please pause one second.  I do not for one second believe that your intentions are to make it easier for those who are are mentally unbalanced to purchase weapons suited for this kind of destruction.  But, you are.  Please don't confuse me for the Gun Control Lobby, but some common sense needs to save the day.  These are dangerous times and opposing any and all further background checks are only making it more dangerous for your kids and your grandkids.

This young man was deeply disturbed.  He was not just another Muslim extremist.  He was, I believe, most likely, mentally ill, and the last thing he needed was a assault rifle in his hands.  It's time for some give and take from both sides of this argument.

3.  Muslims are not the problem.  Yes, of course Muslim extremism is definitely a big piece of the problem. That goes without saying. But, the problem is much bigger than that.  And, it's not a simple problem.  Oh, that it were that simple.  It's complex and has many moving parts.

*Part of the problem is the devaluing of human life.  A nation that sees no problem with the slaughter of its most innocent citizens in, of all places, its mother's womb, has placed as little value on human life as possible.  We cannot kill our children free of culpability, and then sit in amazement when another child is killed for a pair of Jordans.  We're not victims...we are culprits.  God says life is holy.  It is His and His alone to give and take.  What is not holy is cheap. Until we believe, as a society, in the sanctity of human life...ALL human life...I believe the evening news will become less and less palatable and fear will rule the day.  But, hand-wringing and finger-pointing will yield nothing helpful.  We must value life pragmatically and practically.  Period.

Bad things happen.  We cannot control that.  What we can control is what we learn from them and where we go from here.  We can do better.



In case you are unaware, Dr. John Kelly is the Superintendent of Schools for Pearland ISD.  Recently, he, and other Houston suburban superintendents were asked about the mandate sent down from President Obama requiring all school districts in America to allow any transgender student to be allowed to use the restroom or locker room, not of their biological sex, but of whatever sex they "identified with".  Here were his comments.

"When the Supreme Court re-defined marriage and invented new constitutional rights, the door was opened for re-defining all social norms, now including Executive Branch dictates about bathroom and locker room rules in local schools," he said.
"A hostile vocal minority now rules in America aided by an apathetic, unengaged majority. What's next? Legalizing pedophilia and polygamy? Unless we return to the Biblical basis on which our nation's laws were established, we are in serious trouble — and cannot expect God's continued favor."
His remarks have sparked outrage from some members of the community, including at least one pastor I spoke to who labeled him a "bigot" and insisted he apologize publicly.

I think there are several issues at work here.  To label this a simple issue is, I believe, to totally misunderstand the issues involved.

Were his remarks homophobic?
I believe he made that clear, they were not.  His faith, which happens to be the same faith as mine, demands that he love all people and look out for the safety of all the students of the district.  He is simply compelled to do so, not simply by law, but by his personal faith in Christ.

Is the intention to limit the rights of transgender students?
I believe that is to totally misread the problem.  Freedom comes with boundaries.  Freedom can only exist when I know what I can do, as well as what I can't do.  In this case, freedom means that he, as the leader of our district and its schools must insure that there is not chaos or the total lack of order.  This concept put forth by our President mandating that anyone in any public place can go into the most private of places based, not on their gender, but on their gender "identity" is a) the beginnings of stating that gender should no longer matter and b) the creation of chaos in our society.

Let me illustrate: I am an American.  I was born an American.  I have American citizenship.  I have always identified myself as an American.  However, I believe I have English roots.  What if tomorrow I decide that I'm no longer "identifying" as an American, but now I'm "identifying" as an Englishman?  You may say, whatever you like.  OK, then when I leave my driveway this morning I'll be driving on the lefthand side of the road.  That's what us Englishmen do, you know.  And, furthermore, I expect you to be tolerant of my new identity and move over as you see me coming.  Otherwise, I don't feel safe.  I feel discriminated against.  To expect me to drive on the righthand side is intolerant, hateful and bigoted.

Well, of course it's not.  It would cause chaos.  It would put people in jeopardy.  I cannot expect others all around me to give up their freedoms and safety just to make allowances for me.  That's not hateful.  That is the role of government.  To protect society.  I have the freedom of speech, but that freedom does not extend to my screaming "Fire" in a crowded theater.

Is this a case of intolerance?
My understanding of tolerance is not that I necessarily agree with you, but that I uphold your right to state your opinion.  But, my concept of tolerance also includes your upholding the rights of others to speak their minds, even when you don't agree with what they are saying.  Shouldn't this tolerance thing flow both ways?  It appears to me from the sidelines that those who are screaming the loudest to be tolerated, are now exhibiting the most intolerance toward the one they've demanded tolerance from.  It never amazes me how quick we are to demand from others the thing we are least prepared to  deliver to others.  One-way tolerance is no tolerance at all.

I know Dr. Kelly.  I know his heart.  I know he loves every man, woman and child, no matter what their gender or gender identity.  But, there are laws of common sense and of nature that have to be held in high esteem.  Freedom doesn't mean that everyone gets what they want all the time.  Freedom has restraints.  Freedom is hard.  It has boundaries.  It tells us where we can't go more than where we can.  To have convictions and share them is not something to apologize for.

One more thing:
If what you read here is that I'm taking up for the Christian guy and putting "those people" (whoever "those people are...I'm not quite sure) in their place, you have totally misconstrued everything I have attempted to write.  I believe that Christ died for "those people"....and that as one he died for, I'm one of "those people" myself.



Right now, we're doing the NEXT GENERATION PROJECT.  (It's a Capital Fund-Raising Campaign. Yes, I hate the sound of those words too.  Rates right up there with a visit to your friendly proctologist.)

Anyone who's done church work for more than a week knows you need a few BIG gifts.  That's a reality.  But, the majority of the provision will always come from lots of small gifts.  However, I think sometimes people don't get that.  They think, "I don't have a lot of money.  I could only give a little.  It really wouldn't make any real difference, so I'll just leave it to the folks with the big wallets".  This just amazes me.  I guess people just haven't read that Bible thing.  Or, maybe their pastor failed to teach it to them. (that would be me)

If that attitude was pervasive throughout the scriptures, my oh my, how different things would have been.  David would have said, "Dudes, all I've got is 5 small stones.  Have you seen the size of that Goliath dude? Five small stones?  Goliath?  Ain't happening!"

Or possibly out there in that crowd, after Jesus had finished speaking to the 5,000, some little guy would have said, "Uh, there's a hugemongous crowd here and I've got the lunch my mom packed for me!  Just little old me.  These two little fish and 5 small buns wouldn't even make a dent in this mess.  I'm gonna sneak on over the hill and chow down.  Good luck to the rest of you."

Whether it's 5 small buns or 5 small stones, God seems to do some of His best work with that which the world would consider insignificant.  When we take the insignificant and hand it over to God in faith and obedience, God does something significant with it.  If David or some unnamed young man had adopted this attitude,  the world would have been deprived of watching two of the greatest miracles in history.

If you're a Christ-follower, your whole life is an ever-present example of such.  He took you.  He took me.  Insignificant as we are, He took our ordinary, messed-up lives and has done, and will continue to do, significant things...eternal things... with whatever we make available to Him.

Simply put, there are no insignificant gifts once they are given to God.  Not when they're given in faith and trust and expectation.  And, certainly not, when they're given sacrificially.

God takes the INSIGNIFICANT and makes it SIGNIFICANT.  End of story.




Last Sunday, I talked about COMPASSION with our church.  I talked about how we, as a society, have become compassionately-challenged.  Much of our compassion has been reduced to clicks of a mouse at our computer.  “I’m so sorry”.  “I’ll be praying for you”.(whether we do or don’t is another issue…but we mean well)  Or the best one of all, (I say this extremely tongue in cheek) “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”.  Seriously? That’s the best we got?  Sadly, it oftentimes…most times is.

OK, OK, so we agree we’re compassionately-challenged.  In fact, I am the chief of sinners in this particular instance.  So, we’ve taken the first step.  We’ve come out of denial and admitted we have a problem.  Good.  But, that’s not the solution…just the first step to finding a solution. 

I think the problem may go a little deeper.  How about this…What does compassion look like?  I shared an example about heading to a hospital after sharing with God all my reasons…errrr…excuses why I shouldn’t.  That’s great, but compassion is not limited to visiting a guy in the hospital.  It comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. 

For you compassion might mean volunteering in MOVE and being a mentor to a 12-year old who cuts and is bullied at school.  For others, it might mean getting into the system and fostering some unwanted, needy kids, only to fall in love with them and then see them leave you, breaking your heart, but at the same time knowing you made an indelible mark on their lives that will last a lifetime. 

For some of you it will mean picking up the phone or dropping an email to someone who’s gone off the rails spiritually, emotionally or physically.  Someone who used to be your friend till whatever happened, happened.  It’s taking a risk with no guarantee it’s not going to go badly. 

Are you starting to get the picture?  Compassion is RISKY BUSINESS.  Compassion is not for the FAINT OF HEART.  Compassion is totally alien to those who have everythingPLANNED OUT. 

Compassion screws up all your plans.  Compassion makes your neat and tidy life extremely messy.  Compassion is inconvenient.  Compassion doesn’t go on a “To-Do” List or a Day Planner.  Compassion jumps out of the bushes at the most awkward times possible and screams, “I need you NOW!”.  But, it seldom…almost never…screams with an audible voice.  It just screams to your heart. 

Some hearts hear.  Some hearts don’t.  Some hearts have set their default to ignore. 

I think God designed us to be different than that.  I think He made for more than that.  I think He created us to change a messy world.

Get Messy.



I spent a half day Monday and a half day Tuesday at a Pastor's Prayer Summit at Camp Pine Cove this week.  Here's what I came away with...

1.  There are 5,000 churches in the Greater Houston area.  Every pastor from every church was invited.  285 came.  Pastor's praying with other pastors for our city is not a big priority.

2.  I met Korean pastors, Nigerian pastors, Vietnamese pastors, Japanese pastors, hispanic pastors, black pastors, urban pastors, suburban pastors, pastors that I had no idea where they came from.  Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in America.  So are it's pastors and churches.

3.  When everyone in the room is seriously worshipping God with every ounce of their being, the Holy Spirit shows up.  It's really not about how good the music is or the song selection.  When people don't care if they like the songs or not and only care about worshipping God through whatever is sung, something big happens.

4.  When God's Spirit comes, everything changes.  What does that mean?  I'm not sure, but the atmosphere of the room is totally transformed.  There is a powerful presence there.  You have no doubt that you are in the presence of a Holy God.

5.  Like the majority of the pastors, I didn't want to go.  I was way too busy.  Only difference is, I went anyway.  My bad attitude was quickly turned 180 degrees.  God likes obedience, even with a bad attitude.  Because, once He gets you where He wants you He can do what He wants to.

6.  When I'm in the presence of God with others singing and powerfully praying, God lets me see things from His perspective...through His eyes.  His view is VERY DIFFERENT from mine.

7.  I think church with a little "c".  God thinks Church with a big "C".

8.  When I think about church right now, I think about how we are growing and people are serving and giving and lives are being changed and we're building a building and times are good.

9.  Jesus prayed that his Church would be one.  He sees a "bride" in pieces.  One who is run by shepherds that don't like each other, don't trust each other, don't pray together, don't root for each other, and oftentimes, see one another as the competition.  Jesus weeps.

10.  I spent most of my time weeping those 2 days.  I hadn't wept in a long time.  At first, I was embarrassed.  Then, it felt good to feel the tears running down my cheeks and dripping off.  I saw the Church (big "C") through the eyes of Jesus.  It breaks his heart.  It finally broke mine too.

11.  I realized Jesus didn't pay the ultimate price to grow my church, but to save a city.  That requires our churches to become His Church.

12.  One more take away: "God doesn't answer prayers.  God answers desperate prayers."  Leonard Ravenhill



Everyone deals with change...and everyone deals with change differently.  Even those of us who claim to like change recognize that it is difficult and stressful.  Recently, I read through the 2nd chapter of Acts.  Talk about CHANGE!  This little rag-tag group of Jesus-followers suddenly at Pentecost and immediately after were faced with massive change and the choice of how to deal with it...or not to deal with it.

Just like there are Stages of Grief we go through, I believe there are Stages of Change we go through as well.  Maybe not as obvious or recognized, but still very real.  I thought it might be helpful to identify them and call them what they are.

STAGE 1:  REALIZATION...that the STATUS QUO is no longer a viable option.  Business as usual, whether in marriage or family or business or one's spiritual life is being challenged and "the way things were" is no longer acceptable.  We need change.

STAGE 2:  RECOGNITION...that change is DESIRABLE, but that change is also CHALLENGING, STRESSFUL & INCONVENIENT.  It's easy to REALIZE that we're in debt up to our eyeballs and that's a really bad thing and needs to be changed.  However, once we RECOGNIZE that changing it means less meals out, getting an allowance and living off a budget, suddenly we are conflicted between the DESIRE to change and the PAIN of change.

STAGE 3:  RATIONALIZATION...that we can CHANGE without CHANGING.  Huh?  Surely we can go from a two-income family to a one-income family without making any real, significant changes, right?  In other words, we can CHANGE without CHANGING.  We can fool the system.  We can change without any pain.  Change by definition is painful.  Whether its the birth of a child or the death of a spouse.  Whether its a marriage or a divorce.  It's CHANCE.  And by nature, it's CHALLENGING, STRESSFUL & INCONVENIENT.

STAGE 4:  COMPREHENSION...that CHANGE without CHANGE is contraindicated.  Let's frame it another way...PROGRESS without CHANGE is incompatible.  GROWTH without CHANGE is impossible.  We finally bring it down to earth, admit the thing we least want to admit...that growth in any area of life is impossible without something CHANGING on our part.  We realize we want the growth, (personal, familial, corporate, etc.) without changing anything, but that that's just not possible.  We want one without the other.  We face the reality of COMPETING VALUES.  Two things that we have come to value highly are at odds with one another.  We value the convenience of the familiar.  But, we also value the growth that only change can bring.  We're deadlocked.  But, not forever.

STAGE 5:  CHOICE...we choose BOTH or NEITHER.  AND, those are the only two choices.  As much as we hate it, it's all or nothing.  We either choose GROWTH & CHANGE...or we choose NEITHER.  Picking one is not an option.  So, as a result, we find out what we truly value more (even though we thought we valued both evenly).  Truth is, we can't.  We will either choose GROWTH and the inconvenience that CHANGE brings with it.  Or, we choose neither...we reject the stress of CHANGE and therefore, we reject the GROWTH that would have come with it.  Why do you think so many of us live with the stagnation of second-rate marriages, the health effects of obesity, the pressures of mountains of debt, etc.?  Because, as much as we would love to escape the pain of our situation, the fear of change is bigger and badder than our desire for any real, lasting change, and has been allowed to control our lives.  So, what do we say?  "I"m just afraid of change"?  Of course not.  We say, "Oh well, I guess there's nothing I can do about it.  Sigh."

What are you choosing?  The fear of change and the acceptance of less than God's best?  Or have you grabbed ahold of change with both fists and determined to settle for nothing less than God's best in every area of your life, no matter what the cost?  I hope you're the kind of person that will put up with all the pain of change to lay hold of the growth that it brings.  GO FOR IT!