Get free email updates as I write new articles:

18 Lessons from 18 Years of Marriage

2015-06-13 16.31.10

On June 14, 1997, I married Angie Kirk, the most amazing woman on earth! The last eighteen years have been an adventure. We left home to go to college together and got engaged a little over a month into our freshmen year. That next spring I started pastoring a small church and Angie went back to Kentucky for the summer to finish planning our wedding. I cruised into town just a couple of days before the big event after all the hard work was done and took my beautiful bride as my wedded wife.

We’ve lived through a number of significant changes since then. Angie became a social worker, earning her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field. She worked in Kentucky recruiting and training foster and adoptive families, offered therapy to foster families and children, and now serves Grace Hills doing counseling, women’s ministry, and more.

I served as Pastor of a couple of small, rural churches when I was way too young to know what I was doing and then enjoyed eight great years leading a church in my hometown. I led a church in Northwest Arkansas for five years and then we headed west to California where we joined the staff of Saddleback Church and lived a bit of west coast life.

Together, we took a big leap four years ago and moved back to Northwest Arkansas to plant Grace Hills, which has continued to change our lives in radical ways. We’ve had three precious kids along the way. Ella, beautiful, smart, and sweet was our special, grace-gift from God. Sam, tender-hearted and brave, was an answer to years of praying and struggling through secondary infertility, miscarriages, and a lot of waiting on God. And Drew, wild and joy-filled, was our big surprise!!

Before I get to my eighteen big words of advice, here’s what I’ve noticed in the last few years of our life together:

  • Life has become more of an adventure as we’ve loosened up and lived it to the full.
  • We’re closer than ever, mainly because we’ve dealt with things that could’ve torn us apart.
  • The best is yet to come for us as a couple, as a family, and especially in eternity.

Let me stop and interject that in too many ways, I’ve blown it as a married guy over the last eighteen years. But the grace of God has been at work in me, in my wife, and in our relationship. She’s shown me forgiveness, love, and respect and it’s changed me radically from who I once was. And I’m still on the journey, hoping to become the man she deserves in this life. Angie amazes me more today than ever.

So to you who may be early on in the journey – single and searching, engaged, or newlywed – here are eighteen of the most important things I think I’ve learned in the last eighteen years.

[Read more…]

If I Could Just Control My Mouth…

Cat Mouth

The Apostle James said it best. The tongue is like a fire, or perhaps poison. When not under control, our mouths can destroy lives, especially our own. He went on to say, “If we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.” (James 3:2 NLT)

Thankfully, James was a practical dude. He didn’t just point out the problem, he gave us a simple solution. In a single sentence, James summarized the wisdom pretty much everybody on the planet needed to hear about communication.

Be quick to listen…
slow to speak…
and slow to get angry.

– James 1:19 NLT

There it is. Your three-step plan to changing every relationship you have in an extremely positive way. Think back to the last argument you had with your spouse, or friend, or parents, or whomever. Replay that argument with three new rules in place:

Listen Longer

And then listen some more. Instead of thinking of your response while the other person bears their heart, what if you actually suppressed your own desire to react and just listened. Really tune in. Keep the mouth shut a little longer. Breathe deeply and calm the nerves. Hear the heart. Mentally repeat what you’re hearing so it gets your focus.

Then, listen even longer.

Plan Your Words

Having really listened, what if you took two seconds before reacting, even if you’re right. Consider the weight of your words (because words can be very, very heavy can’t they?), especially words like always and never and idiot. And words like sh… you get the picture.

When I’m preparing sermons, the hardest part of all is trimming and cutting what isn’t essential to the message. I hate to eliminate good material. We do the same in arguments. Oh, this is good… I HAVE to say this… this’ll nail’em! Slow down. Then slow down some more.

Stay Calm

You’re right. Anger isn’t bad, in and of itself. It’s a God-given emotion and has its uses. Like when ISIS beheads people, Boko Haram kidnaps little girls, and unborn lives are destroyed by the abortion agenda. But James makes a pretty important clarification. Our anger never seems to lead where we want it to in what should be a friendly fight. He says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20 NLT)

Anger can produce action on behalf of the oppressed, but it never produces righteousness in our hearts. When it comes to our relationships and friendships, our anger pretty much just hurts people, including ourselves.

So, here are the ground rules for your next confrontation.

Listen first.
Listen longer.
Listen a little bit more.
Plan your words.
Eliminate some words.
Breathe.
Stay calm.

I’m pretty sure your next fight is going to go better than the last one.

Husbands, Treat Your Wife Like the Treasure She Is

RingsMy wife is a treasure! She’s precious. In addition to all of the many personal qualities about Angie that make her awesome – such as her tender, sweet heart, charming smile and her beauty – there’s this, and it’s from the Bible…

The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.

– Proverbs 18:22 NLT

Here’s a blunt truth… when all a guy can talk or think about is how much of a nag or a burden his wife is, it tells us way more about him and his attitude than about her.

Let me open that up just a bit. Man, you have a choice to make about your own attitude. If you appreciate your wife, care for her, honor her, and choose thoughts about her that are good and positive, you’re going to enjoy God’s favor and marriage will be a rich and satisfying experience for you. But if you stay focused on yourself and your own wants, you’ll create a standard she can never meet.

Dude, if you’re married, she’s a gift. God has been good to you – far better than you deserve, in fact. Therefore…

  • Cherish and value her, like a found treasure.
  • Honor and respect her as a gift from God.
  • Show her off by speaking well of her and refusing to talk about her faults to others.
  • Protect her and provide for her.
  • Desire her, pursue her, and be the first to show your affection for her.
  • Listen to her heart. Then listen some more, before responding.
  • Lead her, not because you get to be the boss, but because she needs and wants you to be in front spiritually.
  • Stare at her and remind yourself how good God has been!

Here’s a tip (from a guy who is still figuring all this out myself): Make your phone’s lock screen a picture of her pretty face smiling back at you.  

All couples go through tough times, and there are times when we need to honestly confront the faults in our spouse, but our view ought to always ultimately be for her good, not for our own.

Remember, you’re responsible to God as a steward over every relationship in your life. And if you’re married, no other relationship is as important as your marriage. Someday, you’ll stand before the Creator God of the entire universe, whose name is Holy, and answer this question: How’d you treat the treasure – my daughter – that I gave you? 

Photo by Alexis Arnold.

Rekindle the Flame of Love by Paying Attention Again

We don’t fall out of love. We stop choosing to do things that are loving. So the way back to love is to do the loving things we did early in our relationship. And that often starts with the simple step of paying attention again. Paul challenged the believers in Philippi, Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT)

We usually measure the value of things in money, but for most of us there is one commodity even more precious than money. It’s our time. When we give our time, we never get it back, but it’s a worthy investment. When it comes to your spouse, your kids, your friends and family, nothing is more precious a gift than the time we are willing to spend in conversation, listening, sharing, and staying tuned in.

Giving our time and attention may seem simple, but it’s complicated by living in the age of distractions. The way we consume media, network with others, and allow our lives to revolve around mobile devices all affect our attention spans and how easily we are diverted to something seemingly more urgent, or at least more stimulating. Paying attention requires us to block out distractions and spend time focusing on the needs and lives of other people.

Thankfully, God is able in His infinite power and wisdom to tune into the lives of every single human being on the planet. How He does this is beyond our understanding, but He cares so deeply about you that He pays attention to every detail of your life. He knows every pain, every frustration, and every highlight too. You’ve got God’s attention. Does He have yours today?

Diversity Was God’s Idea to Begin With

Diversity and equality have been hot topics in the last decade of American life. We’re in the midst of various shifts in our culture surrounding these concepts, especially in relation to ethnicity and gender, and some of these shifts are good. When my family lived in southern California, we were ethnically not in the majority in our neighborhood, and we appreciated it greatly. Our church was home to people from dozens of ethnic backgrounds, and we loved that even more.

All of the tension between ethnicities as well as what we have termed the “battle of the sexes” is really our problem – it’s of human origin. What is of divine origin are the ideas of the beauty within diversity as well as the equality of all peoples whom God has created. Just peruse the first chapter of Genesis to see diversity on display.

Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind… God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals… So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:20, 25, 27 NLT

It was God’s intention that there be a veritable rainbow of sights to see in His wonderful creation. Did you know there are about 8.74 million species of animals and plants on earth? And inherent to the diversity with which God created all things are wrapped up two ideas we must hold in tension: unity and uniqueness. When we fail to value uniqueness, we esteem one ethnicity over another. And when we fail to value unity, we allow cultural wedges to divide us.

When it comes to the human race (there is only one “race” represented in many, many ethnicities), God made one particular distinction. We would be male, and we would be female. Gender is rooted in our pre-fall and pre-sin story. Men are men. Women are women. And there are three essential facts we often confuse and forget.

First, men and women are of equal worth and value to God. When we forget this, one gender tends to dominate the other in the culture. Second, women and men are designed to compliment each other, establishing the basis for marriage as one man and one woman in an equal partnership of mutual dependence. And finally, not all men are exactly like all other men, and not all women are exactly like other women. There is a vast diversity wired into our unique personalities and experiences.

Diversity and equality are God’s ideas. They are not the product of any particular cultural phenomenon, though we’ve certainly fought as a human race to rediscover them at various points along the way. Diversity and equality are rooted in the history of God’s handiwork and put on display for His glory. And what and awesome God He is proven to be by the canvas we see every day we spend on planet earth!