My guide to marriage… (for those who are single and wanting to mingle)

It’s funny that I would being writing this guide. From all outside perspectives, I was pretty much a failure in the “dating game”. Of course I talked a good game, but the bottom line was that I rarely had any second dates in my life, and most often I never even got a first date. I finally got married when I was 35 years old, and in retrospect, I am very grateful that it took me that long to get married. I don’t think my wife, Jena, is the “one and only” perfect spouse for me. I can’t imagine anyone better, but throughout my bachelorhood, there were plenty of great women I befriended that I could have married. I think God just knew I wasn’t ready for it, and had a lot of refining he needed to do in my life. I’m sure Jena would say the same thing about herself. Fortunately, it all worked out and now I am very happily married.

Anyway, I read some verses today in my devotional that really got me thinking (Much of this is stolen from the devotional “You Make Me Crazy by Rick Warren). So I thought I would create a checklist that I would suggest all single people think through before even dating someone, and especially before you marry them. Some will be easier to see than others, but through friendship and dating, I believe these things could save you from disaster and/or affirm your choice of marriage partner. Also, it really isn’t my checklist, as all of these things come straight from the Bible. (as a side note, I believe this guide can work for non Christians, but if you are a Christian, you should never date or marry someone who is not, or has very different views of Christianity than you do)

The first thing that I see that needs to be on this checklist when determining a marriage partner would be to NEVER marry or date someone with uncontrolled anger. This doesn’t mean they are angry all the time, but you can see a pattern of uncontrolled explosiveness when they finally reach a boiling point in their anger. Proverbs 23:20 says “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person; do not associate with one easily angered”. These individuals often have a deep insecurity and low self-worth that will not be solved outside of a big transformation from God himself. If you see them lose control, it is time to evaluate and discuss that problem with them.

Second, whoever you marry should not be stuck in an addiction. Proverbs 23:20 says, “Don’t associate with people who drink too much wine or stuff themselves with food”. These are just two examples of addictions, but when deciding on who to befriend, and obviously WAY before you get even close to marriage talks, you should be searching for addictions both hidden and open. I dated a girl that I was really fond of. She was beautiful, and came from a great family. I started to notice the handbags she carried, the clothes she wore, the jewelry on her body, and the car she drove. As I began talking to her about debt, she did not want to talk about it. After some poking and prodding, she let me know that she was nearly drowning in debt. She lived at home, I believe rent and utility free, and still could barely pay her bills. She had no college bills, and was working a full time job. She just loved to buy things, and I would consider it an addiction when you are drowning in debt because of it. When it was time to call off the relationship, I simply told her, “You are a great girl, but I’m probably going to be in the ministry my entire life.” Her father was a pastor at one time when she was younger. I continued, “You know what kind of money a pastor is likely to make. I can’t give you the things you may want, and there is no way I’m going to go into debt buying things. You need to find yourself a great Christian lawyer, doctor, or some other wealthier person, because I don’t think you would like the lifestyle I am likely to provide. I definitely wouldn’t like being in debt.” She got married, and seems to be doing well. I don’t know if it was an addiction in her life, but I could see it being a problem for me. Also, especially with women, digging deep into the secret sins of the person you are dating is a MUST. Seek out, ask questions, and do everything you can to uncover a porn addiction before it is too late.

Third, whoever you are dating must not be harboring bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 says, “Guard against turning back from the grace of God. Let no one become like a bitter plant that grows up and causes many troubles with its poison.” There are a lot of legitimate things to be bitter about, but God instructs us to grab a hold of the grace of God when dealing with our wounds. So many people have been innocently wounded, but bitterness will simply poison that person and bring about more trouble. When you see bitterness in someone’s heart, and they don’t want to give it to God and let it go, it is time to get out of the way of future trouble.

Fourth, pump the brakes on a relationship where you see selfishness. I remember the movie “The Wedding Singer”. It’s a comedy, that has some edgy things in it, but the movie is about two people, who are engaged to two different people, whose lives intersect and they begin to realize how toxic the person they want to marry is. Adam Sandler’s character (The Wedding Singer) said he realized how selfish his fiancé was when they were in an airplane, and he wanted to sit in the window seat to see something (I believe it was the Grand Canyon). His fiancé had already seen it before in an airplane, and he asked if she would switch seats with him. She refused. Well at the end of the movie, the same situation happens with Drew Barrymore’s character and her fiancé in an airplane. He refuses as well. Proverbs 28:25 says, “Selfishness only causes trouble.” When you notice selfish tendencies in the person you are dating, realize that it “only causes trouble”. It may be time to have the difficult talk, and perhaps break up with it  before you marry “trouble”.

Fifth, don’t marry someone who is greedy. Proverbs 15:27 says, “Greed brings grief to the whole family.” Greed just doesn’t disappear, just like a big waistline or huge debt doesn’t simply disappear. It is something that takes a lot of time and discipline. It takes accountability and a lot of prayer. When you see a greedy person, put a distance on them. If you marry them, you are likely to have a lot of grief in your family.

Sixth, find someone generous and kind. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:17 says, “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” You should be able to see this yourself, and hear it from others.

Seventh, don’t just ignore deceit and lies, no matter how insignificant they can appear. I had a friend from childhood that attended college with me. I stayed on campus for several years, while this friend lived off campus. His apartment didn’t have much food, and I was feeling generous one day (I think my grandfather sent me a $50 check in the mail). So I took him to the local food mart (probably in a gas station), and told him to get some snacks and I’d pay for them. He got some drinks, chips, etc. He came across individually wrapped Reese’ cups. They were $.25 a piece. He grabbed a handful and as we were acquiring the other items, he began eating them. Every time we passed them, he would grab more. I told him, “Keep track of how many you are eating so we can pay for them.” He must have eaten 8-10 of them, as we walked around (they were the mini ones and he was popping them like M&M’s). As we go to pay, I ask him how many he ate, and he says “3 or 4 of them”. I was frustrated. Here I am, willing to pay for all of it, and he still didn’t care about being honest. This was one of a few things I personally noticed in his life where he was dishonest, but later in life he had many, many financial and relationship problems. He just wasn’t a man of integrity and it brought trouble into his life, and really hurt his family. If you see integrity issues, it’s a good sign to run away. Even if they are just small things.

It seems like a long list, but it really isn’t. I believe there are a lot of people in this world who could easily check all the boxes, but it takes time and patience to find them. It also takes a lot of prayer, and spiritual self-discipline to be a person who could themselves check all those boxes. I’m glad God instilled in me the patience to search for someone who had these traits, and surrounded me with people who would call me out when I didn’t live up to those traits in my life. It was worth the wait.

Don’t compromise due to the burning desire to be married. I’ve seen compromise that brought great pain to families, especially as children are involved. God can give you something that you never dreamed possible. He did it with me, even if it happened a decade or more after many of my friends were married.

What’s in Your Wallet?

Read Haggai 1:1-15 MSG

We hear this catchphrase all the time in commercials.  The basic premiss of this catchphrase is “how are you spending you money?” In a capitalistic society, we are constantly inundated with sales pitches for how we should spend our resources.  Where we spend our time on vacations, how often we upgrade our electrical gadgets, how often we upgrade our cars, and what/where we eat are often the biggest selling commercial ads in our society. In Haggai, God addresses his people and how they spend their money. He criticizes them for how they waste their money on things that will never “fill” them up. That is an amazing picture of the typical American life.

One of my favorite movies is Schindler’s List. It is a hard movie to watch, and shows us what the Jewish people faced during World War II. A businessman named Oskar Schindler saw an opportunity to get rich during the war off of this group of people. He basically could get slave labor from Jewish people who were eager to avoid certain death in the Nazi concentration camps. Schindler becomes rich quickly, but begins to see what is happening to this group of people. He slowly begins to realize that he can’t just stand by and get rich off these people, as their friends and family die in concentration camps. So he begins to sacrifice the great wealth he has acquired to save more Jewish people. He finally bankrupts himself saving Jews from death, as World War II is ending. He had saved over a thousand Jews, but then a realization occurs to him. Schindler begins to think to himself, “What if I had done more?” The Jewish people give him a ring as a token of appreciation for what he did, and this triggers a wave of regret within him. This clip from the movie shows his reaction:

I wonder if at the end of my life, if I will have some of those same regrets? We are never going to perfectly spend our life’s resources, but when is the last time we have soberly looked at how we spend our time, money, and energy? When is the last time we truly determined if we are living our lives to “fill our own belly” or if we are truly seeking opportunities to “fill others”? What is it we exactly need in this life, and in what areas are we robbing from God? He has given us everything in this life, and nothing we have comes apart from him. So since we are just managers of his resources, are we using them effectively to help others?  There is nothing wrong with buying a nice meal, having a nice vacation, driving a nice car, or indulging is some of the other luxuries we sometimes have in this life, but when we truly look at how we spend our time, money, and other resources, does it look like we truly value the lives of others? This world is imploding in front of us, are we going to numb ourselves with entertainment and comfort, or are we going to “put our money where our mouths are” and sacrifice for the eternal benefit of others? One day it will be too late, let’s not waste another day, another dollar, or another opportunity to be God’s hands and feet in rescuing others.

The Gift of Bad Behavior

Read Ezekiel 18:14-17 (MSG version)

Sometimes the best way to learn is by watching someone else fail. It can literally save us from making the same poor choices in life. So instead of complaining about how the poor choices of others may complicate our lives (bosses, friends, kids, parents, etc.), what if we choose to learn how “not to do things” from their poor choices? It sounds weird, but we could actually turn from being bitter over their choices and actions, to be grateful for the lesson learned.

I remember learning this lesson when I was in college. A kid who lived down the hall from me in my dorm (to protect his identity, let’s just call him Ed), borrowed $5 from me early in the school year. At that point in the year, everyone came to school with some money after working all summer, so it wasn’t a big deal to let someone borrow money. Well a few weeks go by, and my bank account begins to dip. So I ask him for the money he owes me. He doesn’t have it, but said he would get it to me soon. No big deal, I’ll just get it from him later. Another week or so goes by, same story…no money. After about a month or so, I go to check out my cash supply and realize I’m broke. Not only am I broke, but I missed dinner that night and I’m really hungry. A large Papa John’s pizza is $7, and someone wants to split one with me. With the realization that I have no money, I start thinking of the money Eddie owes me. There are a few guys in my room at this moment when I start talking about how he hasn’t paid me back. I explain to them, in frustration, that I’ve asked him a few times to pay me back. With all the testosterone in the room, you can imagine how quickly this conversation turns to picking a fight with him. So, with the encouragement of these guys, I’m ready to go pick a fight with Ed over $5. I failed to mention to you, Ed is a pretty small guy, so I feel pretty confident in my chances of winning this fight.

As all these guys are cheering me on as I’m about to leave my room, the phone rings. It was my dad. He rarely calls me (my mom was usually the one who calls). He immediately picks up from my tone of voice that I’m agitated. He prods me for what is going on. I give him the whole story, and feel justified in starting this fight. He point blank says to me, “You are going to start a fight over $5???” He continues, “This will be the cheapest lesson you can learn. Let go of the $5, and learn that it is important to pay people what you owe them. If you don’t want people to think of you the way you are thinking of Ed right now, then make sure you pay them back as quickly as possible when you borrow money. Don’t be that guy.” He was right. It was $5. Some people spend thousands of dollars learning this lesson, and I got the bargain basement price of $5. My relationship with Ed was great from that moment on, because I changed my perspective.  He unknowingly taught me a GREAT lesson, and gave it to me at a discounted price.  I am VERY glad for my father’s advice that day and know I would have regretted it if I had followed through on my intentions.

This passage in Ezekiel talks about how it is possible to learn from others poor behavior, and how valuable that can be. Instead of getting angry, and then making poor choices based on that anger, why not flip the problem upside down and learn from it? Instead of retaliating or getting even, why not let it go and personally learn to act differently in similar situations?

I would rather be on the right side, than to feel like I’m right and be on the wrong side.

Do you hear what I hear?

Read I Samuel 3: 8-10:

God called again, “Samuel!”—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.” That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.’” Samuel returned to his bed. Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”

The story of Samuel is pretty impressive. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, begged God for child. She made a pact with God that if he gave her a child, that child would be dedicated to service in the Temple. So she got pregnant, gave birth to Samuel, and when he got older, dropped him off to serve Eli in God’s Temple. One night, while everyone is sleeping, God audibly calls Samuel’s name. Samuel thinks it is Eli calling for him. After a few times of Samuel coming to Eli to ask why he is calling his name, Eli realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel’s name. Samuel needed Eli to help him understand what was going on, and what to do next. This is EXACTLY what we as parents are called to do. We need to be so in tune with God, that when we see God calling our child’s name (not necessarily an audible calling), we can help guide them in what to do. We also, as parents, need to be quiet and listen for God’s voice in our own lives. Prayer is a great way to calm down the noise in our lives, and be available to listen. We also need to surround ourselves with people that are “in tune” with God, and can help us decipher God’s calling on our lives, as well as give us direction with our children. The bottom line is, these children our not ours. God has given them to us, for his purpose. I wonder how often God is wanting me to give direction to my kids, but I’m to busy to recognize God’s voice in my children? I mean, it did take a few times before Eli realized it with Samuel. Lord, help me to be intentional in my focus on you and your word. Help me to properly guide my children to you in everything I say, and do.

* Does it feel difficult to hear God’s voice in our lives? Is it even possible?
* How can we determine God’s voice from other voices in our lives?
* Do you have people in your life who can help you determine when God is trying to communicate with you? Do you seek out their help, or do you most often keep it to yourselves?
* Is there “noise” in your life that is keeping you from being able to be a Eli to someone else? Is there “noise” in your life that is keeping you from hearing God’s personal call to you?


(I highly recommend the devotional book “Solo” if you are looking for one…It is a really good daily devotion)

A Glorious Day in the Cook Home

I REALLY need to use this blog more often, so I thought I would share my devotion from this morning.

4/30/18 Revelation 21 “God is Moving In”

It is a BIG day in the Cook home today! Guess who is now a one year old? Aubrey! God knew exactly what we needed when he gave us Aubrey. We love that little girl so much, and can’t imagine life without her. It is humbling to think about how quickly the year has passed, and how many moments I’ll never get back. I really need to “be present” more often in my life. Birthdays can often bring clarity to the brevity of life.

The promises of the book of Revelation are pretty exciting. I really love this verse from 21:3:

“Look, Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”

God is going to live with us for all eternity. He will take care of all our needs, and on top of that, he will…(21:4)

“…wipe every tear from their eyes”

That sounds like a baby shampoo commercial! Fortunately for us, God will take away all pain, heartache, emotional distress, or whatever has caused us pain in the past will be taken away. There will be nothing left but God’s peace, joy, and happiness for ALL eternity. It will be the greatest high that we could ever experience, and that feeling will do nothing but grow forever and ever. God, for what you’ve already done for me, I should be on my hands and knees thanking you at all times of the day. You’ve delivered me from death and destruction. You have freed me from bondage and slavery. I am truly a free man. You didn’t stop with my freedom though; you gave me a life that I could not have imagined. I have an amazing family, and you’ve given me an amazing ministry. Of course, it sounds like an infomercial, because you didn’t stop there. You’ve promised me an eternity that words cannot even properly describe. Thank you! Help me today to invite more people to this relationship with you. Help my words to be your words. Help my actions to be directed by you and your word. Help my thoughts and attitude to be something that furthers your gospel, and distances me from my fleshly desires. You know my heart is wicked, and wants nothing less than total control. I’m asking you right now to take control of my heart. Help me today to live a life that would be pleasing in your sight. I love you! Amen!

Making something out of nothing

As a pastor, I’m often around many types of people. Whether they are members of the church, employees of the church, members of the community, etc., I’m around people of all walks of life.  I’ve often found that there are two types of people.  Those who hold themselves in high regard, and those who think they are “nobodys”.  The ones that really think they are “God’s gift to this world”, are the ones I don’t often spend a lot of time with.  The main reason being is that I tend to find myself on the other side of the fence. When I make mistakes, which often happens to me, I don’t do very well shaking the feeling of “worthlessness”.  That is why I find this passage so encouraging:


Romans 4:16b-18 (Message)

“For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backward. He is our faith father. We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”

It is GREAT to know that Abraham was a NOBODY, just like me! He wasn’t perfect, and God’s decision to use him was NOT based on him being a “saint” or having a unique skill set. Abraham made plenty of stupid mistakes! He just trusted God and had faith that God had perfect control of everything. Life is SO much easier when we realize that God is in control, and He has already taken care of every issue we will face. If we are simply focused on Him and truly trust Him, even in the worst circumstances we face, God says:

“(Abraham) dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing.”

God can make “something out of nothing.” That makes me feel better about my life, my ministry, my job, my family, my friends, my spouse and kids, etc! Bring nothing to the table, and God can turn it into something better than YOU could have dreamed it to be! I LOVE it!

God is NOT a Grandfather!

I was in the lobby of the church yesterday, and overhead a conversation. Someone was talking about senior adults, and included a woman in the conversation as though she were a part of the “senior” crowd.  She was not ready for the label yet. This woman is a grandmother, but was not ready for the label “senior” yet (I can understand because she is a young grandmother with a son still in high school). I was reading a book that quoted an old saying I had never heard before. The statement says,


God has no grandchildren

My generation (those who are mid 30’s to early 40’s), is having a major identity crisis.  Several have married, and remarried, and are living with several kids (their own children and stepchildren).  They are good parents, and great employees, but many seem to have little time for church attendance, and even less time to serve at church.  In my discussions with them, they tell me where they are going to church.  I’ll often follow up asking, “Why did you choose to attend church there?” The answer is often, “Well, that’s where my parents go.” Now, in my mind that simply says, “My parents will pay for my family’s lunch if I go to church with them!”.  I’m not saying that is the motivation for all of them, but how often do we view God as the “God of our parents”?  Many won’t say that, but their lives seem to display that. When our view of the church, and who God is to us personally, goes through the filter of our parents, we often regulate God to the role of “grandfather” in our lives. I have a child who is 18 months old now.  He has 4 of the best grandparents in the world.  They spoil him, they send him presents, they pray for him, they do everything they can to be a part of his life.  They aren’t his parents. They won’t love him like I love him.  They don’t understand him like I do.  Don’t get me wrong, they have been around the block with several of their own kids, and have very wise counselor for me, but they can never take the place of his father in his life. The moment I first saw him, a connection like no other in my life was made. Scientifically speaking, he will never physically be anyone else’s son but mine.  We have the opportunity to have a father/child relationship with God, but so often with Christians today, we choose to give God the “grandfather” role in our lives. Unfortunately, we risk having a whole generation whose only connection to God is through their parents. So when their parents pass away, or they move away from their family, God becomes like a distant relative to them.  The problem is, God can NEVER be a grandparent. He is either our father, or we are not related. I’m doing my best to teach my child how to have a personal relationship with God every day. I want him to be my brother in his relationship with God, because that is the ONLY way he will be able to truly share in the inheritance God has planned for us one day.

Parents, and even Grandparents, ask specific questions of your kids every day. Start today, even if they aren’t so young anymore. Help guide them to developing a personal relationship with God, that doesn’t necessarily include you.  100 years from now, all that will matter in their lives is their relationship with God. Will He be their father, or will they stand in front of Him one day and realize that they aren’t even related?

Let’s Get All Dressed Up

Read Colossians 3:12-14 (Extended Reading: Colossians 3:1-17)

It is funny how people spend time picking out what clothing to wear each day. I often spend time doing it myself, and I’m always disappointed when something I like to wear shrinks (or maybe I just grow?), gets a hole, and/or a stain on it. Paul uses clothing as a spiritual thing in this passage. Most people spend time thinking about what to wear physically, but spiritually, what are we wearing every day? Do we even think about what others see us wearing?  Physically or spiritual, everyone sees what we wear each day. It may be something benign that goes virtually unnoticed, or it could be something that catches the attention of others (for good and bad reasons). Paul is encouraging Christians to dress up in the wardrobe God picked out for us. In the world of social media, it is so easy to dress up ugly. We can easily find ourselves condemning and belittling others for their political and social views, and be ugly in our responses to others.  God has a set of clothes that will allow us to stand out in the crowd…for good reasons. Paul urges us to dress in:

“compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

How simple can life be, when we choose second place? We can simply give our rights, and our desires away and through humility and compassion, lift others up. Forgive others quickly, and love them the way Christ first loved us. I know this discipline is harder than it sounds, but I think the more we dress ourselves in these garments, the easier it becomes to wear them every day. It will certainly make a statement to the world around us, and will allow us to truly have influence when we tell others how they can have the same clothing that we wear! God has already paid for the clothing, all we have to do is accept it and wear it.

So….what are you going to wear today?

Let’s get back to this again!

Over the past year, I have done a personal journal about 3 days a week, chronicling my life, and commenting on the things I read (mostly just bible stuff, although I should probably comment on the other books I read). I love what God has been showing me, so I feel like I need to put it on here. I’m not sure if anyone will read it, but regardless, I’m going to put it on here. I’ll dump a bunch of things from my journal on here, and then try to update it as often as I can.

Let’s see how long I last this time! Feel free to comment…that is if there is anyone who reads this blog. 🙂