FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Celebrate the Differences

with John Bisagno | August 12, 2011
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You like vanilla; he likes chocolate. That's the nature of marriage; God takes two totally different people and blends them together into one. John Bisagno, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Houston, recalls his early years of marriage to wife, Uldine, and tells how they learned to celebrate their differences--differences that drew them together in the first place and keep a marriage interesting through the years.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • You like vanilla; he likes chocolate. That's the nature of marriage; God takes two totally different people and blends them together into one. John Bisagno, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Houston, recalls his early years of marriage to wife, Uldine, and tells how they learned to celebrate their differences--differences that drew them together in the first place and keep a marriage interesting through the years.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

You like vanilla; he likes chocolate.

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Celebrate the Differences

With John Bisagno
August 12, 2011
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Bob:  How would you define love?

Child’s Voice:  I love pizza!

Bob:  Would you use a cultural definition?

Man’s Voice:  Oh, Paula!  Paula, you know I have always loved you.  (Kissing)

Child’s Voice:  Ooh!  That’s mushey!

Bob:  Or a biblical definition?

Child’s Voice:  Yes.  I think that’s the right answer.

Bob:  John Bisagno reminds us that the Bible teaches, “A greater love has no man than this that he lays down his life for his friends.”

John:  And the husband is living out the cross every decision.  Every action is, “Not me, Honey.  How can I bless you?  How can I love you?  How can I honor you?” 

He will earn and deserve and win the passion of that woman.  It is not demanding.  It isn’t  deserved.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 12th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We are going to do a little realigning today when it comes to understanding what it means to say to someone else, “I love you.”  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  This is just great! I mean, it's an opportunity to be mentored, to be schooled, if you will.

Dennis:  No doubt about it.

Bob:  By somebody who has—

Dennis:  Been there; done that.

Bob:  Yes.  Walked a few more laps around the track than I have walked.

Dennis:  John Bisagno joined us again on FamilyLife Today.  He is, as Bob mentioned on an earlier broadcast, a Patriarch.

Bob:  That’s right.

Dennis:  A pastor of more than 30 years at First Baptist Church of Houston, a church of more than 22,000 people; has three doctorates.  Well, you know what? John, first of all, welcome to the broadcast.

John:  Thank you very much.  I am thrilled to be here again.

Dennis:  I am going to ask your bride of 57 years to introduce you to the audience.  I don’t know that we have had a wife introduce her husband to our listening audience; but Uldine joins us.  Uldine, welcome to the broadcast; you are outside listening to this, watching this interview.  Glad you are here.

Uldine:  Thank you.

Dennis:  How would you introduce John to our listening audience?  You have been married to him for more than 57 years.  Go for it.

Uldine:  There is a man come from God.  His name is John.

Bob:  You are just quoting from John, Chapter 1, there.  Right? 


Dennis:  I wish our listeners could see the red face that John Bisagno has right now.  He is grinning from ear to ear.  Well, he is a man of God; and he has written a book, Love Is Something You Do.  It's not something you fall into—you may start there.  I mean, we are human beings.

John:  We all start there.

Dennis:  Yes; but love is more than a feeling, isn’t it John?

John:  It sure is.  If you don’t understand the passion that draws us together fades into something that is better, not worse—really, loving somebody, giving your life away, then you miss it all.

Bob:  Well, when you were a student at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and you saw that cute young new student walking across campus—

John:  Ooh!



Bob:  You kind of experienced some of those flutters, right?  What did you call it—the twitter?

John:  Twitterpated like the little Bambi rabbit –

Bob:  You were twitterpated, right? 


John:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  Early on in your marriage, you actually saved your pennies to buy her a present?

John:  Yes, more than one time.  We were pretty poor early in our marriage.  When bought our first house we were going down to the closing; we stopped alongside the road and picked up coke bottles to sell them to have enough for the closing fee.

Dennis:  Wow!  Wow!  So tell them the story about saving your pennies to buy that present, the coat.

John:  Well, this was my first gift.  We were at Oklahoma Baptist University, fallen in love.  She was on her Christmas break, going home for about two weeks.  I wanted to buy her a coat, which was a suede coat; and it was over $100.  I saved nickels, and pennies, and dimes.  I looked through the car; I borrowed from friends; I sold coke bottles.  I literally did everything I could do to scrape together that money.

Bob:  You were pretty smitten, right?

John:  Oh, was I!  Long blonde hair, green eyes—Wooh!—drop-dead gorgeous, man—and still is.

Bob:  But there did have to come a point in your marriage where that twitterpation began to subside and the differences between the two of you began to emerge; and you said, “This is a little different than I thought it was going to be.”  Right?

John:  Yes, but we learned to celebrate the differences.  I suppose the most ridiculous thing in the world is judges granting divorces because, “We are different,” when supposedly, “We are incompatible because we are so different.”  What are the options to being different?  Being alike? 

I don’t want to be married to me; I am not in love with me.  So, in a Christian marriage, God brings together two people, I think, with a totally different set of character traits and personality traits.  I call them pluses, minuses, strengths and weaknesses, assets, liabilities.  We are different. 

For example, I am very impetuous; Uldine is slow to make decisions.  Now, I rubbed off on her so she makes decision more quickly, so she doesn’t let so many good things get by—she always missed me. 


Now, I slow down; and I make decisions more slowly. 

Because we are different, it works good; we help each other.  But people—they butt heads; they drive them away—because it's like millions of pieces in the motor of a car.  If you don’t have oil in there—that makes it all flow together smoothly—it is going to clank, and grind, and head for the graveyard of cars.  But, if the Holy Spirit of Jesus is there, He is the oil that makes it all flow smoothly. 

So when you start to move from the romance to the real world of, “Hey, we are different,” and understand it, “That’s why we got married.  We complement each other; we complete each other.” 

Guys, I can tell you after more than 50 years of marriage, I began to realize that I can hardly stand to be away from this woman.  I am dead serious.  A night away from her is misery.  I go off in a hotel and preach somewhere overnight and come back.  I am what I am only as I exist in a relationship to her and she to me. 

We have this new little dog; and my two little grandsons came, 9-year-old twins.  They played with her three or four days.  When they went home, she wouldn’t eat for a day; she just pouted.  Well, when we are apart, I feel that way.  I am not me!  That’s why I call home 10-15 times a day.  Well, that blending, that oneness—why God made two people for each other—again, can only happen when the Holy Spirit makes those pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses, blend together like they are supposed to be.

Dennis:  So John, what would you say to the listener right now who will say, “Well, John, that sounds good for you.  You have learned to appreciate the differences in your wife, and you have worked it through.  You guys have “meshed,” speaking of how the engine works in a car.” 

What would you say to somebody who is really hung up on the differences, is obsessed with how their mate’s weaknesses are impacting them negatively and they’d like a new deal?  They’d like out of this deal.

John:  I would say, “Well, get over it.”  You have a choice to make here.  You can go from person to person and you are just changing one set of problems for another set of problems.  There are no perfect marriages; there are no perfect partners, no perfect mates out there.  So work with the one God gave you and realize that if the Spirit of God is in the heart of the thing, it can work. 

Communicate.  Many, many times at night we will turn off the TV and just go sit on the couch, maybe 9:30 or 10 for an hour.  This is a corny thing, but it is a family-thing we do.  Just turn the lights down soft and say, “Honey, tell me about your hopes, and dreams, and plans for the future.  Just talk to me.”  We talk and talk, and I learn her.  I know this woman. 

Somebody says, “Would you like to come over and do so and so?”  I have to call her and say, “Honey, do you want to?” I know her.  I made the effort to listen, to know, to understand and realize that these things that are different are there for a purpose.  They are good.  The Holy Spirit can oil it and make it work. 

Don’t try to change each other; accept each other.  Accept those things—see how that is a complement to you and just commit—all in the context of—that’s why living together, you know, outside of marriage never works.  It's all in the context of, “We are going through this.  God brought us together, and it's for our good.  It's the best one.”  Never forget that this one marriage God bought you into is the one he wants you in.

Bob:  You know, some of our listeners are thinking about their differences with their spouse and they are going, “It is fine if you are a couple, both of you committed to the Lord, both of you love the Lord, then you can accept those differences.  But if you are in a spiritually-miss-matched-marriage, some of those differences strike right at the foundation of what's important to you.”  How do you deal with differences in that setting?

John:  I think the bottom line, I would say, Bob, is don’t try to change that person.  Let God change them.  Nothing motivates me like unqualified acceptance—that she is not trying to change me; others aren't trying to change me—to accept me, like we are.  So you don’t have to constantly point out, “What I don’t like about you.  What I want you to change.”  Believe me, they already know that. 

The fact that you don’t point that out—that you accept them—that, “You don’t have to change to please me,” that makes my love and appreciation for you go up.  That helps make you a better person, which makes me easier to love—so you love me back.  It does get “gooder” and “gooder.”

Dennis:  You know I am thinking as you are talking, John, about First Peter, Chapter  4, verse 8.  It is a very simple passage, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

John:  That is true, Dennis.

Dennis:  What you are talking about in your book, as well as through your life, “When we learn how to allow Jesus Christ to love another imperfect person through us, it really does become that of acceptance and a motivation to that person to want to do better and to change.”

John:  Nothing has motivated me to grow spiritually and please my Lord more than to know that while it hurts Him to be some things I am, He is not “on my case.”  He loves me and accepts me as I am--Just as I Am—that great old song.  He starts where we are and gently brings us along as our best friend.  To treat your wife like that and to, “Get off her case” or “his case,” is the quickest and best way overall—over the long haul—to motivate that change.

Dennis:  John, one of the illustrations you use in the book, and I had to nod my head as you used it, was the illustration about The Bachelor because I happened to have been watching, and I never watch this—

Bob:  You watched The Bachelor?

Dennis:  I confess, “I was intrigued by this guy who flip-flopped, and you were too.”

John:  Yes.  It left me so confused.  I didn’t know who loved who and how it turned out.

Bob:  Well, he didn’t know who loved who either, and the women had no idea who was being loved.

Dennis:  We are talking about—What was his name?   Jason Mesnick or something like that.

John:  Well, beyond that, I heard the statistic the other day between The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, all the episodes, only one in 14 couples—six months, a year, two years later—were together—that had proposed and said, “I do,” because the whole thing had been built on two or three months of staged romance—flying around the world, cocktails in Tahiti and snow boarding in Alaska, and this and that, and concerts in Vienna, and roses, and wining and dining, and flying and seeing, and kissing and hugging. 

Then, “Oh, I am in love.  This is the one I am in love with.”  Well, you know most of them, somewhere between the first and last episode, are in love with two or three different ones.  Finally, “Which one am I in love with the most?” 

But no matter how all that happened, when it's all over, a few months later, only one out of 14 is still together, which is a marquee to the people who have any sense out there, who listen and think, “It's not about emotion.”  The Devil has done a number on us—movies and Hollywood, and books, sit-coms, and so forth, “It is passion and romance.”  No!  It's about loving, and being and doing, giving yourself away.

Dennis:  I think the reason why The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are so popular—is because I think it appeals to something within all of us.  We long for this ultra- long romance that somehow lasts a lifetime and just keeps on occurring in Switzerland, and sun-downs in Hawaii, etc.

Bob:  Well, there is something—that when you felt that romantic passionate feeling, it's a nice feeling.  You think, “I would like for that to be there every day”; but the reality of life is, “If that was there every day, you’d get tired to that too.”  Wouldn’t you?

Dennis:  I think you would.  No doubt about it.  That’s why you are really calling—

John:  If that’s all you got.

Dennis:  Right, but love is a commitment.

John:  That's right.And you can have, and should have the giving, the doing, what you are, what you are enjoying, plus that.  That’s not the main thing, but you can have that as well.  We still have it.  I guarantee!

Dennis:  Fifty-seven years later, and your wife was nodding her head.  So, she affirmed what you just said.

John:  Amen.  We are having a blast.

Bob:  Explain to our listeners what you mean by the Plus and Minus Principle.  You talk about the balanced marriage being, “Where the plus is connected to the positive terminal and the minus is connected to the negative terminal.”  Right?

John:  Well, it is great that we are different.  I hate to use the word “minus”— because the man is a plus and the woman is a minus—because it makes a woman feel inferior.  So, think of it in terms of the head and the helper—is the concept.  I think of it as a plus and a minus.  I always think of it as a red post on a battery—the energy, the leader, the fire and the black post which is like the deep that grounds it. 

I may be the aggressor, the fire, the “go-get-her.”  My wife is the deep grounds in our marriage.  If you pull out either plug, you haven’t got it.  The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5, verse 20—that whole issue of submission.  The first verse says, “Submit yourselves, one to another,” then explains out how that is supposed to happen. 

So, to the wife, “Honor your husband as head of the home.  And you, husbands, you honor your wife like Christ did for the church in dying for it.”  It didn’t say, “She is supposed to die for him.”  It says, “He is supposed to die for her.”  Any woman would only be too happy to honor her husband who is pouring out his life—whose every decision is, “How can I honor you?  How can I bless you?”  Jesus was subordinate, if you will, to the Father; but He was not inferior to the Father.  They were equal.

Dennis:  John, you have been married for 57 years.  Can you think of a moment or a story in your marriage that best encapsulates what you are calling men to do—to die for their wives, to give up their lives for their wives, and to love them like Christ love the church?  Was there a moment in your marriage when you had to do that for Uldine?

John:  Honey?  (laughter)  Can you think of something?

Uldine:  The latest one—and that was when I got shingles a couple of months ago.  He just stopped everything and took such good care of me.  It didn’t matter what was on his agenda.  He was there by my side.  In the same way, when I broke my knee cap about four years ago, he was my crutch.  I held on to his back, and he walked with me.  It was just awesome that we were together in those times, but he is like that so many times. I am just thinking of the latest ones that meant a lot to me.

John:  We did cancel some things on the agenda—appointments on the schedule—and say, “I am sorry, but this is first.”

Dennis:  I have listened to you as we have interacted around your book, Love Is Something You Do.  You constantly call both men and women to the cross because the cross represents self-sacrifice, self-denial, pain, suffering on behalf of another.  It is the picture of the greatest love that has ever been expressed toward a human being.  In a marriage, how do two people, who are imperfect— they are not Jesus Christ, but they have Him in their lives—How do they submit to him and allow Him to love another imperfect person through them?

John:  I guess it starts with keeping a constant vision before your mind of what He has done for me, which greatly enhances how unworthy I am.  How could I do?  Frankly, I never got over the wonder of the cross.  I still shake my head in awe when I hear Amazing Grace.  “Why?  How could You do this for me? I am so undeserving.”  I think that affects my relationship to her.  Again, it all comes back to the cross. 

Jesus rose from the grave.  Jesus is Lord.  Jesus is ruling in heaven.  Jesus’ coming to earth; but the cross—the cross is what makes Christianity the thing.  Never get over the awe and the wonder that, “Jesus could love me.”  You try to prioritize your life for her—that she loves me and that affects everything in our relationship.

Had we not been Christians, we probably would have divorced years ago.  We have differences, we have problems, we have issues; but the constant memory and priority of Jesus Christ on the cross—living that out.  That’s the best way I know how to answer that.  

Bob:  When I first saw your book and the title, Love Is Something You Do, what flashed into my mind was Jesus’ statement, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  Jesus’ love for us was not demonstrated in romantic feeling.  It was demonstrated in commitment and self-sacrifice.

Dennis:  Ultimately, as you write in your book, John, love is a commitment.  I look back at how Barbara and I started our marriage some 39 years ago.  I didn’t know anything about love.  Now, I had been schooled by Hollywood quite well.  Our generation grew up, going to the movies and taking our cues from how Hollywood portrayed love as being a romantic feeling that just swept you off your feet and would carry you for a lifetime. 

I want to tell you, those feelings didn’t last long.  There has to be a different type of love that takes up residence in a home between two imperfect people for them to be able to love another for 39 years as Barbara and I have attempted to or like you and Uldine for 57 years.

John:  I think that the whole secret is that being in love, and Hollywood romance, and movie, and passion is, “Pleasing me,” and loving somebody is, “Pleasing you.”  That’s the history of the Christian faith.  He gave His life to please us, to bless us for our good, not for His.  He paid—it hurt Him.  How can I do less than give that same thing back to him and to my spouse?

Bob:  “Love is something you do.”  Right?  I mean, that’s the point that we have been making here today; and it's a point you make so clearly in the book by the same title.  We have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. 

You can go online at, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY.  Again, the website:, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Get in touch with us, and we will make arrangements to have a copy of Dr. Bisagno’s book sent to you. 

Finally, a quick word of thanks to those of you who are regular FamilyLife Today listeners but who are just now stepping up and saying, “Okay.  We are tuned in, and we like what you are doing.”  During the month of August, we have been asking FamilyLife Today listeners, those of you who have been listening for a while but you have never made a donation to help support the ministry.  We are asking you to pitch in and do that during the month of August.  We have heard from a number of you.  Our goal is to hear from 2,000 folks this month.  We are keeping tabs on that on a thermometer on our website at 

So, if you want to check out and see how we are doing, you can do that; but it has been fun to hear from many of you who are long-time listeners and have just never made a donation.  Of course, this month, we are saying, “Thanks,” to all of you who make a donation by making available a four-CD series that features six messages from a recent FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, where both Dennis and I spoke. 

If you make a donation online at and you would like to receive those CDs this month, just type the word “SAMPLER” into the key code box or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Make a donation over the phone and request the CD sampler from the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, and we will send that to you. 

If you are a first-time donor, and if your donation happens to be a $100 or more, we would also like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a certificate so that you and your spouse can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  We are about to kick off our fall season here in the next couple of weeks, and we would love to have you attend as our guests.  This is for those of you who are first-time donors to the ministry and your donation is a $100 or more.  You can request the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway certificate.

All you have to do is type the word “HUNDRED” in the key code box on the online donation form when you make your donation, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Make a donation over the phone.  If you are a first-time donor, and it's a $100 or more, ask for your Weekend to Remember marriage getaway gift certificate; and we will get that out to you. 

Again, we appreciate your support of the ministry; and it's always nice to hear from new listeners who are getting in touch with us, as well.  Thanks for stepping up. 

We hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  I hope you can join us back on Monday when Steve and Candice Waters are going to be here to talk about what single women can do to help make marriage happen.  Candice has some thoughts about that, and we will explore that subject on Monday.  Hope you can tune in for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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