Wednesday, May 28, 2014

13 Goin On 40: A Tale of Two Marriages

A Picture Is Worth  A Thousand Words
May 24, 25, and 26, I got to celebrate a tale of two marriages.  The first was that of my mom and dad, celebrated on May 24 and 25.  We were celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary.  The second was my own marriage to my beautiful, faithful, blessing of a wife of thirteen years.

Many of you have seen pictures on Facebook of my side of the family including pictures of myself, my wife, and my children.  That was a wonderful time of memory making that I know we will all cherish for many years to come.  Memories of children playing and looking for frogs in a pond.  Sometimes by themselves, sometimes with grown folk.  Different ages and stages were represented from toddler to grandparent, all having a really good time.

Sometimes I think the phrase, a picture is worth a thousand words is a terribly inaccurate expression.  This is because, behind some of the smiles are fussing children and scowling parents trying to get their children to hold still, smile properly, or just take one more picture without pouting about it.  But, most of the time I get it. The thousands words are truly not enough to share the multitude of experiences that each member of this family has shared.  If these pictures could speak they would tell a story.

It would tell a story of laughter and trials, peace and pain, joy and sorrow.  It would also tell a story of faithfulness and commitment; not just to each other, but to the God of the universe, Maker of heaven and earth, Savior and Lord.  In fact with out the faithfulness and commitment to the one, the other would have failed long ago.

My mom and dad got married at twenty-two and twenty-one.  Two years later they had me.  In that two years, they moved to Texas so Dad could go to seminary and by the time we left Texas to come back home I had a sister.  Back in NC Dad worked this job and that, giving me another brother along the way.  Until finally, during my kindergarten year he got his first church assignment.  By the time we moved from that town in eastern NC, four years later, my baby brother was born.  This was when his first church fired him unjustly, and we picked up and moved to central NC where we lived, and Dad pastored another church for the next seven and a half years.  The summer before my senior year, it was time to move on again and we found ourselves moving to Greensboro, NC for another church.  I graduated in 1994 and I have been there ever since.  No one was thrilled about it at the time but God knew better.  The next twenty years saw two more churches and two more heartbreaks.  It was peppered with different jobs for Dad, in between and after the churches and the graduations of the rest of my siblings.  The next twenty years also saw all of us getting married and the birth of four grandchildren.  My Dad has been a teacher of troubled children in the public school system for the last several years and seems to suit him.

This journey saw dreams and disappointments galore for Mom, Dad, and the kids.  Their are hurts and trials for families in ministry like nothing else this world has to offer.  Trying to follow God as a husband and father, especially in ministry, is not so very easy, especially when your kids don't necessarily understand and your wife does not always agree.  There were battles with bitterness, flaring of tempers, and broken hearts at times.  But ALWAYS, there was GOD.  HE held this family together.  As we strove along this journey, my Dad always tried to obey God the best he knew how in leading us through his career and in ministering to us as a family.  Mom always tried to obey God by supporting Dad even when she did not agree and by trying to keep Jesus in front of us.

As we sat around and shared some thoughts with our Mom and Dad at the celebration, we did not focus on the negatives.  We realized in retrospect that God's providence had led our family down this road to make us into who He wanted us to be.  No, the themes were centered on love, joy, and perseverance.  Through all the downs, there have always been ups.  There has always been joy, and though the thought of giving up may have crossed minds on occasion, it never came to fruition.  If there is one thing we know, it is that our parents love Jesus and have tried very hard to teach us to do the same.  It is also that they love each other and love us and we love them, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, whether rich or poor.  They did not always get it right.  In fact they dropped the ball plenty.  But what parent, husband, or wife doesn't.  One thing is for sure, God reigned in my parents hearts and by His sovereign good pleasure they are still together forty years later and being celebrated by healthy, God-fearing, God-following children.

As the oldest, I was blessed to be the first to get married and the first to provide grandchildren.  Six and a half years earlier I met my beautiful bride and she became my world.  So much so that what I knew of God took a back seat in some regards.  Nevertheless,  in His divine providence He saw fit to see us married. While we have always loved each other, it has been far from a perfect road thus far.  Neither of us is the same person that we met at the beginning or even that we married thirteen years ago.  But you know what.  I would not trade it.  The experiences that we have had have made us who we are today.  

That's what makes marriage an adventure.  Oh, you will hurt each other, sometimes very badly.  And, you will love each other, sometimes extremely.  Once you have children, you are then struggling with divided affections and that brings a whole other challenge.  On our journey we have seen God at work, drawing us to himself in different ways and on different time tables, yet He is faithful.

What makes these two stories connected and similar in spite of the difference in years of marriage is Jesus.  He is sovereignly in control and at work in all of our hearts.  An eternal perspective.  In forty years, my parents are still learning and having their character developed by the God of the universe.  They are still learning to love each other and trust God in totally new ways.

For my wife and I, the last six years have been a journey of developing in service to the Lord in church together.  Now, He is pushing us out of the nest in brand new ways.  Their is a new church.  There is a new school for my oldest son.  There are new passions for serving God, both in life and at a new church, that we are both trying to understand and learn to trust God in.  And we are learning to love each other continually through these changes.  We have learned that, while there are things we would like to see improvement on and areas of hurt that we have to let go of, we have it pretty good in each other.  My wife is an amazing woman in so many ways and she blesses me continually.  I want to spend the rest of my life watching her grow into who it is that God created her to be.  If there were no other reason not to quit on our commitment there is this, God has not given either myself and my wife or my parents, permission to quit.  He provides the perspective of eternity as our guide for what is really important.

A Heavenly Marriage
Much of what is driving the relativization of truth, commitment, faithfulness, and the definition of marriage is the lack of a vital misunderstanding of God's eternal plan.  Jesus tells us in three of the four gospels that there will be no marriage between humans in heaven(Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:20, Luke 20:35-36).  You see, at the end of time, when this life ends and eternity begins there will only be one marriage that matters. This marriage will be between the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and His church.  There will be a marriage supper of the Lamb(Revelation 19:6-10).  In that moment, none of the flaws of this age will matter.

This eternal perspective of a heavenly marriage that begins now is what we must keep in mind as we read the instructions of Paul in Ephesians 5 that tell us to love our husbands and wives in the same way that Christ loved the church.  Because at the end of the day, we as believers are the church and Christ sacrificially laid down his life for us so that we could lay down our lives for each other.

This is the perspective that has held my parents marriage together for forty years.  This is the perspective that holds my wife and I's marriage together.  This is the perspective that can hold your marriage together so that one day you are able to look back on many years of ups and downs and say to each other and to the Lord,

We're Still Here!

May it be so in Jesus name.

Thanks to my Mom and Dad and to my lovely wife for helping to provide a proper example.



Friday, May 9, 2014

A Tribute to Mom's

Hello all.  I pray everyone is well and enjoying the solid arrival of spring.  The nurture of "Mother Nature", as it were, is apparent as many trees and flowers have come into full bloom and we notice new little baby animals scurrying about.  It's in this time of life and flourishing in which I believe it is most appropriate that we celebrate Mother's Day.

My Mom
I was blessed with a stay at home Mom who loved being a mom.  She had four of us, of which I am the oldest, and if she could have had more, she would have but time ran out ;-).  She raised us, to the best of her ability, in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  There were trials and tribulations.  We rarely had excess, as American excess goes these days, but we never lacked for our needs either.  She was able to take a shoestring budget and get what was needed with a special treat from time to time.  She was not perfect..but then again, who is.  One thing we all knew we never had to wonder about, was if we were loved.  She and my Dad have always conveyed their love for us in their own way, but it was never in doubt.  I am blessed to know that no matter how I have struggled to be a good son, I have always known that I had the love of my mother.  In addition, she has always been very supportive and loving toward my wife and grandchildren.  She loves them all very much.  She always is positive and encouraging and yet tries to avoid being a busybody.  And if she could, I know she would live around the corner and fight us for the right to have the kids around.  Thanks Mom!

My Mother-in-Law
What to say about your mother-in-law.  Everything nice ;-)  While the joke still lingers out there about mother-in-laws being monster-in-laws, I can honestly say I got the better end of the stick.  No mom is perfect and neither is any mother-in-law.  Like any relationship, over the last almost twenty years we have had our ups and downs.  But there is one thing I can say about my mother-in-law.  She loves her daughter. Because of this, she loves me too.  She and her husband accepted me into their family and have done a great job, in my opinion, of being encouraging and supportive, while not tending to our business too much.  Being involved in ministry and healthcare I see plenty of lack and challenges presented through lack of support in the structure of extended family.  That is not the case here.  They have always been there for their daughter and for our family as a whole.  She is also a terrific grandmother who dotes on her grandchildren as much as she can.  If she could, I know she would have us around the corner as well.  Thanks Brenda!

My Wife
My wife takes such great joy in the rearing of our children.  Through the agony of parental frustrations and the joyful moments of growth and new developments in skill and learning, mom's are integral and pour their heart into this process like no other.  My wife is no exception.  She struggles and agonizes to be patient with the challenges they present.  Yet I find myself continually at peace with encouraging my boys to recognize the incredible love that their mother has for them.  She worries over them continually as most moms do.  From the moment of their birth which was all natural, to the present, she has always had their well-being in mind and has always been jealous for their love and affection.  If I died tomorrow, I know I would not have to worry about whether my children would be cared for.  I know their mother would do whatever was necessary to provide for them and raise them well.  We share many things in common in regard to child-rearing and discipline.  I am blessed to have this woman as my partner in married life and parenting.  Thanks Babe!  I love you!

To Mother's Everywhere
I can also express appreciation that my boys have great examples of motherhood in all of their Aunts.  Even though they are not all mom's yet, the ones that are provide great examples and the one's that are not are very nurturing and I know they will be great mom's when the time comes.

Mother's tend to be very hard on themselves.  All parents second-guess themselves but mother's have a particular connection with their children that is unique to them.  Even if they are not their's biologically, all mothers are built emotionally with the same general tendencies.  Worry, self-effacement or low self-esteem and self-neglect.  Take care of yourselves mom's.  You are no good to anyone if you are falling apart.  Take care of your needs and those you need help with, tell your husband about.  Believe it or not, we want to help and we cannot read minds, contrary to popular opinion ;-).

Mom's, you need to know that if you give all you have, selflessly striving to make sure your children's needs are met physically, emotionally, spiritually, you are still going to mess up and you know what?  That's ok.  At the end of the day, when your children are loved on, warm, fed, clean, and tucked away in bed for the night, you have done your job.  Those things that they hate you for now, one day, will click and they will thank you for it.  Always remember that.  Do what's right now.  Sow discipline and teach lessons now, for the fruit of good behavior and character development down the road.  Delayed gratification is the parent's burden.

Remember Proverbs 31:10-31.  If you have read it, read it again.  If you have not, then read it for the first time.  It's not just a brand of product.  It is a strong word of encouragement for the woman who takes great pride in her character and commitment as a godly woman, wife, and mother.  It is hard work, but the provision you provide is priceless and it builds up your husband and children in ways that you may not realize for years to come.  Again I say, delayed gratification is the burden of every parent.

If you have grown children and you are looking back wishing you had done things differently...DON'T!  You cannot change the past.  However, you can start in the present doing new things.  It is never too late to make a difference.  Young women need the wisdom of the older women and older women are instructed by scripture to share that wisdom (Titus 2:3-5).  

Be encouraged.  You ARE loved!  You ARE appreciated!

Husbands and Fathers
Even when your husband and children don't do a good job of expressing it.  And we are all guilty of slacking off in that regard.  Husbands and fathers must remember to encourage their wives in their motherhood and train their children to respect and love their mothers not just through action but also through word.  Teach your children to build up and encourage their mothers and never tolerate disrespect.  If they are being hard headed, kick their butts.  They will thank you one day and your wife will appreciate it now.

Take Her Out
Husbands and Father's, below is a link to a very moving scene from the movie Mom's Night Out.  Also, I have made the entire trailer available here on the blog page if you are reading this there.  It is a really cute movie with some of the same actors from the movie Courageous acting alongside well known stars such as Trace Adkins, Sean Astin, and Patricia Heaton.  The movie was made with intent of being entertaining and yet inspiring to mother's everywhere.  I believe it would be a blessing to take your wife out to see it.  Date nights are important and difficult to make happen sometimes.  However, every effort must be made to spend time together, out, away from the children.  So check out the trailer and then take her out to see it.  Build her up, maker her feel special.  Tell her how special she is and encourage her as a mother.  She needs that from you.

If you are a single mom, treat yourself.  Please, go out and see this movie and realize how special you are. You may not have anyone to tell you that but it is true regardless.  One day your children will look back and recognize all that you did for them and they will appreciate it.  Whether they ever say it or not.  

Single or married, know this, No one will ever be to your children what you can be to your children!

You are needed! You are special! And you are loved!




Friday, May 2, 2014

Repentance: Our Joyful Response to a Loving God

Understanding the Source of Repentance
So now we hopefully understand that the holy and just God of the universe abhors sin and must poor out His wrath against it.  We also hopefully understand that He is simultaneously a patient, loving God who keeps His promises and sent His Son as the perfect, substitutionary sacrifice as a demonstration of that love for all those whom He choose from the foundations of the world.

Not only that, but we know that God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and all of the host of heaven rejoice when one lost sinner comes to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  We know that the Godhead aka.Trinity values one individual soul so much that we are told He doesn't stop pursuing until that lost soul is found.

What a wonderful God we serve.  What a incredible gospel we get to proclaim.  The good news that God would have been completely just in destroying every sinner that rebels against Him for all eternity, yet he chose to have a plan in place that would satisfy the cost of that rebellion so that lost souls could be saved and enjoy eternity with Him.

What a Glorious Treasure!.....or is it?
Do we really see it that way?  Do we live as if this gospel treasure, is the key to the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus says is the treasure?

Matthew 13:44-46 gives us two short parables that are loaded with truth regarding the value that we should place on discovering that we are partakers of the kingdom and the joy that it should bring.
  • Read Matthew 13:44.  You can hover over the reference in blue if you are on the blog page or look it up in your bible. Observe the radical response to the man's discovery.  He finds a treasure so valuable that he is willing to sell everything to have access to it.  It says that with great joy, he sells everything and goes to by the field containing that treasure.  
  • Matthew 13:45-46 tells us that another merchant of fine pearls finds a pearl of such value that he sells everything, just to buy that one pearl. 
We understand this concept.  Such value is placed on college education that people go into debt to pursue it.  Men go into debt or work and save like crazy in order to buy a ring for the woman they love.  Couples often go into debt for their dream wedding or honeymoon...or both.  Good parents certainly understand sacrificing whatever it takes for the betterment of their children.

However, scripture says that the people in these examples didn't work harder, go into debt, or save like crazy.  No, they sold everything they had.  That is how much value they placed on this treasure.  This is how valuable Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is.

Can we say our lives reflect such a value for the kingdom of heaven.  I certainly can't. At least not consistently.  In our sin, we often fail to keep before our minds eye, the value of what Christ did for us, what is available to us because of the price He paid, and how our lives should reflect that.

Repentance Is That Joyful Expression
Return with me for a moment to the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32.  Consider the son's response to his realization of what benefits he could gain from being part of his fathers "kingdom".  Consider his regret when he realizes all that his Father had made freely available to him and yet he had rejected it.

There are plenty of people in the world who would rather remain selfishly broke and starving both spiritually and in the flesh than to humble themselves and acknowledge their need to be taken care of.  They love the possibility of the pleasures of this world too much.  Yet this son realizes that even his father's servants were better off than he was and so he leaves all the pleasures of the world behind with the intent of going back and serving his father.  Yet he does not do it reluctantly or begrudgingly.  Once he realizes the value of his father's "kingdom" he finds joy in returning there.

That joyful return to the Father's "kingdom" or house is not fed by a hope that he will get everything He wants.  Simply the hope that his most basic needs will be met.  He does not return to his Father's house dragging behind him a cart full of worldly desires and possessions topped off with a prostitute.  No he leaves that entire life behind.  He brings nothing but his brokenness.  THAT is repentance.

Selfish Envy
Still there is another piece that needs mentioning.  Though it could be fleshed out much more than I will do it here.  Jesus intends the older brother in this story to be a representation of the pharisees.  While the pharisees were religious hypocrites, not followers of Christ, we need to recognize that, even we followers of Christ respond as the older brother does.  Did you notice how angry he got in Luke 15:25-32 when his father rejoices and celebrates at the return of his son.  He gripes that his father never did this for him.  What does the father say?  Son, it was already yours.

Even as believers, we often spend our time taking for granted the blessings that are available to us as members of our Father's house. We forget that we don't deserve those blessings.  We don't live as if they are valuable to us.  Then we have the audacity to get mad when we see people drawn into our Father's house because we don't think they deserve it.  We have forgotten that our Father brought us into this world and made these things available to us by His grace.

When you see other lost sheep being returned to the fold or lost children being welcomed into the Father's house, never get angry or envious.  Never forget that you were once lost and are now found.  You were once blind and now you see.

Repentance is Part of the Plan
God does not command that repentance is merely doing the right thing or simply ceasing doing the wrong thing.  Repentance is about being part of the plan.  It is a lifestyle.  God commands repentance as a means of bringing himself glory.  How you say?  Which do you think brings more glory to God?  Is it chasing after the world or cheerfully chasing after Christ?  Which do you think brings God the most glory?  Is it selfishly pursuing our own desires or selflessly and joyfully being part of God's master plan to gather lost sheep, and tell lost children that they can come home.  Repentance from sin and repentance toward the things of God are both fundamentally important, not only to your own salvation but to the salvation of others.  Your repentance points others to Christ.

You must realize that God could do it on His own.  You must realize that He does not need you to accomplish His purposes and yet He chooses to include you as the means by which people come to know who He is and what He did for them.  You must realize that the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a privilege that every believer is intended to enjoy.  Getting to be a part of watching God change hearts and lives for all of eternity is an unspeakable opportunity. When you do, you will have GREAT joy!  That's right, evangelism is a part of repentance.  You turn from proclaiming the joys and pleasures that this world has to offer and living for those, to proclaiming that the joys, pleasures, and freedom that is found in Christ.

Repentance cannot be done begrudgingly when you understand the mercy of God in it.  It can only be done with joy when you come to fully realize that it is only by His grace that you are able to repent and believe to begin with.  Repentance is REAL work.  Grace is not cheap.  It cost Christ His life and it is supposed to bring the same sacrificial living in our lives. The grace that is freely offered is intended to produce the fruit of righteous works.  Read Colossians 1:28-29Philippians 2:12-13, and 1 Corinthians 15:10.  Hard work, performed by believers, yet totally empowered by grace from a loving, faithful God.

Repentance is not something we do simply at the point of initial confession.  Repentance is a lifelong, grace empowered privilege.  Do not take it for granted.  It is our joyful response to the glorious treasure that is Christ in us, the hope of glory

Coram Deo! (Living Before the Face of God)