20150427

a wedding kiss

we've all heard the typical wedding vows:  love, honor, cherish, obey, etc.  those are usually pretty easy to remember.  however when a couple writes their own vows, depending on how intricate they are, it is a little more difficult to remember those word for word.  and it's important to remember those for future reference, so that you can keep track of how you are doing on keeping the vows that you promised to God.

on this day, 13 years ago, my bride and i stood in front of clarksdale baptist church and pledged our lives to each other in a beautiful marriage ceremony that still makes me smile when i think about it.  so for my blog post today, i would like to share with you the vows that we said to each other.

lori's vows:
“in the presence of God and these, our friends, i take you chris to be my wedded husband.
i promise to celebrate with you all the joyful memories we create, the comfortable silences we will have, the refreshing laughter, and deepening closeness the coming years will bring.
i will always be honest with you, and respect what you are now and what we will become together.
i promise to love you in the midst of the everydayness and the specialness of life.
i will love you when we are together and when we are apart; when life is peaceful and when it is in disorder; when I am proud of you and when i am disappointed in you.
i will honor your goals and dreams and help you to fulfill them.
i promise my faithfulness to follow you through all of life’s experiences as you follow God, that together we may grow in the likeness of CHRIST.  i will honor those decisions we make together and will work to establish a home where peace, joy, and prayer reign and where CHRIST is the center of our lives.
i love you chris as i love no other.  all that i am i share with you.
i always knew you were the one that could look into my eyes and see my soul. 
i look at you and i see my best friend.  your energy and your passion inspire me in ways i never thought possible.  you give me purpose when i feel i have none.  without you my soul would be empty, my heart broken and my being incomplete. 
 you are my partner, lover, and my best friend above all others, from this day forward as long as we both shall live.”

chris's vows:   
“today, before God, our families, and our friends, i accept with inexpressible joy the gift that God has given me in you and take you lori, my best friend, as my wife.
it is with careful prayer that i make this covenant with you, and so i pray that God will enable me to be the husband that He would have me be for you.

i make a vow to you today before God, and count it a privilege, to fulfill my responsibilities to you as your husband, according to God’s Holy Word.
i vow to love you as CHRIST loves His Church, and gave His life for it; to place your needs, your desires, and your feelings above all others, except the Lord’s, including my own.
i promise to respect and honor you as the beautiful lady and princess of God that you are. 
i vow to be the shepherd of our home, protecting you from all harm, physical and spiritual; to be a comfort to you in sickness and sadness; to be your encourager in times of disappointment, doubt, and fear; to support you; to cherish and love you; to serve you and serve with you.  i promise to recognize your role in our ministry together, and to always seek the Lord’s guidance in our lives and our ministry.
on this holy day, i vow to forsake all others, and give myself and all i have to you, from now to eternity; and promise to be your faithful husband, you best friend, your lover; until we are separated only by death.
i love you, lori."

afterward, we exchanged rings and mark kelly, our youth leader that was instrumental throughout our relationship, said that i could kiss my bride.  this is my description in the book i wrote for lori:


"the passion in that kiss, even though it wasn’t a full-on kiss, was enough that they were transported in those few moments through years past, from the moment they first met, to their friendship which resulted in their first kiss on the choir tour bus, their first date, their first short break-up and reuniting, their eventual bitter break-up and the resulting forgiveness that reunited their friendship, and that phone call that set them on the path to where they were now.  all of those emotions collided in that one kiss, and even though it only lasted seconds, it contained a lifetime."

today is the first anniversary i've spent apart from my bride.  all of my deployments have always had me home for our anniversary, so it has given me a lot of time to think about it.  i look at our vows and i think we have a really good success rate at fulfilling those.  

we still kiss quite frequently, and when we do, those kisses, no matter how short or how long, transport me back to that day on the choir tour bus when our lips met that first time, and then to that kiss on that stage in front of our wedding guests.  so to my baby love, happy anniversary.  i love you more than i ever thought possible, and my love for you grows every day.  i look forward to the day that i can once again kiss you and get lost in the ocean of your blue eyes!    
  




 

20150425

earthquakes

tonight's post is a departure from my last few.  not because i am through with my posts on love and marriage by any means, but because something happened today that i cannot simply gloss over.

as americans, it is very easy to see the things that happen in other parts of the world on the various news outlets.  it is even easier to gloss over them, and think of them as something that happened "over there."  however, many of us today learned just what "over there" means, when a dear friend of ours and her family were part of "over there."  as we all anxiously watched the news and facebook for some sort of indication that they were okay, the headlines were no longer easy to gloss over.  however, God smiled upon our friend today and though shaken up, her and her family were safe.  i believe that He has a far greater purpose for them as they minister to the people of Nepal in the coming weeks and months and even years. 

one thing the military has taught many americans, is that "over there" can become "right here" in a matter of moments.  in the 11 caco (casualty notifications) calls that i have done, thousands of miles were quickly diminished as a family's world came crashing down around them.  this is my third deployment where the area i was in flared up into chaos, and thousands of miles disappeared as "over there" became "right here" for my family and loved ones back home.  technology has the ability to build bridges that you can't drive on, but can definitely bring you much closer than in times past.  however, it brings the atrocities that occur in obscure parts of the world front and center into your living room. 

as CHRISTians, we have to ask ourselves what are we going to do with that information?  gone are the days of ignoring the crises that happen across the country, and across the world, and pretend like we don't know what's going on.  as our fellow brothers and sisters in CHRIST are getting their homes taken, their freedoms taken, and their lives taken, suddenly "i'll pray for them" no longer seems enough.  i'm not discounting the power of prayer, but it has become a way of getting rid of a problem we are uncomfortable dealing with.  because let's be honest, how often do we actually follow through on our promises of prayer?  so what do we do?  well, that is the question that is the most difficult to answer.  for some, prayer may be all they can do, and if that's the case, then i sincerely hope that they are praying fervently, for Scripture tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.  for many of us, however, there is more than we can do.  for instance, if you are reading this, odds are you are among the wealthiest 5% of the world.  there are 247 million professing CHRISTians in the united states alone.  now, imagine if all 247,000,000 of us gave $1 to missionaries such as my friend in nepal to help minister to the people there!  think about that for a second.  $1.  i spend more than that on a dr. pepper.  this is an indictment on me as well.  there is a church that i was just reading about that has a dollar club where every member of the church sets aside $1 each week of their tithe to the dollar club.  at the end of a month, that church, being a larger church, has approximately $12,000 that they use to minister to those in their community!  did you know that the average church spends over 50% of their tithe on salaries alone?  and another 30% goes towards building funds!  10% goes towards programs, and another 5% goes towards charitable and denominational giving, leaving only 5% for missions.  so money is one way we can help.

there are other ways such as donating used clothes to missions and relief organizations.  a friend of mine from brazil was riding with me one day and saw a mini storage facility and asked me what it was.  when i explained it to him, he said, 'you americans have so much stuff that you have to rent out extra space the size of most homes in brazil just to hold it all!"  what an indictment!  when it comes to supporting those "over there," remember, think outside the box.  finding ways to help is just a google search away.

another way you can help is by taking care of those affected by tragedies that happen "over there."  when a world is crumbling, or when a family is stressed to the breaking point because of worry over a loved one "over there," you can come alongside them and put an arm around them and offer to help.  there may not be much that you can do, but knowing that you are concerned and that you care helps tremendously.  find that spouse of someone "over there" in your church who is struggling to keep it together and offer to take her out for a nice meal while somebody else watches the kids.  find that mother or father and offer to pray with them, and not just for them.  call and ask for updates.  show that you care.  don't simply say "i'll pray for you," for talk is cheap.  if you don't know what to say, don't avoid them, but be honest and just be there for them if they need a shoulder to cry on or someone to yell to.  one thing i've learned, is that a person will remember very little of what you say during times of crisis, but they will always remember that you were there beside them to go through it with them.

we are all just a fault-slip away from our own earthquake, that event that shakes and rattles our world and causes our walls to come crumbling down around us, while the whole world seems to see it as something that is happening "over there," and therefore are oblivious to it, while we struggle to survive.  some earthquakes are tremors, unsettling us and maybe shaking us up a bit, while others are of such magnitude that while we may rebuild, our lives will never be the same.  the question is, and has always been, how would you want others to respond to your situation?  with an "i'll pray for you" that will never happen?  or with something that shows that they really care about you and your situation?  because in the blink of an eye, "over there" becomes "right here," "right now."    

20150424

her

some 25 years ago, a beautiful blue-eyed brunette walked into my life, and i have never been the same since.  25 years really gives you a chance to get to know someone.  and the more you get to know and love someone as wonderful as my bride, the greater the torture when you are separated from that person.  however, if the military has taught me one thing, it's to pay attention to the little things.  everyone automatically assumes that all us guys really miss about being home with our wives is the sex.  oh, they may not say it, but it's in all the jokes, and a lot of us will go along with the jokes.  but the truth is, that is only a tiny piece of what i miss about my bride.

i begin missing my bride in the mornings, when reveille is sounded and i roll over in my coffin of a rack (they are called coffin racks for a reason, and for somebody claustrophobic like me, it is definitely uncomfortable!)  i roll over, expecting to see the soft, peaceful face of my bride that i was just dreaming about, and all i see is a white metal wall.  my spirit immediately crushed, i force myself to roll out of my rack onto the floor (because it is right on the floor and the only way to get in and out is to roll) and i sleepily get up and get dressed and walk to the wardroom for breakfast.  as i walk in, there is coffee brewing, and i miss my bride's morning cup of coffee in her pitcher-sized mugs that i prepare for her every morning because i love to see her sleepy smile when i bring it up, with just the right amount of her caramel macchiato creamer and one cube of ice so it isn't too hot to drink.  i then miss the smell of her hair as i lean forward and kiss her on the forehead and tell her good morning.  as i'm eating breakfast, i miss being able to look over and see her in her shorts and tank top with her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail as she fixes herself a bowl of her cereal, provided the boys haven't eaten it all.

as i walk out of the wardroom and downstairs to my morning meeting to begin my workday, i miss seeing her as i leave for work in the mornings as she is giving the boys hugs as the bus is pulling up, and i linger behind for the last hug and goodbye kiss that helps get me through my day.  after the plethora of morning meetings, i find time to jump on the computer, and being 7 hours ahead, she is fast asleep, so i miss seeing my morning texts and emails from her about what she has planned for the day and then as the day goes on, what the plans for the afternoon are once i get home.  i then go to workout, because pt is part of your day in the military, and as i grab my phone and turn it on to open the music app, i see our picture, the one of us kissing goodbye as i'm leaving for deployment, and i smile, and want to cry at the same time.  after pt, i get in the shower, and i miss the times that i get out of the shower at home and she's there waiting to get in after me. 

at lunch, i miss being able to call her and just say hello and see how her day is going and to tell her i love her.  after lunch, my office hours begin and i get to listen to people say how much they miss their families and problems they are having with their spouses back home and it all makes me think of my bride and what we have repeatedly throughout the afternoon.  dinner time is really difficult.  as i sit down to dinner at a table full of essentially strangers, i miss sitting down with her after we have tag-teamed preparing dinner.  as i eat my dry chicken and tasteless carrots, i miss her cooking and our talks around the table of what each person's favorite part of the day and least favorite part of the day is.  by now, she's awake back home, and depending on how her day is going, i've maybe gotten to talk to her once or twice on facebook or email, so my thoughts are now wondering what she's doing back home, and hoping her day is going well. 

after dinner, it is now lunchtime or shortly thereafter back home, so i get to talk to her for a few precious moments on facebook, because i only get to call home about once a week.  i hear the stories of how she's doing, and how the boys are doing, and how crazy things are back there, and as chaotic and hectic as it sounds, i miss it.  i want to be there to help more than anything in the world.  as the night wanes on and i have to go write evening prayer and then go up to the bridge to give it over the ship's intercom, i rush back down to my computer to see if she's written.  sometimes we get to talk, but many times we don't because this is when the boys get home and she's busy helping with homework and getting dinner ready, so i simply tell her that i love her and say good night and sign off. 

now comes the most excruciating part of my day.  i get undressed and into my pt gear, because on ship you have to be ready to jump up and throw your coveralls on at a moment's notice, or ready to get up and open the door because the command master chief is knocking on your door at 2 in the morning because a sailor just found out a family member died.  as i roll back into my bed, it is cold and small, and i want nothing more than to roll over and put my arm around my lover and snuggle up behind her warm body and hold her tightly as i drift off to sleep, only, that isn't going to happen for months.  so i lay there and i begin connecting with her the only way i know how, by praying for her.  i pray for her sanity as she deals with three rambunctious boys on a daily basis.  i pray for her health as she deals with all of the sickness that comes with having three boys and their bringing constant germs into the house.  i pray for her strength as she is mom, accountant, grocery shopper, chef, maid, laundromat, dad, baseball coach, grounds keeper, chauffer, and any of the other jobs she has to take care of in my absence.  i pray for her wisdom as she leads our kids and has to answer those tough questions that dad is usually there to answer.  i pray for her relationship with CHRIST, and that she finds time to cultivate that in her hectic schedule.  i pray for our marriage, that God will keep us strong as we endure our separation.  and i drift off to sleep hoping to have a pleasant dream of the two of us doing everyday things, such as riding in the car to a sports practice, or going to walmart together.  at times i wake up from those dreams that are so real that when i open my eyes, i fully expect to be back home in my own bed with her next to me, and when i'm not, i fight back the tears and desperately try to fall back asleep and pick back up where i left off, which rarely ever happens.  only to repeat the same routine the next day and the next, until i'm back home with her where i belong.

so people can make jokes about us missing the sex, but when you love someone, there are so many other things that take precedence.  i miss her eyes that i could get lost in.  i miss the curve of her back and the way my arms line up perfectly with it when i hold her close to me.  i miss her silly dances when she's happy about something.  i miss her laugh at something goofy that my little one has done.  i miss her fussing at me about my piles of random stuff i leave laying around the house, and then saying, "mmm hmm" as i apologize and say i won't do it again.  i miss her breaking out in song for no apparent reason other than it was on pandora earlier in the day and she had it stuck in her head.  i could go on and on, but the simple fact of the matter is, i miss her.  everything about her that makes her, her.  the good and the not so good. 

so tonight, look at your husband or your wife, and give them a big hug and kiss.  start noticing all those little things that you take for granted on a daily basis.  because little things may seem trivial, but believe me, nothing is trivial.  life is in those little things.  and love is in the details.

20150423

HWQ


one of the most interesting words found in the old testament in terms of relationships is the word HWQ (pronounced kah-wah,) and is found in the book of ecclesiastes.  the literal meaning of the word is three-stranded cord, and the actual verse says “a three-stranded cord is not easily broken.”  the verse itself is referring to a relationship with another person, and is many times used to refer to a marital relationship. 

the physics behind this concept is simple.  when two cords are twisted together to make a bigger cord, an interesting thing happens when a load is placed upon it.  the two cords start to come untwisted, and each strand will bear the full weight of that load individually, thereby weakening the total weight capacity of the cord.  however, when three strands are braided together to make a cord, when a load is placed upon that cord, each of the strands pulls closer to each other, and essentially forms one cord and the weight of that load is distributed throughout the total cord, making it much harder to break.  

the three strands of the cord represent the two people involved in the relationship, with God as the third strand.  this upcoming anniversary will be the first one i have missed in our 13 years of marriage.  until now, all of my deployments, trainings, and times away with the navy, have all been timed to where i have been able to be home in time for my anniversary.  during this time away, i have been thinking a lot about the past. for those of you that haven’t known us that long (we have an over 20 year history together,) we have a very unique story that goes all the way back to 9th grade.  

i met my bride when she moved to clarksdale from chicago in the 9th grade.  i was blown away by this blue-eyed, long-haired beauty that thought it was appropriate to wear shorts in 50 degree weather, and went home and told my mom that i had met the most beautiful girl i had ever seen!  i chased her for a while, content to be friends with her for the time being, and a strong friendship developed.  i have always argued that guys are friends with girls for one of two reasons:  because they like them and are hoping for a chance, or because they are truly friends and are content with things staying that way.  truthfully, this relationship was both.  i was content to have her as my best friend, but was more than happy to entertain any romantic feelings she might have had toward me.  we were inseparable.  where you found one of us, the other was usually close by, and we were happy.  however, a kiss on a choir tour bus (which we refer to as the “accident”) changed all of that, and we started dating.  this went on for a year, until a significant change happened.  i was a professing CHRISTian at the time, and she was also.  but when CHRIST actually spoke to her and she actually accepted Him as Saviour, things between us began to change a bit.  my focus was on the relationship, hers began to be on CHRIST.  i had raised her to the position of a functional god, and had even started saving up money for an engagement ring (without telling my parents because i didn’t want to hear a lecture, even though it would have been right!)   

realizing my overly important focus on the relationship, she started pulling away, and eventually broke up with me.  at the time i was devastated, and had a very rough year following the break-up.  however, God in His providence used that time to show me that i was indeed lost, and had a form of religion, but did not have CHRIST.  and CHRIST called me to repentance, and i repented and accepted Him as Saviour and things began to change for me.  

well, long story short, God would end up bringing my bride and i back together after different colleges, different states, and seven years apart, and this time, it was different.  we both agreed that CHRIST should be the center of our relationship, and it has made all the difference.  if we would have gotten married all those years ago, we probably would have ended up divorced after a year or two.  but now, we have something that is truly unique and special, and have come through quite a bit as a married couple.  the vows that couples say during a wedding, have been an accurate description of our marriage.  we’ve had better times, and worse times, times so bad that it seemed as if we weren’t going to make it.  we’ve had health, but also plenty of sickness (we've gotten way more than our money's worth out of our health insurance!)  we’ve been financially stable, and have been poor enough that we had to suck up pride and move back in with parents due to unemployment or under employment.  there have been plenty of opportunities to cheat without getting caught, as deployments can bring, and many service members succumb to that temptation and end up in my office.  the thing that has made all the difference though, is having CHRIST at the center of our relationship, and honoring our commitment not only to each other, but to Him as well.  and part of having CHRIST, is the family that you are born into when you accept Him.  there have been times where our families, both biological and spiritual, have stepped in to counsel us during times of difficulty, which has been an invaluable resource that CHRIST has used.  it hasn’t been easy, but our three-stranded cord, our HWQ, has not broken.  that is not to say it can’t be broken, because to do so would be arrogant, and love does not boast in itself.  

in that cord, if one of the strands decides to go it on their own, and starts pulling away, they begin to bear the brunt of the load on their own, and they will break before the other two, leaving a weakened cord to carry the load.  it is a sad thing to see.  one of the greatest lies that I have ever heard in marriage counseling, is that they felt like God was telling them that they deserved to be happy and that they needed to get out of their marriage because they weren’t happy.  mind you, these were not cases of abuse or neglect, but simply because life’s strain had taken a toll on their marriage and that person decided that they could better do it on their own.  sometimes, it was both parties pulling away from CHRIST, and no matter how much they tried to save the marriage, they would break.  so remember, during those times of difficulty, instead of pulling away from your spouse, or pulling away from CHRIST, choose instead to seek His face, and to cling tighter to your spouse, and the three of you together can remain strong in the midst of life’s strain.

20150420

real love

on this day, 13 years ago, i traveled to clarksdale, ms, to begin the preparations to marry my bride.  so in the coming days, expect a few more blog posts as i brag on my bride and our relationship.  as mentioned in my last post, marriages nowadays seem to be going to the wayside, with most of them ending before the seven year mark.  the divorce rate is dropping, yes, but a significant reason for that is many couples are choosing not to get married and simply live together, so the ending of those relationships is not figured in the divorce statistic, otherwise it would be much higher.  so 13 years of marital bliss, or something like it, is something that i am proud of.  however, it is only because of CHRIST that we are where we are today, so i give Him the credit for modeling to us what true love is.  and that's what we strive for.  my post is not meant to put us up on a pedestal as the end all, be all example of a perfect marriage.  yes, our marriage is perfect, in its imperfections.  we get angry at each other.  there are times we don't talk to each other, or conversely we raise our voice at each other.  we can be selfish.  we can be arrogant (after all, i'm always right, right baby love?)  i am stubborn and she is persistent (notice i didn't say nagging!)  i am passive-aggressive and she is blunt and confrontational.  we are an example of opposites attracting, but sometimes opposites attacking.  however, we have love, and it is a love that requires work, as any good thing does.

there are many things in life that bring people joy.  some find joy in simple things, such as a sunset, a day at the beach, or a bouquet of fresh cut daisies.  others find joy in more tangible things, things like money, a car, a house.  still others search for joy in a job, a hometown, or travelling.  and some find their joy in a combination of any of the above things.  but there is no greater joy in this life than to find love.  love can take on many forms, and love is a complicated word.  it is so complicated that the greeks had three different words for love:  eros, phileo, and agape. 

the first word, eros, is a physical love.  it is where we get our word erotic.  it is the love that teenagers say they feel when they get the butterflies in their stomachs and their heart races when they see a certain boy or a girl.  it is the love that is responsible for lost virginity, for broken hearts, and for strings of failed dating relationships.  it is a very powerful emotion, releasing endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our brains, which creates a sort of addiction, which is why we never get over our first love.  that initial feeling creates such a mark in our memories, that we spend the rest of our lives chasing that feeling, much like a drug addict chasing that first high.  but we should never dismiss eros as simplistic and shallow, for it is a gateway emotion, that when paired with the other two creates something so magical it could only have been created by the Creator. 

the second word, phileo, is love based on a bond.  it is the love felt between friends and family members.  it literally means “brotherly love,” which is where we get the name of our city philadelphia, meaning the “city of brotherly love.”  it is this love that goes beyond mere physical attraction.  on the love scale, it is the mid-level love.  it’s a love that isn’t based on simple emotions or feelings, but rather is one that goes deeper and is more complex.  unlike eros, phileo is a love that is not easily lost.  this is why old friends can spend years and even decades apart, and then when they get back together again pick up like they never were apart.  it’s why brothers and sisters, no matter how far apart they are, will relish every chance they have to spend together, no matter how much that sibling may have been annoying or even infuriating in the past.  like said before, it is not easily lost, but yet it can be lost.  there are stories of brothers going lifetimes without talking over a fight.  there are children who seek to “divorce” their parents.  best friends can quickly become enemies under the right circumstances.  even husbands and wives who genuinely have this kind of love based on the bond of matrimony, can eventually grow apart or have a big enough fight that they walk away from the relationship.  one redeeming factor of phileo is that it is a love that can be restored, but only if the third type of love is present. 

the third type of love is agape, meaning unconditional love.  the first two loves have conditions to them.  they are based on feelings and emotions, and those can be very fickle.  emotions are very powerful, and can cause us to make decisions many times without thinking about them.  or they are based on bonds, bonds that can be broken, thereby making that love no longer valid.  agape is not like this.  it is not based on emotions or bonds.  it is based on a conscious decision to love someone and to be committed to that person regardless of how they act, what they look like, or how they treat you.  it is a perfect love, one that is held by the Creator of love towards all of humankind.  it is best shown in romans 5:8 which says that God has shown us His love by CHRIST dying for us, even though we were sinners.  it is the love you are to use when commanded to love your enemies.  it is the only love that can allow you to truly forgive someone for a wrong committed against you.  moreover, it is that love that allows full reconciliation after forgiveness.  this love is consistently found in those marriages that last for 30 years or more. 

the beatles once said, “all you need is love,” and there is truth in that, but it is the right combination of the three kinds of love.  but to truly have a love that brings lasting joy, a combination of the three is necessary.  you can have agape, and a relationship can last, but one or both people can be completely miserable.  that is not the love that we are meant to experience.  love is meant to bring joy, and when you look at the characteristics of love in 1 corinthians 13, they are made up of a combination of all three.  when all three are present, there is a fulfillment like no other.  the temptation to look elsewhere is diminished, and each person learns to not only be content with their lover, but with themselves as well.  true love builds up everyone involved.

our story is one that would not have happened had the right combination of those three expressions of love not been present.  it is the story of two young people, from completely different backgrounds, who discovered each other, and the joy that could be had through a shared love, and as a result, they discovered themselves.  it is a story of happiness and heartbreak, joy and bitterness, hope and despair, hurt and forgiveness, loss and triumph.  the details are not always pretty, but the finished work is a beautiful masterpiece. it is a story of love.   
 

20150407

throw-away marriage

my bride and i are celebrating 13 years of marriage bliss (or something like it) in less than three weeks.  being an avid student of all things i find important, i've been delving through some marriage books such as "the five love languages (military edition)" and "real marriage."  three deployments in three years has definitely taken its toll on our family and our marriage, and thanks to the grace and honesty of my amazingly supportive bride, there were some things that i needed to work on that i was completely unaware i had begun developing, such as detachment and other emotional defenses.  so i've been trying to take advantage of this time apart to attempt to come back a better husband and father than i was when i left.  and it doesn't matter who you are, if you aren't growing in something, you are decaying.  it's the cause and effect nature of life. 

(note: i use "Church" in this post referring to the holy Church as a body, which was instituted by CHRIST, and "church" in reference to the business organization that fills so many buildings with crosses on them today.)

in pondering the topic of marriage, i began to think about marriage in general and all of the debate surrounding marriage today.  it's interesting that only 20 or 30 years ago, the church was all about how divorce was evil, and the availability of no fault divorces would destroy the family.  however, when attempts at legislating divorce failed, the church gave up and moved onto a different social target, which was abortion at the time.  so what happened?  did we lose sight of divorce and the detriment and heartbreak it can cause, or did we simply concede defeat and attack a different front? 

i also shake my head at the hypocrisy of the church today to condemn same-sex marriage when we readily accept divorce, and become the embodiment of the proverbial speck and log parable told by Jesus.  i'm not saying same-sex marriage is biblical, because it is by no means that, but it's no wonder society looks at us as a church and says, "why should we listen to your teachings on marriage when you don't even obey them yourselves?"

i say that as multiple marriages i know currently are on the verge of ending in divorce. moreover, as a counselor, a large majority of my cases are marriages that are ending or in trouble.  divorce is nothing new.  it was referenced even in old testament times.  there are varying beliefs on divorce within the Church, with some allowing for divorce in cases of abandonment or adultery, and others going so far as to say divorce is never allowed.  i fall under the former, even though it is still not the ideal.  if marriage is supposed to be the picture of CHRIST's relationship to His Church, then where would we be if He took that stance?  i believe that all marriages can be saved if the two people are committed to each other, and i counsel to that effect.  don't get me wrong, there are situations where i believe separation is necessary, and even divorce, such as in cases of abuse and neglect, but again, it was not the ideal that God set up from the beginning.  there is a reason divorce is so detrimental to CHRISTians (i say that because governmental marriage does not equate to biblical marriage.)  the Bible states that when two people are joined in holy marriage before God, they are one flesh.  so a divorce is essentially splitting one person into two separate halves, which is majorly traumatic.

but today, society has bought into a few major lies:  everything is disposable, people deserve to be happy, and there is room for a standard of beauty among CHRISTians.  these three lies have led to the destruction of most of the marriages that i have watched crumble as lives were destroyed.

the first lie is that everything is disposable.  in talking with a chief on one of my ships, he said that his grandparents had been married for 60 years, and his "pawpaw" attributed that to the mentality of society when they got married.  he said, "back then, when something broke, you didn't run to the store and buy another one, you fixed it.  so we took that approach with marriage."  there's some truth to that.  we live in a throw-away, instant gratification society.  so when a marriage isn't working, we throw it to the trash and go find another one.  when our spouse isn't satisfying us, we throw them to the side go find someone who will.  i went to a wedding some years back, and in the vows, they removed "till death do us part," and replaced it with "as long as love shall last."  well, the problem with that mentality lies in how they define love.  this is because society's definition of love is severely flawed, and i see that played out everyday when couples sit in my office and say, "we just fell out of love," as if love is some sort of wagon that you're riding in and then just slip and fall out.  love is no longer seen as commitment and unconditional.  it is an emotion, based on those romantic or sexual feelings that we have in the beginning.  when those fade, rather than saying "what happened and how do we fix it?" we say "well, this one is broken.  time to go get another one."  it sets up a vicious cycle if left unchecked, because once that broken marriage is replaced with a shiny new one that is full of that excitement and romance, it eventually will suffer the same fate. 

the second lie is that people deserve to be happy.  this is a direct product of the self-esteem movement of the 1980s, which led to the "me-generation" where everyone is focused on self.  when someone tells me that they deserve to be happy, i immediately ask them why.  the stammering and the digging for reasons is indicative of the true reality, which is that none of us deserve to be happy.  we are all liars, cheaters, thieves, adulterers, idolaters, murderers (yes, if we harbor hate in our heart CHRIST says it is the same as murder), and breakers of God's law.  that means that we deserve death, judgment, and hell.  now, we don't like to hear that because we like to think that we are inherently good.  don't believe it?  ask somebody if they're good, and they'll say yes, but if you point out their flaws, they begin to list all the things that they didn't do, and compare themselves to others whom they see as "worse" than them.  it's human nature, based off of pride.  the problem is, if we break one part of the law, we are guilty of the whole of the law.  that means that we are as just as guilty before God as the murderer on death row, the rapist serving life, the homosexual engaging in sex with their partner, or the roman centurion pounding nails into a perfect Saviour.  but we buy into the lie that we are good, ignoring Scripture which says our righteousness is like bloody menstrual rags, and therefore we deserve certain things, including happiness.  so when our marriage partner ends up not making us happy anymore because they don't pick up after themselves, they spend too much money or hoard too much money, they pick their teeth, they gained or lost weight, they want too much sex or not enough sex, or any of the other flaws that we can point out that bring us down, we bail.  we gravitate towards that person or thing or lifestyle that meets our standard of happiness.  we run to that greener grass, not taking into account that it's probably growing on top of a septic system.

the third lie we buy is that there is a standard of beauty among CHRISTians.  i am not just referencing physical beauty, either.  society has gotten us to believe that beauty lies in measurements, facial features, personality, attraction, or any other standard we can set up.  so when our spouse no longer has the six pack abs or the perfect breasts or the brown hair (or hair at all) then we have the right to no longer be attracted to that person.  when our spouse, who used to be an extrovert and the life of the party, now would rather stay home and spend time with their family, we get to go and find someone else who is.  and many times i see it where people marry based upon their pre-conceived ideas of what a beautiful marriage is, and when it doesn't meet that standard of beauty, we feel gipped, and want a refund.  but the fact is that God only has one standard of beauty, and that is CHRIST.  and all of us fall desperately short of that standard, so we rely on His grace in applying that standard of beauty to us, so that when God sees us, He only sees the beauty of His Son.  and then we apply that to our spouse so that when i see my spouse, i see not just a smoking hot woman that needs kissing, (hey, it's true!) but i see her as a child of the King, a princess of God, a sister in Christ (don't think on that one too long because it gets to be a little creepy), and i see her as God sees her:  holy, blameless, and beyond reproach. 

i'll be honest here, when my bride and i got married, things were great.  we were living off of love, and didn't have much money, but that was okay.  however, as kids came along and the stresses of life began to bear down on us, that initial marital bliss that we enjoyed faded.  there were years in our marriage where it was difficult, and i know she would admit it as well.  thankfully, we both came into this marriage with the commitment to love each other, whether we liked each other at the time or not, and we have made it through some very difficult times.  we will probably have more difficult times in the future, and i know you find it hard to believe, but we don't always get along or agree on everything.  she still severely dislikes my music and her frumpy nightgowns aren't my favorite, but we make it work.  she knows that i am here for the long haul, and i know she isn't going anywhere. 

so what was the purpose of this post?  it's simply to step back and look at your marriage and thank God for your spouse.  ask yourself how do you live out your definition of love for your spouse?  are you making the choice to love them despite their flaws?  are they perfect despite their imperfections?  or is your love fickle, and you find yourself longing for greener pastures?  if that is you, then you have the wrong definition of love.  you have turned your back on your faith and essentially said that God made a mistake when He put the two of you together.  remember, God doesn't make mistakes, and when He brings two people together and accepts their vows as they make them to each other and to Him, he expects you to live out those vows.  and the wonderful thing about CHRIST is that He does forgive us when we do mess up.  even when a person has gone through divorce, He still forgives, even though the earthly consequences are still there.  but if a person is making plans to leave their spouse without prayerful consideration (and don't say that you have prayed and God has told you to leave your spouse, because that would make God a liar in His Word and inconsistent with His nature) then they are ignoring Scripture when paul said, "what shall we say then?  should we continue to sin so that we can get more grace?  GOD FORBID!"

i know that this is a touchy and difficult post, and each person has their own unique situation.  i have said before, and i will say it again, if a person is in an abusive relationship, then the marriage vows have been abandoned and the person needs to get to safety.  but Scripture is clear on marriage and divorce, and even if the church has conceded defeat in the divorce battle, it does not mean that i will.  otherwise i need to rip this cross off of my collar and go find another occupation.

finally, the church has made great strides in recent years in caring for divorced people and helping them and their children work through the trauma that it causes.  they have gone from condemnation to compassion, but must be careful to not delve over into condoning.  as the societal debates rage on, may the Church continue to reach out with compassion to our fellow sinners out there and show them the better way that CHRIST provides through His blood and redemption.  i used to say, "there but for the grace of God go i," but the truth is, i am just as guilty and "there i go, but because of the grace of God the price has been paid."  may it be said of all of us.

20150401

this might sting a little

wow.  it has been a while since i posted on here.  and looking at my other friends' blogs, it seems that i'm not the only one.  it's not that i haven't had anything to say, it's just that i've been busy, as life seems to always get in the way of extra-curricular activities such as rambling on a blog just in case someone is listening.  after all, that's all we are doing when we blog, talking into the air, just in case someone is interested.  think of us as the street preachers on the corner with a box and a microphone. 

so what has caused me to turn my microphone back on and step back up on my box with my "the end is near" sandwich board you ask?  since you are reading this, you know i am about to tell you.  one of the aspects of being in the military, is that it forces you to pay attention to world events.  i was recently in britain, and i realized how much we see things through american eyes.  while there, i saw various monuments referencing the "civil war," which confused me at first as i was wondering why the british would have monuments honoring a war overseas.  then it hit me, it wasn't our civil war, but theirs, aka the "war of the roses."  you would think i would learn, but then i saw another monument for world war 2, with the dates 1939-1945, i thought "1939?  world war 2 didn't start until...oh yeah!"  that being said, too often, we in america tend to focus on america, and neglect to remember that there is a big world outside of the united states.

a few months ago, in libya, a group of isis terrorists systematically beheaded a group of egyptian CHRISTians for no other reason than they were CHRISTian.  a few of them sang hymns, and a few prayed, as they were beheaded on that shoreline.  in syria and iraq, isis is killing CHRISTians by the hundreds, and destroying churches and sacred CHRISTian relics, leading to what some have called the "CHRISTian holocaust."  why do i bring this up?  because in the u.s., we've seem to become oblivious to this fact and are so comfortable in our own pews that we have become arrogant and complacent in our faith.

what do i mean?  ever since the 1950's and the post world war 2 moral revival (i say that, because it was then that the greatest shift in church attendance occurred, and many people became moralistic deists, mistaking it for CHRISTianity) our nation has enjoyed a peaceful time for the church.  however, in recent years, with the advent of political changes such as the legalization of homosexual marriage, religious pluralism, and islamic catering, a number of professing CHRISTians are crying "foul."  some have even gone so far as to use the "persecution" word. 

the problem is, that we have become so entrenched in our pseudo-CHRISTian moralistic lifestyles that we are shocked and appalled when we face any sort of opposition, and in our arrogance dare to put ourselves on the same levels as those who are paying the ultimate price for their faith right now.  we've become no better than those on the left who are equating being denied a cake to the holocaust.  how did we get here?  what led to that arrogance?

ever since the phenomenon known as the "moral majority" took place, CHRISTians, or those who profess to be, have enjoyed living our lives in relative comfort, thanks to laws put in place to keep us that way.  in doing so, we gloss over those passages in Scripture that tell us to expect opposition.  they become a catch phrase, or something that happens in far off lands.  sure, we reference those who have lost their lives in church on sunday morning, and we pray for those who are suffering, but we truly are removed from any such suffering ourselves and are hard-pressed to understand what it is really like.  so when the laws that we've enjoyed for so long start to change, and we are forced to pull our heads out of the sand and look around, we don't like what we see.  so what do we do?  we attempt to frantically grasp for more sand to pile around us so that we can rebury our head.

we do this, because we like to be comfortable.  we would rather continue to legislate morality and hope that it fixes the problem so that we don't have to deal with it.  sure CHRIST loves those evil sinners outside of our circle of church wagons, and we'll pray for them, but we'd rather they just behave and stay in their little boxes and leave us be.  we've tried it for years with divorce laws, "merry CHRISTmas" laws, heterosexual marriage laws, anti-abortion laws, prohibition laws, and any other moralistic pseudo-CHRISTian law we can find to keep our world neat and tidy.  these laws have failed time and time again.  sure, they fix the problem on the surface, but bootleggers still made moonshine despite prohibition, people still got back-alley abortions, people still had homosexual sex, etc.  we were trying to put a band-aid on a bullet hole, give the patient a pat on the head, and then say, "go 'way kid, ya bother me!" 

as i've spent time studying the Scriptures in my daily life, it has occurred to me that nowhere does it say we are to initiate change on a societal level.  Jesus told us that we will be hated for His name's sake.  He said to render unto caesar that which is caesar's, thereby affirming the oppressive roman government that was in place.  He refused to be the militant Messiah that the people were hoping for to overthrow the roman government, and when He didn't, they turned on Him and had Him killed for it.  Jesus even went so far to say that if you were struck on the cheek, to turn your other cheek to let them slap you on that one as well, and that if you were asked to carry a man's cloak for one mile, referring to the roman practice of a soldier grabbing a jew and forcing them to carry their gear for up to a mile, that you were to carry it for three miles.  that message would be received today about as well as it was then.  paul went so far as to say to be subject to the laws and authorities that were placed over you, and that they received their authority from God. 

where does that leave us?  and that's the rub that no one wants to admit.  our practice of enacting laws to keep sin out of the culture is not only not sanctioned by Scripture, but is actually antithetical to it!  we are told that all of the things that are happening are going to happen, so we should not be surprised.  but we are not told to change society as a whole, but to preach the gospel and make disciples.  you see, societal change does not happen on the whole, but with individuals.  and that means you actually have to leave the safety of the country church club and go out and not just tell the gospel, but live it!  that means loving people despite their sin.  don't get me wrong, nowhere are we commanded to ignore people's sin, but to love them despite it and call them to repentance and faith in CHRIST.  when Jesus encountered sinners such as the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, and the rich young ruler, He directly addressed their sin along with calling them to follow Him.  we know that the rich young ruler left sadly, because his money had become his idol, but tradition tells us that the other two left their sin and followed Him. 

this business of isolating ourselves from the world has resulted in the world's writing off our CHRIST and those who claim to be His followers.  our critical disdain of people's sin has caused us to be labeled as bigots.  and part of it is our fault.  we have been setting our sights on sin targets for decades and then fired every moral weapon we have at them like heat seeking missiles, and countless souls have become the casualties of those attacks.  here's the thing, we haven't been called to change people's behavior or to rid them of their sins.  only CHRIST can do that.  we are only called to point them to the One who can set them free from the bondage of sin that has enslaved their lives, many of them blind to the chains that they wear.  only CHRIST can open their eyes to see them and only He can remove them.  but our actions have so masked CHRIST from them that all they can see are white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones.

so what does that mean?  are moralistic laws bad?  it depends on the intent behind them.  laws to protect the innocent babies that are slaughtered every year through abortion are needed, and we are ethically required to speak up for those who don't have a voice.  however, to use the name of CHRIST to force people to behave is not only unbiblical, it is harmful to the gospel.  when people are forced to do something, it is not love, it is slavery, and the last thing people need is another master controlling them.  that's what CHRIST came for, to set us free from all forms of slavery, and to take His yoke upon us, which is easier and lighter than the ones we force on ourselves and others.

just because a government enacts a law, does it change the reality of the Bible?  if a government calls something a marriage, does it redefine what the Bible has sanctioned as a marriage?  (here's one to chew on, does the government have to be involved in Biblical, covenental marriage before God for it to be valid in the eyes of God?  find that one in Scripture!)  if the government enacted a law tomorrow that said there was to be no one god recognized, does it change who the real God is?

the point is, we need to stop expecting our world around us to conform to our Biblical worldview, and expect what CHRIST promised us, that we are strangers in a strange lands, aliens in a foreign country.  we need to realize that in terms of persecution, we are not exempt from it, and ours by comparison to our fellow brothers and sisters in CHRIST pales when you take into account the price being paid only a plane ride away.  we also need to decide which hills we are going to die on.  we need to reevaluate our convictions and how we live them out and ask if those convictions are actually in line with CHRIST and His teachings to love others unconditionally, including those who are enemies, and decide what loving them actually means.  if you can reconcile that conviction in light of the call of CHRIST, then you must be willing to pay that price, be it fines, imprisonment, or worse.  one day, and i believe it will come and have been saying it for years, we will be asked to pay a far greater price for CHRIST than mere media attacks.  the question then becomes, how will you fare when real persecution comes to your doorstep and you are no longer able to legislate it away?  for now, enjoy the protections that our government provides, but for the sake of the gospel stop trying to control your little slice of heaven by hiding from and building walls to protect you from the world.  the world needs the message you bring, and trying to launch it from behind the walls on spiritual trebuchets is not working.  love God, love people.  you can't claim one and not the other.  my life verse is Romans 5:8, which states, "but God has shown us His love by Christ dying for us, even though we were miserable, wretched, hell-bound sinners, the very enemies of God" (paraphrased by me!)  how do you love people?  by risking your reputation, your safety, your financial stability, your life, to go to them in their sin and tell them that Jesus loves them and that you love them, and introduce them to the Saviour who set you free from your sins, which were many (and just as bad as whatever sin they happen to be engaging in!)  because make no mistake, one day our meek and gentle Saviour will return not on a donkey, but on a white horse, with a double-edged sword, and those who are not covered by the blood of CHRIST, be they those we call sinners or those moralistic deists we mistakenly label as CHRISTians in the pew next to us, will be judged by Him.  He is the only One qualified to judge the lost.  we will then have to answer for what we have done with the gospel.  will we say "i was scared of what the world would do to it, so i hid it?"  or will He say to us, "well done My good and faithful servant"?
-C.