(Ordinary)Gospel.(Automatic)Family.(Latent)Mission.

Last night, our college ministry had the semester’s first large-scale gathering of students and others in the college-age range at what we call The Brook. I had the opportunity to co-host the event with a dear friend of mine, and we’d spent the past weeks planning, creating and losing sleep. [Pause] Think about the arrangement of that sentence. I said I had the opportunity to co-host. But what about the planning, creating and losing sleep? Were those opportunities too? Considering that when we think about an opportunity, we usually follow it up with some noteworthy action, a platform, some dream come true or some profitable endeavor, I’d say no. The fact that God would let me stand on a stage was the opportunity. Isn’t that what we all want in some arena or another? To be seen and heard.

 Ordinary Gospel

Over the course of the night, I shared God’s story of redemption manifested in my life, as did the other host, and our student pastor had an open dialogue with those in attendance to probe into their hearts and minds.  One student made a confession that was met with many agreeing nods: the Christian life can become predictable and ordinary, mundane even. He was right. We’ve read this, heard that and already told everyone about it via social media. We talk about Jesus and scripture with bullet points and breakdowns to the point that actually falling on our knees, God forbid our face, in awe of Him is beneath us. My friend admitted yesterday that she couldn’t remember the last time the majesty of God moved her to the point of tears, so heavy she couldn’t stand, until just recently. Personally, I didn’t have to go before God to prepare to share my testimony last night. I’ve already been coached on how to communicate it quick enough to someone who I might not have an opportunity to speak with at-length. No, this is not an attack on doctrine, methods and models; we must be students of the one we worship.  But if all our learning and planning makes us forget who we were when God exchanged our death for life and somehow overshadows the filthy-ragged Christians we still are, then I’d agree with the wise woman who told me, “I never want to know that much.”

Salvation is a miracle.  The fact that God sent His son to take my place in death and now I get to walk free is no point made in passing.  We’d be outraged if the prisons just started releasing criminals to roam free, with the hope that they’d make different choices with their newfound freedom.  What have they done to earn such a pardon? They don’t deserve to live freely! They (we) sure don’t.  But it’s been quite a few mornings since “the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.” So, that thought doesn’t wake us up or provide fuel for our days.

Automatic Family.Latent Mission.

 As if the supernatural exchange of redemption isn’t enough, the fact that we are not left wandering this planet alone in our freedom should give us pause. Not only do we have the spirit of our emancipator living inside us, but we also get to journey through this life with other freed souls.  “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” There are countless Christians who don’t know this common unity customary to some of us today. There are people struggling to stay on the narrow road, because there is no one around to remind them of whose they are.  Not to mention those brave souls risking their lives in hostile environments only finding fellowship in the Holy Spirit.  Yet, for those of us who have a contact list full of other believers, the Body is no monumental piece of art. The idea that God arranged for us to “randomly” encounter one another or choose to live in the same state or end up at the same church when we come from totally different worlds is not a phenomenon to ponder. Oh but it is. And if we did, we’d be brought to our knees. God is sovereign. Don’t just say it, sit with it; better yet, go with it.

 He hasn’t privileged us with family merely for comfort in common hues or delight in shared preferences. “Only because the message concerning Christ Jesus must still go forth and find believers, and because our task is not yet perfected, does God in His patience continue to sustain us with His good gifts.” We are united by Him and for Him alone. Growing in the Gospel alongside family while on mission should mean we’re around other people whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel, which compels us to share with those lost souls whose present lives remind us where God stepped in and changed our own. Being on mission not only takes what’s in you and pours it out to others, but it should serve as a constant reminder of how and why you even have anything in you worth sharing.

 That God would let me…

 As I came across an old friend’s profile this morning, the reality of last night showed itself.  Who my friend is now versus who I am by the grace of God struck me. I could still be like them! Living “free” yet so bound. But the power of God unto salvation changed the course of my life; actually, it introduced me to life.  How could that reality not leave me ravished every day? With that in mind, God letting me do ANYTHING should produce gratefulness. For my life to be seen or my voice heard by anyone for His namesake should be humbling, because I know where I was and where I still am—not tall enough to reach His glory. It’s not about being on a stage or leading a group or discipling some person.  Often times, that’s just us wanting to be seen or feel important for our pride’s sake. It is an opportunity just to get to offer my gifts, my time, my thoughts, and myself to the God who gave them to me and redeemed them all from my own tainting. To get to pray for strength and energy for the day that followed a long night of planning and preparation is in fact an opportunity. To get to do anything with and for God is an opportunity I do not deserve.

May I never forget that. May the thought of it be what wakes me up time and time again.

 *All quotes taken from Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Love Like You're Dying

My husband started dying six months before our wedding.

Dying, yes, in the way of all flesh. As in the way a newborn begins to age after its first breath. The way the sticker price on a new car plummets as soon as you drive it off the lot. The way tender green leaves turn, toughen, and fall. Dying in that universal human way. But dying also more visibly than the average 23-year-old typically does. Dying more surely than any freshly graduated, almost newly married, virile and viable sample of humankind ever should.

Sometimes I wonder if the journey, the real one of our life together, began the night I met Bill at the gate of the Nashville airport and saw the white square of gauze taped to his neck.

The white square hid the hole where the lump had been. Bill’s glossy black hair that was to fall out in a few months brushed the bandage under his ear. Here’s the short list of what that bandage foretold:

Twenty pounds of strength that radiation would chase off of his body in the weeks to come. A neck that would never again suggest “football player.” Inches off the vertical leap he would mourn on the basketball court when he finally got back out there. A voice that crackled with a smoker’s static for the rest of his life. A long season of nausea and an even longer season of fatigue. Losses that most men have decades to experience gradually, that most of them don’t even notice until they reach middle age. The white square of gauze was the billboard that announced, “Cancer: This is Really Happening.”

We embraced in the airport and walked to the car in a holy wake. We cried together a few days later after reading up on his particular disease in the encyclopedia. (An old encyclopedia that filled our young heads with misinformed dread.) We spoke of a funeral and a shorter engagement and how disappointed we were at the prospect of losing time and each other. Already, dying made life together other a sacrament. It made the petty fractures between us seem very small. Dying changed us.

Jesus said not to fear the person—or I would add the disease—that can kill you. Because these things “can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God…” (Matthew 10:28 NLT) So what is left when the fear of death is stumbled upon and somewhat subdued? A soul. And a healthy fear of God.

That was the gift left on the doorstep of our marriage. We were souls more than we were bodies. And we had this handy view of God as the one who could fill the former and do whatever he wanted with the latter. That doesn’t mean we began our marriage like two disembodied wraiths, floating over the threshold of our new home with no thought for the corporeal thrills of a setting up house with shiny wedding gifts, a shared last name, and hand-me-down furniture, including my great-grandparent’s re-finished marriage bed.

I still don’t get how this works, but diving headfirst into Jesus’ truth about life—that we lose it when we cling to it, and we find it when we let it go—can transfigure even the smallest “this life” things we experience. The hairs on our heads—what could be less soul-related?—are numbered and valued. Which I take to mean our stuff and our concerns matter too. Because we matter.

I didn’t know any of this then. I just knew we had escaped death—Bill’s death and my pain if he’d died—only to emerge thankful to God and more soul-aware than we might have been otherwise. We started our life together with the kind of spiritual relief that most people don’t fully feel until they are old enough to have dodged a hail of bullets. To use an overly and misused word, we were in awe. Something about that awe—maybe because it was from and toward God himself?—gave us a rich soil in which to grow our little marriage seedling. As if we were farming inside a terrarium.

What Almost Dying Does

It’s amazing what almost dying can do for a relationship. It can age a young marriage. In many ways, it did ours. We learned earlier than most that loving mightily is only possible in the shadow of dying. Loving is what our hearts long to do. Dying is what none of us can escape. The truth is, loving well is only possible when we die. Not just physical death someday, but daily death to myself. How else can I get out of the way and let Christ live through me?

And almost dying can make an old marriage young. My parents were exhibiting a touch of the crankiness that comes with aging when my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. In the 18 months that followed, the cord between them that had become just a tad crooked straightened out into this lovely line of marital bliss—I’m not exaggerating, ask anyone who knows them—until my Daddy finally left this earth. The prescience of death gave them an anti-aging inoculation against the ills of long, later-life marriage. This serum didn’t just fend off cantankerousness, it all but eradicated it.

I’m not saying almost dying can make you nicer to each other. And I admit actually dying is very different from almost dying followed by the reprieve of living. But proximity to death does implant a reminder that today could be the last day. If this word is my last, this gift, this meal, this moment, this purchase, this decision, this embrace, this restriction, this permission, this touch, this kiss, then I’d want to make it memorable. Or important. Or at least nice.

But is having a nice marriage the end goal? We not only didn’t want one of those when we started out, we were afraid of settling for one. I’m guessing you feel the same way. You’d rather to raise the bar, not lower it. You know married love can be, as Job said, “stronger than death.” And you don’t want that strength to weaken or fade. You also know what it feels like, if only for a ghost of a moment, for the plane that just took off with your love on board to crash in your imagination. To entertain, late at night all alone, the “what if” of disaster. To sense the eventuality of every living thing—death—becoming the now.

For some reason, learning that “human existence is as frail as a breath” (Psalm 39:11, NLT), for us, led to a keen understanding that we were “travelers passing through.” Once I knew it and he knew it, we could know it together.  (I’ve discovered this: If I don’t grasp truth as me, we won’t as us.) Because life is a temporary state, marriage is a temporary state, too.

Which can make for a miraculous now.

 

 

It's All God's

So often you see sibling rivalries in families—competition, catty fights, disrespect.  I grew up in a home like that and honestly my sister and I never recovered.  I was never made to honor my sister and never had to share or consider her as more important than myself.  We had our own room, own tv, own toys, own clothes and we were not allowed to touch the other's property without asking.  It created a sense of entitlement and individualism in the both of us.  I didn't need her.  She didn't need me. In regard to raising our own family, our philosophy in parenting and in defining family is that we need each other.  Dhati and I see the need to train our kids in a way that prepares them to be others focused.  I have trained my kids that in being a part of this family, there are responsibilities that each of us will own.  Tonight, it is my job, for instance, to cook a healthy meal; it is Trinity's job to do the dishes, Jade's job to sweep, Briaiah's job to bath Nathaniel, Dhati Jr's job to take out the trash and Brayden's job to wipe down the table.  Everyone has a role.  We need everyone to do their part.  From a very early age (two years) my kids have loaded and unloaded the dishwasher; now with a 9,8,6,5,4,and 3 year old, I have worked myself out of a job in that regard.  The kids learned very early to hang clothes and fold towels.  All six of them are completely responsible for putting away all the clean clothes, which I am responsible for washing two times a week.  We need each other.  If any one person tried to do it all, it would be impossible.

Every day when the kids get home, it is their job to unload their backpacks, unpack and pack their lunches for the next day, put their shoes away, lay out their own clothes, do their own homework, and read for 30 mins without Mommy reminding them to do so—this is their job.  My contribution is helping each of them with their homework, providing the lunch stuff for them to put in their boxes, etc.  We all have a role.  I need them to do their part.  They need me to do mine.

They need each other

The kids share rooms—we have enough rooms in our home to give at least the oldest kids their own rooms, but we find such training in having them share that space.  We have explained to the kids that when they leave our house and move to a dorm, they will share a room; when they get married, they will share a room; might as well learn how to do that well now, since that is what awaits.  We flesh this out by the way we talk about ownership—the kids don't own anything.  What we have is not our own, but ultimately God's.  The house we live in is not ours; the suburban in the driveway is God's, not the Lewis'.  For the kids, that shirt is not yours, it's God's, and you are stewarding it.  That toy you just received for your birthday is not your own, it is God's.  Those Christmas presents, that bike that is too tall for everyone else, that belt, those shoes, that cupcake, is not yours.  It is all God's.  And if it is all God's, and he is sharing it with you, you have to have the same mentality and willingly be ready to share it with others.  This is so bizarre for others and certainly counter-cultural.  However, I will say, it has been a change agent in the kids (and in me). They enjoy sharing, they give toys away to friends, and they do not hold fast to material things like so many of us do.

We are trying to create in our kids a healthy sense of community—a need for one another.  We open up our home when people need a place to stay. We have had to have homes opened up for us.  We loan the cars out. We have been given cars.  We share the food in the frig with neighbors as we have been given food and shared with so often.  We are trying to develop in the kids a healthy sense of needing others. If Dhati wants a spider (like the one Brayden received on his birthday), we will not buy him a second one; he needs Brayden to share with him.  That sounds so simple.  But, too often you see parents buy two or three of the same thing so that it's "fair."  In my opinion, what that does is teach materialism and diminish the need for others.  Trinity needs Jade to take care of her shoes, because those will be hers one day soon (yes, Jade's feet are bigger than Trin's).  Nathaniel needs Brayden not to lose his lunch box, because that may be his next year.  I need the kids to turn off the lights upstairs, because that is God's money they are wasting (ok through that one in because its a pet peeve, but still holds true).

My boys know that their number one responsibility to our family is to protect and to honor.  The girls know that theirs is to respect and to honor.  We do not allow (without reprimand) them to speak down to, laugh at rudely, demean, yell at, or disregard each other.  They are to honor one another.  They need to be on one another's side.  The boys need respect from the girls, so that it helps train them on what to look for in a wife.  The girls need tenderness and protection from the boys, so that it teaches them what to look for in a husband.  In a dark world, the public school world, the kids need each other.  It feels good to know that your sister has your back when you are being bullied on the bus.  It is esteeming to feel that gentle hand reach over and hold yours when an adult is wrongly yelling at you (as the kids faced this past week).

Yea, we're training them to need each other.

Different But Equal (Part 2)

2: ROLE of RESPECT: You have the power to breath life or death.

The best way we can help is to breath life into our husbands.

How do you breath life?

God created man with such a uniqueness from women.  I wish someone had TOLD ME SOONER!   As a woman, I don’t need the same things a man does; they don’t need the same things we do.  I see this in my sons and daughters already. Trinity, Jade, and Briaiah need to be protected, pursued, told they are beautiful, affirmed, hugged; their hearts need to be shepherded.  Dhati, Brayden and Nathaniel need to conquer, they need to be the strongest, they need to know that their lives count for something and they naturally protect.

Not too long ago, my oldest son stood up for my oldest daughter on the playground—Dhati-4, Trinity-9.  A little boy was picking on Trinity and Dhati saw it.  He ran, stood in front of her and told the boy not to touch Trinity.  Dhati got knocked to the ground, but stood back up and got back in front of his sister.  His natural instinct was to protect. [pull_quote_left]They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.[/pull_quote_left]  When Trinity told me the story, and I asked Dhati about it, he was proud; he didn't need us to say thanks, he was naturally proud of his role.  On another note, a couple weeks after this incident, Dhati got punched in stomach in the lunch line.  He tried to keep it together and, he was fighting his emotions, but when I happened to walk into the lunchroom on this day to have lunch with him, he lost it.  He felt embarrassed and disrespected.  My boys need respect.  I pulled Dhati aside in that cafeteria, told him I was proud of him for being a boy who cares about people and wants to protect.  I told him I was proud of him for being a good boy and not a bully.  His eyes lit up and all that embarrassment, all the self-doubt seemed to melt away immediately.  THIS IS WHAT RESPECT IS.

They—boys, men—need this respect.  If I discipline the boys in front of others, I do not get the same result as if I pull them aside and talk to them; that shows respect.  THEY NEED IT.  It breathes life into them.

Look at 1 peter 3: v.1 won without a word by respectful conduct v.4 precious in sight of the Lord is the gentle and quiet spirit (this does not mean being vocally quiet; it’s a quiet spirit) And Ephesians 5: v.33 See to it that the wife respects her husband.

I have also seen the opposite of this in the adult world. I have had countless opportunities to mentor young ladies in their role as married women.  I would say the number one area that is just ignored is the woman’s understanding that she can breath life by respecting her husband.  I remember talking to one young lady who had only been married a few years. She consistently told her husband what to do, complained all the time about what he did/didn’t do, talked bad about him in public, raised her voice at her husband and then later complain that he did nothing to help around the house or with the kids.  I challenged her one day, “You are breathing death into your marriage.  She looked at me like I just cut her right arm off.  She had no idea she was a major part of the problem; she had no idea she was being disrespectful.  She had the same misconception that many of us have, that men are strong, so we can just say what we are feeling.  They are men; they should be able to take it. Not the case. They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.

Another couple that we have known for years shared a story that one day, the wife sat in front of her husband and told him, “I don’t love you or respect you.  I never have.”  Tears streamed down the man’s face—crushed.  Death.

US: What does this look like for us?  We come in with a love deficit as women.  Dad didn’t accept us, friends have rejected us, or we have believed the lies of the enemy and that alone has stolen our love capital. Whatever way, we come to the table with a love deficit.  In the same way, regardless of the upbringing and background, a man comes to the table with a leadership deficit, a respect deficit.  They are secretly waiting for someone to tell them that they are good at what they do.

ME: I assume all the time that Dhati knows that he’s great, but I also tell him. And regardless of how many times I say it, I see life breathed into his soul every time I say something that affirms his leadership over our family.  “Babe, you are such a great leader. I am so excited we have 3 boys that will get to see it modeled well.”  “Babe, that sermon was great, but the best thing about it is that you are able to speak with confidence, because you are a man of integrity. Not everyone can say that about their husbands, thanks for leading in that way.” “Babe, I can follow you wherever you see fit to lead this family, because I trust you at the core.”  You would be amazed at what that does for a man.

Dhati said in one of his manhood sermons, “Imagine if every man in here got this...got what it means to be man." I have the same heart for our ladies.

Imagine what it would look like, how society could be transformed if every wife saw dignity in her role, chose to respect her husband and be a life breather.

Helpmate: means literally ‘a help answering to him’ or ‘one who answers’...Adam needed a helper.

God has called our husbands to work, and we are called to help.  We are a team. If we can play our role as Helper, die to self and embrace the team’s best interest, we can be so much more effective for His glory.

 

Different but Equal

I am a mom of six, and I take this parenting thing very seriously. When I am asked to share about marriage and women’s roles in marriage, I ask myself, “If I could have had only two concepts shared with me or two concepts I could share with my daughters, what would they be?” The other night, I was reading the story of Bathsheba with my girls before going to bed, and I made the comment that Bathsheba’s role as wife to David was one of value, but it was very different from David’s—he was leader.  Trinity’s face soured, “Mom, I don’t like that.  I think I am a pretty good leader,” she told me.  There is something innate in a woman that wants to lead, wants to take over.  In many ways, we can be more competent and better at certain things than men (I’m sure there are statistics to prove it). And the funny thing is that Trinity is right; she is a good leader, and she will probably continue to prove to herself that she is smarter than the boys around her. I didn't have to teach her that; it is real in a woman even at a young age.

Society has dealt with this very issue in a couple of different ways: egalitarianism, chauvinism, and complementarianism.

The Egalitarian view is the idea that men and women are the same and equals.

The Chauvinistic view says that men are more valuable than women.

The Complementarian view describes men and women as equal but distinct. Equal in value but holding different roles and responsibilities.

I ascribe to the last view.

To some women, this view brings comfort, but to some, it brings fear.  Honestly, early in my walk with the Lord, having a different role did not comfort me. Submission = bad word.  You see, I had goals.  I was valedictorian of my high school, and I had scholarships upon scholarships (I even had money left over after I paid for school, books, room and board, etc.). I had my heart set on becoming a pilot, and I scored high on my aptitude tests, so I was on the path to being just that.  I didn't need a man to lead me!  Besides that, my parents and the models I saw made the idea of following someone look gross, belittling.   Being married and submissive meant cooking dinner for a man that just watched tv all day, putting up with someone calling me names because they had the right to do so, and feeling threatened because they were bigger than me.  This idea was not comforting, and I am sure a lot of you have the same discomfort.  But I want to show you the dignity we have with our roles as wives.  Let’s look at the wife, by looking at who the Holy Spirit is.

WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The Holy Spirit is a person of the triune Godhead. The Trinity is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Each of those is a person within a triune Godhead.  All three are God. The father is God. The son is God. The Spirit is God.  All three are perfect and holy. All three are equally God.  And the Holy Spirit, just like the others, is alive today and lives in the hearts of every believer.

We find in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit is called 'Helper.'  The Greek word Parakletos is used for ‘helper’, which means: advocate, defender, helper, comforter, counselor, representative of Christ, teacher, and one who reminds us of truth.  That is the Holy Spirit.

Now, what does this have to do with being a wife?

If you read Genesis 2:18-19, you will see that God says he will give Adam a helper (parakleto)—someone suitable (or fit) for him.  He created a union between man and wife and He says He wants to give Adam someone that can help him and be suitable for him.

1:  The role of the wife, like the spirit, has tremendous dignity. We are given the same job description as that of the Spirit!

THIS LEADS US TO AN IMPORTANT QUESTION:  Is the Holy Spirit less of a person in the Trinity than the Father or Christ?  And in regard to wives, is our role less than that of our husbands?

Looking at chapters 14-16 in the book of John, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role; He is God-given (14:16), He will bear witness (15:26), and He will teach (16:12).

The role of the wife, therefore, like the Spirit’s role, is not lesser but plays a part of ONENESS.

The Holy Spirit is a part of a Godhead where three persons exist with equal importance but different roles, yet united as ONE.

The husband and wife are also called one.  Genesis 3:24 says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become ONE flesh.”  A marriage is supposed to be a team designed to accomplish God’s glory.

Application: Ladies, shift your mindset of what it means to be a HELPER. God graciously put us in this position and in this role.  We have to accept it, and I pray that we would be satisfied and energized in it as well.  Seriously ladies, this is where the enemy has kept us in a trap.  We are paralyzed and unable to enjoy our roles in marriage, because many of us have bought into the lie that it is not dignified. Or, we are unwilling to even marry because we have bought into the same lie.  Who wants to ‘just help’ someone else?  But, if we can really own the fact that God gave us our role, and He gave us dignity in it, then, and only then, can we really make a difference!

Let’s transition.

My second point

What I wish was shared with me before marriage, and what I am definitely teaching my daughters now is that our role in marriage is to be respectful.  I had no idea what this meant.  I thought ‘respect me’ meant, “You gonna respect me!” But I’ve since realized that we have the ability to breathe life or death into our husbands...

*Part 2 will be featured on Wednesday.

Why Did I get Married?

I have thought about this often over the past few months as my wife and I have endured extreme highs and lows.  The following list is in no particular order, I just categorized these things as they came to my mind and wanted to answer as honestly as I know how.

1. I had a God-given desire to be married and God providentially bamboozled someone else into thinking it was a good idea.

Desire

Marriage isn’t something that only crossed my mind after I became a believer.  I have wanted to be a husband for as long as I can remember.  While all of the guys back in first grade were punching girls and pulling  their hair saying they never wanted to get married, I hung out with the girls that were already planning weddings.  I thought this would be a cake walk since my friends were no competition.  I would surely be married by fifth grade, easy.

I can remember reading Genesis 2 shortly after becoming a believer, and longing for what I saw: a relationship in which two people could be “naked and unashamed.” I longed for a companion with whom I could be completely open and vulnerable, without any fear that she would exploit me.  I wanted this good thing that the Bible talked about and held in such high regard.  This desire only increased when I saw brothers in the faith get married and talk about experiences that I could only dream of.  I wanted a best friend who would know everything about me.

Providence

God providentially fulfilled this desire by allowing me to marry my wife, Shawndra.  How did I know Shawndra was the one?  In some sense, I didn’t know she was the one until she said “yes” to my proposal, and “I do” at the altar.  I realized then that my speculations were warranted, and she was the woman that God blessed me with.  I’m grateful that God blinded her to enough of my deficiencies to convince her that I was marriage material.

In Genesis 24, as Abraham is giving instructions to his servant on how to choose a wife for Issac, the servant asks Abraham, “What if she says no and doesn't want to come back here?” Abraham, with amazing profundity, replies, “If she says no, then she’s not the one.”  I knew Shawndra was the one and decided to marry her, partly because she said yes.  If she turned me down 15 times, it would be safe to assume that providence wasn’t on my side.

2. I felt like marriage would be a springboard to honoring God further (Eph. 5)

It wasn't until I saw the ultimate purpose of marriage that I was really convinced to pursue marrying Shawndra.  In Ephesians 5, after Paul gives his most extensive discourse on marriage (to both husbands and wives), he ends by saying, “This mystery is profound, but I am referring to Christ and the church.”  What Paul was saying is this, “I know that I’ve been talking about marriage and have spent almost an entire chapter giving you the keys to have a successful one, but here’s what I want you to know—the purpose of marriage goes beyond you, this is really about Christ and the church.”  It was at that point that I realized the nature of marriage.

Marriage is  like a camera in its purpose. A camera takes pictures. The pictures offer a first hand experience of whatever lies captured in the image. That’s why wedding photography is such a huge industry.  The better the camera, the better the picture; the better the picture, the easier it is for people who haven’t had a first-hand encounter with the event to experience it.

This is the purpose of marriage.  To present a lifelike picture of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, endurance, friendship, and pleasure to a hurting and a fractured world that desperately seeks after all of those things.  The better the marriage, the better the picture.  The better the picture, the easier it is for onlookers to see God’s love made real to us through His Son.

My wife and I were blessed to have built a friendship almost entirely on serving the needs of others.  I don’t say that as a precursor for finding “the one,” I say it to show that it really helped me understand the purpose of marriage.  As a result of our relationship, I saw just how much she spurred me on to love others and good deeds (Hebrews 10). I also saw just how much she complemented me and my weaknesses.  Being with her made me more of an effective witness of the truth of Jesus .  So, marriage became a no-brainer when I saw that as a result of being together I could more effectively do the very thing that had been driving my life thus far.

3. Selfish motives – thinking marriage would be my savior

[pull_quote_left]But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.[/pull_quote_left]I wanted to fulfill and experience the God ordained purpose for marriage, but I got married for a lot of selfish reasons as well.  (That dispels the myth that God only blesses you with marriage once you have effectively conquered all of your selfish desires. Not encouraging selfishness, just showing God’s grace.)  To be honest, I hated being lonely growing up.  I always wanted to be around people, and I needed people around me constantly to feel loved and valued.  What better way to guarantee that I would never be lonely again than to be married to someone?  Right?  And, yes, I also wanted to have sex without fear of guilt or shame.

But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.  What marriage did do, however, was expose the sin that was in my heart.  I saw (and continue to see) that the majority of the unmet expectations and frustrations in my marriage had nothing to do with my spouse and her failures.  They have everything to do with me and my sinful desires to have someone who would feed me grapes and fan me with oversized palm branches every time I had a rough day on the basketball court.

Truth be told, I think there are a lot of people out there who have a better understanding of what marriage is “supposed to be” than I had when I first got married.  God allowing me to get married certainly wasn’t a reward for my faithfulness to him.  Marriage was a gift to me to expose the sin and idolatry in my heart that keeps me from really experiencing intimacy with Him.

In this life, EVERY ONE of us will possess God-given desires that are unmet.

Please read this carefully: Just because a desire is “God-given” doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to happen.  Having desires that go unmet is a part of life.  No one has ever received everything he wanted.  If all of our desires were given to us, then this wouldn’t be earth, it would be heaven.

More often than not, we do not get what we deem as important or vital.  I’ll never forget our struggle with infertility. My wife and I have been trying for four years and three months to have kids, with no luck.   My thought had always been, “It is a good desire, of course it will happen for me one day.”  God gives good gifts to his children, he would NEVER keep this from me.  He would never hear my cry to impregnate my wife and say, no.” And I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed.  It never happened.  And everyone I talked to said, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen one day.”

I remember being in my room one day, reading Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper.  While reading this book, a thought came to my mind unrelated to the actual content.  EVERYONE IS WRONG! What if it NEVER happened?  What if I NEVER have kids of my own?  What if I never go into a mall and have someone stop me to tell me that my daughter looks just like me? What if I never have a son to compare my baby pictures with?  What if?

This is a God-given desire that I had before many of my friends, and that I prayed for longer and harder than any of my friends.  I wanted to know God as Father by being a father.  I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they’ve grown in their walk and learned about love because of fatherhood, and I want to learn that.  I want to know God like that.

What I heard the Lord say to me was, “John, what if I don’t want you to know me that way?  What if there is a unique way that I want to reveal myself to you and through you?  Some people will know me that way, but other people will know me through another way.  What if I want you to grow in your relationships, your fatherhood, your submission, and companionship, not through natural children of your own, but adopted children?”  Here’s the question that provided the most comfort to me in my struggle and changed my heart.  Lord, what would you have me to do with the time, money, energy and love that you’ve given me NOW, that I would like to use to parent the kids that I desire?  Who in my life have you called me to extend these things to?

It was in this that I realized that EVERY ONE of us will have to learn this same lesson in life one way or another.  If you’re single and you’ve been at Blueprint for the past few weeks, or heard the sermon, then you’re probably thinking about this lesson as it relates to your relationship status.  When we come to the realization that all  of our God-given desires in this life will not be met  we can really begin to live.  This is where life really takes off regardless of your circumstances.  Life takes off when you leverage the life you already have, rather than lamenting the life you wish you had.

Marriage Retreat- Recap

A few weeks ago, we held our very first Blueprint Marriage Retreat! It was a great turnout at the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center, where we laughed, cried, got deep, and danced the night away. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and said they were really impacted by the weekend. Straying from the traditional structure of retreats where we pay a speaker to come in and give us knowledge, we focused the weekend around couple's fellowship and dialogue. Guided by an awesome curriculum called The Art of Marriage, we were challenged to examine our marriages openly and honestly, in community, so that our relationships would continue to flourish.

I can't wait until next year, when we can do it all again. Planning will begin in August/September of this year, so if you're interested in helping out feel free to email me at counseling@blueprintchurch.org.

Until then, enjoy and share some of the pictures from our Saturday Date Night @ Wyndham.

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