Happy 29th Anniversary Cheryl

Happy 29th Anniversary Cheryl

 Today, June 29, 2013 is our 29th Wedding Anniversary. It’s also our daughter’s Bridal Shower for her wedding in a few weeks. I know you’re exhausted and spent. Today would be a good day to hide-away up in Chicago, get some custom pie at Bang Bang’s, peruse the used books at MyOpics, and take a gentle bike ride along the lake front. But . . . another day.

This is my Legacy Letter to you, the one that I committed to write as part of the Art of Marriage seminar that we attended earlier this year (presented by FamilyLife). I’ve been waiting for this morning to write it – here it is.

Dear Cheryl,

Since God created marriage to be a motion picture of the gospel, the more that I learn to give my life away to you, the easier others will believe that Jesus gave his life away so that his bride will live. I know that my love for what Christ has done for me will determine my level of sacrifice for you. The more time I spend enjoying the gospel in my heart, the more of me I will give to you – without too much grumbling. Grumbling is what sinners do – I have contributed to the noise, yes. Please forgive me. I’m a work in progress. But after 29 years together I am still committed to learning what it means to put your happiness before mine, and in doing so, discover true happiness.  It’s not easy, in fact, apart from the grace that is mine in Christ, it’s impossible to believe that my joy is found in losing my life for you. It’s so anti-flesh sounding and can feel like self-hatred. But the Lord says that we are one flesh. And since no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it, then to abstain from nourishing you is my loss of joy – he who loves his wife loves himself! He who does not love his wife, does not love himself and does not want to be happy – not really (Eph. 5:28, 29). Wow!

To believe and apply this is beyond me. But when I look at Christ it all makes sense. I love it that Jesus did not love himself apart from me, withholding his body from the cross. But he voluntarily surrendered it to me, not just because he loved me, but because he saw in the long run, a delight and a joy that makes the cross worth it – he saw an eternal dance of laughter with his wife (Heb. 12:2). I therefore choose to believe the gospel for my own husbandry – I choose to believe the gospel and apply it until you are safe in the arms of the one who loves you more than I do. This is my legacy to my family that I aim to give. No money, no Time-Share condo, no sacred material collection of coins or nick-knacks, and no earthly awards on a mantle can provide a legacy to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren like the one that I am resolved to bestow.

Sin seems so powerful at times that one more ounce of bitterness, misunderstanding, harsh word, or moment of indifference, could just crush our marriage under the massive weight of the curse. At times, it seems that our inability to move forward will cause us to fall backwards; it’s so easy to fall and so hard to climb! But when I look back over the years and see where we are, I can believe that whatever is next to come, grace will be there when we get there, and not any sooner. Not to say that there is no grace for today – there is! Bunches of it! But only to say that I, we, need not fret about our tomorrows as if we’re on our own. God will provide enough grace for us today, and tomorrow.

Cheryl, I love you sweetie – you’re the love of my life and my best friend for life. I promise to love you to the end. I promise to not bring disgrace and shame upon you by loving counterfeit gods of joy and fulfillment. Which means, I promise to keep on repenting of personal sin and to keep my eyes upon Christ. Let us both believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that neither of us can do for the other what Christ alone can do. This is our legacy to give.

If you were angry like God, you would be a most loving person – part 3 and last

I am impatient. And this means that I am not angry like God. And since I am not angry like God, I am not a loving person as I ought to be. Patience and slowness to anger is a character trait of God that shows off his mercy. Because God is slow to anger:

  1. He Disciplines us for our sin – Micah 6:9-16
  2. He forgives us when we repent – Micah 7:8-9
  3. He does not give us what we deserve – Micah 7:18a
  4. He releases his anger by subduing, conquering our sins so that he may show compassion – Micah 7:18b-19

Here again is why Ed Welch has been used by the Lord to temper my anger. Enjoy!

“God looks at our present sins and says, “That’s wrong. What you’re doing does not please me. It offends me and it hurts people.” True patience is not aggression and attack mode. It is not about passivity, indifference, and an uncaring attitude towards evils. Patience simply does not put up with bad things. It is not neutral. It does not accept anything and affirm everything. Patience hates what’s happening, and rolls up its sleeves to redress what is wrong. God is slow to anger – he is patient. The spiritual discipline of patience sees wrong but is slow to anger. When you are slow to anger you are willing to work with wrong over the long haul.

Exod 34:6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
Num 14:18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and • the fourth generation.’
Neh 9:17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.
Ps 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Ps 103:8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Ps 145:8 The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Prov 14:29 Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper * exalts folly.
Prov 15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Joel 2:13 and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Jonah 4:2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country ? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Nah 1:3 The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

To say that God is slow to anger is to say that he is patient. In the face of wrong, if we are patient, we see the wrong more clearly. You see the wrong in a deeper truer way than if you reacted immediately with outrage. Patience suffers as well. This is why we are not patient – we don’t want to suffer long the pain of being patient – it hurts to be patient. When Moses describes God as slow to anger it is because he is “long-suffering” (Exodus 34:6; 2 Peter 3:9).

Patience hurts because it causes you to struggle inwardly. You don’t react right away. You don’t have a short fuse. You don’t act the same way though you see and feel the wrong. You put up with difficult people and events, but not out of indifference, resignation, or cowardice. You are driven by a different purpose. Rather than sounding the alarm, calling up the troops, and leaping into hostile action, you carefully take a different approach. You bear with people, rather than counterattacking. You are willing to work slowly to solve things. You are even willing to live for a long time within seemingly unsolvable evils.

But godly patience is powerful – it changes things! Proverbs teaches us the wisdom of patience in the face of wrong.

15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

16:32 – Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

19:11 – Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

25:15 – With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.

This understanding of patience helps us to see that we can be committed to change people and circumstances. Patience does not mean that we are doormats, passively absorbing abuse, even inviting abuse. A doormat psychologically drowns in the sense of powerlessness, victim-hood, cringing fear, self-pity, and self-condemnation. But one who is patient and slow to anger is courageous and clear-minded. It sees the hope of change and longs to repair the wrong. It does not reach the end of its rope like impatience. It does not explode like destructive vengeance. It does not give up in exhaustion, disgust, or despair. The willingness to work over the long haul is merciful anger, waiting and working to see a change in what is wrong and what matters.”

The Gospel is a Better Hope than the American Dream!

Russell Moore is one of my heros of the faith. He’s also President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns. He also teaches at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. Below is his post for today – read it and you’ll see why I gave this post the title. O how our churches need this message and apply it.

How Should Same-Sex Marriage Change the Church’s Witness?

— WEDNESDAY, JUNE 26TH, 2013 —

The Supreme Court has now ruled on two monumental marriage cases, and the legal and cultural landscape has changed in this country. The court voted to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and remand the decision of the Ninth Circuit in the Proposition 8 case, holding that California’s Proposition 8 defenders didn’t have standing. The Defense of Marriage Act decision used rather sweeping language about equal protection and human dignity as they apply to the recognition of same-sex unions. But what has changed for us, for our churches, and our witness to the gospel?

In one sense, nothing. Jesus of Nazareth is still alive. He is calling the cosmos toward his kingdom, and he will ultimately be Lord indeed. Regardless of what happens with marriage, the gospel doesn’t need “family values” to flourish. In fact, it often thrives when it is in sharp contrast to the cultures around it. That’s why the gospel rocketed out of the first-century from places such as Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth and Rome, which were hardly Mayberry.

In another sense, though, the marginalization of conjugal marriage in American culture has profound implications for our gospel witness. First of all, marriage isn’t incidental to gospel preaching.

There’s a reason why persons don’t split apart like amoebas. We were all conceived in the union between a man and a woman. Beyond the natural reality, the gospel tells us there’s a cosmic mystery (Eph. 5:32).

God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and his church. Marriage and sexuality, among the most powerful pulls in human existence, are designed to train humanity to recognize, in the fullness of time, what it means for Jesus to be one with his church, as a head with a body.

Same-sex marriage is on the march, even apart from these decisions, and is headed to your community, regardless of whether you are sitting where I am right now, on Capitol Hill, or in a rural hamlet in southwest Georgia or eastern Idaho. This is an opportunity for gospel witness.

For a long time in American culture, we’ve acted as though we could assume marriage. Even people from what were once called “broken homes” could watch stable marriages on television or movies. Boys and girls mostly assumed they had a wedding in their futures. As marriage is redefined, these assumptions will change. Let’s not wring our hands about that.

This gives Christian churches the opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture. But is there anything more “freakish” than a crucified cosmic ruler? Is there anything more “freakish” than a gospel that can forgive rebels like us and make us sons and daughters? Let’s embrace the freakishness, and crucify our illusions of a moral majority.

That means that we must repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our cultures. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”

For too long, we’ve acted as though the officers of Christ’s church were Justices of the Peace, marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.

The dangerous winds of religious liberty suppression means that our nominal Bible Belt marrying parson ways are over. Good riddance. This means we have the opportunity, by God’s grace, to take marriage as seriously as the gospel does, in a way that prompts the culture around us to ask why.

The increased attention to the question of marriage also gives us the opportunity to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does. Some will capitulate on a Christian sexual ethic. There are always those professional “dissidents” who make a living espousing mainline Protestant shibboleths to an evangelical market. But the church will stand, and that means the gospel Jesus has handed down through the millennia. As we stand with conviction, we don’t look at our gay and lesbian neighbors as our enemies. They are not.

The gay and lesbian people in your community aren’t part of some global “Gay Agenda” conspiracy. They aren’t super-villains in some cartoon. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. If we believe marriage is as resilient as Jesus says it is (Mk. 10:6-9), it cannot be eradicated by a vote of justices or a vote of a state legislature. Some will be disappointed by what they thought would answer their quest for meaning. Will our churches be ready to answer?

This also means we must change the way we preach. Those with same-sex attractions, who follow Christ, will be walking away from what their families and friends want for them: wedding cake and married life and the American Dream. Following Jesus will mean taking up a cross and following a hard narrow way. It always does.

If we’re going to preach that sort of gospel, we must make it clear that this cross-bearing self-denial isn’t just for homosexually-tempted Christians. It is for all of us, because that’s what the gospel is. If your church has been preaching the American Dream, with eternal life at the end and Jesus as the means you use to get all that, you don’t have a gospel that can reach your gay and lesbian neighbors—or anyone else for that matter.

Same-sex marriage is headed for your community. This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing. It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

And that’s good news.

For Everything There is a Season

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Cheryl and I enjoy our locust/grape-vine, rose-covered pergola because of its natural beauty and attraction for all kinds of birds – including my favorite: humming birds. But most of all, it reminds us that there is a time to give birth, to plant, to build up, to laugh, to dance, to gather stones together, to embrace, to seek, to keep, to sew, to keep silence, to love and enjoy peace (Ecc. 3:1-8). It really is ok to enjoy what God has given when the opposite is so true. When you watch the news it seems that all there is, is a time “to die, to pluck up, to kill, to break down, to weep, to mourn, to cast away stones, to refrain from embracing, to lose, to cast away, to tear, to speak, to hate, to make war” (same text). No wonder we fight against cynicism.

So for today, turn away from the false guilt of enjoying what God has made just because there is so much devastation. Enjoy. Give Thanks. Be Amazed. Create. Relax, and put your hope again in Christ who will make all things new some day.

Is it Baby Dedication or Parent Surrender-ship and Stewardship?

This Sunday we’ll be dedicating a baby to the Lord using Luke 18:15-17:

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Parents were bringing their infants to Jesus but the disciples rebuked the parents for doing so. Bad Parents? Nope. Bad Disciples! Jesus wants the infants because the kingdom belongs to them. Question: When is the right time to start evangelizing your offspring? Answer: As soon as they are born. These were not 5 year olds. They were infants who had to be carried by their parents and Jesus wanted to bless them.

The dedication of a child to God is not only for the child but also for the Parent. Using the above passage, I’ll offer these points of exhortation and encouragement to dad and mom this Lord’s Day:

  1. Dad and Mom surrender Ultimate Control of their baby to Jesus Christ:
    1. For salvation
    2. For health and safety
    3. For sanctification
  2. Dad and Mom worship Jesus Christ as Lord, not the Child
    1. Children are a heritage from the Lord, not Self-Identity and Self-Worth Props.
    2. Children are to be raised to leave, not raised to cleave
  3. Dad and Mom Rest in the Gospel, and therefore have . . .
    1. Relief from Performance/Perfection-based Parenting
    2. Relief from Hiding and Denying Personal Sin
    3. Relief from Unnecessary Guilt

Parenting is a surrendering of the child to God’s Loving and Sovereign right of ownership – God created the child in the womb, not man. Parenting is therefore a stewardship. Dad and Mom have in their possession, for a time, a human who is made in the image of God to be raised to reflect that image – not the parents image, for they too are image-bearers of Him who created all things for His glory.

If you are parenting, may the Lord equip you with grace today for this blessed, yet temporal calling upon your life.

What do you believe when you say, “Whew, that was close”?

We all have experiences where knowledge of something terrible almost happened but didn’t. When that happens, what do you say to yourself? More importantly, what do you believe about the world that you live in? Do you believe in random and chance, where what happens just does, and there is no one and nothing to believe in or turn to? If so, then why do you care and hope for a good outcome of events? Why do you feel a little thankful and grateful that the worst was avoided? Why do you believe in unbelief and yet want to believe that your life has meaning and value?

This past Father’s day I had to take my 27 yr. old son to a local urgent care on a Sunday afternoon because he was having headaches so severe that he was vomiting. By Monday morning under the guidance of our family doctor, he was sent to the hospital to get a CAT scan on his brain to rule out West Nile Virus (WNV), a serious threat for those who live in the Chicago area. By Monday afternoon, and all evidence surveyed, the diagnosis: Tension Migraine due to sinus infection and stress. No WNV and its threat of spinal meningitis. Whew, that was a close call.

When you give a sigh of relief for a better outcome than what could have been, believe that:

1. My heart is telling me that I can’t do random and chance – not really. Everything that is truly lovely in this life is because of meticulous calculation and design: a grand piano, a wedding cake, a bumble bee, a watch, a rose garden, a high-rise building – these things are telling me that something, someone, is creating, and has factored in the pain, sweat, and toil of beauty.

2. This world is broken and only by God’s grace is life doable. Believe that there is benevolent mercy from a Sovereign and Holy God at work in all of life that keeps most of what could go wrong, away from our doorsteps.

3. Whatever pain and suffering and loss and disappointment comes my way is not meant to harm me, but to uncurl my delusional grip on life: I am not a god and I cannot harness this world to obey me. Who do I think I am anyway?

4. Just as sure as the Sun will “come up” tomorrow, there is a predictable God who sent his Son at an appointed time to suffer an appointed cross so that at your appointed death your eyes will open to a definite and certain future of unbelievable joy and peace.

If you were angry like God, you would be a most loving person – part 2

Years ago, Jerram Barrs, professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary gave us the assignment: “Go home and ask your wife what she thinks will be your greatest challenge in pastoral ministry – that is what you will write on.” I remember loathing this because I sort of knew what Cheryl was going to say. So I asked and she spoke without hesitation  – and without praying about it (not very spiritual wouldn’t you say?!), “Anger.” I said, “*&$^#&()()%*&@^^@^” – that can’t be true!!!!!!

We experience the emotion of anger every day. In the words of Ed Welch, anger is an emotion that says two things and these two things must always be there in order to feel anger: 1. A perceived injustice (whether real or not); and, 2. It has to be important to me. For example, I don’t feel much anger at all if the news reports that a man’s tires were slashed in Mobile, Alabama. But if my tires are slashed, well, then . . .Just call me Heat Miser.

You see, a perceived injustice AND importance to me, are the two requisites for anger. The question is: Does my anger match God’s? And if it did, would I be a more loving person?

Unlike love, God’s anger is always earned. It is merited, it is provoked, it is stirred up – it is kindled. God’s Love however is never like this. The bible does not teach that God is Anger. He is Love. But God does get angry to protect what he loves. Watching God get angry is what we need if we are to become more loving persons than we are.

Hear what the prophet Micah had to say about God’s anger:

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old” – (7:18-20).

If you want to know how redeeming your anger affects marriage, child-rearing, employment, dealing with sinful behavior, relationships and friendships, and the built-in frustrations of life, then know this:

God’s anger is a redeeming anger!

God’s anger actually makes things better. His anger does not destroy what is already broken but repairs what needs to be repaired. God is never ashamed of his anger and he never sins in his anger. His anger always operates through his love. In other words, God does not blow off steam when things go haywire, letting the pent-up frustration spew out of his system, and then return to love. No, it is his love for his chosen that regulates his anger.

Does your anger end up separating you from the one you love or does it bring you together? This does not mean that God’s love does not discipline – it does (Heb. 12:6ff). But there again, it is his love that moves him to train our hearts to be like his. This of course has a narrow application for you – there are a hundred other variables that come into play in the real day-to-day relational dance between those we love and our anger. But start somewhere – and this is a good place to start. Is your anger tearing down or repairing that which is already broken? You’ll need grace and mercy to become more loving like God so that when it is time to be angry, it will aim to redeem and heal.

This is how God shows his anger to you today. He loves you and will only deal with your sins (a real injustice) through the finished work of his Son where all his anger was exhausted. His anger aims to protect the object of his love – not destroy it (your affection for him is really important to him).