March 29, 2011 Leave a comment
March 9, 2011 Leave a comment
To those protected souls who have been spared the agony of divorce, praise God and “guard what has been entrusted to you”. To the battered and scarred who have endured and survived the travail of divorce, take heart and know that God is not done with you. His intention from the beginning to the end is always redemption. He desires for us a life of abundance and adventure from the time we arise to the time we turn in. It is not God who discounts our worth upon failure. It is Satan and whoever else desires to follow his lead. The Bible is filled with failures who were ultimately used by God to reveal the greatness of His character through the frailty of theirs.
I personally had developed a mountain of anger and chose to let it seethe under the surface of my countenance. Anger toward so-called “people of grace” who turned their back on me when I failed after I had invested a large portion of my life in them in the midst of their failures. Anger toward an ex-wife who didn’t understand the confusion and frustration I was experiencing as a result of a gradual fade from a solid spiritual disposition. Anger toward a God who had allowed a string of events into my life that culminated in collapse. Anger toward myself for not being the unshakeable spiritual leader I thought I was.
March 6, 2011 2 Comments
There was a time that I arrogantly believed that divorce was not an option for our marriage. Not an option. What does that mean? Either I am too good to consider the moral wrong or that I am trapped in a relationship from which I have no hope of escape. Or maybe the trouble that the rest of the human race experiences will somehow pass me by. If you have the audacity to smugly recite the phrase, “divorce is simply not an option for us,” you might want to buckle your seat belt. Words have a way of finding you . . . and testing your intentions.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
I Corinthians 10:12 NKJV
The Message translates that verse in a more direct way.
“Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” I Corinthians 10:12 The Message
Someone will undoubtedly say, “Well I am not being arrogant. I am just committed.” If for one second you base that commitment on yourself, you should “take heed.” Only a dependency upon the grace and strength of God will produce an ability to withstand the inevitable attacks on the marriage relationship. Any commitment that is based on human ability is fragile at best. Furthermore, to experience temporary success only feeds the flesh and increases the hunger for more.
I am not questioning the need for commitment. I am strongly challenging the basis of that commitment. Only God can work good in and through us. His hand of wisdom and strength is all that is necessary. Any attempt on our part to aid Him is futile.
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Emphasis mine) Philippians 2:13
Someone will invariably say, “So you are saying that we should just relax and let God do the work?” Actually not just someone will respond that way, many will. The question that we all should ask is, “Where do I get my strength from?” My purpose is never to diminish our responsibilities as followers of Christ, but I desperately desire to communicate to all people that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. To abide in Him is to thrive in this world and to live life to its fullest. When a person begins to trust in his own ability to live life God’s way, failure is soon to surface.
Ok. Time for some balance. The Bible is clear about our responsibilities as believers. We are told to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; I Timothy 4:7 NASB
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:8-10 NIV
The biblical list of instruction for us to commit ourselves to God’s way is much too lengthy to list here. Suffice to say that we have a responsibility to hear and act according to the truth of God. To actually do what God tells us to do requires a dependence upon Him for the will and the ability to be obedient. This is but one in the lengthy list of paradox in the Scriptures. Two words that help me in this line of thought are surrender and focus.
To surrender is “to give oneself up, as into the power of another.” I have no confidence in my flesh, I can only truly hope for success when I am “into the power of another.” That “other” being the Lord. He is my hope for peace and life in this world. To surrender not only means trusting in Him, it also means not trusting in me.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
Focus is a concept that works hand in hand with surrender. As long as my focus is on Christ, life is worth living. When my focus drifts away from Him and onto myself, my problems get bigger, my debt is crushing, relational conflict is overwhelming. . . Goliaths become unconquerable. Yet when I focus on Christ, those difficulties that were once too huge to deal with become strangely manageable.
By now you may be thinking, “I thought you were writing about marriage.” I am. Marriage is the biggest part of life for me and if I intend to succeed at marriage this time it will be by the power of Christ. As I fix my eyes on Jesus, I gain a clarity that can be found nowhere else.
Divorce has taught me many invaluable truths about marriage. It has also taught me that I am totally dependent upon the grace and strength of God to be successful at anything in this life, especially marriage.
I thought I understood how to be and stay married before. I was wrong. I have learned the hard way that apart from Christ, I can do nothing. I have also learned that I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. The bottom line for me is to keep my eyes fixed on Christ and to never believe, even for a second, that I have the ability to love my wife as I should without the strong hand of the Lord to keep me surrendered and focused. To God be the glory. Amen.
March 4, 2011 Leave a comment
“Let’s go to the marriage conference in Glorieta this year,” she said.
Cindy and I had just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. She saw an advertisement for the Fall Festival of Marriage put on by Lifeway every year at Glorieta, NM and thought it would be a nice getaway for us and also a chance to work on our marriage. Having been in the pastorate for years and knowing full well that many marriage counseling sessions were pre-empted by attendance at a marriage conference gave me cause to hesitate. People get in an environment where the lines of communication are opened a little further than usual and conflict is inevitable. Furthermore, these types of conferences tend to present a perfect picture of marriage to shoot for, giving the inevitable feeling of letdown to both parties eventually. However, having both gone through a divorce, we had committed to continually work on our marriage. So I agreed to go with her.
We made plans to go, paid the fee and secured a babysitter. As October rolled around, we noticed that we were both becoming a little (sometimes a lot) more contentious with the other. I began to wonder whether or not this marriage conference was a good idea. The week before the conference we had a pretty big blow-up. We agreed that we needed God’s intervention with us in some way to get us focused in the right areas. We were hoping that He would speak to us at the conference. Little did we know He was going to do much more than that.
I told Cindy that marriage conferences were to be viewed as a tool trade show. God would give us tools for our marriage through the speakers, but we would have to commit to putting those tools to work in our lives. She would later tell me that she was looking for something a little more like a miracle. I said that was kind of idealistic and not to get your hopes up about anything we could call miraculous. I would live to eat those words.
The first day was very enjoyable. We sat in a small group setting as the speakers conveyed to us the biblical model of marriage. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife is to show respect to her husband. They provided some props for the session that were fun, yet instructional. I gave Cindy a bracelet made of candy beads and for each bead I communicated to her something that I love about her. She crowned me with a crown from Burger King. I still have it. That evening we attended the worship service and listened to the speakers who were leading the conference. Dave Hunt was leading worship and he did an incredible job. The speakers were OK, but not what I was looking for. No clear word from God tonight. Maybe tomorrow.
The next day we got through two or three small group sessions before the proverbial wheels came off. The topic was about forgiveness and how differently people express apology and extend forgiveness. As we left the classroom Cindy said, “You just need to say you’re sorry and everything will be alright.” I said, “I don’t say I am sorry unless I really am.” We didn’t even make it to the car until we were at each other’s throat. The day was ruined, almost. We had already paid to ride horses that afternoon and I did not want the excursion ruined. We were silent through lunch. We left the lunchroom and drove over to the prayer garden. I think it was a little louder that day than most days, because we re-engaged in the previous discussion to an even greater degree. No resolve. Now we have conflict and have wasted 50 bucks on riding some stupid horses.
During the horse ride Cindy seemed to relax a little bit and appeared to enjoy the ride. I did not.
Divorce has taught me that often times people view even the simplest of concepts much differently. Cindy gets mad and then cools off and even sometimes she forgets why she got mad in the first place. I do not. I need to have the disagreement resolved before I can move on. These two dispositions are incompatible apart from Christ. Each position has its merit and its detriment. Only when I am in Christ and filled with his Spirit can I interact with Cindy in a positive way when we are in conflict. She thinks I over-analyze everything and I think she would rather forget it and move on. A sure recipe for disaster. We have had to learn to give each other some time to cool off before working through the conflict, whatever it may be. I tend to view difficult issues in a relationship as either a cold or cancer. Colds need to run their course and go away. Cancers have to be addressed and resolved. The alternative is for the cancer to eat away at the relationship, often times to a fatal degree. Mutual agreements are wonderful, but mutual understandings are necessary. I must understand Cindy’s position before I can interact with it. Likewise, I must communicate my thoughts effectively so she can try to understand my position as well. This is no easy task because of the interference of emotion. Far too often we tend to believe that we have figured out what the other is thinking, thus making an explanation on their part unnecessary. This is extremely damaging to a relationship. If I value my wife, I will listen to her. I communicate her value by being attentive to her words. Likewise, I perceive her thoughts toward me by how well she hears my words and their meaning.
We got back to our room and spoke very little for a while. When we did speak, our conflict only got worse. At first, I did not want to go to the worship service that evening. I had a headache and the only part of the service I enjoyed the night before was the music. However, we both agreed that we had come to hear something from God and the only way that was going to happen was if we were in a setting for Him to speak. So we went to the service.
We arrived about 15 minutes late and sat toward the back. I was noticeably irritated because we had missed most of the part I enjoyed—the worship music. I expected a repeat of the night before concerning the speakers, and I was wrong with a capital W.
The speakers that night were Dale and Jena Forehand of Stained Glass Ministries. From the time the husband and wife team began to speak, God sent bolts of lightning through both Cindy and me. Their stories were so identical to ours that it actually became comical at times, heart wrenching at others. We were riveted in our seats as God spoke more clearly to me than He ever has. At the end of the service, Dale solemnly declared that he believed that there was at least one couple that was on the verge of failure and he would very much like to pray with and for that couple.
I didn’t even ask Cindy if she wanted to go. I grabbed her hand and started up the aisle. Since we were so far back in the congregation, I really didn’t think we would get to speak with Dale and Jena. But I knew we needed to speak to someone. Not a soul moved in the entire congregation the whole time we were walking forward. We walked straight up to them and I poured our story out in a few minutes. They were both very compassionate and encouraged us to come together and truly be one in Christ. We went back to our seats holding hands and embraced once we got there. We spent hours that night talking about how much we meant to each other and how dangerously close we had gotten to the edge we said we would never approach again.
Divorce has taught me to swallow pride, take my wife’s hand and go get help before it’s too late. Attending a marriage conference is sometimes difficult, but not nearly as difficult as a divorce. Information is a good thing. Read a book on marriage and talk about it together. Not every line in every book applies to every marriage, but some lines will. And they are worth the time it takes to find them. Marriage counselors are not just for marriages on the rocks. Many healthy marriages stay that way because of constant maintenance.
The next day was the last day of the conference. We were fairly exhausted physically and emotionally, yet very happy at what God had done for us. We wanted to find Dale and Jena to buy their book, Let’s Get Real. We walked up to Dale and it took him a minute to recognize us. We were smiling now.
February 16, 2011 1 Comment
A lot of what you read is wrong, at least, it seems that way to me. For example, you often hear people say, “If you can’t be happy being single, you will never be happy being married.”
There is, of course, some truth to that. No one can make you happy if you are not predisposed to be happy. On the other hand, if you do have the capacity for happiness, having people in your life sure can help. For me, that is mostly about a wife. There is a reason the most severe punishment our penal system measures out is solitary confinement. I get why it is such a harsh punishment.
I hate the thought of being alone. On the other hand, sometimes I
think I could be a hermit and be content. But mostly, I hate the thought of being alone.
February 8, 2011 Leave a comment
Getting married the first time was a bigger event than the second time, yet I gave much more consideration to the second wedding. Not the ceremony, but the marriage. The first wedding was relatively easy. Show up to rehearsal, stand where I was told, recite the words slowly and carefully and promise to be on time for the wedding. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 7 o’clock. I arrived at 6:55. A whole five minutes early. I don’t remember being very nervous, just ready for the whole wedding thing to be over with. I was happy to be marrying my bride; I just have never been interested in ceremonies. They seem to me to be occasions that people expect to go perfectly, but rarely do.
I used to play piano with area bands and on occasion a scheduled musician would fail to appear. After the obvious panic would diminish, the attending musicians would have to scramble to fill the necessary positions. Arguably, the most crucial being the drummer. On one such occasion we were without a drummer. The guitar player looked at me in desperation and said, “Can you play the drums?” I said, “Sure.” An immediate look of relief covered his previously distressed face. As he was walking away I mumbled loud enough for him to hear, “How hard can it be?” A small twinge of distress returned to his countenance and he remained unsure of my drumming abilities until the sound checks began.
“How hard can it be?”
January 31, 2011 3 Comments
“I want to go to church”
I had not heard that line for a few months. Cindy and I had been living together in an apartment and not going to church. For obvious reasons. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out that when you are not living life God’s way, being around God’s people is more of a nuisance than a blessing.
“I want to go to church”, she said again.
“Alright”, I said, “but we are going to a big church where we can blend in and nobody will bother us.”
I chose First Baptist of Las Cruces for two reasons. First, because it is big. Three services and lots of people. Easy to blend in and go unnoticed. Secondly, I had heard the pastor preach and I really liked his style. So we rose on Sunday morning, dug out our Bibles (they were not really being used at that time in our lives) and headed off to church. I remember thinking about a southern phrase that mentioned being as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. That was me.
January 25, 2011 2 Comments
A Fall Into Grace
If there was anyone on planet earth that I would have predicted would not walk the path I walked it would have been me. I was and I am a Bible-believing, church going, quiet time having, and committed Christian. Heck, I was a pastor. Even as I look back on it now I can’t believe that is me. As I recall the events of 2003 it seems like I am thinking of someone else. How did this happen?
Part of the answer lies in my commitment to marriage and my confidence that divorce would never happen to me. My confidence made me not take seriously enough the verse that says, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV) Another part of the story is pain. If a man is hungry enough he will steal even if he believes stealing is wrong. If a man is hurting enough, he will do things he never thought he would. Here is my story.
It has always amazed me how theology and normal life can be so similar at times and then seemingly worlds apart. I remember being in a class at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and thinking, “these guys just need to get saved.” The “guys” of whom I speak were actual pastors of local congregations who were questioning the lordship of Jesus Christ. They chose to simply view Him as their friend instead of their boss. I laughed out loud as an older, wiser professor simply said, “Well, the Bible says that God has made Him both Lord and Christ. I really don’t see that we need to pursue this any further.” I remember muttering under my breath, “Ya’ll just need to get saved.” I figured their congregations needed revival to get them all back on the right track. Because, as everybody knows, if revival can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed. It seems that I certainly had a lot to learn about God, people and most of all, myself.
In another class setting at seminary, a professor posed a case study that involved a deacon who was not regularly attending services and had let some of his duties fall by the wayside. When asked what should be done I replied, “Well that’s easy. Church discipline is obviously in order. And I’m sure a little revival wouldn’t hurt anything.” I later found that it’s much easier to deal with a case study than with a real person. A person who has a wife, kids and real life problems as well as church responsibilities.
A couple of years later I was pastoring a medium sized congregation in Southern Louisiana. The wife of one the deacons decided to leave her husband for another man. It was one of those circumstances that no pastor would want to have to deal with. It was a no-win situation. I tried to extend grace to all involved while knowing there were obvious consequences for them to face. Yet to extend grace to her upset those hurt by her decision. I also had to enforce church discipline, hoping for restoration at a later time. This decision upset another segment of the congregation. Usually, upset church members take their animosities out on the pastor. To compound my frustrations, a few months later someone in the church told me that I had not done enough to help resolve the situation. Little did this person know that I had met with everyone involved on many occasions while putting several hundred miles on my truck and trying to be as discreet as possible. Obviously, this was not a fun time in my life.
January 23, 2011 2 Comments
“Fallen, I have sunk so low,
I’ve messed up, better I should know,
so don’t come round here and tell me I told you so.”
— Sarah McLachlan
Working at a hardware store affords one the opportunity to occasionally break from the grind and listen in to the music playing through the store speakers. This break, however, turned into taking the rest of the afternoon off. The lyrics of that particular song were too piercing to recover from and way too applicable to suppress.
How in the world did I ever get here? Just months ago I was a successful pastor in an awesome church. My contemporary heroes were John MacArthur Jr., Chuck Swindoll, D. James Kennedy, Eugene Peterson, and a host of other conservative theologians. I was widely respected and surrounded by solid Christian friends.
Now I am counting nuts and bolts, visiting my kids and living under the weighted title “divorced”. Nobody in my immediate circle would have believed this could even be possible. Certainly not me. I saw it happen to people around me and I tried to be redemptive to them. But the thought that it was possible for me to walk away from virtually everything good in my life was unthinkable. Now that I have, it seems unredeemable.