The Blessing of Marriage

Stephane and I were married ten years ago tomorrow – July 26th, 2008. It has been an amazing journey and I am grateful to God for my wife. Here are just a few of the things I have learned from our decade-long marriage:

 

  1. The importance of praying together. Steph and I pray together every day. As the saying goes, “couples that pray together, stay together.” Praying together is a constant reminder of our need for the Lord. Only Christ can supply the grace and wisdom we need day by day.
  2. How much God loves us. Marriage is to be a reflection of the type of love and intimacy we can have with God. Just like the marital relationship, our Lord desires that we enjoy a deep knowledge of Him, not just a superficial knowledge. In this sense, it is amazing to me how instructive marriage can be when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.
  3. I am a sinner. Ok, ok, I guess I knew that before.  But marriage has a way of exposing all those warts and ugly character traits that we used to be able to hide. After ten years of marriage, I am much more aware of my own selfishness, pride, anger and sinfulness in general than ever before. As a side note, forgiveness in marriage is really powerful. You probably sin more against your spouse than you do anyone else, but the gospel reminds us that we can “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
  4. As head of our home, I have a lot more responsibilities.  It used to be that I only had to look out for myself and my own interests.  Now I have a family that I am responsible for. Obviously, this is a huge change from my pre-marriage days, but at the same time it is a good change. And even though I am the head of our home (1 Corinthians 11:3), there have been many times where the Lord has told me – LISTEN TO HER – SHE IS MY GOOD GIFT TO YOU! These are the moments where I must submit (Ephesians 5:21) and listen to my wife.  All honest husbands will affirm the need for this.
  5. The Lord takes care of us. Just like any couple, there have been many issues that we have had to work through and deal with in our relationship. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In anything and everything, the Lord has taken care of us and has brought us to a new level of faith we could have never imagined when we first got married. Glory be to God!
  6. Our love keeps growing over time. Before we got married, it was hard to imagine loving Stephane any more than I already did. But after ten years of marriage, I can honestly say our love for one another continues to grow. In the same way, our love for the Lord should also keep growing and multiplying. I like how Peter puts it at the end of his second letter: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. (2 Peter 3:18)

To summarize, marriage is an amazing gift from God and is truly fulfilling. That’s not to say there won’t be trials and difficulties along the way, but a Christ-centered couple can always know that God will supply an abundance of grace in your time of need.

Loneliness and the New Year

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to attend the Urbana Student Missions conference in Urbana, Illinois (now held in St. Louis). Urbana is a tri-annual conference that hosts thousands of students from around the world. This was a great experience and I look back on it with fond memories, however I will never forget how it ended for me. The conference takes place over the last 5 days of December and on the last night, as the conference concludes, attenders bring in the new year together. Depending on your personality, being in an arena with 20000 people bringing in the new year sounds kind of exciting, don’t you think? But I will never forget the feeling of loneliness that swept over me as the clock struck 12 and people started hugging and high-fiving. I had come to the conference by myself and didn’t know anyone else around me, so I naturally felt alone at this moment where normally you are surrounded by friends and family. The whole conference I was totally fine being alone (I’m more of an introvert), but at that moment, even though I was surrounded by thousands of people, I felt alone.

 

I had to chuckle to myself when I thought about how different this past new year was compared to the one I described back in 2003. Steph and I put the kids down at 8:30, we were in bed by 10:30, and we slept our way into the new year. In the morning I told the family…..Happy New Year! All that to say, at this stage of our lives, we don’t feel the need to be part of a big shindig to bring in the new year.

 

Remembering my Urbana experience was a reminder to me, however, that loneliness is a real problem for many, especially around the holiday season. Just last week a friend of mine confessed that as he took inventory of his own life, he realized that he didn’t have many close friends. He has a lot of acquaintances, but not many real, genuine friendships. Without question, he is not alone (forgive the pun). I’m sure there are a number of reasons that people (including Christians), struggle with loneliness and I believe that social media is one of those reasons. For example, we can have hundreds, and even thousands of Facebook “friends” but still struggle with friendship. Often, we are more comfortable communicating with someone through the medium of a screen rather than in person. It’s a crazy new world that we live in, and one that is not necessarily conducive to fostering genuine, meaningful relationships.

 

One of the Proverbs tells us: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). These bosom-buddy, kindred-spirit, blood brother type of friendships are a rare commodity today. Sometimes the “man of many companions” scenario looks attractive, but if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that we would rather have a few close friendships than dozens of superficial friendships. Deep down in our hearts, I think most of us long for a “David and Jonathan” kind of relationship (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4) that goes deep and stands the test of time. These relationships can be tough and messy at times, but everyone would agree they are worth it.

 

In this new year of 2018, let me encourage you to fight loneliness in four ways:

 

  1. Draw near to God (Hebrews 4:16, 7:25, 10:22) and grow in your relationship with the One who is a friend of sinners (John 15:15).
  2. Work hard to invest in a few close, meaningful friendships. Identify these true friends and then strive to serve them, bless them, and love them (John 13:34-35).
  3. Ask God to help you appreciate and invest more in your family. Truly, “family” is a wonderful gift of God and as Satan tries to rip our families apart, we must grow stronger and closer together.
  4. Get plugged into the Body of Christ – the family of God here on earth. The Church often gets a bad rap these days, but it is the institution that God created to represent Christ to the watching world (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10). We would do well to attach ourselves to what God is doing in this world through His Church.

 

Happy New Year!

The Strangest Marriage Proposal…..Ever

This past month marked 10 years since Steph and I were engaged. It has been an amazing journey for the two of us, and I am thrilled that the Lord has blessed me with such a wonderful wife. With it being 10 years since our engagement, I got to thinking about how it all went down.

 

Steph and I started our long distance relationship back in April of 2007 (how we met is another story altogether…..I will save that for another time). I was in seminary in Vancouver, BC while Steph was in Ohio just starting off her counselling career. With there being 2500 miles that separated us, we had a lot of really long phone conversations, a lot of emails, and I took three trips out to Ohio. Then in early November of 2007, Steph was finally able to make the journey out to Vancouver to visit me and see where I was studying in preparation for pastoral ministry.

 

For a few weeks prior, I had been planning my proposal. Steph and I had talked a lot about marriage and we were already starting to plan for our wedding, but I had led her to believe that I wouldn’t propose until February. Everything was planned out perfectly……I thought. After picking Steph up at the airport, I would propose in my borrowed Dodge Caravan. I attached the ring to a string and tied the string to the sun visor on the passenger side. I knew it was going to be a great engagement proposal and a great surprise for Steph!

 

As I drove down to the airport in Bellingham, Washington, I was excited. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for us, but I knew Steph was the woman for me. I arrived safely and in plenty of time, and now all I had to do was wait for my future bride. Steph had managed to find a $10 direct flight from Columbus, Ohio (seriously….. a $10 flight – look up “Skybus” if you don’t believe me). When she arrived, we hugged and kissed and made our way back to the van. Here is where things started to get interesting.

 

When we got in the van, the first thing I told Steph was that she had something on her face. I told her she should look in the mirror so she could get it off. Of course, she didn’t really, but this was a way to get her to pull down the sun visor and look in the mirror. In retrospect, telling your girlfriend and future wife that she has something on her face right after a 5 hour flight is not the nicest thing, nor is it the best plan to start off a proposal. Not surprisingly, Steph was embarrassed, but she went ahead and pulled down the visor to look in the mirror. As she pulled down the visor, the ring on the string came down and landed pretty much where I wanted it to land……right in front of her face. Remarkably, Steph didn’t notice it. As I watched this play out, I was almost in shock. My perfect proposal plan wasn’t working out as planned. The only thing I could think of to say was, “Steph you still got something on your face.” Even more embarrassed, Steph looked back toward the mirror and this time she saw the ring! Presumably, this should have been where I started in with my perfectly worded proposal, but I was so tongue tied that I said nothing at all. Steph, on the other hand, simply said, “really?” We hugged and kissed and laughed and I put the engagement ring on her finger. Whew! Soon were on our way up to Vancouver.

 

So it was that through these unpredictable happenings, that we were engaged on November 8, 2007. And while it’s probably not the strangest engagement proposal ever, it is rather comical that I never actually asked Stephane to marry me and she never actually said “yes” or “no.” I guess Steph’s “really?” was all we needed. I got the outcome I was looking for and that’s all that mattered. The next 8 months would be a long wait for us, but on July 26, 2008, we were married and we have enjoyed a very happy marriage. I praise God for giving me Stephane as a wife.

 

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:14

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord. Proverbs 18:22

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

Like Father, Like Son: How God Uses Parenting to Teach Us

IMG_0599

 

Being a father has been a big learning experience for me. Seven years ago when the Lord blessed Steph and I with twin daughters, I never dreamed all that God would teach us. Indeed, children are a wonderful blessing in many ways, but one of the surprises was that I have learned much about God and our relationship with Him just through being a parent. Here are a couple lessons.

 

One of the things I often hear around our home are the words, “Daddy play with me!” It used to just be our older son John, but now that Jeremiah has started to talk, I hear it from both of them. Obviously, I enjoy playing with my kids, but at times is can be a tad overwhelming. For example, in the mornings when I am trying to get off to work and the boys want to play, I often feel torn. I want to play with them, but I know I have responsibilities to attend to. Not long ago, I was reflecting on this and I asked myself, “why do they want to play with me so much? Can’t they just play by themselves?” As I thought about this, it occurred to me that it is only natural for sons to want to be with and play with their father. Families that are healthy naturally want to spend time together – that’s just how it works (see Malachi 4:6). Parents are going to want to spend time with their kids, and kids are going to want to spend time with their parents.

 

The lesson that I learned from this (and continue to learn) is that it is only natural for Christians to desire to spend time with their heavenly Father. It is unfortunate that even as Christians we often we get distracted with other lesser things, and frankly, don’t desire to be with our Father. These distractions can be a huge hindrance to our growing closer to God. Another thing to keep in mind are the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:1-2: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” In the same way that children are master imitators, so too should we strive to imitate God and His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Let me share with you another lesson. When you look at your kids, you can’t help but see lots of similarities. When I look at all four of our kids, I see things that mirror myself and Steph in them. Of course, there are differences, but there are resemblances and similarities that I marvel at. These include physical, emotional, and personality characteristics that indicate a definite family resemblance. I remember one time when we still lived in New York state and my parents were visiting for the first time. My Dad and I were attending our monthly men’s breakfast and as all the guys saw my Dad and I come in, their faces said it all. It was kind of like, “Wow, they really look alike!” I am sure you are not at all surprised by this. It has always been true that the closer parents and children look, the more similarities they are going to see.

 

In the very first chapter in the Bible, we are told that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This astounding truth is often glossed over by readers, but think about it for a minute. The Creator God, the One who is Lord of Heaven and Earth…..has made us in His own image! Now, we need to keep in mind that after the Fall of man (Genesis 3), our status as image-bearers has been marred because of sin. That’s not to say it is gone for good, but the Fall had devastating, far-reaching consequences. The good news is that for those who are in Christ, the image of God is being restored and remade in us. Let me quote from Paul once again: “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). Ask yourself, are you growing in grace? Are you growing in godliness? In other words, if you are a Christian, is there a clear family resemblance between you and your Heavenly Father? Scripture tells us that God is working to make his children “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3-4), and conform us more and more to the image of Christ. In this we rejoice.

 

I could share with you more lessons that I have learned or had reinforced just through being a parent. No doubt the lessons will continue. Even though child rearing is tough at times, children are a huge blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3) and God uses this relationship to teach us about Himself. May we be ever more attentive.

 

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

 

A Review of “The Shepherd’s Treasure”

IMG_0622

 

Over the past few years, Stephane and I had heard about Elf on the Shelf, mostly through Facebook. It looked like a neat idea, but we chose not to participate. Then in November 2016, Stephane became aware of The Shepherd’s Treasure, which was being branded as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf. We thought, why not give it a try? The package arrived in the mail late in November and our first task was to name our Shepherd – we went with the name David. The kids also got to enjoy the book that came with the package. One highlight for the kids was that each page had a hidden verse on it – they loved trying to spot that hidden verse.

 

Our official journey began on December 1st. We had already briefed the kids that when they woke up in the morning, they would be searching for the shepherd. Each day had a certain theme, and it was always based upon a bible verse. Here is how the website explains how it all works: “Your Shepherd travels in search of Jesus each night while your kids sleep. After bedtime, find creative and fun ways for your Shepherd to continue his journey….On Christmas morning, your Shepherd will find Baby Jesus! Place your Shepherd and Baby Jesus together somewhere extra special. Your children will find their Shepherd kneeling before the greatest Treasure of all time: Jesus!”

 

So…..25 days after it all started, the journey culminates on Christmas morning when the shepherd finds baby Jesus. One of the things we really liked about Shepherds Treasure is that you can make it your own. While the creators of Shepherds Treasure give you instructions and guidance, you put as much into it as you want. Steph and I chose to keep things fairly simple. We never felt like we had the time or energy to go all out, but even in keeping it simple, the kids really enjoyed it.

 

We only ever missed 2 days (sleeping in both times) but you won’t have that problem if you hide your shepherd the night before instead of doing in the morning, before the kids get up like we often did. The best part of Shepherd’s Treasure is that it is focused on Christ and is saturated with Scripture. We tried to use each day’s Scripture verse as an opportunity to talk about Christ. By all means, be creative and make it fun for your kids, but don’t forget the true meaning of Christmas. There is a great need for parents to explain the importance of the gospel and the incarnation of Christ. The Bible verses used in this activity are a good starting point, but they must be reinforced over and over again. Shepherds Treasure was not designed to replace daily times of family worship, but it is a fun activity that your kids will enjoy and it can serve as a supplement to your times of family worship.

 

I would recommend giving The Shepherd’s Treasure a try. If you are interested, it’s a good idea to purchase your kit sooner rather than later, as it seems to go in and out of stock pretty quickly.  

Committing to Family Worship

As a pastor, I have discovered that just the thought of “family worship” or “family devotions” can be overwhelming to Christian parents. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because parents think they need to duplicate the Sunday morning worship service.  The reality is that family worship doesn’t have to be complicated.

Quite simply, family worship is the family coming together to worship God. The Puritans were big on this and called the family a “little church” of sorts. They believed that the worship of God should be a regular activity, not just something that happened on Sunday. Over the past few years, we have tried to make family worship part of our daily routine. Our three kids are still pretty young so it can be a challenge, but it has also been a great blessing to our family. I can almost guarantee you that if you start doing family worship, it will have a unifying effect on your family and will draw you closer to the Lord.

There are many ways of doing family worship, but there are a few key elements that I would like to highlight for you. Husbands and fathers, as head of the family (Ephesians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 11:3) take the initiative to call the family together for worship. Begin by reading a portion of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be long, but I would encourage you to work through a book of the Bible. One day you can read half a chapter or a chapter, and then next day you can pick it up where you left off. After reading a portion of Scripture, ask the kids a few questions that pertain to the reading. Help them understand what God is saying through His Word. Don’t think you need to preach a sermon every time you have family worship, but it is your responsibility to expose your children to the word of God (Ephesians 6:4). Also, there are plenty of good devotional books that can be of help to you.

Next, grab a hymnal or a church songbook or listen to a worship cd and sing a couple praise songs to the Lord. Most kids love to sing so compliance will not be an issue here. Finally, finish off your time of worship in prayer. Offer God your praises, petitions, and thanksgivings together as a family. In these two things (praise and prayer), you are responding to God’s revelation, goodness, and mercy. If you are not already practicing family worship, I would encourage you to start. Our family worship times usually only last 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t have to be long. The important thing is to get started and to allow the Lord to direct you.

If you are a couple without any kids, then it goes without saying that you can still have times of family worship. You just have more freedom to worship in a manner that suits you. I would say the same thing to grandparents. Your kids may have left many years ago, but that shouldn’t stop you and your spouse from studying God’s Word and worshipping together. When you visit the grandkids, do what you can to teach them the Bible (Deuteronomy 6:7) and to model a life of worship. Remember that you have an important role to play in this.

As my wife reminded me this morning, we as parents don’t have a problem understanding the importance of feeding our kids each and every day. We know they need nourishment in order to grow and develop and be sustained. But the same is true of our spiritual food. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). If you want your kids to truly “live” then be sure and nourish them with the life giving manna of God’s Word. One day, they will thank you (Proverbs 31:27-28) for this.

 

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

“Gordon and Emma met at a church function. She was an admirable young woman, and he was a fairly new pastor. Their wedding day seemed to be the launch of a godly couple in the promise of fruitful ministry in the decades ahead. But just a few days into their honeymoon, all of Emma’s dreams for her life were crushed. Gordon made it clear that he didn’t love Emma, and that he had married her simply because there were more opportunities for married pastors than single ones.

 

For forty years, through the birth of six children, and the while functioning as a pastor, Gordon made no meaningful attempt to kindle love for his wife. Freely admitting to an adulterous affair that began after the birth of their fourth child, Gordon insisted he must remain married – divorce would derail his pastoral career. Marriage for Emma became a life of secret shame. She was relegated to sharing a room with their two daughters, while her husband stayed in a separate room, and their four sons in another.

 

Gordon’s disregard for Emma permeated almost every facet of their marriage. While she continued to live under the same roof, she never experienced life under his care. Seemingly normal on the outside, Gordon’s disdain for his marriage created a home ruled by his hypocrisy and indifference to his wife’s well-being. His children grew up with a clear sense of the difference in their family and others, but little grasp on the fundamental wrong being done to their mother on a daily basis.

 

But Emma loved the Savior who was merciful to her and clung to him through the trials and years. Bereft of human love from the man she had wed, she threw herself on the mercy of God. The gospel reminded her that she needed a Savior – and that her principal need was not to be saved from a cruel twist of fate, or the evil of the man who shared her home, but from her own profound sinfulness before God. Emma understood the mercy and forgiveness of God for her sin, and accepted the Father’s call to extend mercy toward her husband. Emma never allowed bitterness to take root in her heart. Instead she learned how to stand with dignity by entrusting her welfare to Christ.

 

For four decades, mercy defined her actions, thoughts, and words toward the man whose very purpose in life seemed to be to crush her spirit. Knowing that her response to her husband would testify to her children about the God she served, Emma was resolutely determined to draw on Christ for grace and to honor Christ in her actions.

 

The marriage ended sadly and painfully after forty years – an apparent ministry call squandered, a financially destitute family shattered by the unrepentant sin of one man. In the years following their divorce, Emma sent Gordon birthday cards and periodic letters, calling the lonely and rebellious man to God. She was tasting the sweet joy of a deep relationship with the Father, and increasingly longed for Gordon to know that for himself.

 

Somewhere in that time, the mercy of God broke in on Gordon and he responded to the gospel call in saving faith. The children, now adult Christians, lovingly confronted him on his past sins, and for the first time Gordon took responsibility for the destruction of his family. Gordon wrote a letter to Emma confessing his sin against God and against her. Emma was faced with the test of forgiveness. Can it be that easy? Can mercy cover forty years of wrong? We have Emma’s choice preserved in the note she wrote back to her former husband:

 

It is with mixed emotions that I read your letter. Sad, as I was reminded of many difficult years, but also glad for the work the Spirit of God is doing in your life. Glad to hear you share your failures so frankly and ask for my forgiveness. And glad to hear you share them with your children. Gordon, I forgive you. I forgive you for not loving me as Christ loved the church and for your disregard of our marriage vows. Though I am saddened by many marriage memories, I have released them to the Lord and have guarded my heart from the ravages of bitterness. I rejoice in the mercy of God, that in spite of our failed marriage, our children all serve the Lord faithfully….God uses confession and forgiveness to bring healing. I’m trusting God that will be true for both of us.

 

Both Emma and Gordon have gone on to be with the Savior, who wove restoration into a torn family with the strong threads of mercy. All of their children love the Savior and now see the mysterious purpose of God as they look back. Though Emma and Gordon were never restored as husband and wife, Gordon was laid to rest in old age, no longer alone, surrounded not only by his family but by the friends of his church with whom he had knit his life. Emma’s body gave in over time to stroke, but her spirit and story define a work of God that transcends the failure of marriage and touched many lives.

 

For Emma, mercy had triumphed over judgment decades before Gordon repented. Mercy triumphed with every prayer cast heavenward, every sin covered in love, every refusal to grow bitter. For Gordon, mercy meant getting what he didn’t deserve – the forgiveness of his sins, the love of his family, a home with the Savior, six God-honoring children, Emma’s life-long love of Christ. Each of these remarkable outcomes point to the triumphant sweetening effect of mercy – the remarkable mercy Emma received from God and lavished on her family.”

 

Taken from Dave Harvey’s book When Sinner’s Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage (pages 77-78, 94-96).