I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot lately. Our first child to reach adulthood, our son, was married two years ago. Then this past year our eldest daughter married. Almost as close to home…almost…we will attend our nephew’s wedding next month. Weddings are an awesome time to see the beauty of marriage in all its glory. But weddings are just a snapshot. Is it possible for such marital bliss to remain?

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? With celebrity marriages lasting months now (rather than the short number of years we used to expect) and the divorce rate in the church not being much better than the world’s, one would think this is an institution to be avoided at all cost. I mean who signs up to fail?

If you haven’t checked out this video of Ian and Larissa yet, I’d encourage you to. While it may not represent the norm, it certainly gives us something to aspire to…an example of the beauty and the mystery of marriage…a picture of selflessness…and a story that illustrates the things that matter most about marriage and relationships in general.

My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year and I’ve gotta say that it just keeps getting better. We are SO looking forward to the next 25. Things haven’t always been perfect but they’ve always made us better and stronger. We decided a long time ago to stay together no matter what and to work through any difficulties or even tragedies…together. When we made that decision it was pollyanna at her best. We had no idea how many curveballs life could throw or just how much it could sometimes hurt…or how much we could hurt each other. Financial calamities, unsought career changes, the loss of children, dangerous health concerns, heck, even deportation by foreign governments. Life is a roller coaster…full of peaks and valleys. In the end though, there is nothing sweeter and no moment more restful to my soul than walking that path with my soulmate, holding hands, snuggling together, and smiling at each other. I see that same joy and peace in Ian and Larissa against even more stark circumstances.

Yep, marriage is beautiful…and mysterious. Ian and Larissa reminded me of that today. May the Lord continue to bless their marriage…and ours.

One of the most refreshing projects I’ve worked on since coming to LifeWay is Gospel Revolution by J.D. Greear. J.D.’s small groups pastor Spence Shelton helped us develop the curriculum and it is definitely done with a local church focus in mind. While our Serendipity team has focused primarily on small-group curriculum in the past, this study has even broader appeal. More traditional discipleship groups would benefit greatly and find it easy to use also. Let me give you a little background on the project so that you can get a better feel for it.

Gospel Revolution is really about rediscovering the gospel. J.D. reminds the reader that the gospel is not the diving board off which we dive into the pool of Christianity but the gospel is the pool itself. Building off of the concepts in J.D.’s excellent book by Broadman and Holman called Gospel, the group study really meets many Christians where they are. The list of what “good Christians” should be doing never seems to end. Evangelism. Missions. Adoption. Radical generosity. Bold prayers. Audacious faith. Every time we turn around we’re learning about something else that good Christians are doing. The result is that many Christians find themselves more exhausted than inspired. Jesus’ revolutionary message is that at the center of Christianity is not a list of things we are to be doing for God, but an announcement of what He has done for us. As we stand in awe of what He has done for us, what we should do for Him will come naturally. J.D. incorporates a simple gospel prayer as he teaches and models how to live out the gospel in everyday life.

Here are a couple of blogposts that also discuss this gospel message that God has given to the church through J.D. Greear:

Interview of J.D. by Trevin Wax http://trevinwax.com/2011/09/28/recovering-the-gospels-power-a-conversation-with-j-d-greear/

Overview of Gospel’s Generosity Matrix by J.D. http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-blogs/154951-jd_greear_the_generosity_matrix.html

What I found most encouraging about J.D.’s teaching is that he is not only biblically sound but culturally relevant. J.D.’s authenticity really draws you in and his illustrations are things to which we can all easily relate. I was not only professionally challenged by this study but personally inspired. The old-time message of the gospel came alive for me and has resulted in the kind of spiritual fruit that God intended the gospel to bear in my life. Well, that’s my testimony. I hope you too will take part in this gospel revolution and rediscover the power of the Christian faith!

While I enjoyed the movie immensely, it’s a little tougher to enjoy sometimes without the popcorn and when the main characters in the story are all too real. Since discovering that our youngest son has not only a growth deficiency but genetic abnormalities, it just never seems like we can fully come to grips with what we’re up against. While Ben’s development has gone much better than I expected when I first heard the news, it seems that every visit to the doctor brings another punch to the gut. This past month it was news that he has four kidneys for some mysterious reason and his blood pressure is strangely high for a six-year old. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy…it all adds up. “One step at a time” I tell my wife, “Everything will work out just fine.” Of course, fine is relative.

Last week I got on an elevator with a fella who was probably forty but whose smile made him look more like four. He had a nicely pressed uniform on and was delivering packages. For more than a passing moment, I saw in this cherubic man my son Ben years from now. I wondered what his parents’ expectations were when he was little. I wondered when they found out that he would probably not live what most of us consider a normal life. How many punches in the gut did they receive…or was it just one big one? I wondered if he lived with his parents now or if he was able to live on his own. I wondered if he had a driver’s license. I wondered if his parents were still alive and what he would do without them. And once again I thought of Ben. A little selfish I know given that this guy deserved his own story without my absconding with it for a pity party or even just somber personal reflection. I would like to think that I was just hurting for Ben in those moments, but if I’m honest that’s probably not all it was. Ben seems to be as happy as can be so I probably mourn in no small part the death of a dream.

Ben may yet overcome his difficulties and live a more fulfilling life than I can imagine. That’s our hope. And God really is in control. I hold firmly to Romans 8:28, one of the first Bible verses I memorized after becoming a Christian at age 20…but no longer in a trite way…no longer as a pat answer. Instead, it has worked its way through my soul and I’m now in a position to really share what it has meant to me with others…thankfully. God’s Word doesn’t always take the worry away completely, or the pain. But it does keep me anchored in faith with not a small measure of hope. And I can’t help but hurt for those who try to make sense of the never-ending story or even the rollercoaster that is life without the love of Christ.

That’s just one more reason to share the hope that is within me. I hope you’ll be encouraged to share your own hope as well…through the lens of your own story.

Do you appreciate beautiful island ambiance? Are you a surfer? Are you a fan of Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, or AnnaSophia Robb…or even Hercules (Kevin Sorbo)? Do you love Carrie Underwood? Do you like movies that make you cry?  For all of these reasons or just for one, you should consider going to see Soul Surfer this weekend. This is a movie that also models a faith that is not perfect but real.

About a month ago I was invited to a preview of the movie, and honestly my main reason for attending was because it was a free date night with my wife.  Little did I know how my heart would be engaged that night, however. Now, I am definitely not a cryer.  There are a couple of movies with tear-jerking scenes that have caused me to quickly wipe my eye before anyone could see, but this one had my eyes welled with tears throughout.

The film is based upon the real life story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen sensation surfer in Hawaii who lost her arm in a shark attack. The character development that takes place in the movie is remarkable given the length of time they had to work with; consequently, most viewers will come away being able to relate to this family and wonder how their own might have handled the adversity that the Hamiltons are forced to face.

From a faith perspective, the movie is inspirational. While God is directly mentioned in only a few scenes, He is all over the place. Reminds me of the book of Esther in that way.

It’s difficult to call Bethany’s story a tragedy, and she certainly wouldn’t want us too. Conversely, we can view it as a triumph–the triumph of faith over fear and amazing accomplishment in spite of adversity.

If you can organize a trip to see Soul Surfer this opening weekend–with your family or your small group—you definitely won’t regret it. The movie is getting great publicity and the well-known cast should also allow your friends who are not Christ followers to feel safe in attending. You’ll have ample opportunity for conversations about faith afterwards.

(And for my missional, country music-loving friends, there’s a great segment with Carrie Underwood leading a mission trip to Thailand that may inspire your group as well! ;-))

Books won’t stay banned.  They won’t burn.  Ideas won’t go to jail.  In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost.  The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.

~Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959

I found this quote interesting in light of the recent threat by a Florida pastor to burn some copies of the Koran. While my initial concerns with this plan involved the safety of my son who is soon to depart for Afghanistan and my former teammates who continue to labor in Muslim areas of Asia, my greater concerns are for the souls of men and women, boys and girls, who would be spiritually damaged by such an act of aggression. Not many people have ever been won to Christ by insulting them from a distance and with that which they hold so dear.  Far more important than our safety and national security anyway (even if this burning threat would somehow help with that) are the souls of those cut off from Christ.

As followers of Jesus (Asa/Isa/Yeshua) we have a Book that contains not only the best ideas but one that reflects the very heart of God.  Rather than trying to destroy some other book, let’s focus our attention on putting God’s Book into the language and the hands of every people, tongue, tribe, and nation so that God might receive the glory and His fame spread to every dark corner of this world.  After all, it is the Gospel that is “God’s power for salvation” (Romans 1:16).  Shouldn’t we focus our attention on what Griswold called “better ideas”?

A flower…are you kidding me?  I was actually thinking about the start of a new football season: high school football games on Fridays, college football games on Saturdays, even NFL pre-season games on Sundays right now.  Fantasy football is kind of cool too. So the topic I was thinking about was passion.  About the things that raise my energy, raise my emotional level, stir my heart.  I must admit I was a little concerned about what photo the internet might associate with “passion” but I sure didn’t think a picture of a flower is where I would end up!

There are several times in the course of a day where my voice becomes a bit louder, the pitch rises, I become more expressive, and folks around me know…really know that I care about something…that I am passionate about something. At times it’s sports, at times politics, at times family, and often work-related.  I wish there were more times though that my passions told others the true story of my heart.

Here are just a few definitions of the word passion for our edification:

1. Passion- a strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept, etc

2. Passion- ardent love or affection

3. Passion- the object of an intense desire, ardent affection, or enthusiasm

4. Passion- the sufferings and death of a Christian martyr

Big difference there, huh?  I sure wish my passions fell more often somewhere between the third and fourth definitions (at least in a figurative sense).  How about you?  What are you passionate about?  How does that compare to your passion for Christ?  No guilt trip here.  Just sayin’…

I have forgiven people lots of times. Jesus said 7 times 70 right?  And sometimes it takes that many.  I’m sure I’ve been forgiven even more.  Sometimes I think I’ve gotten pretty good at this forgiveness thing, but there are some times when forgiveness is really tough.

The last time I spoke to my dad, it was actually to his answering machine. We were planning to leave for the mission field soon and we had just discovered that our baby’s heart had stopped beating in the womb.  My wife delivered little Samuel with no first breath to follow and we began planning the funeral.

I debated long and hard whether to call my father to invite him to the funeral. The last time we had seen each other, I had basically had to throw him out of my house.  We had never had much of a relationship, though I had sincerely tried since reaching adulthood and certainly since having children.  I wanted them to know their grandfather and I held out hope that he would be redeemed through forgiveness and a relationship with the next generation. Nothing else had worked.

On that day, with my children in the room, my father lost control once again…and all the dysfunction I had grown up with came crashing home again. I made a quick decision but one that I really haven’t regretted…well…maybe once.  I decided in that moment that my children needed to be protected.  That they would not grow up the way I had…and I made my father leave our house.

The one day that I regretted that decision was the day I called him on the phone.  I thought once again how sad it would be for the man to never know that Samuel had lived, albeit only in the womb, or that he had died.  So I called him on the phone and got the answering machine.  I left a message and told him about the funeral.  Part of me hoped he would show up and that finally we could begin an adult relationship based upon truth rather than the distorted view of my childhood he liked to remember.  But he didn’t show up. It seems he really didn’t care.

Just a few weeks ago, I discovered that my father died while I was in China. And no one let me know about it so I could pay my last respects…whatever those are.  None of my siblings knew either. Apparently he wanted it that way…or that’s the word that has been passed along through a cousin.  At this point in the story things could be worse I suppose.  I could write the next paragraph about the many regrets I have that I didn’t try to reach out “just one more time.” Except I really don’t have any.

What I do have…still lingering in the back of my heart…is some regret that I didn’t find real forgiveness while he was living.  I wanted him to be sorry.  To be in a place to receive my forgiveness…to want my forgiveness.  I hope he’s in such a place now.  I wish I knew for sure.  Either way, I’ve got to forgive him so that I don’t carry that burden nor pass it along to my children.  I think I can do it…7 times 70…but you know, forgiveness is really tough sometimes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.