On Marriage and Sanctity

Just finished reading an article about Starbucks and their vocal and financial support of gay marriage.

Something occurred to me just now: you hear people speak about this issue all the time, and those against it often mention that legalizing gay marriage threatens the sanctity of the institution itself. Does it, though?

If two men or two women were able to marry each other, would it make me any less married to Jenny? Of course not.

Would they actually be married, though?

It depends on what you believe. If you believe it’s simply the law’s recognition of the institution of marriage that legitimizes it, then making gay marriage legal is really simple.

If you believe that marriage was created and defined by God then the whole debate gets a little more complicated. For me, I do not personally feel my marriage threatened by whether or not those two fabulous guys down the street can tie the proverbial knot. I just don’t.

The problem arises, I think, when the possibility of Churches or individuals who perform (or can perform) wedding ceremonies, and who do not believe gay marriage is solely legitimized by the law are compelled by that same law to perform that which their faith and their God tells them is not legitimate at all.

I think that is a real possibility, and if it happens would be an affront to the religious freedom promised by the constitution of the United States, which was meant to protect states from favoring one religion over another.

So if we, based on law alone, attempt to force people to comply with the viewpoint of secularism over Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism (none of which recognize gay marriage), we are favoring one religion over another, because secularism taken to that level is very much like a religion. Even worse, we are denying the constitutional rights of Americans.

Here’s the other thing I was thinking about: what if what threatens the sanctity of marriage isn’t gay marriage at all?

Think about it. People cohabitate for many years and often do not marry. Society accepts that, and it is now very much the norm. Men and women also frequently approach marriage like they would contract negotiations for a house or car, and it’s no wonder there’s a 50% divorce rate. What else should we expect with such low expectations.

I think what threatens the sanctity of marriage is making marriage about law and only law, leaving sanctification out of it completely (sanctification = holiness). Soon, we will simply specify a desired term of marriage, sign a contract, and that will be that.

Marriages will fail, or never happen at all. Kids will grow up with single mothers (a single mother, by the way, is a noble thing, but they were never meant to shoulder that burden alone), and never have any idea what marriages are meant to be and can be.

I think the sanctity of marriage is also threatened when we make it a business or political interaction and not a covenant.

Should gay people be allowed to legally marry? The law will decide that soon enough, and it won’t be the death knell of the church at all. What it will be is a symptom of the decline of freedom, and the further separation of “church” from “state,” which is really sort of false.

It’s false because as I mentioned before, secularism has become very much like a “modern” religion (or anti-religion) and is being used like a cudgel to beat down those who do not agree with its precepts.

If you don’t conform to the secular status quo, then you’re a relic of a time not fondly missed. Or maybe just a “hater.”

Full Disclosure

I’m not ashamed of my faith. I’m not afraid to tell people about it, even though I know there are a great many people out there who do not believe, even in my own family. The thing is, sometimes I have often gone about it in such a way people have been put off by my words rather than inspired or moved toward God.

I know what God has done in my life. I can see it every day when I look at my wife and my kids. I think about how alone I was before, even when there were people around me. It isn’t like that anymore. I feel the presence of God in my wife’s touch, or in the voices of my children.

I remember how my heart felt prior to having Jesus within, or recognizing his sovereignty. I remember long nights and endless days trying to fill the empty places with something, with anything, with everything. I would do (and did do) anything to find fulfillment, and give meaning to my life.

I’m ashamed and embarrassed of many of the things I did. I can’t believe when I think about that God actually accepted me as I was. I broke commandments. I broke laws. I helped ruin a marriage. I used the gifts given me by God to amuse myself and others at the expense of the weak, and the least of these. I did so many things to excess, and it often felt like my heart was full of worms. I was truly a wretch, but I was able to hide it from people well enough to get by. Thankfully, though, there is this:


And this:


your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
How precious are your
thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them

I think where I often went wrong was not just in the communication of what I believed to be the great work done in my life, but in my tendency to shout about it. People do not always respond well to or appreciate the level of enthusiasm possessed by a person who has experienced a sea change of such a great magnitude. Especially those who do not believe.

Many of the people I know who are unbelievers respond to declarations of faith with what for me seems unjustified anger often bordering on rage. They don’t understand why people of faith always have to talk about it. It makes them uncomfortable.

Sometimes I would let the message get lost during delivery, and that’s a shame. It’s cost me a great deal of worry over the past few years that my words or actions may have caused people to turn farther away from God.

Often, people who don’t believe will tell you the things they think about Christians based on what their experiences have been. Those experiences are usually negative, and why they typically respond to people of faith with such vitriol.

Where I have often gone wrong is in marginalizing those experiences rather than validating them. People who have had painful experiences at the hands and words of Christians are hurting regardless of what I may think about their wounds.

Allowing their hurt-based responses to my often inept words to wound me in turn does nothing but draw all concerned farther away from God.

So I suppose what I need to do is find better words. Or maybe, as the song says, let my life be the proof, the proof of your love.

If it is true that people will know us by our fruit, then I need to learn to better describe my experiences. I think the key may be in looking more to these two gentleman, who have changed my life so dramatically.



Of Easter, Panama, and Miracles

I’ve been thinking the past few days about Easter, and something that happened back in 2010. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but when I think about it now it’s pretty amazing. God really can transcend all boundaries, including language.

I was in Colon, Panama for a month of testing, and by the middle of the month I was missing Jenny and David something terrible. She was several months pregnant with John, and I just wanted to be there for everything. Every Dr appt and every ultrasound.

I missed church, too, and had been struggling to maintain my spiritual disciplines away from my wife and pretty much all accountability. I was the only believer on the test (that I knew of), and though there were several churches nearby, we could not leave the grounds of the hotel unescorted because they told us it wasn’t safe for Americans.

I badly wanted to just be around other believers, and to feel like I could worship freely, especially with Easter coming. Well, the Saturday before Easter ended up being pretty amazing.

We got back to the hotel from Ft Sherman a little late–there had been a long wait at the canal. When we walked into the lobby (which was huge), I could see something was going on. Workers were setting up risers, and there were several people milling around in full middle eastern costume. It seemed clear there would be some sort of Easter presentation.

I went up my hotel room to shower and change out of my work clothes (I’ve never sweat as much before or since as I did in those 4 weeks), and then stood for a moment in front of my room’s mini fridge: nothing but lunch fixings and a six pack of Balboa, one of the local cervezas. My instinct was to turn on the TV, order room service, and get started on the Balboa. I decided to go back downstairs instead. I put the 6 pack in a plastic grocery bag and headed down to the lobby to look for my coworkers and maybe check out whatever was going on.

I stepped off the elevator and just stood there, slackjawed. The lobby had been transformed into what looked like first century Jerusalem, and what had to be a choir was standing on the risers.

They performed a fully sung through version of the last supper, the passion of Christ, and the celebration at his return. These may have been Panamanian church locals, but they could sing their faces off.

About 2 songs in, one of my coworkers stepped off the elevator behind me, and I handed him my sack of Balboa. He looked at me for a second and said something like “I’m gonna go eat.”

I told him I’d be there in a little bit, and he wandered off to the restaurant. After a half hour or so, the passion play ended, and everyone in the lobby watching was still standing there.

Ok, I thought. What’s next?

Just then a slender man in a black suit who looked very much like the singer Marc Anthony walked between two risers holding a microphone and began to speak in Spanish. Clearly, he was a pastor, and though his delivery was too rapid for me to translate every word, I picked up enough. Certainly, the word Jesus is universal. He also used the word milagroso several times, and I understood enough to agree with him.

It was a miracle. Easter was, and Jesus himself was the largest miracle of all. Yet also available to all. He turned to look in my direction, and his eyes were so kind. He closed his eyes and began to offer an empassioned prayer. Just as he began, I felt a gentle hand touch my shoulder. I turned to see an older Panamanian man in a nice, but slightly threadbare suit.

He said something in Spanish, and followed it up with “pray for you?” in heavily accented English.

“Ok,” I said, and while I could see the pastor doing his thing, all I could hear were the gentle words of the man behind me. They flowed around me, and I felt myself come undone, just a little. I felt the touch and the comfort of my Savior through an old man praying for me in a language I didn’t really know.

He finished up, patted me on the shoulder, and went on his way. I eventually found my way to one of the lobby chairs and spent about a half hour just thinking about things, and praying on my own.

I don’t think God arranged that passion play just for me, but I also don’t think it was an accident. For about an hour, in a hotel lobby in Colon, Panama, Jesus was represented fearlessly, and pretty accurately given the place and amount of time the cast and crew had to work.

And as I sit on my couch in Arizona this morning, I think of the old man who laid his hand on someone he didn’t know and did the only thing that could have helped: he prayed for me.

Milagroso, indeed.

No Servant is Greater

The room would do, Cephas thought. Four walls and a roof. What more did you need?

It was mostly just a functional space–a place where people gather for a meal, and then return to their homes afterward. In the middle of the room was a long, low table which could be easily moved if more room was needed. There were few decorations of any sort. Cephas and his friends reclined around the table on cushions, waiting for Jesus to speak as the meal was served.

He always spoke.

The smell of meat, fish, and bread filled the air, and Cephas began to feel his stomach growl. He wondered if the others could hear it. There were small dishes of dates here and there on the table, and several small platters of soft cheese. Cephas felt like grabbing handfuls of everything and foregoing the wooden plate in front of him—it wouldn’t have been the first time.

The Lord sat at the table’s center, and after a brief glance at them, He stood without a word and walked to a large, beaten metal bowl that sat by the door next to a small wooden milking stool. On the seat was a folded linen towel. Next to it was a clay jug full of water. Cephas wondered what He was doing. But then again, He had been known to go off on his own at times. Maybe He was leaving.

He didn’t leave.

Jesus removed his outer garments, setting them gently on the floor next to the stool. He picked up the towel and wrapped it around his waist. Cephas noticed once again the effect that decades of working with tools and his hands had on His body. He was slender, but strong, and his hands were large. They were callused from his work, but surprisingly gentle as he took the clay jug and poured water into the bowl. He picked up a wooden ladle from the ground next to the bowl, and without another word, he walked over to the man closest to the door, knelt down, and began to wash his feet.

This was the task of a servant, Cephas thought–a lowly servant at that–and he couldn’t believe the Lord was doing what He was doing.

It wasn’t right. He felt his temper begin to flare, and he began to stand.

And then the Lord knelt at his feet, setting the bowl and ladle down next to him.

“Lord,” Cephas asked him, “are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus looked up at Cephas, and his eyes were brown, and kind, and full of love. “You don’t realize now what I’m doing,” he replied. “But later you will understand.”

Cephas began to feel angry again. Why was He doing this? And what won’t he understand now? He understood that Jesus should not be performing the act of the lowliest of servants—he understood that much.

“No!” he said, and it was almost a shout. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus looked at him for a long moment and then answered in a soft voice, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.”

This made no sense. “Then, Lord,” Cephas said, “not just my feet, but my hands and my head as well.”

Jesus answered, looking into his eyes all the while “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

This last statement made even less sense. Who was the Lord talking about?

Before he could ask, Cephas felt the hands of the carpenter on his feet, removing his sandals. Jesus put them aside, then set the bowl beneath Cephas’s feet. He scooped water up with the wooden ladle and slowly poured it over his ankles, then his feet and toes. He gently rubbed the dirty feet, and then poured more water over them to rinse. His hands were strong, but gentle, and Cephas could see the dirt and dust slipping away, falling back into the water. Then he slowly dried his feet with the rough towel, and Cephas felt nearly overwhelmed with emotion. This act, this simple act of a servant humbled him—nearly crushed him—and suddenly his appetite was gone.

Jesus moved on to the next man. When he was finished washing all their feet, he once again put on his rough clothes and returned to his place at the center of the table.

“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

He stopped for a moment and looked at them all. Then He looked directly at Cephas.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

His voice was soft, but Cephas felt as if he could have heard it from outside the Sheep Gate. He rose a little from his reclined position and looked at his feet. He thought about what Jesus had done, and bade him to do.

He wondered if he could do it.

Jesus continued. “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of scripture: ‘he who shared my bread has turned against me.’”

What was Jesus talking about? They’d all shared his bread, hadn’t they? Who among them could turn against him?

“I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” He looked briefly at all of them. “Truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts he who sent me.”

Jesus looked troubled after he said this last, and sat quietly for a moment before continuing. “One of you is going to betray me.”

Cephas looked at the other disciples, and they at him. Who could he mean? John reclined against the Lord, and Cephas motioned to him and said quietly into his ear, “ask him who he’s talking about?”

John leaned back against Jesus again and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

“It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish,” he said, and dipped the corner of a small piece of warm bread into a small bowl of dark and steaming broth. Then he handed it to Judas, son of Simon.

Cephas saw Judas take the break and hold the gaze of Jesus for a moment. His head slightly rocked back and he looked into the eyes of the Lord. He did not speak.

“What you are about to do, do it quickly.” He let go of the hand of Judas, and it fell downward like a piece of fish. Judas looked down at it. Everyone else looked at him, trying to understand why Jesus said what he did to his disciple, and friend.

Judas controlled the coin of the group, and some of the disciples whispered that he could be talking about purchasing the items needed for the upcoming Passover festival, or maybe simply giving some or all of the money to the poor, who seemed to gather everywhere they went. Whatever the reason, Judas took the bread from Jesus, rose from the table, and quietly went into the night.

Cephas noticed everyone fell silent and stopped eating. What had just happened? Jesus sat quietly for a moment and then spoke quietly.

“Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the son in himself, and will glorify him at once.”

Not for the first time, Cephas wished the Lord would just speak plainly.

“My children,” Jesus continued, “I will only be with you a little while longer. You will look for me, just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, love one another. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you simply love one another.”

Jesus paused, and looked about to weep. “Lord, where are you going?” Cephas asked.

“Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Cephas leaned forward intently and asked, “Why can’t I follow you now? I would die for you.”

“Will you really die for me? Listen to me. Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”

Never, thought Cephas. I would never deny him. He looked at the walls, the table, the other disciples, anywhere but at Jesus. He was at a loss. The Lord thought him a traitor. A betrayer. Had he not also said the same of Judas just moments before?

Jesus smiled at him and started speaking again. He was talking to all of them, but Cephas felt the words sink into his heart and it was if the Lord whispered in his ear.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You believe in God; believe also in me. My father’s house has room for all. If that were not so, would I have told you I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go there to prepare a place for you, be assured I will come back and take you to be there with me, near to where I am? You know the way to the place I’m going.”

They all likely thought the same words, but it was Thomas who spoke. “Lord, we have no idea where you’re going. How are we supposed to know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way. I am the truth and the life. Only through me can you come to the father. If you really know me, you will know my father as well. From here on, you do know him, and have seen him.”

Philip said “Lord, just show us the father and that will be enough.”

Jesus answered, chastising him gently. “Don’t you know me, Philip? I have been with you for many months, and many hardships. Anyone who has seen me has seen the father. So how can you ask me to show you the father? Don’t you believe that I am the father, and that the father is in me? My words are not spoken in my own authority. No, it is the father—living in me—who’s doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am the father, and the father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work itself. Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing all along, and they will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the father will be glorified in the Son. You may ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

The room was silent, and everyone looked down, thinking. Cephas thought about doing the kind of works he’d seen the Lord do on many occasions, and it did not seem possible.

Could he heal? Could he give life? And how about teach? He was a fisherman.

Anything, Lord?

Needy Bastard

I figured out something about myself a little while ago, and like many important things it came to me out of the blue—well, sort of. I’ll try and offer a little peek at how my mind has a tendency to bounce around and make connections really quickly. Often, the conclusion will make sense to me, but will confuse others because my thought process works a little bit like a short circuiting transformer—sparks will fly everywhere.

What happened was that I caught myself humming the refrain of a song I’d heard a while back. I’d seen a video clip from the X Factor UK of a young English man singing an acoustic version of a hideous Brit-pop song called “Young” by a singer called Tulisa, who also happened to be one of the four judges. The chorus went something like:

Forgive us for what we have done

We’re young, we’re young, we’re young

I was humming that as I walked back to my truck from an errand, and then I looked up the clip on YouTube on my phone. The singer was a young guy named James Arthur, and his audition was really good. I watched the clip again and during the backstory part, Arthur explained how he’d been on his own since he was a teen and his parents split up. He didn’t want to be around their fighting and such. So he put himself into foster care. He got into a lot of trouble, which is perfectly understandable, given his circumstances.

Watching that clip for some reason made me think of a Sunday School class I’d taken at FCC a while back taught by Rod Reed. It was called The Quest for Authentic Manhood, I think, and was based on a book by Robert Lewis. Lewis had a pretty rough childhood and grew up—like James Arthur—largely without the influence of his father, at least for a time.

One of the things Lewis says in the class is that there are a few things every boy needs to hear from his father:
I love you

I’m proud of you

You’re good at something (whatever that something is)

What I thought of today was…that’s why I’m so needing validation and approval, even though I understand intellectually that I’m a grown man with a wife and a family and a job and I’m doing pretty much OK.

My dad died when he was too young, and I was younger, and I never really heard any of that stuff from him, at least not that I can remember. I don’t think I heard it from anyone for most of my life, actually. Well, not the last two, at least. I knew my sisters loved me (and my friends, in their own way).

I messed up a lot when I was younger, and it didn’t really seem to make any difference, so I continued to mess up. Today I realized there is something to Lewis’s words.
He was right—I needed to hear those things. I still do. I think that’s why my sometimes strained relationship with my sisters and other family in San Diego bothers me so much. They don’t even come close to understanding my faith, and the huge work that God wrought in my life. They are vehement atheists who give every indication of despising what I believe has become the great work and passion of my life—telling people about what Jesus has done in it and can do in theirs, too. They basically want me to not be so vocal about it, and that is something I struggle with.

My sisters love me, and love my family, but think the change in my life was not for the better. I would say they hate God, but they don’t believe, so that’s not exactly the right way to say it, but you get the point.

I am happy here in Arizona, and I love my life, my family and friends here, and my church. I am thankful for everything that God has brought to my life. Every day I think about how different my heart is now, and how I feel on the inside.

I would love it if my SD family could see that, too, but I have to admit to myself it is unlikely that will ever happen. I would love it if they would come here and see the life my wife and I have made for our family, and that we’re happy and not at all the deluded religious zealots they probably think us—me, at the least.

I want them to be proud of me. I want them to be part of my life. But I also have to realize those things are probably not going to happen, either. They will likely never come here. So that particular desire will probably continue to go unfulfilled, at least for now.

The other thing that occurred to me was that it did not matter at all what anyone else thought—those closest to me and my life understand what God has done in it. Writing things like this will hopefully make others on the outside understand as well. I want to also note that any relational gaps between myself and my sisters are probably almost entirely my fault. I screwed up pretty badly with them when I was younger, and am reaping the fruits I sowed then now as an adult. I can’t blame them for not being closer.

So what I learned about myself today is that my need for approval and validation can sometimes cause me a little emotional difficulty (and probably some awkwardness for others as well). For now, I can rest in the knowledge that I have the unconditional love and support of my wife and my family, even my family in SD (they may not share my…spiritual conviction, but they do love me as best they can given the circumstance of our long distance). I don’t need to continuously seek approval from anyone but God. And I need to accept my family’s belief (or lack of belief) just as I want them to respect mine. It is not fair for me to expect them to behave toward me as I want them to. They should, in all fairness, just behave simply as they are.

In short, I need to get better at loving unconditionally as well. I need to trust God to meet my needs and fulfill me—not the people in my life.

So that’s a peek at my scattered thought process. Thanks, James Arthur.

Some Thoughts on Easter

For most Christians, Easter is like the Super Bowl. Not to minimize the importance of Christmas; Christ had to be born before he could be crucified. Most people agree Jesus was born, and lived and taught during the first century around Judea and surrounding areas. There is ample evidence available to support the existence of Jesus.

Where people veer off is when you start talking about the Crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Christ. There is a huge segment of society who emphatically denies it ever happened, and that Jesus is little more than a benevolent bedtime story.

Then you have one of the world’s most practiced religions (Islam), which agrees Jesus lived and taught, but was in the end little more than a skilled teacher and (according to some) prophet. Here’s a great video that breaks it down:

40 Arabic Words

I am not here today to refute Islam, but it is true that without the resurrection, Christmas is little more than the noteworthy birth of a talented first century Rabbi who was really good with people.

I am also not here to “prove” the resurrection true (read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Easter if you want to do that). I just want to tell you what Easter means to me.

I believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because it is by that I am healed, and live and move and have my being. I can’t tell you anything now that will prove that to you if you don’t already believe.

I can just tell you that Easter changed my life, and has made everything that happened to my life over the past 13 years possible.

Easter took a tired, broken, depressed and addicted man who didn’t care about anything (including his life) and gave him a reason to live and a means to live by.

I guess the best way to explain it is that God took the torn fabric of my life and began stitching it up, along with the otherwise mortal wounds to my heart.

He’s the only reason I am alive today, and whether or not you believe me does not change the truth of that in my heart, bound by the gentle and strong hands of a carpenter.

Easter is important to me because it reminds me of why I’m here.