Showing posts with label Marriage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marriage. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

(Much Delayed) Reflections on a Month of Blogging

Last month, I wrote 24 consecutive days, missed one, and finished out with a small bang on Sunday. I still have a dozen more ideas for posts, and plenty more to say. I am not entirely sure where to go from here, however.

Blogging takes time. Even a short post demands a certain amount of mental energy, and producing 500 words takes me at least 20 minutes. That's a bare minimum: depending on the 500 words in question, they might take me an hour to whip into a satisfactory shape. I might be able to push out 1000 words in 35 minutes—but only if I refuse to edit the piece, if I intentionally let the written record be simply what I thought at first. As any good writer—and especially any good editor—will tell you, that's a terrible strategy. So, given that I was publishing posts between 500 and 1000 words long every day, that was an average of 45 minutes each day that I spent on blogging. That, in turn, was an average of 45 minutes each day I did not spend on other things.

As it turns out, I didn't particularly miss most of those things. While there were a few days I didn't want to put out a blog post, by and large I enjoyed writing far more than I missed any of the other things I wasn't doing with that time. Halo: Reach is fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as thinking through interesting concepts, synthesizing ideas from the books and articles I'm reading, and generally forcing myself to grow by forcing myself to write.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. Like many others before me, I find that I learn by writing. I start out with a rough idea what I think on a subject, and tease out its intricacies, its twists and turns, its interesting corners by writing about it. Sometimes I find that I have to rewrite the opening of a position piece because, by the time I finish it, I have changed my mind. The process of wrestling through ideas and their consequences is transformative. At its very best, it forces me to distill vague notions down to concrete terms, forcing the vapor of my original conception to materialize into a solid shape.

Add to that the challenge of saying something meaningful day after day, and writing proves the best sharpener of my thought—and indeed, the best means of provoking careful thought throughout the day—that I know of. I enjoy writing not only for its own sake, but because it forces me to think throughout the day, not merely to drift along in the current of consciousness but to seize a paddle and force a direction through my stream of thought. It forces me to take hold of a notion and grapple with it until I understand it well enough to say something about it to others.

On the whole, I loved blogging every day last month. It was draining at times, certainly, especially when combined with a busy schedule and another major project running simultaneously. (You can see the results of that project here.) That sort of busyness is not itself a problem, at least from my point of view. My time was being spent productively and effectively, and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed any of the purely entertaining alternatives.

For my beloved wife, however, the month was a bit different. She was not inside my head, enjoying the adventure of thinking, processing, understanding with me. Much as I try, I can never quite communicate the thrill I get from thinking and writing—to anyone, even her. For her, those hours not spent playing Halo were hours not spent playing Halo with her. She felt separated from me, isolated by my tapping away at the keyboard. We are different, she and I. I feel happily connected if we are sitting near each other, occasionally pausing from our own tasks to talk, or share a quiet moment of holding hands, or an amusing thought or idea from a book or our own musings. She feels connected when we are sharing the activity itself. In short: I like writing side by side, she likes watching movies together.

While there are several reasons I haven't written a post since the start of November, one is that I haven't yet worked out the balance here. On the one hand, blogging is good for me. For all the reasons outlined above, it benefits me deeply. It sharpens my thinking and forces me to think, and in the sheer mundanity of my daily routine, that's important. At the same time, my relationship with my wife is exceptionally important. If I value my own intellectual satisfaction over caring for her and making sure her emotional needs in our relationship are met, I am just being selfish. When you add in all our other activities, especially in the evening, it is easy for her to feel disconnected (even if I don't). That is not a situation I can or will tolerate. As such, I am chewing on how to both serve my wife and achieve the ends that blogging helps me reach.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know. Until then, I will be here, fitfully and irregularly as ever.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do Duo Devotions Diligently: A Challenge to Married People

One thing Jaimie and I have slowly been working out since we got married (and even before) is how to seek God together. Both of us generally have fairly solid devotional lives: though not without our ups and downs, we both regularly read and memorize Scripture and pray. It is far more challenging to know how (and when!) to seek God as a couple. Individually, the pattern is simply: read the Bible and pray, and work on Scripture memory and pray more throughout the day. As a couple, however, we must set aside the time and work out a plan for what we will do.

(It is important, you'll note, that we each have strong walks with God ourselves. While we can support each other immensely in our walks with God, we can do so only insofar as we know Him ourselves. As ever, the Christian walk stands in tension: we need to pursue Jesus as individuals, but we do so in community.)

In the first year of our marriage, we began by praying together every morning before I left for work. That went well for a while—until I started leaving earlier and Jaimie started getting up later. The result is that we usually don't see each other until after I get back from work; aside from phone calls or text messages, the first time we actually communicate is late afternoon! Obviously, the original plan wasn't working. It also didn't really include much time spent on Scripture, and even when it was working, the time was much too brief. (I eat quickly.)

On our one-year anniversary, we made a point to review the year: what had we done well, and what had we done poorly? We also discussed the areas we wanted to work on in the year ahead (this year)—and one of the areas was our joint spiritual lives. It is important that we lay a solid foundation here now, so that by the time we have children (God willing!), we are already established in our familial walk with God. Children will simply be integrated into an existing pattern; we will not be struggling to figure it out then. (Actually, we still will, as we'll never have been parents before... but hopefully not as much as if we had no experience in pursuing God as a family!)

As the spiritual leader, the responsibility for coming up with a plan, or at least leading the discussion on a plan, fell to me. Over the next few weeks, I mulled over a few things, was Providentially guided to a few good articles, and prayed over how to do this well. The plan I came up with—the plan that we have been following since then, with varying degrees of success—looks like this:

  • Sunday: We take a walk, usually spending the first half just chatting about various aspects of life and being silly, and the second half talking about spiritual things we've been considering—new things we've learned about God, desires we have for the church, etc. We have a two mile loop, which makes for a comfortable half-hour walk: plenty of time for good discussion.
  • Monday: We pray. Our focus is on our marriage, each other, our families, and our very best friends, PJ and Katie, with whom we are as close as family in many ways.
  • Tuesday: We pray again! This time, our focus is on our spheres of ministry. In Jaimie's case, that includes the woman she is mentoring, her friends and acquaintances from class, and the foreign families she has met by riding the bus to and from OU (really neat people, and a great ministry opportunity). For me, it includes coworkers, my work on Pillar, my service on the worship team at church, and the younger man I mentor.
  • Wednesday: We briefly discuss the things we have been learning in our devotional material throughout the week. One of our goals is to have at least one concrete thing we have learned that we can share during this time—whether something new we learned about God, or an application for our lives. That challenges us to be more proactive in our own devotionals.
  • Thursday: We pray—can you tell we think prayer is important? Our focus on Thursdays is missions and ministries we support. We have a number of friends on the mission field, we are privileged to support people on staff with various campus ministries and mission teams, and there are many unreached people groups in the world—we try to pray for each of these categories.
  • Friday: We take some time to focus on our marriage. Normally, I prepare a question to ask. Sometimes we get to it, and sometimes our date night conversation naturally turns to marriage-oriented conversation, obviating the need for a prepared question.
  • Saturday: We study Scripture together. Right now, Jaimie is using a through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, so we simply go to wherever she is reading and work through those passages together—it would hardly be fair to ask her to do double reading on Saturdays (especially given how much the plan demands). We have also done book studies together in the past—something we're looking forward to doing again in the future.

We're getting close to hitting every one of those days; doing so is one of my goals for this week. Stop back by in a week and see how we did.

Obviously the schedule has some flexibility to it; this is a general plan, not a definitive roadmap. Right now, date nights are usually Friday nights, so that's when we discuss marriage issues. However, that's already a change from date night being on Thursdays as it was until a month ago, and the schedule changed accordingly.

This schedule works for us. Different couples can and should figure out different ways to pull this off. Every night might not be an option, for various reasons (though I would encourage it if at all possible—it does wonders for your togetherness). Different times of day, and different emphases, may be necessary. The main point is that you shouldn't be drifting along, thinking a mutually beneficial couple-oriented devotional life will just happen. It won't. You need to work to make this happen, whatever the details look like.

Men, the responsibility most of all falls on you here. Most women I know would love for their husbands to step up and take the initiative to set aside even one chunk of time every week for spiritual things. The reality is, if your wife has to initiate it all the time, she is going to be frustrated and you are probably going to feel nagged. If you initiate it, your wife will appreciate it and you will have the fulfillment of doing what God calls you to do. It may not always be what sounds most fun, and it has a cost in time and energy, but the rewards are immense. Your marriage will be stronger and your own relationship with God will be deeper.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dancing in the Minefields

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite newly discovered artists. He has a penchant for thought-provoking lyrics, a gift for honesty, and a good ear for melody. He reminds me of Rich Mullins, and that can only be a good thing.

One of the songs off his new album (which is on my Christmas wish list) speaks as truly and powerfully about marriage as any I have ever heard. Listen to the song, read the lyrics, and watch the video, then join me for some thoughts on the far side of the lyrics.

Dancing in the Minefields
I was nineteen, you were twenty-one
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much too young
But we did it anyway

We bought our rings for forty each
From a pawn shop down the road
We made our vows and took the leap
Now fifteen years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

"I do" are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard
Is a good place to begin

'Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price
For the life that we have found

And we're dancing in the minefields
We're sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me

'Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadowlands
Till the shadows disappear

'Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby,
I can dance with you

Why does this speak so strongly to me? I suspect there are a number of reasons, but most of all that I identify very strongly with many of the sentiments expressed. The details are a little different, but in many ways these lyrics could have been written about my marriage. I was 21 and Jaimie was 19 when we got engaged, and we paid a bit more for our rings, and we've been married a little over 1 year instead of 15. But we have been dancing in the minefields. We have sailed, already, into the teeth of a frightening storm.

Marriage is both harder and better than I ever could have dreamt. We have not struggled as much as many couples do with basic marriage issues—communication, squabbles over where to squeeze the toothpaste, etc.—but we have faced trials darker and harder than either of us ever expected to. Depression is a fearful thing, and to walk through it, or to watch your beloved as walk through it, is more difficult than I can express.

At times in the last year, Jaimie has struggled to pull out just one tremulous smile in an evening.

I fell in love with the most joyous, life-loving woman I had ever met. That's still who she is; circumstances can't revoke God's creative decision. But how hard has it been for this most joyous of women to walk through days when she can hardly smile? My heart has broken for her.

At times, I have been selfish. I have struggled to love her with the self-sacrificial love of Christ. I have let her down, put my own interests first, been unwilling to see our circumstances through her eyes. The long and short of it is: I am a sinner, through and through, saved each day only by the superlative grace of God.

The song speaks to me because it captures the bittersweet glory of marriage. We go dancing in the minefields, daring to have joy when any moment everything could come crashing down. We delight in the thrill of sailing though the storm could sweep us away at any moment. We live our lives with passion for God because, whatever the risk, we know that the reward he has given us in each other is worth the pains that come. It is harder than we could have imagined when we began—and that is why, as I wrote a few months ago, marriage is about commitment, not excitement. Yes, marriage can be fun, and yes it is a source of great excitement. At times. Often, we remember the promise we made and remain with each other because, whatever the travails of the moment, keeping that promise is better than anything we could ever find in breaking it.

And when we hold fast that commitment, we gain a view that we could never have if we fled when the shadows came. Storms are fearsome, terrible things—but there is beauty in them: the crash of thunder in all its majesty, the lightning that turns the black of night into the brightness of day itself, the crashing power of the waves and wind: the majesty of God made known in part.

We walk in Christ, and so when the shadowlands come, we can walk on, holding each other's hand all the more tightly perhaps, confident that whatever comes to pass, we shall walk out the other side still in his grace, still faithful to each other, still loving each other with everything we can give of our still-sinful selves. We come out the other side loving each other more, not less, because the trial sharpens us and pushes us to rely on God who loved us first.

I hate the storm, sometimes—but I am grateful for it. I plan to just keep dancing in minefields with the most beautiful woman I know. God willing, we'll dance another 60 years or more.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chick Flicks and Cheating

Chick flicks teach people to have affairs. Before you roll your eyes and move on, allow me to clarify. I like some "chick flicks," and romantic love is a good thing. I bring my wife flowers regularly, I take her on dates every week, and I have even watched the six-hour long BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with her. Nonetheless, my point stands: chick flicks teach people to have affairs.

How many movies can you think of that deal with life after marriage? How many of those honor marriage, rather than mocking it or glorifying infidelity? The list is short. How many movies have you seen that deal with dating and falling in love? That list never ends: it is filled with dozens of romantic comedies, dramas, sob stories, and breakup-hookup-breakup-hookup tales that never, ever go a moment past the kiss at the altar. In short, our culture is obsessed with falling in love. It knows little of staying in love, and nothing at all of the pains of committed love.

We should hardly be surprised, then, that people soon grow tired of the relative monotony of faithfulness, that they begin to long again for the thrill of the chase. Mystery and novelty are the guiding lights of our romances; they are all we have ever known. Marriage has neither in its favor, and brings with it the solemn weight of commitment. Little wonder that it is on the rocks; we have no idea how it works—much less how glorious and beautiful it is.

We are witness to a strange convergence of historical ideals about romance and marriage (from late medieval courtly love right up through 27 Dresses) and the opportunity for such ideals to be realized. Modernity affords us the luxury of choice in spouses much as it does in all other areas of life. Our culture is not unique in prizing romance. Unlike other times, though, when romantic love was often idealized but less frequently realized as a basis for marriage, it is now the decisive factor in most decisions of whom to wed. In earlier times, people generally married within their small communities and made a life together. Romance was a perk; financial stability and the ability to carry on the family name were the real necessities.

There were, without question, downsides to this. People often found themselves married to people they did not like, had little in common with, and would never have chosen for themselves. By the same token, these marriages never suffered the illusion that a spouse would somehow provide ultimate happiness and satisfaction in life, and they certainly did not entail the expectation of constant emotional highs.

Few people today are obligated to marry anyone at all. Women in particular are no longer economically shackled, and our world at large is far wealthier and far more economically mobile than that of earlier times. People thus have little or no financial incentive to marry someone they do not like. With the steady march of urban- and suburbanization, they have little geographic incentive either; for most people, an alternative romantic partner is nearly always available. Accordingly, people generally marry for romance.

Unsurprisingly, movies have continually pushed romance to the forefront of popular thought on marriage. This is nothing new; popular media has emphasized courtship and falling in love for centuries. (Read anything from Shakespeare to Jane Austen if you're unconvinced.) Movies are but the latest to take up the fashion. Like the many media before them, they portray the glories (and woes) of romance, courtship and pursuit—but never the very different glories of marriage.

Movies are hardly alone in this. Popular music (from country to hip-hop) emphasizes the same basic approach to relationships and romance. Think: how many songs mention, much less dwell on, the quiet struggles and triumphs of daily life with someone? How many, in contrast, emphasize unfulfilled longing, the insecurity of dating, and the ultimate happy ending of a proposal or wedding? Again, the examples are too numerous to mention; just turn on the radio. The same is true of novels, television shows, and even video games.

Christian nonfiction has been just as guilty of perpetuating this view. I have read numerous books instructing husbands that their wives simply need to be pursued. The art of marriage, it seems, is simply the art of the chase: make your wife feel as though you are seeking to attract her attention as though you just met, and your relationship will be perfectly healthy. Marriage will never be boring, because it will feel just like dating. Infidelity will never tempt—because the same thrills can be had in marriage itself.

The problems with this idea, wherever it is communicated, are significant.

First, this view promotes a deeply abortive understanding of relationships. Courtship itself fits the narrative perfectly, of course: it is the narrative. Boy meets girl, boy and girl like each other, boy and girl flirt, boy and girl get married. The narrative cannot fit the sequel, though: marriage is no longer the object of the relationship. A man is no longer seeking to earn a woman's trust and affections; he has earned them. A woman is no longer seeking to win a man's heart; she has won it.

This is obvious to us in all our other relationships. The beginnings of a friendship are far more exciting than its steady continuation—but most of us enjoy having friends more than we enjoy trying to make friends. We value the commitment inherent in long-term relationships with each other. We appreciate the security in knowing that someone will continue to stand by us as they have in the past. We enjoy having someone who understands us well and values us as we are. Generally speaking, we do not spend our days longing for the rush of finding new friends; we simply enjoy the time we have with our existing friends.

Only in romance do we think that the emotional rush of uncertainty and the thrill of the new are normal. But they are not normal. No one can perpetually sustain the sort of emotion that characterizes the early stages of romantic involvement. Marriage entails a commitment that, at its best, is inviolable, and much of the emotional rush of dating is the insecurity inherent in the absence of that commitment.

However carefully one treads, there is always the chance that one's significant other will break off the relationship and move on to someone else. This may not be a particularly pleasant thought, but it serves to heighten all the emotional aspects of the relationship. Even as low moments are crushing, happy moments cause the heart to soar with hope and expectation.

Further, hope and expectation are two of the primary positive emotions of courtship. They are not primary characteristics of marriage, however. Courtship's hope and expectation are toward marriage itself. Marriage, by definition, has already fulfilled those hopes and and expectations. Various desires remain, of course: dreams of what the future holds, of children and family, and of a happy life together. These are not the point of the relationship in the same way that the hope of marriage is the point of dating, though. The defining characteristic of marriage is not longing but commitment.

Finally, at a purely practical level, sustaining the level of emotion experienced in courtship is impossible. Gestures that once stirred the heart to rapturous happiness now produce contented smiles and tender hugs. We grow accustomed to each other's ways of communicating love. Holding hands may remain delightful and a helpful way to demonstrate togetherness, but it never thrills quite the same way as it did the first time. Much as a woman loves being gently kissed, she will never feel the same rush she did on being kissed the first time. It is well worth the effort to keep these gestures fresh and appreciated. Nonetheless, no amount of effort can maintain the emotional heights of courtship.

These media model for us an entire set of relational expectations which are ultimately unrealistic. Pursuit cannot continue forever. Moreover, it should not: marriage is not a continuous pursuit, but a steady commitment to remain. Marriage cannot thrill as dating (or infidelity) does; obedience to God's word is never as exciting in the moment as sin. The antidote to infidelity is faithfulness, plain and simple and boring though that answer may seem.

If indeed the thrill of novelty is not normative for marriage, what is? Are we to throw away romance entirely and content ourselves with dull and dreary days and lackluster love? Not at all. We must, however, begin to reorient our conception of love.

As has often been emphasized, love is not an emotion; it is a choice. However helpful affection is, love shows itself most powerfully when affection is at its lowest ebb. Loving someone when your heart overflows with warm emotion toward them is easy. Loving someone when you are both tired, your days are frustrating, nothing exciting is happening, and then something goes wrong—that is hard. Such moments expose us. They reveal whether we really love each other, or whether we simply enjoy the benefits we have from each other's company. Men and women who love each other will show it a little more all the time, in the worst of circumstances as well as the best.

In large part, the advice offered by the Christian nonfiction I decried above is good advice. The problem is one of terms and the expectations they engender. When the wedding ends, the pursuit ends; what remains is the far less exciting but far more meaningful and important project of remaining. This by no means indicates that the time for romantic gestures has likewise ended—such gestures are a part of remaining well. Wherever we continually set our wills, our affections usually follow. People who start running to exercise often end up as runners. People who pick up a hobby stave off boredom often find themselves outright hobbyists. And people who choose to offer and gratefully receive romantic gestures as demonstrations of love for each other often find that they continue to grow in affection for each other.

Chick flicks can only (and barely) teach us how to begin loving each other. They cannot show us how to continue loving each other. At best, they give us false expectations of marriage as an endless pursuit; at worst, they lead us to hunger for that chase elsewhere. We learn the joys of contentment from watching those who have gone before us, and by practicing it every day. Romantic love is good, but it cannot sustain us. It can only be sustained by real love—the kind that is willing to sacrifice, to stay when it hurts, to endure anything for the good of someone else at great cost to self.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Glory unfurling

One of the mysteries of my life is my friendship with Stephen Carradini. I met him within fifteen minutes of his arrival on campus at OU his freshman year, and he stuck to me like Velcro. Nearly every experience I had in college he repeated in one way or another. Despite our myriad differences in background, opinions and relationships, God has ordained that the major strokes of our lives run in parallel, with Stephen just far enough behind to watch and learn from my successes and failures.

As Stephen himself commented to me recently, he lives my life.

I have rarely seen such a simple, perfect picture of the sovereignty of God. In the three and a half years since we met, God has consistently put me in positions that I found frustrating, painful and inexplicable—until months later, when Stephen invariably found himself in the same straits, and I could lend an ear and sometimes a hand. I rest on God's sovereignty because Scripture declares it, but I find it easier to believe because I have seen it.



Jaimie recently spent some time reviewing old journals and observing how God has answered prayers she offered up half a decade ago. Though we are not to live in the past, we are to remember it and savor God's works. When the present grows dark, God's past faithfulness comforts us. He has saved us and cared for us before, even when we could not see.

The months since our wedding have been a time of upheaval, struggle, fear and pain as Jaimie battles depression. She's winning, by the grace of God. And joy has filled our lives. We love being married. Day by day we see God's goodness more plainly. Whether it is in a quiet evening spent reading together, the wondrous dance of married love, or the hours we have spent crying and praying together, we remember that the Holy Spirit is working for our good. We hold to that truth with all our strength; sometimes we have nothing else.

Day by painful day, I see Christ's image growing in Jaimie. I see her slowly freed and gradually perfected. I see her face unveiled and the glory of our Savior unfurled by the breeze of the Spirit in her heart. Suffering is producing joy inexpressible as He forges us into complete dependence.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Surprise: neither sermon notes nor 500 words long!

Life is good right now. Challenging, but good.

Today, I'm going to do two things: work on an Advent composition, and clean the apartment before my lovely wife gets home from visiting her family.

This morning I posted the first book review we've done for Pillar on the Rock, Who Runs the Church?

Christmas is three days away, and that means that I've been chewing on and contemplating a good Christmas post. Look for it on Thursday or Friday.

Speaking of Christmas, this is my first Christmas married, and correspondingly it will be my first Christmas day spent apart from my own immediate family. Jaimie and I are going to spend Christmas together in Norman before we drive out to visit my family. We have the wonderful opportunity to begin to decide how we will celebrate it together now. One of our biggest thinking points is how we're going to really celebrate Christ without being distracted by the material aspects of our culture's celebration of the holiday. When we figure out what we're going to do, I'll probably make a short post to that effect as well.

You can look forward to more regular posting after the new year. Thanks to a good deal of change—from marriage and a new job to car accidents—and the launch of Pillar on the Rock, this simply hasn't been the best semester for this blog. Don't worry... I'm not going anywhere.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower bazookas - 500 words, 11/11/09

To men: remember that flowers are a veritable bazooka amongst weapons of love. (There's a turn of phrase you don't hear very often: "weapons of love." I'm going to use it regularly.) You should make a point to bring home flowers as often as you can, in as many unexpected and varied ways as you can. Go to the grocery store as a generous overture, and come back with flowers. Don't do it to get a favor, or to manipulate; bring her flowers because you love her. One last thing: bring whatever kind she likes best.



Actually having work to do is incredibly fulfilling. As much as it sounds nice to get paid to sit around and do nothing, it's actually quite frustrating. Simply put, man was made to work. God designed us for it. Work became unpleasant after the Fall; it was instituted from the beginning. Thus, when we aren't working, we very soon feel useless, and life begins to become rather dull and frustrating. Having experienced that recently, I am really enjoying being able to meaningful work to the glory of God. (Though if someone wants to pay me to simply read and write...)



My content on this blog has been low all year. The reasons have varied even while the results have remained the same. Shockingly enough... that's not going to change, for what I might call obvious reasons (the new blog PJ King and I just launched). In some sense, the reasons haven't changed: part of the reasons I've written so little of late is because I was spending many an hour working on getting the HTML and CSS properly set up and building images. It's nice to finally be able to write there. Long story short: writing beats coding.



I'm inclined to think the old saying, "When as Rome, do as the Romans" has limited value. There are times and areas of life where that's good advice. There are also times when it's awful advice. For example, hypothetically speaking: if I were in a community where education and intelligence were seen as tolerable at best, would it behoove me to act uneducated and intelligent? Or should I find some other course in which I tried not to offend but did not mask my personality? Or should I tray to sway the community? It's quite a balancing act, I think.



Last Sunday night, Wildwood Community Church hosted a worship night. I was blessed to be able to participate with the worship team, as I am on Sunday mornings. There is such joy in coming before God with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, to offer praise and adoration to Him. One of the great joys of this particular service was the children: in normal Sunday services, the children are all in Sunday school. Here, they worshiped among and with us. It was a small, beautiful picture of heaven.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good songs, bad politics, good marriage - 500 words

I’ve been listening to some of Brooke Fraser’s music recently. It’s very good, and I’ve found myself with the nearly overwhelming urge to sing along. That’s great, until it happens when I’m at work, desperately trying to quash the urge before I have everyone in my area yelling at me… especially since I always have head phones in. Fraser is, from what I understand, a New Zealander who moved to Australia. She’s also an excellent lyricist and songwriter. Her personal albums are some of my favorite listening, and her worship songs are among my very favorites. Check out her music.

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One of Fraser’s songs includes the lines, “I am changing, less and less asleep / Made of different stuff than when I began.” The statement, along with the rest of the song (“Shadowfeet”) seems to be a fitting summary of my life right now. God is working to transform me, and of course that’s a process that takes a long time and a lot of work. It’s also incredibly rewarding. The joy of sanctification is incomparable. That’s good, because the pain can seem to be equally incomparable. Gladly, it’s not, and it’s only for a season.

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Marriage, no matter how hard, is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. In my admittedly brief experience thus far, I can wholeheartedly say that after salvation, it is the greatest joy in my life. Our marriage has been anything but perfect thus far: it’s challenging, sometimes painful, and often tiring. Yet it has been such a blessing to me. Nothing in my life has stretched me so much, taught me so many things, or humbled me so deeply. Equally, nothing has encouraged me, delighted me, or filled me so deeply with life. I highly recommend it.

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I find myself increasingly frustrated by Washington politics. I have never been one to think politics the solution to all our problems, though I’ve certainly been tempted. More and more, however, I’m aware that the problems of our world cannot and will not be solved by any political action, no matter how well intentioned. As Douglas Wilson has pointed out, the only hope for our culture’s reformation is in the reformation of the church. Heart change must precede policy change, or the policy change will be ineffective at best. This is as true for healthcare as abortion.

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As I was working today, I ran into a significant snag in the program I’d written. I spent the next hour tracking down the root of the problem. In the end, the problem was in the last place I thought to look: the inputs. Lesson learned: when a functioning program suddenly stops working, check the inputs, as well. It’s certainly possible that a heretofore unrevealed problem has raised its head… but just as likely, the external conditions are different. In life, of course, we see the opposite (which also happens in programming): circumstances simply expose what’s in our hearts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Traveling thoughts

This past week, my beautiful wife and I visited Colorado. One of my good friends from high school was getting married on Friday evening. The wedding stirred up a number of thoughts in me.

I thought a bit on how much has changed since high school as I saw a few friends I've literally not seen since graduation day four and a half years ago. I though for longer about how much I have changed in that time, and how much God has done since then. There have been some deeply transforming periods of time in my life, some painful and others joyful. Most of all, I've seen the faithfulness and the deep love of God as He has transformed me. He continues to do so; I learn a bit more every day about dying to myself and living for Christ, and about walking as well as talking out this faith.

The pastor at the wedding was Lutheran, as are the friends who got married. I am not. Yet I have to say that the man's teaching on marriage was some of the best I've heard, and he brought the focus back to Jesus over and over again. It's always such a joy to be reminded that the Church is indeed a body, whole and complete. We have our differences, some of them profound, but we are part of one universal whole that lives and breathes in Christ. No matter what our disagreements with other believers, it's essential that we remember that we are united in Christ. There must be a deeply irenic spirit among us in our interactions, no matter how deep our disagreements. There are lines drawn, of course, beliefs that we hold place one outside the framework of true Christian profession. It is not wrong to call a cult or a heresy by name. Yet we must always remember that God's truth came not in judgment for this age, but in "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). We should strive to model Christ's grace to all who we meet, and above all to be a picture of His love as we interact with other believers of whatever stripe. My friends and their Lutheran pastor, all of whom I have many theological disagreements with, are my brothers and sisters, and I love them. Now, I only need to learn how to love them as Christ does!

As we descended on our flight back home, we came through two and a half layers of cloud. There was a beautiful moment as we passed through the first layer and then were flying between it and the second when we could see all the way to the clear sky between the layers. Then we plunged again into cloud, and there we stayed for some very long minutes. I was reminded, as the plane bounced to and fro, as I caught my wife's nervous eyes, and as I prayed, that we were no less safe in that moment than in any other. We really are resting in the hands of Almighty God every moment of every day. Even in those troubling minutes before the clouds broke and we could see ground only a few hundred feet below, we were as safe as could be. Should our Father wish to take us home, no effort of ours could stop the plane from falling, and should He wish us alive, the plane would land whatever our fears. It is a comforting thing to know that God is truly all-powerful and good. We can rest then in His will, assured of His hand in all that passes through our lives. What hope, to know that God Himself is orchestrating our days! What comfort in the midst of affliction to remember that we are bought with a price, and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life right now

LIfe is interesting for me right now. I'm working 8 hours every day, newly married, and involved in ministry at church. I'm reading as much as I can, writing on a semi-regular basis, finding time to practice piano and study Greek from time to time. I'm busy, though hardly as busy as I could be. (That's intentional: Jaimie and I made a point to take the first year with a minimum of commitments so we can focus on learning to love each other well. It's a Biblical principle, in case you think I'm crazy.) It's an incredibly joyful season in my life. It's also proving to be a very challenging season.

Jaimie is going through a difficult season. I'm learning how to walk well with her in the midst of it. Marriage is, lest anyone deceive you into thinking otherwise, hard work. As men, we get to die for our wives as Christ died for the church. That's an every day task, sometimes an every hour task - not a when-I-feel-like-it task. It's certainly easy enough to say that I love Jaimie enough to die for her, but to actually do it every day takes the grace of God. It's more than I can do on my own. (I should note that I think she needs just as much of God's grace to walk through every day beside me!)

We've set up our house, and it's quickly become a home. More than merely a place to sleep, our apartment has become a place of rest. I can't express how much a blessing that is: I spent four years in the dorms at OU, and while they were fruitful and wonderful years, they were also long. OU was never home like this apartment is. There are a lot of reasons for that. My wife lives here with me, and a good family makes for a home very quickly indeed. It is ours; while we share walls with neighbors, we do not share bathrooms or living rooms or any personal space at all with them. We have spiritual authority here in a way that we did not in the dorms. So, we have a wonderful home.

I am learning a great deal right now. Much of God's sanctifying work in my life is through marriage and Jaimie; most of the rest is quiet, underlying growth I can feel the Spirit accomplishing. A little more each day, I learn to live with my eyes set on Christ and the gospel. He shows me my sin more clearly, and reminds me that He has delivered from darkness to His kingdom and His "redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). I get to listen to a sermon every day on the way to and from work, and I've learned a lot from Godly preachers like John Piper and Matt Chandler. I've learned as lot, too, from Bruce Hess and Mark Robinson, who teach at Wildwood, and Dick Stewart, one of the elders there. I thank God for His work in our church, as I do for faithful friends that He's surrounded us with.

My heart is joyful and hopeful in this season, though sometimes troubled and tired as well. No circumstances are more powerful or stronger than our mighty God, and it is on Him, His love, His grace, His salvation that I am learning to lean. My own strength fails, but His mercies are new every morning and His love is steadfast and sure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five 100-word thoughts

Things that passed through my head today that I thought my be interesting:
  1. A snippet from the Today show this morning that I caught while waiting for new tires: a couple expecting a child... to be born from another couple. Both couples were using in vitro fertilization because they could not conceive naturally. The doctor made a mistake and implanted the wrong embryo. Now one couple is carrying the baby to term (praise God!) and giving it back to his parents. What exactly does that mean? It’s a confusing, painful mess for everyone involved. Situations like this make me question the wisdom of in vitro. There are no easy answers here.
  2. In a Christianity Today interview published last Friday, Kara Powell argued that the age of age segregated ministry is over, or should be. A few highlights from the interview, especially the last one:


    • Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to... the youth and children's workers.
    • Teens should not only be the objects of ministry; they need to be the subjects of ministry as well.
    • Tenth graders study Shakespeare. What are we offering them at church? Nothing comparable...
    • ...it's also very important for parents to share about their own spiritual journeys with kids.


  3. God’s grace is a pretty stunning thing. As the author of Hebrews puts it: through death He overcame the one with the power of death (the devil) and delivers those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. That’s huge. I can’t conscience dropping penal substitutionary atonement in favor of Christus Victor, but we must remember: Christ’s life and death did more than eliminate sin’s penalty! We should revel in His victory, excited about His final triumph. Praise God: we’ve been saved from God’s wrath, death, fear, and Satan’s power, and to freedom, life everlasting, joy and love.
  4. Marriage is a delightful and painful treasure. Delightful, because every day is filled with companionship, love, and adventure. Painful, because I realize more every day how wicked I am:. Yes, wicked: I am self-absorbed, unkind, rude, thoughtless, harsh. Jaimie is a delight and a treasure to me, yet too often I do not show her the depths of my love. I am just beginning to grasp how immense a thing it is to die for her every day as Christ died for the church. I desperately need the Spirit’s help to love her well. On my own, I fail horribly.
  5. In a pair of sermons on Luke 18, Matt Chandler (lead pastor of The Village Church in Texas) absolutely hit the ball out of the park. He looked at the text hard. The result: a solid scriptural rebuke to our self-reliance and our love of anything other than Christ. Topics covered: A Pharisee with a theocentric prayer who missed justification because he thought his God-given works saved him. A rich man who was still looking for how he could find eternal life in religion. And God’s way. Give them a listen: May 28 and June 7.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marriage

I find it difficult to put into words just how much has changed since last I sat and began to write in this virtual space.

In many ways, of course, I'm the same as ever I was. (Including, probably, a hint of verbosity. See?) At the same time, I've changed. I'm not who I was, never will be. I'm married, for one thing - to the most beautiful woman I've ever met. It was a marvelous ceremony. It's been a better marriage.

Not perfect. Never that. Though my marvelous wife (I rather delight in saying that, you'll find) is certainly a better woman than I deserve, God sees fit day by day to supply me with grace enough to serve her, and grace enough to serve a little better than the day before. I begin to see and understand, just a little, how a life with a family will transform my understanding not only of service to others but indeed of service to God. (Being married hasn't changed my delight in use of non-colloquial words and phrases, either, you'll note.)

Many of those who follow this blog were at my wedding - and it was a delight to see you there. For those of you who were not, however, I'd like to share here the Scriptures that God laid on our hearts as we prepared and that we had read aloud in the course of the ceremony: selections from His everlasting word that, we thought, helped paint a picture of how great this mystery is, and then comment briefly (yes, briefly; don't laugh!) on why these verses. Some of them may be obvious, others less so.

Genesis 1:27-28
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”


Genesis 2:18-24
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.


Song of Songs 4:9:
You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.


Song of Songs 5:16
His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.


Song of Songs 8:7
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.


Song of Songs 8:6
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the Lord.


1 Peter 3:1-2,7
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.


Matthew 22:30
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.


Ephesians 5:31-32
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.


Revelation 21:1-5a
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”


Revelation 19:6-9
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”


There is a flow here - a flow from the moment of creation, when God made man not to be alone, to the shocking close of history, when God comes to dwell forever with man whom He made. These passages also tell us something incredibly important about what exactly marriage is: a picture of Christ and the Church He came to redeem to Himself, that He is redeeming to Himself.

Marriage is not, as we all too often proclaim, some eternal state in which we will remain for all time. It is inherently temporary, because it does not exist merely for its own sake. It is meant to be a glorious, shocking truth that represents a far greater Truth. The unity of man and God through the redeeming work of Christ is a deep mystery. Then again, so is marriage.

How can two people from completely different backgrounds leave behind their families and become one? And how is the becoming one flesh - joining together in every possible way - even possible? How is it that our joining in marriage is not merely a lifelong commitment to mate only with each other for social stability but a real spiritual unity that transcends the mundane and reaches to the deepest parts of our nature? It certainly does. Jaimie and I have already experienced ways in which our being married ties us far more closely than ever we were before. Most of all, we affect each other spiritually. It is, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, a mystery.

God, in His wisdom, has chosen to use this mystery to help us understand a deeper puzzle yet: How can immortal, omnipotent, omniscient God who knows us, our thoughts, our deeds better than we ourselves, relate to us? How can we and He who are so very different ever be joined in any degree of relationship? How can His transcendence meet our very thorough smallness? How could there ever be more to that relationship than distant dictator and abject subjects? How could there be intimacy? Most especially when we are so abjectly fallen, so utterly depraved in our thoughts that we run to every kind of evil whenever we can!

No, this marriage is a temporary one, so that we can glimpse the greater one that awaits: the union of God and man, Christ and His Bride. There will be, as there was in our wedding, a feast to whom all are invited. There is only one acceptable garment at that feast... the garment provided by the Lamb that was slaughtered, choosing from the foundation of the world to redeem us to Him, to make us His, to cover our transgression and make us white as snow... white as the dress a bride wears to her wedding. Our righteous deeds, prepared for us by God, will be the shining linen worn by the Church as a whole as she joyfully runs into the arms of her God-King on that last day.

This is what our wedding and our marriage are about, not some nonsensical idea of eternal bliss together. We will strive every day to be a faithful picture of Christ and His Bride. I will strive to die for Jaimie as Christ died for the church. And we together will be part of His church, striving ever to purify her for the day of His return, starting with our own hearts and reaching out to every man, woman, and child that He places in our path.

Our marriage is about the good news that Christ has redeemed for Himself a people who will share all eternity with Him.

Our marriage is about Him!