Archive for the tag “Divorce”

The Church of Chicken Little

churchchickenlittleHere’s what will happen. Maybe you’ve already been through it. Or maybe you’re living it even as your eyes scan these words. I don’t know what will trigger it—I’m no prophet—but I do know, sooner or later, something will. The company you’ve poured your heart and soul into goes belly up. Your spouse slips off her wedding ring, puts it on the counter, and slams the door forever behind her. The details will vary. But in that moment, and in the days and weeks—maybe even years—that follow, you’re convinced that the sky is falling, and your life is basically over. Draw the curtains, turn out the lights, the party’s over.

I’ve been there. As have many of you. It hurts. It’s frightening.

And it’s highly deceiving.

Oh, yes, deceiving. Because as bad as it does get, as much pain as it does inflict upon you, it is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not even close. It just feels that way. But if you’re not careful—as I was not careful—you’ll become so overwhelmed with all the bad stuff going on, you’ll spend so much time staring up at the sky that you’re convinced is about to fall, that you’ll forget you’ve still got work to do, people to take care of, vocations to fulfill. Your world has changed, to be sure, but it is not over.

The same applies to the church, perhaps even more so. On a recurring basis, Christians spot news headlines that signal yet one more moral collapse in society, the growing paganization of the cultures in which we live, the spread of antipathy toward the faith. It hits social media. Facebook becomes transformed into everything from an online pity-party to a preaching-party, lamenting or decrying all these wicked goings on. Twitter explodes with 140-or-less character doomsday-sounding predictions. And in pulpits across the land, pastors have plenty of fodder for their Sunday morning sermons.

But if we’re not careful, if we become so engrossed with the flood of divorce, the spread of gay marriage, the holocaust of abortion, the loss of religious freedom, and countless other very legitimate concerns, we’ll end up sounding more like the church of Chicken Little than the church of Jesus Christ. We’ll give the impression that our central message is not “Christ crucified” but “The sky is falling.” We’ll forget that we’ve still got people to take care of, vocations to fulfill, plenty of work to do.

And that work, that mission, is not to save our culture from moral collapse, nor to raise up law-abiding citizens, and especially not to spend all day, every day, whining and complaining about the loss of the good ole days. The mission of the church is to bring sinners into communion with the life-giving, sin-forgiving, salvation-imparting flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Until the sky really does fall, that’s the work God has given the church to do. Let’s do it.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!


God Writes Straight With Crooked Lines

If I were granted three wishes, one of them would not be to know what the future holds. You can keep your crystal balls. I have enough trouble wrestling with today’s demons without knowing what crosses await me tomorrow. As the wise rabbi said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

And some days are so sufficiently evil that tomorrow looms like the open jaws of hell.

For some of us, that evil day was when we sat in divorce court. We can still feel in our guts the glass shards of broken dreams. The tomorrow we awaited, and the weeks and years after that, were too fear-filled and hope-empty to wrap our brains around. We didn’t even want to know what the rest of that day would hold, much less the future.

For others, that evil day was when we drove away from a cemetery with the passenger seat empty of the love of our lives. The one who shared our memories has become a memory. And we’re left with a hole in the heart out of which pours grief and anger and innumerable other agonies of irreplaceable loss. We don’t even want to know how we’re going to lay in bed that night alone, much less face a future without the one with whom we shared a past.

I don’t know your story, but I bet you have one. Broken relationships, broken hearts, broken promises—they all melt into the ink of tears with which we write our stories. And the blank pages yet to be written frighten us most.

Reading back over the last ten years of my life—years that were punctuated with losses I never dreamed I’d experience—I’m so grateful that God didn’t give me the gift of foresight. It would have felt more like a curse. Nor do I want to know what’s ahead of me on the path I walk now. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, most likely it’s a cocktail of both.

I can say this: as I read back over those years, I’m reminded of the Portuguese proverb that says God writes straight with crooked lines. I stumbled down labyrinthine paths, crawled in and out of cavernous pits, got lost a million times, and somehow ended up a little farther down the road to healing. Yet in all those crooked lines I see the hand of God writing straight.

I’m not saying that I finally see how God’s plan unfolded in my life. I don’t. I’ll never understand why some things happened. All I know is that they did. They ultimately did because I’m a deeply flawed sinner, living shoulder-to-shoulder with others who are screw ups like me, and we’re all trying to limp through life in a world where stupid and senseless things happen with predictable regularity. There are crooked lines everywhere we look.

What I can tell you is that the hands that write straight with these crooked lines have everlasting scars that tell of crucified love. I can tell you that down every labyrinthine path, in every cavernous pit, wherever we’re lost, there’s a God of compassion hot on our heels. He’s leading us into death and life again. He kills and makes alive. And it hurts—damn, it hurts—but mixed with the hurt is the healing blood of God.

That blood of Jesus painted the ground beneath his cross with crooked lines that write straight these words: All for you.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

Married to the Cross in Divorce

sufferingdivorceThere are times when you feel like a spectator who views in slow motion the demolition of your life. Mini-explosions rock the foundations of everything that gave you meaning and purpose. Maybe it happens when you stare at the surreal spectacle of a coffin descending into raw earth, or the X-rays of a brain tumor, or the officer standing at your front door serving you papers for divorce. At those moments, it’s not like something inside you dies; it’s more like all of what’s inside you dies. What remains is a thin shell veiling a rapidly diminishing life.

There are no funeral rites for the corpse of a marriage, no official way to lay it to rest. So most of us make up our own. I did. Mine was a liturgy of whiskey and promiscuity, alternately screaming and crying toward heaven, and seeking salvation in every new girlfriend. One step forward, two steps back…or three, or four. All the while I was sinking a little deeper into the quicksand of sorrow.

I wish I were blowing things out of proportion. But I’m not; I’ve really only scratched the surface. For some of us, following divorce there are a string of debaucheries, flirtations with suicide, and grisly plans for revenge. Others self-medicate, hole up and lick their wounds, shun the opposite sex. Everyone reacts differently, but most of us react in ways we later shudder to recall. And like so many of life’s heartaches, unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the pain and the foolish things you’ll do in your quest for relief.

Maybe you’re thinking that I’m going to tell you that divorce made me a “better Christian.” But I don’t even know what that means. Better than what? Better than I had been? Better than other people? Better how? I wish I could tell you that through divorce I became a stronger person, but thank God I didn’t. If anything, my perceived “strength” is what paved the way for the destructive decisions that caused my divorce in the first place. If the death of my marriage revealed anything, it was my profound weaknesses.

What I do know is that divorce was for me, as it is for most of us, a process of unmasking—a slow peeling away of various lies. Unlike a Halloween mask, I had worn these masks for years, so long in fact that they had grafted to my skin.
The mask of “thank God I’m not as bad as those people are.”
The mask of “I have a happy marriage.”
The mask of “I never have any doubts about God.”
The mask of “I’ve fallen short, but not way short, of the glory of God.”
And my favorite mask: “I have everything under control.”

As the truthful realities of divorce scratch away at the face we exhibit to the world, one by one the layers diminish. What I discovered beneath was what I’d always claimed I had but never really believed: the face of a liar and cheat, a face pockmarked with pharisaism, a face as dirty as the filthiest sinner. What others discover beneath their chosen masks are faces flushed with anger, eroded by the weather of worry, or gargoyle-like monsters of hate. Whatever we find, they are faces only a God can love.

I don’t pretend to speak for everyone. But divorce was for me a blessed destruction, a splendid disaster. God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), to be sure, but through it he revealed other things he doesn’t think highly of either: like a haughty spirit, hypocrisy, lust, self-reliance, and on and on it goes. It took time, long dark years, for this blessed destruction to have its way with me, but God is more of a marathoner than a sprinter. I was in a hurry to be healed but he was not.

Who I ended up being was not a better Christian (whatever that means), not a better person, not a stronger person, but simply this: a man who grasps more fully that, in and of myself, I am nothing. I have zilch to offer God. I have nothing of my own to claim, except my faults. I have no strength, no righteousness, no moral pedigree to wow heaven. I am Jonah, sinking beneath the waves. I am Lazarus, dead and decomposing in a grave. I am a corpse in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. I have and am nothing. And come to find out, once we realize that, be it through divorce or any other suffering in life, we are in the perfect position to gain everything.

In divorce God married me to the cross. I didn’t want it; indeed, I hated it. But upon my shoulders God laid it. The ring of nails. The veil of darkness. The kiss of death. When we are stripped of all the good we think we are and have, we come face to face with the evil within. We fight and wrestle and gasp and die and become nothing.

Then our Lord, who created everything out of nothing, says, “Now I have you exactly where I want you.” The only material that God really works with is nothing. He brings to nothing the things that are (1 Cor 1:28) that through this nothing he might show us that our everything is that one who is the source of our life, Christ Jesus, whom God makes our “wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption,” (1:30). He opens our eyes to see that we are not dead on a cross alone. We are part of a thorn-crowned Savior who became our everything. We die in him and life returns. We have no hope in ourselves but in him we receive hope of cosmic proportions. Our face, which only a God can love, the Father of love bends down and kisses. He bathes away our filth. He lifts up our downcast eyes. He gives us his own name. We are married to the cross, and there meet the bridegroom of our souls.

Like so many of the hardships in life, it is only in hindsight that we realize the hidden hand of God at work in our deepest woes. He is not making us stronger but is making us dead, that we might truly live in the strength that he provides. He is not making us better people but unveiling how bad we are that we may find in Christ the riches of our Father’s goodness.

Some people talk about life after divorce, but I prefer to talk about death after divorce: the death of self, the death of masks, the death of a sham existence in which we pretend we’ve got this life thing figured out. Unless we die, there is no resurrection. When we die to those things worthy of death, we find him who is the resurrection and the life. And we find in him all those things—and more!—that we searched for apart from him. Things like joy. Things like peace. Things like hope and healing and love and meaning and purpose. All these are in Christ, and they are ours.

If you are facing a divorce, going through one, or recovering from one, let me tell you the most important thing: Christ will not and cannot sever you from himself. The sun will lose its light, the water its wetness, the night its dark before that happens. He counts the hairs on your head, every tear you shed is so precious to him that he collects them in a bottle (Matt 10:30; Ps 56:8). Like Zion, your image is engraved on the palms of his hands (Isa 49:16), your name tattooed on his heart. You will not always feel his love, but his love clasps you in its strong arms. You will probably feel abandoned by God, but he will never leave you, never forsake you. As you bear this cross, you bear it not alone, but in him who is the crucified and risen Savior. He is for you. He is faithful. He has married you to himself with a love larger than heaven.

christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

The Polygamous, Incestuous, Murderous Collection of Screw-ups God Called the Holy Family

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy

dysfunctionalfamilyThere is a uniqueness to unhappiness, as Tolstoy rightly observed, a sad fingerprint left by each family that is like no other. And it’s rarely as simplistic as outsiders usually assume. “Oh, it’s that alcoholic father who’s ruined that family.” Or, “Yeah, it’s that cheatin’ wife of his.” Or, “it’s them dope-smoking kids.” Maybe the husband turns to alcohol as an escape because his wife nags him, belittles him, and makes him feel worthless. Maybe the wife sleeps with other men because they give her the illusion of attraction, while her husband says she’s fat, never touches her, and makes her feel as undesirable as a wrinkled whore. And this merely scratches the surface. Dig down deep into any unhappy family, and you’re likely to unearth layer upon layer of manipulation, abuse, neglect, grudges, and horrors which have no name.

Joseph came from a family like that. His dad, Jacob, was married to two women, having sex with two more, and fathering children by them all. I don’t need to tell you that, in a household where four women are sleeping with one man, jealousy was thick. Each wife was trying to out-pregnant the other, and even enlisted their maid-servants as sexual pinch hitters to try and make even more babies. To add to the mess, Joseph’s brother, Reuben, slept with one of those maid-servants as well, father and son sowing their seed in the same womb, brother sleeping with his other brothers’ mom. Still more, after one of the daughters was raped in a nearby town, the sons rose to avenge their sister with bloodshed, all the while incensed at their father who didn’t want to ruffle any feathers over the incident. And, finally, the jealousy of the wives filtered down to the sons, especially when Jacob made it abundantly clear that Joseph, the firstborn of his favorite wife, Rachel, was his favorite son and the one who would inherit his blessing. If every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, then Joseph’s family had plenty of ways of breeding more unhappiness.

Some of you reading this come from an unhappy family, or you’re living in that unhappy family right now. Maybe you’re wondering if there’s any possible way God could glue back together the shards of your shattered family unity. Maybe you suspect things are so bad that God has washed His hands of your marriage and children. Or maybe you’ve simply given up hope; you feel defeated; you’re tired of pushing that boulder uphill, only to watch it roll down again. The pains and disappointments in life are teaching you the hard truth that God has a warm place in His heart for happy families, while unhappy ones are left shivering through winter after winter of divine absence.

If so, consider this: Joseph’s family—that polygamous, incestuous, jealous, murderous, motley crew of screw-ups—was in fact the holy family that God chose and dearly loved. This family was the foundation of the church of the Old Testament. Those twelve brothers, reared by one deceitful father and four bickering mothers, who were constantly fighting amongst themselves, were the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. This microcosm of humanity, in which just about every evil and sin was exemplified, was nevertheless beloved of God and chosen by Him to carry forward the promise of redemption. This was the family whose DNA would eventually find its way into a baby boy born to a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem. The Savior of the world would come from Joseph’s family; indeed, his foster father would bear that patriarch’s name. From this unhappy family would arise the one whose coming would prompt the church to sing, “Joy to the world!”

So is God interested only in happy families? No, if anything, He seems to be the patron God of lost causes. For him, there is no family, no family member, who is beyond hope. He is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one lost lamb. He is the father who dashes from his house and runs like a madman to throw his loving arms around the prodigal son. He is the Christ who suffers with you through every family fight, holds you when you cry yourself to sleep in a lonely bed, sits beside you in divorce court, visits your child with you when she’s in rehab. He has bound Himself to you and your family. That doesn’t mean He approves of the evil that takes place; what it means is that He is not a God who runs away when things get ugly. He might even get ugly Himself sometimes, show tough love to those who need it, but behind that divine scowl of reproof is a heart of love that beats with a ferocious compassion. He will not give up on you or your family. Inked into God’s skin is the name of every person in your family. He bears your family in His own body.

Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but no family is beyond redemption, beyond the recovery of joy, beyond the love of the heavenly Father. Because every unhappy family is the family for whom Jesus Christ died. For Joseph’s family, for your family, the Son of God came from His Father, was born of a mother, was raised by a foster father, that He might redeem every member of your family, and make them members of an everlasting family known as the church. With Jesus Christ, no family is a lost cause.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

Anniversary of a Dead Marriage: The Painful Lessons of Divorce

wedding-ringsAlthough I wrote this article almost a year and a half ago, someone reads it almost every day. Readers stumble upon it when they Google phrases such as “divorce anniversary.” That’s just one small token of the multitudes of people who struggle to recover from a broken marriage and the lifelong scars that violent separation can bring. I am reposting it on my blog today so that perhaps it will reach some who haven’t seen it. This is my own unedited, raw reflection upon what divorce did to me, as well as what I learned from it. I’m sure some will take issue with my disagreement with St. Paul, but that’s okay. Perhaps I misunderstand the apostle and need to be corrected. If you are reading this as one who suffers the ongoing pains of divorce, know that I am praying for you, that Christ may work healing in you, as He has in me.

Today, December 29, would have been the twenty-second anniversary of my first marriage. Five years have passed since our divorce—years raw with emotion, scarred by mistakes, scabbed over with hints of hope. Every year, when this day rolls around, I turn over the stones of remembrance that litter my mind, to see what lurks beneath. I see things there I don’t want to see, learn things about myself that I never wanted to know, but do anyway. I also see there lessons learned, painful but positive lessons. This piece is more for me than anyone else, though you are welcome to tag along and spy on my thoughts.

1. The Undivorced Don’t Get It. I’ve never stood by the freshly dug grave of my beloved wife. Never has the blood of a fellow soldier been showered on me during a firefight. I’ve never been bankrupt or homeless or had cancer. I don’t know about a lot of things, because I haven’t experienced those hells. The happily married, undivorced man or woman knows nothing of the agony of divorce, and should never pretend otherwise. This includes pastors, and all those who may seek to counsel the divorced. They should never assume they “get” what the divorced person is going through. Every loss, every grief is unique, and to make it generic by universalizing it cheapens the hurt the divorced feel.

2. I disagree with St. Paul. When he writes to the Corinthians, Paul says, “One who is unmarried is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,” (1 Cor 7:32-33). Not for me. Most men who are unmarried are concerned with finding a woman whom they can marry. And until they do that, most of their thoughts, energies, time, and, yes, money, are directed toward that end. I was much more concerned about the things of the Lord when I was married than when I became single. It is not good for the man to be alone, and so long as he is, it won’t be good for him personally, or his service to the Lord. With notable exceptions, men are created for women. And it is in the vocation of husband that they serve the Lord best, for they are completed by her.

3. Lonely, Hurting Men Make Bad Decisions. I made the mistake many men do immediately after their divorce: the first woman I dated, I “fell in love with” and soon we were making wedding plans. I later broke off the engagement as the reality that this was a rebound relationship slowly sank in, although, of course, it was at an additional emotional cost to both of us, as well as our mutual children. Every relationship is a risk, but the risk skyrockets when the man is still nursing wounds from a failed marriage. He wants nothing more than a restored wholeness, to recreate a past that either did exist, or exists only in his nostalgic imagination. And in this state of yearning for healing, he tends to idealize a woman, seeing in her the wife he wants her to be instead of the woman whom she really is.

4. Divorce Unveils the Monster Within Divorce brings out the worst in people. It certainly did in me. I was little aware of the fathomless depths of anger, spite, depression, regret, pettiness, and selfishness within me until my marriage ended. Then it all came oozing, or exploding, to the surface, in various ways and at various times. I remember late one night, while working in the oil field, having a conversation with another driver who was going through a divorce. His wife had left him for another man. He described how his every waking moment was consumed with fantasies of revenge, murderous payback, horrid thoughts he’d never entertained before. Divorce can do that, unearthing new evils within. It’s a dark journey of self-knowledge. And although, thank God, most of the time these monsters within us remain caged, never acting out the evils of which they are capable, the sheer fact that they are there at all is enough to make me scared of the man I have the potential to become.

5. Healing Will Begin, But It Takes Its Sweet Time I’m fortunate because I survived divorce. I didn’t put a gun to my head and pull the trigger, though on my darkest of days I held the pistol in my hand. I didn’t become addicted to something that would dull the pain, though I did my fair share of self-medicating with alcohol. I came through, wounded and scarred to be sure, but at least alive. Not every one is so lucky. God placed into my life a few select friends without whose love I would not have made it. Not surprisingly, these friends are divorced as well. They get it. I am at a point of healing now, five years later, that I thought I’d never reach, even if I had five lifetimes. I still have a long way to go, but at least I’ve made progress. Baby steps are steps nonetheless. I have two children, a son and daughter. They live with their mother and step-father. I see them four to six days a month—days that mean the world to me. As heart-breaking as my time apart from them is, I have grown to thank God that, in the aftermath of our divorce, our children are still provided with a stable, secure, Christian home in which to grow up. Indeed, they are blessed with a good mother and a caring stepfather.

The very fact that I can write that last sentence, and mean every word, is proof positive that, five years after my divorce, the Lord has made a little progress in putting this shattered man back together again.

If you’d like to read more of my writings, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

If Only I Were in Control

ImageI’d roll my eyes at group assignments in school, for one or two of us would end up doing the lion’s share of the work and at least one schmuck would do nothing. The only sport I’ve ever been gung-ho about is running, where winning or losing depends on Chad and Chad alone. I chose a career path while I was in my early 20’s, scratched the right backs, quoted the right scholars, and soon landed the teaching position I coveted. I like to fly solo; and I like to plan my own flights. I am a man who likes to be in control.

I was even in control of God for a time. Well, I never would have admitted it, much less phrased it that blasphemously, but if my assumptions had been voiced, they’d have affirmed that I believed this lie. God was doing my bidding, catering to my whims. Why? Because I believed all the right things, of course, taught all the right theology, even sang all the right church songs. And as long as I did, God would watch as I plotted my own course in life and would bless me along the way. If I stayed in control, my life would be just the way I wanted it to be.

Are you nodding your head? Have you been the wife who thought that if she provided her husband with a hot supper and steamy sex whenever he hungered for either, that he’d never stray, and by and by you’d be smiling for the camera behind your 50th wedding anniversary cake? And then he cheated. And your world crumbled. Have you been the parent who thought that if you sent your child to Sunday School, taught them right from wrong, and bankrolled their university training, that they’d keep on the straight and narrow and make something of themselves? And now as you tuck your four-year-old grandson into bed and he cries for Mommy, you fight back tears and whisper a prayer that your daughter’s second trip through rehab will stick.

We build our castles of sand during low tide, in seeming control of our perfect little kingdoms, then the waves come lapping closer and still closer. We stand there helpless, watching as all we labored over is swallowed by the ocean’s mouth. And there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.

If I were in control, I’d arrange my life so that heartaches were avoided, sins uncommitted, disasters averted. If you were in control, you’d plan your life so that children lived, marriages survived, careers prospered, cancers were cured. If we were in control, we’d never slide into the dark, dank pit of depression. We’d never fall asleep praying that we wouldn’t wake up. We would plan our lives, smile as all our desires were fulfilled, and know that God above was giving us a standing ovation for doing such a fine job of mapping out an earthly journey of unalloyed happiness.

But we are not in control. Indeed, the few things we stubbornly insist we still control are mere phantasms. Why, there are days we can’t even control our own bowels, so, tell me, why do we think we can control anything else? Indeed, the control we crave is nothing more than a manifestation of our desire to be the gods of our lives, as well as the lives of others.

The believer does not live by control, but by faith. This faith does not demand a laissez-faire approach to living, as if we abandon all planning. Rather, to live by faith is to affirm that, whatever happens in this life, someone bigger than this life, someone better than this life, will hold us and help us through it. To live by faith is not to affirm that, like that misleading “Footprints in the Sand” poem, the Lord carries us through the hard times, but to affirm that the Lord carries us through all times. To live by faith is to know that, when we are going through a divorce, Christ will never divorce us; when our children go astray, they remain children of the heavenly Father; when our lives fall apart, that we live in Jesus, whose resurrection life sustains our life.

We do not exchange, “I am in control of my life,” for “God is in control of my life,” for control is a word of coercion and law. Instead, we say, “I am baptized into Christ.” My life is not my own, but His. His Father is my Father, His God is my God. I am more precious to God than even His own life, for He gave His life that He might have me. I am baptized into the one who causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him. I am baptized into the one from whom neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me, for I am a beloved member of His body, flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone.

I am not in control; I am in Christ. And that is all that ultimately matters.

+++If you enjoy my writings, please take a moment to check out the book I just published: Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. Here you will find page after page of reflections upon the Christian life, its struggles and pains, its joys and hopes. Most importantly, you will find Jesus at the center of this book, even as He is at the center of the Christian’s life. Click on this link to view the book. Thank you for your interest!

A Guide for Christian Couples Who Are Planning a Pagan Wedding

ImageAfter the unusually bitter winter that most of our country suffered through, the first hints of spring are a most welcome sight. For students, these are signals that their summer break is right around the corner. For many families, these warmer months will bring a much needed vacation. And for countless couples in love, summer means one thing: they will soon hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and say, before God and their witnesses, “I do.”

Chances are, most of these soon-to-be-wedded couples have been planning this big day for months, perhaps even years. Dresses and shoes, cakes and flowers, invitations and accommodations: detail after detail demands attention and decision-making. If the engaged couple happens to be of a religious nature, specifically Christian, in addition to the general planning required, they might also wonder just how churchly their celebration needs to be. To that end, I offer here some practical suggestions and guiding principles on how Christian couples can, consciously or not, plan a pagan wedding.

If vocal music is to be part of your ceremony, pay close attention to the lyrics. Make sure they express, as eloquently and emotionally as possible, that you are in love, desire one another, and are ready to commit to a lifetime of happiness in one another’s arms. Something like that anyway. Do not select songs that speak of God as the one creating marriage as a gift to humanity, hymns that reflect the marriage of Christ to his bride the church, or anything that praises Jesus as the one whose sacrifice of love on the cross provides the very love by which the love of husband and wife is sustained. In other words, keep your music as secular and worldly as possible.

There are numerous unity rituals that can be incorporated into the ceremony. Perhaps you and your fiancé, or even other members of your family, will pour multicolored sands into a single, unifying container. Or as a variation on this theme, you might use water or marbles of various colors, or stick with the tried-and-true unity candle. All of these drive home the same idea of unity. Whatever you choose will work, just make sure that any words accompanying these ceremonies say nothing of the fact that Christ is the one who is doing the unifying. Make it appear as if you and you alone are joining yourselves to one another, not that God the Father is making you one. Unity by human will and decision: that’s what you want to impress upon yourselves, family, and friends.

Be careful about your selection of a preacher or other officiate. There are pastors out there who still believe that marriage is a divine institution, that husbands and wives are icons of the marriage of Jesus and the church. Unless reined in, these clergy are liable to urge you to use explicitly Christian songs and a traditional Christian liturgy in your ceremony. And they may possibly dare even to preach the Gospel on your wedding day. It’s probably best to hire an interfaith preacher for the day, just to be safe. That way you’re guaranteed the service will offend no one, be he/she Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or whatever. The last thing you need is a preacher trying to make sure your wedding is a Christian service, and to that end counseling you on what you need to do on your wedding day.

That brings up the final point I want to make concerning guiding principles. It is your wedding, no one else’s. This day, this ceremony, is all about the two of you. Every decision you make needs to be driven by that fact. This is not a day on which you should be thanking God the Father for the gift of marriage between a man and a woman. This is no time to have a Christian worship service, complete with dignity, reverence, and holiness. Your wedding day is all about you, not Jesus, not his cross, not his love, not his church, but the two of you, who are beginning this life journey together.

If that principle guides you as Christians in your wedding planning, then all the details will work themselves out. You are sure to come up with a ceremony that is thoroughly pagan in nature.

If you do, you are also sure to begin your wedded life together by divorcing Jesus from your marriage.

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