honor where honor is due (or, why i love my wife)

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

If any woman has a husband for an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife. For how do your know, wife, whether you will save your husband?

1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16

As I’m sure that everyone who reads this blog knows, I walked away from God seven years ago. I was regularly abusing alcohol; I was engaged in all manners of blasphemous, reckless, and sinful behavior; and I was angry, bitter, and condescending. I made being at home with me a chore on a good day, and a hell-on-earth on a bad day. And yet, my wife stayed. She had every right and reason to leave me, and yet she stayed.

When you take your wedding vows before God, you assume that both you and your spouse will be standing together as Christians, enduring the good and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, until death do you part stuff as a team. But no one imagines the bad times being when your spouse walks away from God, and is addicted to porn, and is drunk all the time and getting high all the time. No one imagines that sickness includes depression and thoughts of suicide. No one dreams that for poorer is because your spouse lost yet another job and won’t stop drinking. But that was what Heidi faced. She stood by herself and upheld our wedding vows, even when I wouldn’t. I don’t understand why. But she stood for that. And she stayed.

She consented to stay married to me, even though I didn’t deserve it. Every Sunday for years, she woke up and got first one child, then both kids, ready for Sunday School, and I kissed them all goodbye and she went and stood between God and me and prayed and cried and pleaded for Him to work on my heart, to turn me around, and to bring me back to church. She said, “I don’t know who that is, but he’s not the man I married.” For five years, she prayed. For five years, she asked God to help.

In that time, none of the things I was propping up was working right in my life. Everything I tried to do fell apart through my own pride and ego. Job after job came crashing down. The drinking got worse, I got angrier and more combative. And then everything finally came crashing down. My lies and sins and drunkenness all came together to leave me a broken, defeated wreck of a man, and Heidi was faced again with a choice - “Do I stay with my husband, or do I leave now to protect myself and my children?"

She stayed. In my desperation and brokenness, I finally returned to church. I resented it and didn’t want to be there, but slowly, my heart began to turn. In my brokenness, in my humiliation, I found repentance. And then I found joy. I found peace in the Holy Ghost. And my marriage began to heal. And all the ancillary things in my life, the things in my life that had been falling apart and slipping through my fingers, began to come together and work again. I stopped drinking. I’m not angry or lonely or hopeless or depressed anymore. I’ve built friendships again. And all because she stayed.

She prayed for me. She loved me. She didn’t give up on me. I’m alive today, and serving God today, because my wife wouldn’t leave.

Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.

Thank you, Heidi Beth, for being the most amazing wife. And happy birthday, today. You’re my queen, and I love you. Thank you for not giving up on me.

The Arrogance of Impatience

Abraham had a promise from God - he would have a son. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham, in his own mind, didn't understand how God was going to fulfill His end of the deal. So, in his own wisdom, Abraham and his wife took matters into their own hands: Abraham took advantage of a pagan custom of the day and bedded Sarah's servant, Hagar, and she gave birth to Ishmael.

Of course, in His time and in His way, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, and Sarah did have a child - Isaac. The descendants of Isaac are the Jews - the Children of Israel - and the descendants of Ishmael are the Muslims. And for thousands of years, these two nations, these two families, these two brothers, have been at odds with each other.

I am an impatient person. At this moment, I'm waiting on news about a promotion and transfer at work. I have to wait another seven hours for the news, and I'm going nuts. I want to grill everyone who might have any idea about it and find out what I can. I want to talk about it and speculate about it, and have everyone on my side tell me why I'm a shoe-in; I want everyone who doesn't think I'll get it to enumerate the reasons why someone else is better qualified for the job. I will obsess over this issue for the rest of my shift until I find out.

I'm okay with the answer - I have a contingency plan and I'm confident in my future in the company. But I just want to know.

I've been in and out of church. I've walked away from and back to God a number of times. But about two years ago, I was broken in my own sin. I came back to the Church, and to Jesus, and basically said, "I give up." When I came back, I never thought I'd be in a position of leadership or ministry again. I didn't want to get into a teaching or preaching position. The fascination and the curiosity were gone. I wasn't interested, and even if I was, I was sure that I had screwed up too grandly and too deeply to ever be used of God again.

After about a year, though, God started using me again. It was little things - He started using me in the gifts that I'd been used in before. That curiosity returned. The fervor for the Word and for teaching. My conversations with friends changed, and I began to spend time in the Scripture and asking questions and doing research and thinking and studying. My writing and journaling and unfocused musings changed to thinking about Jesus and serving people and seeing people saved.

So now I have the fire I had before. I have the desire to teach and preach that I had before. And while there's always the nagging doubts of Satan telling me how bad I am, how far I fell, how much I don't deserve God's grace and the opportunity to minister (and he's right!), I have another voice telling me "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former." I have a pastor who tells me that I can't imagine what God will do with me, and that there's no time in these latter days for soldiers to sit on the sidelines, full of misgivings and doubts.

I believe again. I'm ready to serve, ready to fight. But God says "Not yet."

I want to make things happen by force of will. I want to move the ball forward by whatever means I have at my disposal. I don't want to wait, because I'm ready and eager. But God says "Not yet."

I think I know better than God. And that's arrogance. That's pride. That's sin. It's the same pride that led Abraham to sleep with Hagar. It's saying "God's ways are subject to my ways, and my plans are greater than His plans." Pride is the root of all other sins, and out of it comes idolatry. If I build a ministry by my own hand and personality and charm and charisma, who is glorified? And how much smaller will it be than if I let God direct it and plan it and lead the way?

Be patient. Be humble. Wait on the Lord.

 

NOTE: I didn’t get the promotion. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’ve gone round in circles a dozen times and tried to plan my next steps and strategy to get to where I think I want to be. Then, one day, God spoke to my heart through three different sermons and an off-the-cuff conversation with my boss and simply said “Wait.” So this blog turned out to be especially prescient.  

BOOK REVIEW - Churched (and e-book giveaway)

churched, jesus needs new PR, matthew, paul, turner, MPT, book, review, christian, christianity, baptist, methodist, pentecostal, apostolic, jesus, blog, post, book, review, giveaway, kindle, ereader, ipad, technology, free For anyone who grew up in evangelical Christianity, reading the stories of Matthew Paul Turner (Twitter link) will bring the memories flooding back. His funny storytelling, weaving tales of his childhood as he tells his story of spiritual growth and development.

I first came to know of MPT through his blog, Jesus Needs New PR, where MPT posts some of the absurdities of the very diverse, very amusing body of Christ. He pushes the envelope and holds some views that, undoubtedly, people will find offensive, but he's always raising a serious point - if these are the people who are supposed to be representing Christ in this world, then, seriously, Jesus needs new PR.

At any rate, I downloaded Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess onto my Kindle, and while I didn't read it straight through, I did open it from time to time - usually in the evenings before bed - to read a chapter or two and have a good laugh.

MPT begins his memoir by recounting the story of moving from a Methodist church to a Fundamental Baptist Church. As he said, "[Mom] and Dad had come to the conclusion that God wasn't attending our old church and it didn't make sense to go to a place even God didn't want to go to." Funny stuff.

Churched is a great read. I definitely recommend it. Below are a couple of excerpts that I found especially hilarious:

On the Second Coming:

The way we saw things, it didn't matter that God had created the heavens and the earth--he did not want us excited about living here. A good fundamentalist worth his weight in guilt was quick to remind any skeptic that the world was going to hell in a handbasket.

On Clean Living:

I did learn on thing about having Jesus as a bodily tenant: he would not tolerate cigarette smoke. Mr. Parsons, the assistant pastor in charge of children's ministries, made that perfectly clear.

"Do you want to give Jesus cancer?" His voice was gruff and he put his hands on his hips. "Well, do you? Think about it, young people. Do you want to be the person responsible for giving God's Son cancer? Or how about emphysema?"

After his talk, Mr. Parsons stood at the door, shook our hands, and gave us Hershey bars. Jesus didn't mind getting fat.

On Salvation:

"Matthew Turner was one of two boys who asked Jesus into their hearts this morning," said Pastor Nolan during the announcements at church. "Four years old! Wow. I wish I'd known Jesus when I was four. Imagine what kind of Christian he's going to be when he becomes an adult. Can't wait to see that."

Again, it's a great book. You can buy it on Amazon.com for Kindle or in paper. For those of you who have a Kindle (or a Kindle app) and would like to read Churched, I have a single copy I can share. Comment on this blog and let me know, and we'll work to get the copy sent to you.

The Unlikely Interview - Jim Sleeva

NOTE: This was written as a project for a biography class in school. It was a privilege to spend this kind of time with Bro. Sleeva, and I'm incredibly thankful that he made himself available to me.

At first glance, Jim Sleeva is rather unassuming. He’s fifty-five, with thinning brown hair and a relaxed demeanor. While he’s dressed in a sharp grey suit, clean white shirt and a handsome tie, he strikes me as one far more comfortable in something far more casual. But upon further examination, it is easy to see that with Sleeva, there is more than meets the eye.

Sleeva has one of the busiest, most random schedules of anyone I know. When we met, Sleeva had just come from the Marion County jail, where he regularly teaches, preaches, and mentors the prisoners. Prior to the jail service, Sleeva had been at Indiana Bible College (IBC), teaching a class on foreign missions. As well as a staff instructor at IBC, Sleeva is the dorm supervisor and counselor. Since the inception of IBC twenty years ago, Sleeva has been involved in the development and growth of the school. Sleeva has also been a catalyst for Calvary Tabernacle’s Jesus House program, an inner-city outreach that takes Jesus and the church to the neighborhoods, offering tutoring and mentoring programs in addition to non-traditional, “out of the box” approaches to evangelism. Sleeva also serves on the board of Calvary Tabernacle and as a mentor to the Calvary Youth and Young Adult groups.

Sleeva’s history is as eclectic as his current interests: at age 16, he volunteered at the Pleasant Run Children’s Home, and at the age of 20, embarked on a trip to Germany that resulted in a mission’s effort that lasted 15 years, rather than the intended 3 month survey. Each time I hear him speak, he has a story or an illustration, recounting an experience that is deep in value and full of wisdom, applicable to situations far beyond my own.

As a young person growing up around Sleeva, I remember his work with and efforts to connect with a group of young people dubbed as “unlikelies.” Says Sleeva, “I like the challenge of trying to connect to people who are not like me.” He is the primary force behind the jail ministry, and is working to create programs to enable reentry, offering a sort of halfway house for convicts to come in, learn job skills, coping skills, and create a familial environment to foster a spirit of encouragement and success. “People from [a gang or criminal background] come from a broken family system. We [the church] need to create a new corrected family so they can have healing,” Sleeva explains.

Sleeva’s nontraditional ministries are coupled with a nontraditional approach. He is well versed in traditional “church speak,” and can clearly explain and teach doctrine when necessary, but he much prefers language like “this way cool thing that Jesus did” or “a huge green light in my spiritual vibes.” For some fifty-somethings, this kind of language feels forced, but with Sleeva, it fits. You really understand this is just who he is.

Sleeva’s ministry is to the fringe, and with this group, measuring success can be difficult. Success, for Sleeva, is “seeing them [the Unlikelies] respond to you. To connect to someone who doesn’t expect you to be interested.” He does it, he says, because “it felt like the right thing to do, whether they respond the way you would like them to or not.” You can’t measure success just in terms of numbers and immediate responses. Sometimes it takes years for someone to finally respond.

One example is a close friend of mine, Juan Lopez. Originally, Sleeva had been doing Bible studies with Juan’s brother, and Juan had always responded with hostility towards Sleeva. When Juan’s car broke down, Sleeva spent hours with Juan, working for free on his car, building a relationship of trust and respect. Juan was arrested, and was suddenly receptive to what Sleeva had to offer. While Juan was in prison, Sleeva orchestrated a work scholarship for Juan at IBC. Now, Juan is married, a leading salesman with his company, and an active minister at Calvary.

As a teenager in the youth group, I remember sitting around, hearing wild tales about Jim Sleeva and his exploits. While many of the myths have been dispelled, the mystery of Sleeva will never fade. He’s a strange missionary, doing far more than is expected, and accomplishing far more than anyone could ever know.

exodus

My feet ache. I’ve been running for two days, stopping only for moments to eat. I haven't slept since I left because the king is chasing me. I can hear the thunder of the horses and the rumble of chariots growing closer and louder with each passing hour. I’ve brought nothing with me, save a few golden trinkets from my neighbors. I have the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet, and a dream. A dream of freedom, of a land where I can raise my children and they can run and play without fear. A dream of a land where I can set up a small crop farm, or maybe develop a craft, and make a living for myself. A dream of a place where I can worship my God freely, and sacrifice, and live according to His commandments and His law.

My legs burn, my feet hurt, and my heart is racing. I stop for a breath, and I can hear the pounding of the horses closer than ever before. I look back to see the dust raising. Ahead is a river, so I begin to run to the left, only to find that it turns back towards the king. I turn and run to the right and see the chariots and the army flanking me.

I can smell the horses now; I can hear the obscenities being hurled at me by the army. I’m facing the army and back up as they close in on my, drawing closer and closer to the river. Looking over my shoulder, I see that the water is twenty yards behind me. I turn and run, watching the mass of humanity begin to charge. As I run frantically towards the water, I cry out to God. "Save me."

I never take my eyes from the king as he leads the charge towards me. I keep running towards the water, hoping to swim to safety. Any moment now, I’ll reach the water and dive for safety. A wind begins to blow from behind me, giving me an additional boost of energy beyond the rush of adrenaline that is flowing through my veins. This next step and I should be at the water. My feet don't seem to be working, because I never reach the shore. I finally look ahead, and see the water rolling back with each step. I’m ten yards into the riverbed, twenty yards, thirty yards, and as I keep running, I can see the shore on the other side. Another gust of wind from behind gives me an additional burst of speed, and I hear a crashing and screaming behind me. I look over my shoulder to see the water crashing down over the king and his chariots. A giant wave is closing in on me as I frantically run to the shore.

"How ironic," I think to myself. "To escape the king's wrath, only to suffer the same death as he." I continue to push myself, but my legs can't carry me any farther. I drop the sack of the golden trinkets and with my last ounce of strength, I dive forward, face-first into the sand. As I close my eyes and weep, I brace for the impact of the water. I feel it gently lap over my feet, and I look back to see the river - calm, peaceful, as if nothing had ever happened. The waves lap and the sack of trinkets washes ashore at my feet. Around me, the ground is covered in white excess, and there are quails sitting and watching me. The white excess is falling from the sky, and as one touches gently on my lips, I taste the sweet, honey wafer and feel refreshed.

I’m free.

trying to be ...

lately, i've been thinking about what it means to really be a christian - christlike - and how arrogant it is for me to say "i'm a christian" or "i'm like christ". very rarely, it seems, does my behaviour actually reflect christ. now, i'm a good pentecostal, but that's only a sunday/wednesday thing. i want to learn to be a christian.

i was reading in 1 corinthians, looking at The Message (one of my favourite translations) and i came to chapter 13:

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2 If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. 3 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

verse one also says, "though i speak with tongues of men and angels ..." in the KJV. i need to learn to love. not in the "i love you mom" sort of way, but have a genuine, compassionate, selfless love for everyone i meet. i want to learn to be nicer. i want to learn to be a christian, every day, everywhere i go. i want to reflect christ in everything i do. i want people to see me, and think about me, and say, "he's a christian."

i'm selfish; christ is selfless. that's the biggest difference.