I’m excited that on Friday September 13, I’ll be able to share the Biblical Principles of Marriage, which was the subject of my first book. Then on Saturday the 14, I get to tell about some of the fascinating experiences I had in Iraq as an Army chaplain, which is what my second book is about. Although I am speaking as a volunteer and will not be paid, there is a cost to attend the program. If you want to find out more, click on the image above. Please pray for me and the entire conference as we help others prepare for the ministries God has called them to.
In 2008, developers built some high-rise condos on the South Texas Coast. Ocean Tower was supposed to provide luxurious amenities and beautiful views, but it didn’t take long for the entire structure to begin to sink, and then tilt, with wide cracks in the concrete support system.
According to an old Turkish proverb, “A building without a foundation is soon demolished.” The foundation wasn’t prepared well enough, and the whole project had to be destroyed after more than seventy-five million dollars had been invested.
The famous, leaning bell tower in Pisa, Italy, on the other hand, stood straight for five years before the 14,500-ton structure began to sink. It managed to survive, but as we all know, there is a serious slant.
In Matthew chapter seven, Jesus talks about the importance of a foundation for a home. But, just like in Proverbs 24:3-4, what he’s really talking about is people, and in this case, the need for an inner, spiritual foundation.
Couples who want their marriage to survive storms and shifting sands, need to make sure they have a foundation that will last a lifetime.
Several years ago, my wife and I did a short-term missions trip to Budapest, Hungary, teaching a three-week intensive class at the Hungarian Bible college, and preaching at churches in and around the city. Our hosts were a missionary family that allowed us to stay in an upstairs bedroom in their home.
Looking out a second-story window, we noticed the neighbors were building another home on their property, immediately behind the main house. The missionaries explained that it was customary for children to grow up and live on the same property as their parents. The new building was for their son, who was about to get married. The foundation was already in place, and every day, we came back to the house, looked out the window, and followed the progress. We watched the walls grow higher as new rows of bricks were added.
God’s plan for marriage is vastly different from the typical concept of marriage in the world today. Rather than a battle zone, marriage is designed to be peaceful. Rather than causing you pain, it can be a source of profound healing. Rather than a selfish coexistence, a good marriage is a loving couple coming together to help and encourage one another. Rather than a ball and chain, marriage liberates you to reach your goals and see your dreams come true. Rather than a hell, marriage can be a heaven on earth. And, rather than a temporary arrangement, marriage is best when it takes you through all phases of life . . . together.
For that to happen, however, the relationship has to be built on a solid foundation. It’s time to get started establishing a WisdomBuilt home that will last a lifetime.
Three or four years ago, a friend gave me the top of a pineapple his family had eaten. He told me, “Plant this in dirt and it’ll grow. It sometimes takes a few years, and doesn’t even need a whole lot of water.”
So I put the thing in a plastic grocery bag, put it in the garage, and forgot about it. A year-and-a-half later while cleaning the garage, I found the parched pineapple top and assumed it was dead. But then I thought, “Why not put it in a pot with some soil and see what happens?” I started watering my experiment once in a while, and after a few months, new life sprouted. When it got to about 20 inches tall, I transplanted it in the back yard. Within another few months there was a pineapple growing in the center of the plant.
There are times when it seems like your marriage is dried up or dead. It might have been months or even years since you’ve paid attention or invested in the relationship with the one you used to love and care about the most.
But it’s not necessarily over. It’s not too late to plant new seeds of love and kindness, to offer a timely word of encouragement, or to start “watering the pineapple.”
If you decide to start fresh, you’ll need to be patient. My pineapple had been dried up and discarded for over a year, and when finally planted, it took months to begin to sprout, and then another year or more before the fruit appeared. It just takes time. Sometimes a lot of time.
It is just as likely that when you begin to express loving, healing thoughts and words, it might take a while before you start to see new life in your marriage. So be patient. Keep on investing in your marriage. Continue loving. Be genuinely interested in your mate’s well-being. It’s going to be hard at first, but if you are willing to hang in there and continue treating each other right, your marriage can be restored.
Several years ago, we went through a pretty rough time in our marriage. We didn’t like each other. We were pretty unhappy. Things weren’t going well. I came home from work one day and my wife asked me out of the blue, “Are we ever going to be happy again.”
“I don’t know, Sweet-heart,” I answered. And I really didn’t. “How ’bout if we just try to be nice to each other, don’t do anything that we’d come to regret, and see what happens.”
Six or seven months later, we could tell that the joy had returned to our lives. We could smile at each other. We could laugh together. We enjoyed being in the same room. But it didn’t happen automatically, and it didn’t happen fast. We had to invest in each other, and we had to be patient.
Perhaps you’ve discarded the idea that you can be happy, or that you can have a good marriage. That pineapple in my back yard is a good reminder that even when things look lifeless, there’s still hope. You can reignite the love and the joy in your marriage too.
Many people experience the worst life has to offer. Sometimes, the pain is the result of illness or accident, but at times it is intentionally inflicted by other people.
Debbie grew up in a Christian home, and shortly after high school, met Kyle, a young man who attended the same church. After dating for a year, Kyle asked her to marry him, and she said “yes,” expecting to live happily ever after.
A few months after the wedding, however, Debbie was still on cloud nine when something went terribly wrong. When she got home from work one day, she found out he’d been drinking, and in a rage, he hit her. Horrified, she called their pastor, who provided counseling for several weeks. Things seemed to be getting better, until one night Kyle put a loaded gun to her head. In a panic, Debbie managed to escape. Even though her grandmother lived several miles away, Debbie somehow found the strength to run all the way. She survived, but something inside had broken, making it hard to trust anyone. She left Kyle and abandoned her faith in Christ.
Every one of us is broken in some way. We might look fine on the outside, but inside we’re hurting. If we’re to find healing or any positive result from the pain, it might be helpful to take a look at Job, James, and Jesus to see how we can respond in painful circumstances.
Even though he did everything right, Job suffered terrible business losses, extreme physical pain, and undeserved accusations from his friends. His wife also lost everything, and chose to let go of hope and faith, suggesting that he do the same. Instead, Job turned to the Lord, and began to understand more fully his own weakness and need for God. These are important lessons that sometimes have to be learned the hard way. We have a tendency to be self-sufficient, unaware of our desperate need for God. In his darkest moments, Job chose to turn toward the Lord, and so can we.
The second possibility for meaning in our pain is character growth. James 1:2-4 tells us to remain joyful when we endure tests and trials, because they will help us mature. It is true that pain can break us, but it also has a way of strengthening us and deepening us. The difference is how we respond to the crisis and to the work of the Holy Spirit.
A third potential benefit of tribulation is that it can help us develop compassion for others. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he saw their need and was moved to compassion. He cared about people and saw their hurts. He felt their need, and acted. He fed them, healed them, taught them, loved them. The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in 2 Corinthians 1:4 when he says the Lord comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.
Some people respond to pain by becoming hardened, bitter, or angry. Others are jealous of those who seem to have everything going right. If we want to grow in Christ and enjoy life to its fullest, however, we can’t afford to let either of those happen. Instead, we can turn to the Lord, mature as human beings, and develop a sense of compassion for others.
There’s a song in the musical version of Les Misérables that a Christian pastor sings to a hungry, homeless criminal, “Come in, sir, for you are weary, and the night is cold out there. There’s a bed to rest til morning, rest from pain and rest from wrong.”
That’s what the Lord is saying to us in Matthew 11:28. “Come to me, you who are tired, carrying a heavy load, and I will give you rest.” Rest from pain, and rest from wrong.
When I answered the phone, it was my uncle. Though he had sons of his own and I had a father, he always called me “Son.”
“Son, I understand you want to be a pastor?”
“So you think you’re called, huh?”
“Yes, sir. I do.”
“Son, if you are really called to the ministry, meet me at the church Thursday morning and spend the day with me.”
My classes at San Diego State were on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so Thursday morning I got up and went to the church. I had no idea what he had in mind. After chatting for a few minutes, he said, “Follow me.” We got into his car and, without saying a word, drove to the outskirts of town, pulled up to a cluster of tiny, two-room shacks, and parked on the dirt in front of a small green hut, too small to be called a house or an apartment, yet this was someone’s home.
Uncle got out of the car, and I followed. We walked up to the door of one of the units, and he knocked. No answer. He knocked again, louder this time. Again, no answer. “I know he’s in there.”
He tried the door, and found that it was unlocked. Slowly he opened it, and went in. There on the bed in the small two-room cabin was a man: drunk, passed out. A mixture of vomit, diarrhea, urine, and alcohol on the bed, walls, sofa, and floor. The stench was overwhelming, as if attacking my nostrils and throat. I thought I was going to throw up.
Without saying a word, without even a grimace, the pastor took off his suit coat and tie and handed them to me. I watched as the man of God took on the role of the servant. He turned on the water to fill the tub, then went over to the bed. He undressed the man, rolled up his putrid clothing, and placed them into a garbage bag. He picked up the still-unconscious drunkard, naked and filthy, placed him carefully into the tub, and bathed him. I thought of the scene in the Gospel of John where Peter said to the Lord, “Wash all of me. Not just part of me.”
After washing the drunk, who never did wake up, he said, “Watch him to make sure he doesn’t drown.” Then he went back to the bed, stripped it of the blankets and sheets, and put those into the bag with the clothes. Finding an old towel, he mopped the walls and the floor, repeatedly going over to the sink to rinse the crud away. He searched the dresser drawers til he found a set of clean sheets and a blanket, and made the bed. There was a fresh pair of pajamas in a drawer, and he placed them on the end of the bed.
After cleaning up the place, my uncle returned to the bathroom, dried off the comatose man, carried him to the bed, and put the pajamas on him. Covered him up, and tucked him in. Then he took the bag of soiled clothing, bed linens, and a few other things that needed to be laundered, walked out to the car, and put them in the trunk of his car.
After locking the man’s door, we got into the car. The foul smell was not confined to the trunk of the car. It filled the passenger compartment as well. The stench came with us, not only because of the awful stuff in the trunk, but because the filth had gotten onto my uncle’s suit. Although by now it was almost time for lunch, I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.
Instead of going back to the church, we drove to the pastor’s home, where he took the bag from the trunk, went straight to the laundry room, and washed the man’s clothes and bed linens. After showering, my uncle dressed, and we went back to the church. Before I got into my car to go home, he said to me, “Son, that’s what ministry is all about. Good people soil themselves and make a mess of their lives because of sin. Your job as a pastor is to find out what Jesus wants you to do about it. And then do it.”
Though my uncle is no longer alive, I never forgot him — or that lesson. As we go about the daily tasks that the Lord has called us to do, sometimes we find ourselves cleaning up our own messes; sometimes the messes other people have made. The ugly scenes are often the result of sin, our own or someone else’s. Some of the mountains of debris we are called to help clean up are caused by years of neglect, ignorance, discouragement, abuse, or failure.
In Lakeland, Florida, at the center of Southeastern University’s campus, is a bronze sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples. The sculpture is titled “Divine Servant.” I think of my uncle almost every time I see it. It is a great work of art, beautifully depicting the call for genuine disciples to be servant ministers. Ironically, the sculpture is beautiful, whereas the brokenness of human lives is quite unattractive, and working with broken people can get ugly.
In his book, Facing Messy Stuff in the Church, Ken Swetland talks about the ugly, painful situations church leaders have to deal with. “Churches are made up of sinners whose lives are broken – sometimes because of their own choices, sometimes because of experiencing wrongs outside of their control. . . . Resolutions are hard to come by.” He goes on to write that the church is “. . . a fellowship of people who come together to worship God, serve him in the world, and be agents of healing in the lives of broken people who make up the church.”
As we respond to the situations that people have made of their lives, their families, their cities, or their nation, it is helpful to keep in mind that we have a rich heritage of serving in Jesus’ name, cleaning up the stench and the debris of people’s lives. As my uncle said, that’s what ministry is all about.