Wednesday, September 9, 2009
In our June Bible Conference I preached a sermon called "The Inseparable Helper". The title and some of the inspiration came from a book by Iain Murray, "Heroes". It contains a series of smaller biographies about some of the heroes of faith down through the ages. In his chapter on Jonathan Edwards he wrote about one of the most memorable events in his life and ministry: he fell in love and married his wife! Here’s how he put it, "Meanwhile something even more significant had happened. As a teenager he had fallen in love with a girl who lived with her mother close to the College Green in New Haven. She was Sarah Pierrepont, and, on July 28, 1727, 17yrs old and dressed in a pea-green satin brocade, she married Jonathan and became his inseparable helper."

Well, tomorrow, September 10, 2009, is my 37th anniversary of my marriage covenant to my beloved helper,
Mona. One September 10, 1972, me with my recently purchased shirt and tie, and Mona with her dress and daisies in her hair, were married during the Sunday evening worship service in the Prescott Foursquare Church by my pastor, Wayman Mitchell. There are many memories that stand out in my mind about that event and the journey that has ensued.

  1. I don’t know if "opposites attract" but I do know that we were not exactly cut from the same cloth. I was a 22 year old white kid from New England, and Mona was an 18 year old, skinny, Mexican girl from Prescott, AZ. She is quick to tell people that she was 17 when we were married but officially (I have to remind her) she was 17and 5/6, two months shy of turning 18. The contrasts might have been obvious but they were not a weakness. They have enriched and bonded both of our lives.

  2. Simplicity. We were married in what we called then a "Jesus People Wedding". There was not a lot of hoopla or expense, but it was a meaningful, Christ-centered ceremony. No, I’m not opposed to change or stuck in the 70's, and I’m not arguing here for what’s better or worse. It’s just when I see a lot of the stress, anxiety, and expense that people invest in their wedding ceremonies today, there is definitely something to be said for the grace of simplicity. Trust me, 25 or 30 years from now you’re not going to care a whole lot whether the bride’s maids wore mauve or blue or whether yours was the "perfect wedding ceremony."

  3. We didn’t fit the Dr. Laura Schlessinger mode. That means in the minds of many we were too young, we were not financially set up, and my career path was not clearly before me. I understand that we do live in different times today, but what Mona and I did have was a deep, mutual love and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord, and a desire to serve His purpose in our generation. I remember a number of years back reading an issue of Life magazine titled, "The Science of Love". Most of it was pretty lame, but in the preview section there was one very valid and valuable observation. They interviewed a number of couples, all of whom had gone through some kind of serious trauma in their married lives (sickness; death of loved one; financial setback etc.). They asked them what made the difference? What was the glue that held their marriages together? The author made the statement that what they discovered in the strongest marriages is that they both cared passionately for something that was greater than themselves! This was definitely the case with Mona and I. Little did I realize how important and how crucial this was going to be.

  4. The beginning of an adventure. We had no idea what the future held, and like most young people, we were full of hope, promise, and expectations (even if we were both a little [a lot] naive). We both had a sense that wrapped up in our marriage was an anticipation of the good things, the "future and hope" that God’s plans had for us.

Then came the
un-planned-for challenge! Challenges will come in one shape or form to every married couple. In our case it was pretty sudden and shocking. I had an automobile accident on April 30, 1973, that broke my L-1 vertebrae, severing my spinal cord, and leaving me a paraplegic for life. Try to think: Mona is 18 years old, we’ve been married for 7 ½ months, and now this crippling, life-altering accident occurs. I mention this because in my mind, Mona (not me), is the true hero and the one who has modeled an overcoming faith rooted in Jesus Christ and His goodness, no matter what! All of the ensuing changes and challenges that were dumped in her lap: my physical disability, the most-likely scenario of not being able to have children, the uncertainty over what the future held, the dismantling of the hopes and dreams we all carry in our hearts. All of a sudden, not asked for, she has to "own" these. There’s a reason in the traditional marriage vows that people pledge fidelity "for beter for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, 'till death do us part." We’re not anticipating the worst, or embracing a negative mind set, but because life for every married couple is an uncertain journey. Things don’t always go according to our "game plan" and there will be times you have to play the hand that you have been dealt.

I’ve told this story of a number of occasions. A few years back, Steve Gabriel in England asked me the question,
"Who's had the most influence on your life and ministry?" I don’t know what he was expecting to hear but, my ready answer to him that night was, "my wife!" He wasn’t expecting that but you could tell as he thought about it, a little light went on in his head that said, "Yea, that’s right!" No one has been more of a blessing and a help and an influence in my life as Mona. Sometimes visitors come to church and don’t see her because she’s sitting at the piano partially out of sight. She may be a little hard to see or not always readily visible, but I can assure you that her contribution is and has been invaluable and is felt in the life of our congregation! Since I’ve gone through life-changing trauma, spending four months in Good Samaritan Hospital - Spinal Injury Rehab in Phoenix, I’ve often told people three things made all the difference in the world. First, the Lord Jesus Christ and His never-ending supply of grace which is always available. Second, an incredible wife. Third, good and faithful friends, some of whom became my personal chauffeurs through the streets of Phoenix, lying on a gurney (another long but memorable story). There’s been nothing in the last 37 years that’s made me have to edit this assessment.

The Bible says in (Prov.31:29-31). "There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!" Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise." When I think of Mona’s contribution, the things that I praise and are so grateful for would be: (in no particular order)

*Her joy & bright personality. There’s nothing superficial about it, it has some deep wells behind it. Much of it has been a "joy in spite of" but she’s definitely a "high wattage bulb" in my life!

*Her compassion. Not only have I been the recipient of this, but I know of few people as caring as she is, especially to people going through really tough times.

*Her partnership in ministry. She’s never complained or felt that the ministry was a burden or a rival. She has made herself a mature co-laborer in the things of God (she’s not interested in being a co-pastor!). This is true whatever the labor was: cleaning the church (ugh! the toilets!), or working with others in the kitchen, or the huge administrative/secretarial load, or being a conduit for sending support to so many of our overseas workers. It’s not always easy, but she has made it a "labor of love."

*Her resiliency. She had to grow up and become a mature woman of God. Everything about her echoes one of Pastor Alvin Smith’s favorite sayings about being able to, "take a lickin’ and keep on ticking".

*Her love. The wedding ceremony says to the groom, "Do you know that you’ve asked the costliest thing every made by the Hand above: a woman’s heart, a woman’s life, and a woman’s wonderful love?" That is how I feel. The love of a good woman is one of God’s greatest gifts. Especially when that love is God’s love, a "hesed" love, or a love loyal to the covenant.

*Her home-making skills. I’m talking about more than cooking (I’m the chef, mostly) or cleaning (she’s superb in this department). I’m talking about her presence that affects the spirit of our home. She truly makes our home a place of refuge, for which I am very grateful.

*Her fighting spirit. We know that the devil doesn’t fight fair. He will attack a man of God through the "weaker vessel" of his wife. I know that Mona has had her share of battles, some known only to herself, but she has stood in there and "fought the good fight of faith."

*Her selflessness. When I think of my wife, I think of a giver, and someone who excels at it. It’s not all about her, but she has demonstrated such a giving spirit over and over again. I only
hope to be able to give back a fraction of what she has and continues to give to our marriage.

There are many other things, but when (Prov.18:22) says "Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord", I say "amen and amen!" Does all this mean that she doesn’t have her days (all of you understand those days)? Of course not, we all do. As I sit here today thinking (does anyone know what to buy your wife after 37 years?! help!) and writing, there’s no question in my mind that I would never be the man I am today, or have the ministry that I do without my beloved and "inseparable helper." Her price is definitely "far above rubies." So, for all these things and much, much more, I say,
"Babes, I thank you, and I love you dearly."
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Recently, I received an email from a sister with a long and colorful history in our congregation. She was asking me the question, "What's the difference at The Door? What is it about our Fellowship or discipleship at The Door that is set apart?" This is a kind of "loaded question" because on the surface it could sound like a question of superiority or a "better than thou attitude". Stuff like that is pride that God hates! Plus, the Bible warns us about useless comparisons. This was not the spirit of the sister's letter or question. It was a sincere, honest inquiry that really had to do with her own past, present, and future: what she was birthed into and how this affected her journey forward and her ministry to others. It turned out to be a question that provoked my thinking a lot and is still a kind of work in progress. I think a better word is "distinctives" not "differences." Please hear me when I say that we are nothing apart from Jesus; without Him we can do nothing! There is no one who knows this better than I do, and it is the foundation of my understanding of who I am, what the Church is, and it lies at the heart of so much of my own prayer life! We are not the "only thing" happening. But, I also know that there is and has been a real "God thing" happening in our church that has some unique features to it, and is a part of our spiritual heritage and birthright. These are things to be appreciated.

One of the things that stands out in my mind is the reality and value of
"brother bonds", or a strong sense of heritage and belonging that we share. There's a big difference between real community and a religious crowd. The old Christian hymn says, ""Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above." That fellowship of kindred minds one of the distinctives of our Fellowship, hence the title of this post, "The Blessed Bonds." There is an intriguing testimony to this from the life of Abraham that says, "318 trained servants who were born in his own house." (Gen.14:14). It's not describing the result of an intensive job search or of a membership drive. It's not describing a loose-knit kind of affiliation. These were not employees or spectators. No, it describes a strong sense of identity, of family, of shared purpose, and of the linking together of their lives! Whether directly (those saved and won to Christ through our church's ministry) or indirectly (those who by "adoption" God has joined to us) there is a dynamic at work similar to Jonathan and David where "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David." In our outreach and church planting, this is not a program or an organization we're investing in. These are the "sons and daughters" of this congregation that were are helping do the will of God! This is so much a part of my vision for the church that I can write about this with a deep sense of passion. We are far from perfect and have in no way "arrived". My own failings in this regard disturb me and provoke me to want to grow more like Christ and be a better pastor/shepherd. There are a number of things about this distinctive that come to mind that are worth considering.

  1. Mark of spiritual authenticity. In Paul's letter to Philemon this is what stood out, "hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints." The effective sharing and testimony of Philemon's faith was rooted in this soil! Jesus and "the saints" are forever connected; you can't really separate the two. The New Testament knows nothing about a "me & Jesus" mentality to the exclusion of the church family, the brothers and sisters where we've been planted. It is this feature or these "bonds" that signals spiritual authenticity or the "real thing!" Look at Paul's greeting and acknowledgement to the church at Ephesus and Colosse and you discover the same thing. (Eph.1:15) (Col.1:4)

  2. Important command to obey. Peter gave a short but powerful exhortation, "love the brotherhood" (1Pet.2:17). The Message puts it this way, "Love your spiritual family." We're not to take this for granted but this is both something to value and to guard. In the New Testament, one of the highest designations is that of "beloved brother." It usually comes before references to other things like fellow-worker or fellow-soldier. In other words, the structure of the kingdom of God and the Church is not organizational but filial (family). What is it that holds us together even with all our faults, our shortcomings, our misunderstandings, our conflicts and our selfishness? It is these relational and spiritual bonds that are the work of the Holy Spirit! This is why we should always guard our hearts against the things that would weaken these, such as neglect or bitterness. One of my greatest grief’s in life is when these "blessed bonds" are violated, broken or severed. And you know what? I don't really care about all the reasons, the explanations or the the long run they don't matter....brotherhood does!

  3. It carries a dimension of victory. There is a powerful dimension of spiritual victory connected to these brother bonds. Think again about Abraham and his 318 trained servants born in his own house. They were not a numerically superior force, but these "bonds" (what Ps.133 calls "blessed unity") equipped them along with God's grace, to be victorious even when outnumbered! Just ask Jonathan and his armor bearer. There were only two of them, but they knew a God who was not limited by size, and because they were so joined in heart and spirit, they became a powerful force overthrowing a Philistine garrison. This is why the Book of Ecclesiastes to combat the meaninglessness of this life said simply, "two are better than one!" He used many examples, but one was the promise of a dimension of overcoming this brought, "A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer." (Eccl.4:12)NLT I've got to believe that because this victory and dimension is so powerful that Satan fears and fights against these bonds of belonging so much!

  4. It enriches our lives immensely. I am blessed and a better man because of you and the God-ordained relationships that I have! I just returned from Fairfield, CA where I conducted the wedding ceremony of Rachel Gutierrez and Fred LaValley, and preached afterwards. I was honored to be invited to that role. I'm sure part of the reason was that the Pastor happened to be the father of the bride, and the odds weren't good that he could keep it together! I can guarantee you that it was very rare to be marrying two young people and also to be the man who married their parents over two decades ago, and dedicated them when they were children! That, my friend, is the fruit and result of the bonds I'm describing. It makes me either incredibly blessed, or it makes me a relic! I think I will choose the former!

Let me wrap up my feelings about this distinctive feature. One of my favorite "revelations" is Paul's description of his fellow-workers in Colossians 4, "in terms of Jewish converts, these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me." (Col.4:11) I remember years ago doing a word study of the word "comfort" here that Paul attributed to his brethren and fellow-workers. It's a unique word. It is the Greek word, "paregoria" where we get our English word, "paregoric" from. Being on old hippie, this caught my attention. The word signifies medicines which allay irritation. Paregoric is the opiate that you find in strong diarrhea medicine. Is there a lesson in this for us? Yes, I believe there is: WHEN LIFE GETS LOOSE (AS IT SOMETIMES WILL) ---- IT'S GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS!" Have a blessed day.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I had already been working on things when I got an email today from Garett King basically saying, "where's the blog?!" He even told me how many days it was since my last posting, 20+ days! I hope he's not hard up for sermon material, but he is correct. It has been an extended period. So I thought I'd just let you know that there are a number of things "in the chute" and "on the stove" that should be posted tomorrow and Wednesday and later this week.

I've had a revelation! When you commit yourself to writing a blog, like everything else in life, it boils down to
work! You've got to stay at it, but at the same time, I can't decimate my sermon inspiration either! Every pastor knows what that's about! So, take heart, I should have things worked out by tomorrow!

Also, a couple of things would be helpful from you. One is encouragement. If you find this beneficial, let me know. I don't want to be presumptuous that you're getting something from this; plus, I don't want to waste my own time. So, if it's a help or blessing, just let me know. Along with that, if you want an immediate notification of a new posting either to your computer or to your phone, you can sign up to get an RSS feed to notify you. But..........don't ask me how you do that! I think on the website it is pretty self-explanatory. Just follow directions and things should be fine. Otherwise, happy Labor Day~

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