Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Greatest Gift

I remember exactly how I felt on this day fifteen years ago. I felt sick. It was nerves. There were a ton of things to do. I don't recall all the different things I needed to get done, but I do recall desperately looking for a cassette tape. I don't know how many Bible bookstores I went to, but I couldn't find one that had a tape of the wedding march.

It would be a long story to explain why, but I hadn't heard our organist until the rehearsal. She was horrible. She only knew one phrase of the wedding march, which she kept playing over and over, and she switched from organ to piano, without bothering to ask, because she was having some sort of technical difficulties with the organ. It wasn't the only thing that was going wrong. One of my groomsmen didn't show for the rehearsal, and the woman who had made our cheesecake wedding cake had gotten into a car accident with the cake, and was furiously trying to repair it.

My best man Dave was a prince. He camped out in his car in front of the missing groomsman's home to make sure he'd be there the next day. There were several other things he took care of too, and I knew as soon as he told me he'd take care of something that I didn't need to worry about it anymore. And so all the stuff I had to do was in the end just a distraction from the real business of the day, which was to change my life.

I had known Cecile for two years now. She had given her heart to the Lord soon after I met her, and I saw her life radically change. I've never known anyone to fall in love with Jesus like she did. We each struggled with our attraction to one another; for my part, I was afraid that she'd confuse her feelings for me with her newfound life in Christ, and I didn't want to take advantage of that. It was providential that I went back to seminary for another year while she got discipled. During the next summer back home, we got engaged, and then I went back for one final semester. By the time I was running around on that hot summer day in 1991, I knew I loved her. But in Christ, my conviction was that marriage is forever. There was no turning back.

The ceremony itself was beautiful, but my feelings about actually taking the vows were similar to what Corrie Ten Boom wrote about having lied to the Nazis about having a radio. She was trembling afterward, not because for the first time in her life she had told a conscious lie, but because it had been so "dreadfully easy." Repeating the vows that we had rehearsed was all too easy, but my life was changed forever.

For the last fifteen years, Cecile has been the greatest gift, apart from salvation, that God has ever given to me. She has been faithful, kind, understanding, and supportive through many career changes and moves. She has often been my only reason to keep going through periods of setback and discouragement. Words really cannot do justice to what she means to me. I truly believe that what we have is what God wants every married couple to have. Sometimes we have looked at one another when we've learned of struggles that other couples were going through, and wondered aloud, "What are we doing right?" I don't know what it is, but there must be something. I think it comes down to this: a shared commitment to God being more important than anything else in life, including one another, and a shared commitment to doing what is good for us together (and now, our family) rather than what appears good to either one of us separately.

In an era of rampant divorce, when divorce statistics within the church are just as bad as those outside it, we desperately need a return to God's principles regarding marriage. This does not mean remaining in bad marriages just so as not to be divorced; it means reaching out for God's help to overcome our own selfishness and make our marriages what He wants them to be. The opposite of love is not hate, or even indifference; it is selfishness. If we would truly heed the Biblical command to "love your neighbor as yourself" with just our one closest neighbor, our spouse, we could truly present a Godly alternative to the heartbreak and emotional destruction endemic throughout our world.

Thank you, Cecile, for the one decision that I know I've made right in my life. Thank You, Lord, for the greatest gift of this lifetime that You have given me.

For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Defense of Theological Discussion; or, What Exactly Is This Blog All About Again?

I'm a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The years that I spent there are among the most cherished of my life. I was one of a few Assemblies of God students in a school that was officially interdenominational Evangelical, but when you got there, was mostly Presbyterian. I got into plenty of debates with guys in my dorm over Reformed theology and a few over miraculous gifts, but it didn't matter. We argued like brothers and we parted as friends. We all had the sense that, even though we were from different denominations, we were still working together for a common goal.

It was a very good thing for me to be in that milieu. My background had been Wesleyan/Methodist in early life, and later on Charismatic/Pentecostal. Combining that background with a Reformed education helped me to get a much more well-rounded view of Evangelical Christianity. It was good for me to see that people from other traditions weren't "God's Frozen Chosen." It was good to see people who didn't agree with me in every doctrinal detail worship God with their whole hearts. Some of the best people I have known were students and teachers there. One of my favorite professors was a short, skinny guy who wore bow ties and had the sharpest wit of anyone I've ever known. He was a very hard-bitten Calvinist and cessationist (neither of which, you'll soon discover, am I) but I loved him and learned a great deal from him.

It was the camaraderie with the other students and the shared sense of discovery that I most enjoyed. We would debate theology with a common commitment to the authority of God's Word, which gave us a foundation for honing our own theological perspectives. I think that ever since, I've been trying to recreate something of that kind of experience. I've tried some newsgroups and mailing lists, but my experience has been that they mostly end up in flame wars between athiests and fundamentalists, or other similarly opposed points of view that have no common ground with which to frame a debate, and no sense of mutual respect for one another's point of view.

I've started up this blog partly as a venue to publish some of my own thoughts and papers on various theological and social topics that interest me, but also partly to provide a forum for discussion. It's fashionable these days to discount the value of theological debate. Why argue about fine points of doctrine when our real business is to win the lost? There is, in fact, a point where theological hair-splitting becomes counterproductive; my favorite example is that of Nestorius, who was excommunicated for a doctrinal error that he denied, maintaining that the orthodox view was his own. But it is also true that most of the foundational doctrines of the Church were hammered out, in the midst of persecution, by debate over various points of view that had to be rejected because they didn't fit the Biblical data. If theological debate was relevant then, when the church was struggling to survive, then I think it's relevant now. To me, the exercise of having to articulate what you believe in a specific area, and perhaps having to defend it to someone with a different point of view, is challenging and exciting. It keeps what I believe fresh and alive.

I'd like to invite other Evangelical Christians to participate in this blog in the "Comments" section. You will notice, if you do, that I've chosen to make this a moderated group. It's not because I'm a control freak, or because I can't handle opinions that differ from my own. It's because, as I wrote above, my experience with Net venues is that they deteriorate into very ugly arguments, and often get dominated by people who don't share the worldview or presuppositions of the main author. My presuppositions include the authority and inspiration of the Bible as the foundation of all theological belief; I'm not particularly interested in getting on the merry-go-round of trying to prove God's existence or the authoritativeness of the Bible. I'm much more interested in discussing the implications of those basic beliefs with those who share them.

So there you have it. Let's begin.....

Saturday, June 24, 2006