Covenant Marriage

Posted: June 29, 2015 in Worldview
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The framers of the Constitution never imagined that the word marriage could refer to anything other than the union of one man and one woman. As a consequence of that assumption, the legal definition of marriage  was the same as the church’s definition of marriage. Marriage was marriage, and nobody saw any reason to treat marriages performed by a justice of the peace any differently than ones performed by members of the clergy. I would like to suggest, however, that the time has come to do just that.

If a couple seeks to have their marriage recognized legally, they can now do so, regardless of whether they are same-sex or opposite sex. And we who are aligned with a particular faith will now no longer be permitted to discriminate against them in conducting legal marriage ceremonies or recognizing them as married once the marriage is done, regardless of the couple’s relative sex. But being married in the eyes of the law and of society need not ascend to the status of marriage in the eyes of God.

Christians of all denominations, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Muslims and nearly every other faith group all hold to the view that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, to love and honor and be faithful to one another until death. It has never been possible, nor will it ever be, to consider two persons of the same sex to be married in the eyes of the God of the “Abrahamic” faiths. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, we now have no choice but to recognize same sex married couples as married in the fullest sense of the law. But a God-ordained covenant marriage can only be between one man and one woman for life.

Therefore, I propose that churches continue to perform marriage ceremonies that are legal under law, and they include those of same-sex couples.  However, couples would be asked whether they would like their marriage to be merely legal in the eyes of the law, or would they prefer a covenant marriage, which of course has no preferential status under law, and would be seen by the law and society as no different than a legal marriage.  It would only matter to them if they would want their marriage to matter to the God in whom they place their trust.  In other words for example, if the God of Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who is God in the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – if they want their marriage to be Holy in the eyes of that God – the One whom they by conviction of their own hearts follow as Lord of their lives, then the Holy Bible must of necessity be the sole authority in determining whether it is.

So we have before us a historic opportunity:  Covenant marriage would be legal in the eyes of the law if it in all other respects met the legal definition of marriage under the law.  All marriages performed by a particular church or clergyman would be legal marriages.  On the other hand, only a Covenant Marriage would be pleasing in the sight of the God to whom the couple swears allegiance.

The opportunity that is being presented to us is to discuss openly and bear witness to all that marriage is.  When we are asked about it, we can refer to Ephesians 5:25-27 – “ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  And of course as a part of that discussion, we can explain that the popular definition of love as something you “fall into”, is a far cry from the kind of love God had in mind when he first mentioned the idea of marriage.  That was some six millennia ago, when He said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

This is the story of my life – or rather my lives.  The first one began in about January of 1943, and will end at some point as yet unknown to me.  The second began in April, 1999, and will never end. 

You may have heard the saying that life begins at 40. In a lot of ways, that was true for me, because I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until then. The reality, though, is that my life really began at 57. That’s when I gave my life to Jesus Christ, and committed to follow him as my personal Lord and Savior for the rest of my life.

I’ve always been kind of a slow learner. I have a need to think more deeply about things than most people do, and in my early years, things just happened too fast for me to process. School was hard, because the teachers and the textbooks were beyond boring. Nobody seemed able to get my brain turned on. The teachers would tell my parents that I had a perfectly good mind, but that I just didn’t seem to want to do the work. They were right. It was insufferably boring.

Dad was a drinker, and loved to party. He accepted his role as provider, so he worked and Mom stayed home. But he was always looking to have some fun, and he just didn’t think the day was complete until he “had a little snort”. I didn’t realize it until I was an adult, but the Dad I grew up with was a kind of a caricature of the real man. The real man had suffered some pretty deep wounds during his own formative years, and never learned how to put them behind himself. So he “medicated” them away every night, and dealt with the world behind a self-made dream state. It wasn’t real, but it didn’t hurt as much as real life.

I just wanted to have a Dad who loved me for me. I wanted to hear him say that he loved me, and that he was proud of me. What I usually got was a detached but stern disciplinarian. He did tell me he loved me once. But I was in my 30s by then, and it just didn’t seem so important anymore. And until much later, I thought I had outgrown my need to feel loved by him. And in reality, I never really came to terms with our strained relationship until years after he died. I discovered that in failing to affirm me as one he loved unconditionally, he put a wound on my heart that I struggled to recover from for the better part of my life.

The discovery came as a result of a men’s Christian group I was in, and the study of a book called “The Blessing” we were doing. The premise of the book was that every child needs the gift of being blessed by his parents. He needs to arrive at the threshold of adulthood with the firm knowledge that he has learned well, has become a man his parents are proud of, and that it is now time to go and build a life with their blessing.   If a child leaves home without ever having felt affirmed and blessed in this way, the emotional baggage he carries is insidious and nearly insurmountable. I was 62 years old when I learned about the baggage I had carried all those years.

By then of course, my Dad was already gone, and I could not go to him to reconcile, as the authors had recommended. What they eventually said was that I should write him a letter. I decided that was a pretty good idea, even though I thought I was fine by then. I had no idea that doing so would unleash a torrent of emotion the likes of which I had not experienced ever before. I sobbed – literally out loud and uncontrollably – as I told him that I missed him, that I had always felt that something was missing in our relationship, but that I understood, and that I forgave him. To say that a burden was lifted would be a huge understatement.

But it was also hugely cathartic. I finally realized that although I had not gotten the affirmation I felt I needed so deeply, I at least had had a Dad – a Dad who was there physically, if not emotionally, and who did love me, even though he didn’t know how to show it too well. And he had lost his own Dad before he was done growing up. How could I have been so insensitive to that?

I do feel blessed now – not just in the sense that I have built a life I know my parents would be proud of, but because I now know that all of my early struggles were part of who I am today, and that there was a reason for the struggle. And most of all, I feel blessed because I now know that I do have a Father. And he’s been with me from the beginning. And he does love me unconditionally. In fact, He loves me so much that he gave up his own eternal Son to pay the ransom for my soul. Without Jesus – the firstborn of all creation – I would have no hope and no future.

What kind of love could cause a father to give up his only son to pay the ransom for one he wanted to adopt? Yes, Jesus is alive today, so the Father never really lost him. But he did suffer, and in his humanity, he did die. These lines from a favorite song express it well:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

I have also learned that although nobody likes to suffer, it comes to every member of the human race. To paraphrase Job 5:17, ‘Man is born for suffering, as surely as sparks fly up from a fire.’ And suffering is necessary! There are things we really need to know viscerally that cannot really be learned without it. It’s not enough to just have an awareness of some things – we need to know in our bones that they are true.

Now that I have been ‘born again’, that’s how I feel about the big questions in life. Those questions fall into four categories. They are of our origin, of life’s meaning and purpose, of morality and how it is determined, and of our destiny. I know that the universe was created by God, whose power and genius and creativity are beyond measure or understanding. He spoke, and all of creation sprang into being. I know that His purpose in creation was to bring into existence beings created in his own image, in order to love them, nurture them, and to give them the priceless gift of life. I know that God is the origin of all morality, all right and wrong. Anything that is pleasing to him is good, and anything that is not is evil. And I know that death is just a door through which we must pass in order to arrive at our destination, our eternal home.

I know these things in my heart. I know them in my soul. I know them viscerally. I know them because I remember much of the 57 years I lived with a false paradigm. And my testimony is that those 57 years were lived in a way that was out of synch with what I now know to be true.

I thought that life just was. I had no idea where it came from, what its purpose was or why it existed at all. I thought that Darwin was right about the origin of the species, and that Carl Sagan was right about the cosmos being all there is, ever was or ever will be. I thought that life was about feeling good, not doing good. I thought that God was something they talked about in church, and almost nowhere else. And I thought that church was even more boring than school. My victories were few and far between, and seemed shallow and worthless. My defeats seemed huge and frequent, and each one heaped up upon the ones before and added to my overall sense of frustration that no amount of effort or talent or striving ever seemed to be enough to get me what I wanted. I didn’t agree with those teachers who said I was not living up to my potential, because I was trying – really, really hard. Yet the results simply didn’t square with what I should have accomplished, given my obvious talent and intellect.

For most of that time, Christianity was not even on my radar. It seems strange in retrospect, but I had never met a Christian I admired and respected. They all seemed like goofballs to me. Finally, though, I came face to face with a few tragedies that removed every shred of hope that I would ever become a rich man, so I gave up trying. It was only after all of that that God started putting some people in my life who were real, authentic Christians. To my amazement, these Christians were not goofballs. In fact, I found myself drawn to them, and wondering what I had missed.

Today I know that it was this: I mistakenly thought that faith in God required that I leave my brain at the door, and accept the totality of Christianity by blind faith. The truth was contained in two little passages from the Bible:

  1. Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
  2. Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

I did become more open to learning about Christianity, and did start to ask questions, and I did open myself up to at least the possibility that He existed, although at first I neither sought Him above all things, nor believed with my heart that He was truly God of all. But those two little shifts in my mindset proved to be all that were required. God says ‘come to me, and I will give you rest’. What I discovered is that those small steps were all God needed to start me on a path to salvation.

My surrender didn’t come right away, but little by little, the more I sought, the more he gave, and the more I received, the more my faith grew.

I cannot tell you that every question had been answered by the time I stepped across the line. There were still a few biggies. But what I did know, I knew in my bones, and I knew that what was being revealed to me was so much more appealing than what I had experienced before, that all of my pragmatism simply melted away, and I surrendered heart and soul, knowing that this is what I had been seeking all my life.

So, what about you? Have you really given faith in Jesus Christ a chance? Has the price seemed too high? There’s no question that it can be high. Some Christians, even today are martyred for their faith. But as GK Chesterton put it, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Try it. You’ll like it.

Caveat: I have used the male pronoun here merely for convenience, and brevity of words. Every time it is used, I could as easily used the female. I am a male, however, and have always related as one. My apologies to those who might otherwise be offended. No offense is intended.

A letter to my Dad

Posted: June 21, 2015 in Worldview
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For my vast readership (lol), here once again is the letter to my Dad posted on Fathers Day 2006.
It’s been a little less than six years now, since your body gave out and you left this “mortal coil”. And today, Fathers’ day, 2006 I wanted to try to put into words some of the things I never got around to saying to you.

First, I want to say I love you, Dad. I seem to think I did say that later on in our lives, but when I was growing up, I probably didn’t usually get around to it. And honestly, even though I know without a shadow of a doubt that you loved me deeply and unconditionally, I think you would agree that you had a difficult time saying so, too. It took me a long time to reach the emotional maturity to realize just how much I needed you, and hope and pray that we will get a chance to deepen our bond in the next life.

I remember the joy you got from telling the story of you holding me in your arms when I was just a little boy, looking up in wonder at the night sky together, and me saying “Whole buncha ‘tars”. I know you were part of the generation that taught that ‘big boys don’t cry’, but I bet you shed a few tears of happiness over that brief moment in time together! And until now, I never realized how much I miss you telling it! It’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life, because we were never closer as father and son than we were at that moment.

You also loved to tell the story of how I started walking. You held one end of a belt while I held the other, and for a while that gave me the confidence to take those first few steps. Then you let go of your end, and I just kept going. What a proud Papa you were!

In fact, you loved telling stories. Often, the stories you would tell your grown-up friends were the kind you would have to explain to us kids by saying “I’ll tell you when you’re 21”. But the stories I want to remember most are the ones that prove to me just how much you loved us.
Later, we were introduced to a side of you that made us all run for cover. We (Dave, Cathy and I) would get into some kind of trouble, and you would line us up, tell us to “Stand up straight!” and “Look me in the eye!” After what seemed like a very long time, you would finally say “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

We would never have a reply more relevant than “I dunno”. Then the admonitions would often be followed by the punishment, which would never involve significant physical pain, but would always involve the threat of that razor strap. You were a master at the psychological side of that discipline, and we were all impacted greatly by it. Only later in life did I come to realize that that discipline made me a better man than I ever could have become without it!

I also want to thank you for so effectively shaping some of my character traits. From the earliest age I can remember, you told me that the one thing you could count on me being is absolutely honest. It may not really have been true, but it set such an expectation for me that I attached high value to being honest. As I grew and matured, I acted with more honesty than I felt, because my Dad told me I was honest! What a powerful effect that had on shaping me.

I also remember a couple of things that seemed kind of harsh at the time. You were told by my teachers that I didn’t seem to want to work very hard. You told me that if I didn’t work hard in school, I would end up being a ditch-digger. (In your day, ditches were dug by sweaty, dirty, hard-working men with hand shovels!) You also had a phrase you would use to communicate your expectation that I should be working on my homework after school. Being a man of few words, you would simply say (with emphasis) “BOOKS!”
I didn’t like either of those spoken messages much at the time, but I remembered them both well. And they apparently had some effect, since I eventually learned the value of hard work. Thanks for loving me enough to discipline me, Dad.

Someone once said that life is what happens while we are busy making other plans. And of course, we were not exempt. You were transferred to Japan when I was 11, back to D.C. when I was 15, Germany when I was 20, and by the time you got back to stay, I was married and my first daughter Becky was just ready for you to teach her how to walk. I’m honored that she took her first steps for you. (Did you really use the belt thing on her?)

So here I am looking back on our years together, and wishing so much that we could have put life on hold, and just gotten to know each other better. You were a good man, and a good Dad, and I really miss you! Only later in life have I come to realize some of the things you had crash in on you when you were growing up that shaped you into who you were.

I remember your description of watching the car drive off with your brother and sister, who were going to different relatives to live. Your own Mom and Dad had died, leaving the three of you to cope without them. That moment had to be one of the most heartbreaking in your life.

And the world went to war before you finished college. You had a chance to become a pilot, but contracted pneumonia, and had to give up that dream. Even though you would later say that God was protecting you, that most of the men who did become pilots were shot down and killed, I know that at the time, it probably didn’t seem like a blessing.

In the last few years with us, you spent time recalling the poetry you had memorized as a child. You loved that poetry. It spoke to you of the innocence of your own childhood before it turned tragic, and it spoke of the beauty that surrounds us all even in the midst of chaos if we will simply open our eyes and look around.

I’m not sure you would recognize the singer-songwriter Don McLain. He released his “American Pie” album in 1971, and one of the tracks was a ballad he wrote about the tortured genius Vincent VanGogh called Vincent. It painted a picture of a man who saw dazzling beauty everywhere, but who was ignored and unloved by the world around him. Listen to a few words from that song.

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain
Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.

Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now.
For they could not love you
But still your love was true

And when no hope was left inside, on that starry starry night
You took your life and lovers often do

But I could have told you Vincent
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

As one artist expresses the connection he felt with another, he uses word pictures that remind me so much of you. The use of the term, “Starry, starry night” is one. He, like you and I, shared an awe of the wonder of our world in the stars. And we like they, were frustrated that we could not express the love we had for each other.

But now I understand what you tried to say to me. Happy Fathers Day!
John Andrew Jr.

Travesty

Posted: April 27, 2015 in Worldview
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In just one small travesty of justice, a straight couple asked a gay baker to bake them a cake for their wedding.  The baker declined, saying that they “did not to cakes for straight weddings.”  The shocked couple left, and of course found another baker, bought a perfectly good cake, and went on with the wedding, which apparently went off without a hitch.  Taking offense at the rebuff, however, they filed a complaint with the DOJ, alleging emotional, mental and physical damages totaling $150,000.

Those who might think of this as ridiculous, apparently would have been wrong however.  The DOJ took it very seriously, and an administrative law judge eventually issued an order that the bakers would have to pay a fine of $135,000.  As the case was being processed, however, suddenly a firestorm of protest erupted.  The vendors the bakers bought their supplies from suddenly started getting harassed by numerous people, and began to fear being driven out of business themselves.  So they took the gay bakers off of their referral list.

The result, of course, was devastating, since those referrals were by far the largest source of income for the business.  Then the notice arrived saying they owed the fine.  Faced with mounting losses from the lack of sales, as well as the amount of the fine itself, they were unable to go on, and they shuttered the business.

They could not understand how anyone could be so vindictive, or why anyone would be so motivated by hate that they would actually drive them out of business because of their beliefs.  They really just wanted to be left alone, to live their lives the way they pleased without being forced to do business with people who had beliefs that were counter to their own.  What kind of law would force anyone to violate their own conscience?

This is a true story, of course, except that the roles were reversed.

Oh, I’m sorry, does that matter?

Is the injustice really any different when they are?

Barak Obama’s blathering on the subject of religions – in particular Islam and Christianity – strikes me as being completely disconnected with the doctrinal teachings of either.  In other words, it’s all relatively irrelevant.  Yet, he’s got the bully pulpit, and far too many uninformed American citizens take his comments to heart.  A few of the recent headlines said this:
                                                                                          .

I am personally disgusted with our President over his misleading, ridiculous views on Islam.  Anyone who has studied anything about it knows that even though terrorists take Islamic teachings to an extreme, and carry out some of the Quran’s teachings literally, that their actions are based entirely on their religious beliefs.  Christianity and Judaism, however, are in fact quite the opposite.  We have the 10 commandments in common, and they include the one that says ‘You shall not murder.”  You simply cannot be an obedient Christian or Jew, and chop off people’s heads or burn them to death!

I am beyond angry.  Yes, of course I’m angry at ISIS and other Islamic radicals.  But I’m also angry at our President.  He is ignorant on matters of faith beyond a superficial level.  But ignorance is no sin.  What he does is far worse.  He pretends to be more well informed than you or me on all of the major belief systems of the world.  He acts as if Islam is just greatly misunderstood, and that Christianity is vastly overrated.  He is confusing and polluting both faith systems, and his ‘teachings’ are going to cause untold numbers of people to give Islam an equal footing in American law and culture.  We are in for a whole heap of trouble!

Anyone who grew up in the American culture, so deeply steeped in Judeo-Christian teachings, would agree that no one should believe it’s ok to take another person’s life.  The thing about it is, though, that if you grew up in a Muslim culture, and if you read their sacred writings, you would think nothing of the kind.  In fact, the Qur’an teaches that it is the duty of a good Muslim to kill every infidel who does not convert.  And if you are not a Muslim, you are an infidel.

The only peace-loving Muslims are ones who do not live in obedience to the commands that are so clearly written in their holy texts.

The thing that has me deeply concerned, though, is that Obama seems to think that Islam is no less valid a belief system than any other.  He tells us there’s no religion responsible for terrorism, yet the facts are clear.  Nearly every terrorist act is committed by a Muslim who believes it is his duty to kill infidels.  He says we must not give the terrorists legitimacy by calling them Islamic – which among other things implies that Islam is otherwise a legitimate belief system.

And many people, not having delved into such matters in any meaningful way, nod their heads in agreement, and say “Yeah, that’s true.”  But it’s not true.  It’s a lie, straight from the pit of Hell.  And the more we believe the lie, the more they will become our neighbors, demanding that we change our laws and cultural norms to be more compatible with theirs.

Obama is a tool.  He stands for absolutely nothing other than himself, and he is perfectly willing to indexlead millions of people into the delusion that all religions are equal and valid, that we can live peaceably with our Muslim brothers, and that nobody can know the truth anyway.  That’s the thing that has my blood boiling.  Contrary to what the “Coexist” bumper stickers and t-shirts would have us believe, it is not possible ultimately to live in peace with people whose ideology requires them to kill you.

So the question is this:  If you agree that he is spreading lethal lies about Islam, what can we do about it?

Really, what can we do?