Repost: Jesus Walked on Water; His Gaze Penetrated the Storm

Our Lord’s walking on water in the middle of a storm was one of the miracles he performed while he lived among us in human form. The miracle spoke to his disciples of his power, and it says the same to us today when we are beset and besieged by life’s storms.

Before this event, Jesus had taken his disciples to a solitary place to rest from a time of strenuous ministry. But the eager multitudes followed them.

As the day drew toward evening, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand men by multiplying five loaves and two fish to provide more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the throng (Mark 6:35-44).

He then immediately directed his disciples to board their boat and leave for the other side of the lake. At the same time, he left them and went up on a mountainside to pray.

As darkness settled, the disciples were already three or more miles from shore (John 6:19). A fierce wind suddenly buffeted them, forcing them to pull at full strength on the oars. They were in disaster mode, and they understood the risk of death on this lake whenever the winds whipped it with a sudden fury.

Mark tells us that, from his place of prayer, Jesus saw the disciples straining at their oars. It appears that he let them struggle for a time, because not until about three in the morning did he go out to them walking on the water.

When they saw him walking through the thrashing waves and spray he appeared to them to be a ghost. They cried out in fear.

Jesus called out to calm their fears. “Take courage,” he said. “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6: 50b). Then he climbed into the boat and the wind died down.

There are things about this story that could be baffling. We gain some insight by comparing the report of this same miracle in three of the four Gospel accounts.

For example, Mark tells us that while they were on land together after the feeding of the five thousand, immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat (Mark 6:45). This was not a suggestion, but a command. We wonder, therefore, if Jesus intended them to experience this dangerous windstorm.

The Apostle John may provide the answer. He notes that the miraculous feeding had prompted the crowds to say: “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14). And subsequently, he tells us: “Jesus, knowing that [the throng] intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (6:15).

It was apparently a dangerous moment for the disciples. They had on occasion revealed their carnal desire to be officials in an earthly kingdom. If the idea the people were pondering should succeed — to make Jesus their king — this might bring about the destruction of Israel by Roman rulers. And it didn’t fit with Jesus’ plan to lay down his life for humankind. Could it be that their peril in a storm was safer than their safety on dry land?

One wonders if there are times when, in his sovereign wisdom, God sees we would be safer facing a tempest than being in an unthreatening, comfortable place where strong temptations might overcome us.

When it comes to our Lord’s watching over us there may be a lesson in all this for every committed believer. Caught on the stormy seas of life, we are under his watchful care even when we are not aware of it.

We might say, “Our Lord always has the ability to see us, whatever the circumstance. Neither darkness, nor storm, nor passing of time, nor even the passing of two thousand years, have done anything to reduce his power.”

Jesus has told us as much in his own words: “Surely,” he says to his followers down through the ages, “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).

What greater assurance do we need than that?

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When Children Refuse to Speak to Their Parents

“How many of you in this gathering never even speak to your parents?” Dennis Prager of asked the question of an assembly at Pepperdine University, a Christian institution in California.

Prager is an Orthodox Jew, scholar of Russian history, and a conservative radio and Internet host. His growing influence stems mostly from videos and other materials on PragerU that set forth clear, conservative viewpoints that flow in a contemporary way from the wisdom of the Old Testament. It’s reported that his videos have been watched more than four billion times.

 Prager asked his question while expounding on the Ten Commandments. He had come to commandment five: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God has given you” (Exodus 20:12).

Commandment five does not say you must love your parents, he explained. In brief sentences he allowed that mothers and fathers are often irritating and sometimes unwise or inept in their parenting.

But he made clear that, even when difficult to practice, this commandment is the word of God and it pronounces that children are to show respect at all times for their parents, even when a warm and fuzzy relationship is not possible. Of course, there would be rare instances of parents who are evil and the law must be called.

It’s nevertheless a divine law to honor parents. And treating parents with ongoing silence is deeply disrespectful. And damaging to both parent and child.

It was at that point in his address that he asked the crowd how many of them never spoke to their parents. He waited, encouraging those responding to raise hands high so he could be sure to see them.

After surveying the crowd, he announced that about 50 percent of the audience had raised their hand. He did not seem surprised, noting that whenever he posed that question to an audience the response was the same.

He went on to note how serious this is for our culture. Apparently great numbers of parents are deprived of any honor from the children they have birthed and raised to adulthood. They are utterly “divorced” by their child or children.

He pointed out that the high percentage is perilous because the commandment promises long life in the land only where offspring respect their parents. He was addressing the commandment principally to the Jewish people. But it appears to be a word of wisdom for all societies.

Prager’s 50 percent is not a validated statistic. It is his repeated observation. It is  nonetheless troubling. Raising children from infancy to early adulthood, functioning first as caretakers, coaches and protectors and later as cheerleaders, is an arduous and expensive task, even when done imperfectly.

Whatever the quality of parenting, the failure of even 10 percent of our population to honor parents flashes a red signal suggesting the deterioration of our culture.

It would be easy to cast this commandment aside as “dusty Old Testament Law.” But here’s how Jesus, our Lord, responds to such an impulse:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17,18)

And the New Testament adds a note of further importance to the law when the Apostle Paul writes: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified” (Galatians 3:24). That is, acquitted of our sins and referring as well to the reconciliation of broken relationships.

The Old Testament and specifically the Ten Commandments clearly prescribe that everyone honor their parents. Jesus and the New Testament require the same, by their affirmation of the Law.

Possibly we’ll know that our culture is being restored and the Spirit of God is moving among us in greater measure when we observe a movement in the land in which the hearts of children turn more generally to their parents, and parents to their children. The prophet Malachi promised as much for the nation of Israel (Malachi 4:5,6). May it be so for our nation as well.

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Repost — Repentance: What Does It Really Mean?

John the Baptist was a desert-dweller who dressed in garments made of camel’s hair. Yet despite these “eccentricities,” crowds came streaming from all directions to the Jordan River, drawn by his fiery preaching. There was one word they heard ringing forth again and again: Repent!

When Jesus later began his ministry in the regions of Galilee, his message was equally pointed: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Throughout the New Testament this word has a constant meaning. It means to change the mind.

Changing one’s mind sounds trivial. I pull a red necktie from the rack, but before I have it fully knotted, I frown into the mirror, unknot it, and put it back on the rack. I reach for a different one.

To change one’s mind in the sense of repenting means much more. One of my seminary professors explained that it means to change the very set of the mind. It means more specifically to acknowledge the depth of our sinfulness — the apathy or even hostility towards God implicit in living as though He doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. And in addition to experiencing abject sorrow and regret, humbly accepting God’s invitation to be changed and indwelled by His Spirit.

The good news of Christ’s kingdom is that our set of mind can, in fact, be profoundly changed. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As for the initial repentance part: We recall Jesus’ story about the prodigal son. At first, feeling that his freedom was restricted, he asked for his inheritance and traveled far away from father’s influence.

For a time, having no curfew or work assignments felt like liberty. Furthermore, he had plenty of money which he spent as he pleased.

But after he had spent everything, freedom quickly led to desperation. His circle of parasitic friends vanished; in his destitution he became the lowliest servant of a pig farmer.

There was no recourse but to return to his father. But before he could do that, he would have to change his mind — the orientation, direction, and content of his thinking — about decisions he had made and their consequences.

The first step was for him to see his father in an altogether different light.

In fact, upon reviewing his actions, he began to feel genuine sorrow for his decisions, while at the same time feeling an awakening love and respect for his father. He longed to see him, to say he was sorry, and as evidence of his sincerity, to offer his services as a servant rather than son on the estate.

He was totally turned around in the very set of his mind towards his father. That’s repentance.

We know how the story ends. After his abject apology and offer of humble service, his joyful father was extraordinarily generous, restoring him to his place as a beloved son.

 Similarly, to experience the blessings of the Gospel, there is no substitute for repentance. In fact, repenting and believing are linked so closely they cannot be separated. Believing is only authentic if coupled to repentance.

This spirit of repentance doesn’t come to all in the same way. In God’s love and wisdom, to some He seems to enable an almost harrowing realization of the need to repent suddenly, like a thunderclap. Or repentance may grow for days, weeks, or months as a dawning sunrise.

Whichever way our loving Father sends, it is a gift to which we must respond wholeheartedly.

Jesus’ message at the outset of his ministry was, as quoted above: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). May every living person experience that radical change of mind and prepare for God to deliver his forgiveness with rivers of joy!

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On Gallbladder Attacks and Life

Recently one of my sons had gallbladder surgery. It was performed in a modern outpatient operating room and he was released to go home a couple of hours later. The procedure was performed through “punctures” using endoscopes rather than through a long abdominal incision by scalpel. They call it “minimally invasive surgery.”  

Those of us living today are fortunate. It wasn’t always this way.

I remember one of my mother’s gallbladder attacks in our home in Estevan, Saskatchewan. I was approximately twelve and deeply shocked by her misery.  

Mother had experienced several lesser attacks. As you might know, back in the 1930s people were slower to seek medical help even for serious complaints. They often tried home remedies first, or followed a neighbor’s recommendations. And they did a lot of “enduring.”

It was in our house that the big one struck. Mother walked back and forth between the dining and living rooms, groaning. When she came to the dining room table she bent over it seeking deliverance from the terrible colicky pain.  

I took off through the front door and ran along Fourth Street the length of a city block to Twelfth Avenue. Traveling north, I hastily passed a few buildings to one where the doctor’s apartment was located. I went through the street entrance and climbed the stairs briskly, propelled by my desperation.  

I was looking for Dr. Creighton. I think he was the town doctor and in his senior years by then.

A woman answered the door of the second-floor apartment. I poured out my concern breathlessly and she responded, “I’ll tell the doctor.” I returned home thinking help was on its way, for surely the doctor felt the terror as I did.

The doctor never came, but Mother was beginning to get relief from the pain. I can’t recall whether I told her and Dad where I had been or what I had done. I really thought she was going to die.

She seemed to recover from that attack and some months later decided she would ride a bus the 300 miles from Estevan to Prince Albert to visit my sister Doris, her husband, Al, and baby Myriam.

This trip included both paved and gravelled parts of the road. As well, her bus would have been much less grand than a present-day Greyhound bus.

Unfortunately, during my mother’s visit in Prince Albert, she had another massive attack that landed her in the hospital there. She had to remain in the hospital until the inflammation subsided, the surgery was done, and recovery verified for perhaps a week or so before she could be dismissed.

During her absence my father was forlorn. My parents never exchanged endearments to each other publicly but their commitment to their marriage was strong and showed in such situations.

Dad wrote mother letters during her absence. There were no emails or Face Times. Even phone calls were rare. I believe Dad’s frequent letters were quite mellow.

He shared a portion of one of his letters with us in which he told mother that if she would get on the bus and come home he would give her “two-thirds of his kingdom.” It was Lancashire humor exchanged between two English immigrants. He was lonely for her.

When mother arrived back in Estevan she looked thinner and a bit pale from the experience she had endured. And it took her some weeks to recover fully. But the family was reunited and life resumed.  

Reviewing the memory prods me to renewed thankfulness for medical care, both then and now. And prods me even more to remember that life’s interruptions can come with stealth so we should love each other person-to-person while we can.

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A Penetrating Word for Our Times

The Word of God is sometimes comforting, sometimes convicting but always relevant to life’s perplexities. Listen to what Hebrews 4:12-13 claims:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword; it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When Kathleen and I read this passage together during morning devotions recently I was arrested by that word “penetrating.” What makes the word of God so potent? It is a worthy question because the expression occurs 41 times in the New Testament.

It was nearly four centuries after the death of Christ that nearly all of the 27 books of the New Testament (the gospels, apostolic letters, Acts of the Apostles and Revelation) were gathered under one cover. Thus, the author of the Hebrew letter must have drawn this term “the word of God” from the Old Testament — the Bible for the Jews.

That is, the Old Testament was the only Bible the early Christians had. Jesus himself, when tempted by the devil in the Judean wilderness replied: “It is written [in the Old Testament]: Thou shalt not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

We emphasize: the term “the word of God” as later used in the New Testament church was already a settled expression in the Old Testament. We note further that these records of God’s word came from the mouth of God himself. They were recognized as authoritative.

Jesus quoted from an Old Testament that was dynamic in its revelation and known as the Jewish Bible. It was revered. We can assume that Jesus was taught from this Old Testament when he was absorbing scripture as a lad.

The importance of the word of God manifests itself early. In fact, as early as Abraham’s time we read “the word of the Lord came to Abram” (Genesis 15:11). And the psalmist declares: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:5). The author of this latter resolution appears to have believed that the word of God was indeed powerful.

Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah declares: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Still, the word of God was at times hidden from his people. In an eighth-century Israel, known for its wealth and corruption, the prophet Amos prophesied: “People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12). It should be noted that God’s word can be in effect withdrawn for a time from the stubbornly disobedient. In Amos’s time when out of need they sought its message they found it had been temporarily closed to their awareness, leaving them panting for refreshment.

Some leaders in modern churches today are recommending that the Old Testament be disregarded in worship in favor of the New Testament. To that suggestion, the passage from Hebrews speaks for itself. It says, “The word of God is alive and active.” Neither Old nor New Testaments is a museum piece. The energy of both by the Spirit is current. Both testaments are still speaking God’s penetrating word.

But it is the Apostle John who puts the word of God in its fullest and clearest light, reflecting both Testaments. He writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word of God is eternal. The Word of God is incarnate in Jesus our Lord.

In Bible times, the sword was the weapon carried by those who enforced the law as it is applied to the disobedient and lawless (Romans 13:4). The sword also symbolized the weapon of spiritual warfare, when energized by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).

This analogy of a  double-edged sword shows how inwardly the word of God can penetrate both thoughts and intentions to separate soul and spirit; joints and marrow. How sobering to know that it can even judge “the intents and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

How needed by nations of the world today. Unrighteousness is putting a deep blight on our era — the dishonesty, the deception, the lawlessness in government, the violence, the brokenness of family life, the confusion of what marriage is.

For those of us yearning for a spiritual reawakening, we look afresh at what place the Scriptures are given in our lives: in pastors’ studies as they prepare and serve; in our pulpits; and in our family and personal times of devotion.

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Repost: The Hope That Never Lets Us Down

HopeHave you noticed how often you use the word “hope,” and how wide-ranging hope is?  Examples: for good weather; that your spouse will remember to pick up milk on the way home; that your grades will get you into graduate school; for the healing of a relationship; for a better job, a good report from medical tests, a better yield on your investments.

Hope leans expectantly toward some unfulfilled desire or need, and this emotion/mental activity is unique to humans, since hope projects the mind to the future, and other creatures seem to be aware only of the present.

This human capacity for hope is a marvelous gift. “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote Alexander Pope. So it does, but hope must be exercised.

Again and again, the Scriptures exhort us to exercise hope to fend off despair. Here’s only one of many examples: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).

The New Testament gives sharper focus to the eternal aspect of our hope. Hebrews 6:19 says that we  have hope in Christ for the world to come, and this particular hope serves as an anchor to stabilize our everyday life, to face whatever storms we may encounter (Hebrews 6:19).

And our hope in our eternal lives together with Christ is key. For, as St. Paul says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The fulness of our hope is in the world to come.

But what about those rugged places in life’s journey? The unanswered prayers? The broken hearts? The frustrated desires? The Apostle Paul writes that we are to learn to rejoice in the sufferings that come to us because these sufferings produce perseverance, character, and hope. He assures us that this hope does not disappoint.

The Apostle Paul, who knew disappointment, physical pain, and adversity to a degree few of us face, offers us a timeless benediction: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

And, God’s love in our hearts testifies to those around us to the faith (hope and trust) he has given us (5:5).

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The Power of the Spirit in Our Life

Romans 8 has been called the most beautiful chapter in the New Testament, tremendously rich in spiritual understanding and resources. It explains what Christ has done for us on the cross (justification — see also Romans 5:1-2) and in us by his Spirit (sanctification — see Romans 8).

And there are at least ten references in this chapter to the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of believers. The Spirit’s transforming work often begins with great rejoicing as He bears witness to forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ.

But, alas, new Christians may soon find impulses or habits they thought they had been delivered from — jealousies, bursts of bad temper, and lusts — roaring back. This can be baffling because the Apostle has told us at the beginning of the chapter that Christ “has set you free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).

The Apostle explains that mystery as arising from “the flesh.” The primary meaning for this word in Scripture is the human body. The word also has theological meanings. It can describe the frailty or vulnerability of humanity, or false or evil impulses that lodge in us, or evil itself. All may fall under the term — often referred to as our carnal nature.

In the Roman letter the term is used mostly in this last sense. Paul takes note of this fact when he writes: “Therefore, brothers [and sisters], we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh you will live” (8:12-13).

At this point the Apostle widens his lens to show that the temptations we continue to experience in our new life are shared with all of the world, created by God but fallen and thus impaired. But, says the Apostle, even now the universe itself is groaning to be renewed (v. 22a). Something better is ahead.

In turning to this fresh thought of promised future renewal, Paul uses the imagery of childbirth (22b). Giving birth involves groaning pain but the end result brings great joy. So will the future renewal of our fallen world bring great rejoicing.

The Apostle makes clear that our new birth by the Spirit has already in some measure signaled the glorious future ahead for us. Yet, for now, we work out our faith in a fallen world.

Verse 23 says: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

Having been promised a further redemption to come, are we left then at what appears to be a halfway point? And what do we say of those in any Christian gathering who have a genuine faith yet inwardly groan from the burden of some weakness or calamity such as family strife, poor health, broken relationships, and even some issues too deep for words?

We do our part of course by bringing them before the Lord daily, seeking greater faith to endure. And in our struggle with fallenness, we know the Spirit is our ally. Verse 26a says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

Here’s how the Holy Spirit comes to our aid: Even our praying may become confused over our struggles. As the Apostle says in verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through prayers too deep for words.”

To summarize, even though we have already been assured of our salvation through faith in Christ and are being transformed / sanctified by his Spirit, we experience a deeper need, living as we do in a fallen world (v. 23).

And so God’s Spirit who is in us untangles our prayers at times and re-forms them into prayers the Father can answer. What a measureless investment God our Savior in Christ makes in us by redeeming us and giving us his Spirit to help us in our fallenness!

God is obviously interested in more than certifying our passage to heaven through Christ’s death and resurrection for us. We are also to embrace in faith the power of the Holy Spirit to live out the radiance of the Gospel here and now.

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Mending Relationships

In 1956, I was appointed pastor of a church in New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia. Kathleen and I packed our belongings and four children into our turquoise Plymouth hitched to a springless trailer and drove all the way from Kentucky to our new assignment.

The Reverend C. W. Burbank was my conference superintendent. He was not a seminary-trained man; back then, many pastors got their theological training through substantial correspondence courses. He was an urgent preacher, well respected by his peers, and a man of down-to-earth common sense — derived, I was told, from his earlier years in the logging business in the Okanagan Valley of Washington State.

During one of my first conversations with him he shared a bit of wisdom. (It was intended for pastors, but seems to me applicable to everyone, especially in these days of strife.) He explained that some ministers are more skilled at mending fences than others. He meant that when a misunderstanding developed such pastors seemed to have a knack for promptly restoring trusting relationships.

Others, he said, leave the rift unaddressed and allow it to take on a certain permanence. If this happens with one family, and then another, Rev. Burbank explained, the sum of the misunderstandings destroys the trust of the congregation as a whole. This can end a pastor’s ministry in that church.

Rev. Burbank didn’t say exactly how to recover healthy relationships. Nor did he mention what to do if a pastor’s efforts to keep fences mended are rejected. Sadly, there are such situations.

Here are some practical relationship-mending comments for pastors to consider:

The greatest hindrance to correcting wounded relationships is a universal problem: pride that makes us overrate our worth or abilities. Wounded pride must be acknowledged, managed, and even repented before repair is possible.

Once a rift happens, anger destroys relationships. Anger must be faced and dissipated. Often only the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and the spirit of humility He gives, can save us from anger’s destruction. It may help to meditate on James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

Wise pastors will know that, once in a while, a relationship may seem beyond repair despite their earnest attempts at restoration. Agreement may not be possible regarding a policy or board majority decision. In these cases, ministers should labor on in the hope that their continued faithful service will bear fruit and melt hearts.

We are much more likely to navigate rocky relationships if we remember that ultimate accountability is to God. The first impulse should be to please Him, since it is to Him all will finally answer.

Mending fences is not just a challenge for ministers. Broken relationships are a universal peril. Ministers and laymen alike need strength and grace to help in the arduous task of living openly and charitably — insofar as possible — with all. Praying for increased sensitivity to the opinions and needs of others for Christ’s sake is the starting point.

Many years after our conversation, Rev. Burbank’s counsel to keep fences mended remains current. His advice has been a lifelong gift to me, not always exercised to the greatest effectiveness, but always treasured.

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Finding a Love That Lasts a Lifetime

I visited Mrs. Faudi in her hospital room. Because she was in the first bed of two I stood with my back to the door. Our brief conversation was low-key and pleasant, but suddenly she looked past me and her eyes lit up. I turned to see that her husband had just entered the room. It was obvious that love still glowed in their hearts.

The Faudis were retired farmers who had recently moved to town. Mrs. Faudi looked frail and ashen in her hospital bed. Each of them had weather-beaten skin reflecting long years of toil on the land. But in that exchange of looks, I saw a bright and loving bond not really dimmed after more than fifty years of marriage.

In our fallen world there is no guarantee that a Christian marriage such as the Faudis had will be everything God intended it to be. But recalling that moment in the hospital room makes me want to point out to young people some ways to greatly increase the likelihood of success.

I’m all for romance, so long as when pondering the suitability of a mate, young people understand that powerful physical attraction is not enough. There is a “rational” aspect to choosing a life partner that should not be neglected. For example, as starters, it should be asked: Do we share a common faith in Jesus Christ and is it genuine for both?

Sometimes it is discovered after it is too late that one of the two “got religion” just so the nuptial event would happen. On this specific matter, counsel may be necessary to help one or the other to see a peril hidden beneath the romantic spell. The Bible clearly warns against an “unequal yoke” (2 Cor. 6:14).

Here are questions you can explore: Do mature mutual friends approve? Is the love we profess unconditional? That is, do we intend from the depths of our beings to make this an until-death-us-do-part marriage? Do we have reservations we are holding out of sight? God has endowed his creatures with a capacity for profound commitment which, when held by both partners, gives a basis for working through all sorts of struggles and reverses that arise along the path.

And do we share basic values regarding money, child-rearing, commitment to family connections, and would we work well together? Have we talked those important issues through before an initial commitment is made? Do we share a common Christian lifestyle? Potentially troubling issues are sometimes in full view but are pencilled out in the run-up to a wedding.

Issues may be left unaddressed because of pre-wedding dreaminess or excitement, or busyness. For such reasons, a potential bride or groom might see unaddressed issues but say: “I’ll fix that when we’re married.” Or, “I’m going ahead with this wedding because this may be my last chance.” Or even, “I see some developing storm clouds but they will go away once we’re married.” Or, “Right now I have to think about a great wedding; I’ll think about a great marriage later.”

I’ve heard them all but sometimes too long after the marriage has been sealed and, in some cases, too late. Pastoral counselors or professional Christian counselors are available to help in such situations. Couples like the Faudis — and I’ve known a few of them across a lifetime — stand as a constant testimony that in the realm of matrimony God provides a love that can last a lifetime.

But the success of the search requires the exercise of both head and heart. The bond is rooted not only in the feelings but also in the will. This kind of marriage doesn’t just happen. In my experience, the most successful marriages in Christian circles are characterized by a deep and mutual faith in God, a romantic flair that makes the very countenance glow, unwavering commitment to each other, and a grounding in judgment that launches the enterprise thoughtfully and with integrity.

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The North Star of Our Faith

The North Star holds a fixed place in the sky while the rest of the vast heavens move around it. Its fixed position in relation to the earth has made it a tool used by maritime navigators for millennia to find their way in uncharted seas.

Astronomers believe the North Star’s light will continue to shine and fulfill this function for centuries to come.

In similar fashion, the Bible, as read today by Christian believers, and by evangelical Protestants such as I, has a durable and unchanging message. That’s why I think of the Bible as the North Star of our faith.

This analogy came to me while Kathleen and I were reading the Scriptures together a few days ago. We closed our Bibles but two verses we had read, Hebrews 4:12-13, played in my mind for days afterwards. They read as follows:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The first five books of the Old (some say “First”) Testament contain the Law of God as set before Israel at Mount Sinai. The ten commandments are given there, and of them Jesus said that God’s Law is fixed and will abide forever (Matthew 5:18). In the Old Testament section of the Bible, following the books of the law are historical accounts, timeless wisdom literature, and the proclamations of both divine judgment and blessing uttered by God’s chosen prophets.

The New (“Second”) Testament is no less remarkable. Many passages in it refer back to the prophecies found in the Old Testament, tying the two major sections of the Bible together.

By the fourth century AD formal councils of the rapidly growing church had decided on what writings were to be included in the Bible. Thus they canonized its content much as Christians know it now. It was called the Word of God.

The summit of Biblical writings are the four gospel accounts telling of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ while he lived on earth. The Old Testament had foretold his coming (Matthew 3:1-3). The four gospels announced that he had come. The aged Apostle John, in the preface to his gospel account, wrote of the Lord’s as the Word made flesh.

John declares about Jesus: He is eternal; he became man; we beheld his glory; he is to be trusted for our eternal salvation. Thus from that ancient time and across many centuries the Old Testament has been declared and regarded as the Word of God written. The New Testament has been known as the Word of God not only written but also made living. The two Testaments together are seen to complement each another.

At the same time, for evangelical Protestants such as I, the Bible stands forever fixed as the Christian church’s and individual Christian’s North Star — the Word of God. And in keeping with this belief, there are at least 100 places where our Scriptures are simply called the Word of God.

And the result? As Psalm 119:105 affirms: “Your word is a lamp for my feet; a light on my path.” And that assurance is proclaimed even more comprehensively in the passage of Hebrews (4:12) that caught my attention and held it for several days. I repeat them here:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and intent of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from Gods sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

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Photo credit: Derek Σωκράτης Finch (via