Article Feb 20, 2014

How to keep your "I do" in the present tense

Don Henley of Eagles fame once sang, “I had a good life, before you came.”

I began pastoring the little church on the corner. Even though I was single, I didn't feel like I was waiting for my life to start, I was locked in a pattern of discerning God’s will (as much as my fallen filter would allow).

So I bought an old white house within walking distance of the little church and christened it “The Hermitage.” After purchasing the house, I was determined to teach myself how not to be a terrible cook. My goal was to skip the entire phenomenon dubbed “Batching It Up”, even when I was as it were, a bachelor.

I did not have cable or even a television antenna. I had my books, my dog and my God.

I prepared my sermons and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I was not wasting my life. My life was going at full speed. And, for whatever it was worth, I was happy.

One day, God in his providence, brought her back into my life. I met her in college years before. We were at a Christian college whose ecclesiology lacked formally ordained pastors. I was studying to be one and she was the daughter of one. 

The years went by. She became a teacher and served on the mission field in Africa. But then, one day, there was she standing before me once again. I told her I intended to pursue her. She told me she was going to the remotest part of the Congo she could find. I told her we’d pray about it.

God smiled down upon me, and she became my bride.

While we courted we read This Momentary Marriage. John Piper reminded us of things we already knew about the covenant of marriage from the Bible. Marriage isn’t about you, it’s about God.

A year passed. She showed me South Sudan. I showed her how to brown hamburger meat.

The covenant of marriage is a gift, and I feel like I’ve always received more than I ever gave.

Two more months passed and a fox named cancer tried to raid my home.

He is a wily one, he is. We fought him when he called himself Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. We fought him when he called himself Hodgkins Lymphoma. We fought him when he called himself myelodysplastic syndrome and we fought him when he called himself Acute Secondary Leukemia. And still we fight on.

The Hermitage has sat vacant for months while we sojourned in various hospital rooms.

My bride endures chemo cocktails and radiation. I endure cots.

People say I need to take care of myself. Take a night off. They mean well of course, and I don’t think less of them.

But I don’t leave. That’s not what I do. The two became one. I don’t leave.

I said "I do," and I still do.  The "I do" of marriage is always in the present tense until Jesus says otherwise. "I do" is never “I did at the time”.  It is always present tense. It travels through space and time to whatever condition the married couple finds themself in and says, "I still do, I always do, and when the enemy burns down these battlements, I shall remain."

The perpetual present tense "I do" is anchored in the grace of God. 

Marriage was never about being happy. Marriage is a covenant, and covenants are rarely pain free. Jesus endured far more pain than I ever will to bring peace through the blood of his cross.

What I’ve learned from my bride’s cancer is that Jesus shines still brighter.

Once, a nurse told me that it was good that I was there with my wife. I shrugged and told her, "That’s what marriage is."

A shadow of sadness creeped over her face and she replied, "Not always."

She’s right, you know. 

Many caretakers have crawled into a bottle never to be heard from again. Many have retreated into himself so far so as to be useless. And many have found comfort in the arms of another.

God have mercy on us all, for the things we do and the things we have no mercy for.

I suspect though, that those that vanish in the hour of need thought marriage would be all about happiness and perpetual comfort rather than the perpetual “I do” that comes from a Christ who is always saying “I do” to his bride, the church.

Recently, on the Grammys, entertainers mocked God’s word because it is old and held a ceremony “celebrating the commitment to love”. It all reminded me of something the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: 

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful,unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5 

Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power, indeed.

Ask any pastor of a church residing in a beautiful historic building: People want God’s house, but only if he’s not home.

I remind many couples that the stained glass windows were not erected to honor and celebrate their commitment to love. This house is consecrated to God, and furthermore, we are not part of the wedding industry. We are about Jesus, and so too must be your wedding, and more importantly your marriage.

If not, call it what it is: A celebration to your commitment to having bubbly butterflies for the flavor of the month.

God’s menu for marriage does not change.

When the squall rages against my marriage, I thank God that this marriage was not built by mine or my wife’s hands, but by his holy hands.

Many have questions about what marriage is and whom it is for. Many have sinned against a holy God and wonder if he forgives.  Many think that it would take a miracle to save the marriage they are in.

The village of marriage has long been at the mercy of robbers and bandits. Perhaps you are like many who have suffered the scars of another's sin so harshly that you think it would take a miracle for someone to love you with Christlike sacrificial love.

All things are possible with God.

Jesus desires to take you by the hand and make you whole, but his hands shall always have holes in them. You must ask yourself what you have to do with those holes.

Married or not.

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