Celebrating the Years Together: A Husband Shares Christ-Centered Insights Gleaned From Sixteen Years of Marriage

Note from Tim: I originally wrote this article for Lifeway’s HomeLife Magazine. It is republished here with permission & this blog post may be shared. By God’s grace we have now celebrated 17 years of marriage!

MY WIFE, MELANIE, AND I recently celebrated 16 years of marriage. Sometimes it seems people think that because our marriage is sweet that it must be easy. I’m actually skeptical of people who proclaim that marriage is easy. Joyful, yes. Easy, most days. A Christ-honoring marriage requires commitment, sacrifice, and a willingness to grow. We’re both sinners, but God in His great grace loves to empower, redeem, and bless couples that are committed to growing in love for Him and for each other.

Knowing that Jesus should make a difference in our marriage and yours, here are 16 Christ-centered insights gleaned from 16 years of marriage.

Hold onto hope & onto each other, no matter what kind of season you’re in right now.

  1. Stay Close to God
    When I’m reading my Bible daily and talking regularly to the Lord in prayer, my relationship with my wife is usually improved greatly. Why? Your spouse was never designed by the Creator to fulfill for you what only He can.

  2. Don’t Forget Your Covenant Vows 
    Love is a wonderful gift from God, but feelings or even acts of love in and of themselves will not sustain a marriage. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to an engaged couple in his church, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but … the marriage that sustains your love.” When you said I do, you entered into a covenant before God and witnesses. Remember that the vows you said at your marriage can sustain and even strengthen your love.

  3. Embrace Love as a Sweet Gift of God
    Enjoy every moment of wedded bliss. Life in a fallen world will throw curve balls at you. Sickness and stress will remind you often enough that you don’t live together in Eden. So relish those moments that are echoes of Eden! There is a Bible verse that reminds me to enjoy life with my wife, and that not everybody is given even 16 years together: “Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun” (Eccl. 9:9). Life is a vapor. Enjoy your spouse’s love and love your spouse back with all that you have.

  4. Help Each Other Grow in Christ-likeness 
    Encourage your spouse to take advantage of opportunities to grow in Christ. Make it easy for him or her to be involved in a Bible study. Talk about what God is doing in your life and what you’re learning about Him. Get deeply involved in a local church where you can worship, learn, and serve together.

  5. Have Fun Together
    My grandparents, who were married for 64 years, used to say that one of their secrets for a happy marriage was laughing together. They were right. If your marriage seems more like a roommate situation than friends and lovers, maybe it’s time to plan a fun outing together that you will both enjoy. The happiest part of any of my days is seeing my bride laugh.

  6. Grow in Communication
    Anyone married for more than a few weeks knows that we don’t automatically communicate in God-glorifying ways that lift each other up. God has put you on the same team to help each other out as you work, serve Him, create a home, and grow together. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11).

  7. Always Look to Christ
    We, as married couples, have the awesome job of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church to the world, our families, and other believers. Our marriage is to be a picture of the gospel to others. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband” (Eph. 5:22-33). When we look to Jesus for how to treat our spouse, He also gives us strength to do so.

  8. Plan Time Together
    Work and life responsibilities can be consuming. I’m so thankful for the pastor I worked with when Melanie and I were married. He brought me to Deuteronomy 24:5 and taught me how the Israelite men would stay home from war for one year after getting married so they could focus on their new marriage. He taught me that spending time with my wife was never wasted time. God makes it a priority and so should we. Don’t coast in your marriage.

  9. Pursue and Embrace Forgiveness
    Melanie has taught me more about how Jesus loves me than anyone else because she has lived with me point blank for 16 years and yet she continues to love me and forgive me when I sin against her. “And be kind and compas- sionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Eph. 4:32).

  10. Remember That You’re on the Same Team
    We clear up conflict much quicker than we did when we were first married 16 years ago. Why? Partly because we know that we’re on the same team. There is only one who is our enemy and that’s Satan. When you know deep down that you’re on the same team, it goes a long way to building the “one flesh” kind of unity that God calls us to in Genesis 2:24.

  11. Love With a Serving Love
    The Savior wants me to love my wife like He loves her. One of the best ways I can do that is by learning to serve her. Jesus showed His love to His disciples with a basin and towel as He washed their feet. There is nothing God can call me to do for my wife that is too great of a sacrifice. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Your Savior laid down His very life for His bride.

  12. Love With a Hopeful Love
    God calls us to not only love our spouse for who he or she is, but also to pray for him or her to grow into godliness, even as you grow in your walk with Christ. Remember that God isn’t finished with your spouse yet. Who your spouse is 16 years from now will in part be a reflection of how well you have loved him or her.

  13. Pray Together
    I’m still growing into this. Over the years, I’ve been challenged by godly men to pray every day with my wife — and more than just at meals. I’ve found that without purposeful planning, it won’t happen. Praying together will help you to pursue God as a couple. It will reveal and knit your hearts together as you come to the throne of grace as one.

  14. Hold Onto Each Other During the Changing Seasons
    Your marriage will change with the different seasons of life as you both change over the years. I’ve known my wife as a college student, young professional, pastor’s wife, new mother, and mother of a middle schooler. She has known me in a similar way. One day, Lord willing, we will know each other as grandparents and retirees who are still serving the Lord. Some seasons are more difficult than others, but when we press into Christ and toward each other, even the trying seasons can become beautiful as God matures us. Hold onto hope and onto each other, no matter what kind of season you’re in right now.

  15. Build a Legacy
    Live with each other not just for this moment, but also for the next decade and the next five decades. Having the perspective that our choices today will impact our children and grandchildren — even generations that we will never meet — will build patterns in our lives that put eternity first. The legacy of a couple that is deeply in love with God and madly in love with each other has a bigger impact than we will ever know until heaven.

  16. Expect the Best to Keep Getting Better 
    I thank God every day for Melanie. I can’t imagine life and love without her. She’s mine and mine alone. This applies to your spouse too. The pastor who married us 16 years ago looked at me during the ceremony and said, “Tim, Melanie is God’s best for you.” Then he looked at Melanie and said, “Melanie, Tim is God’s best for you.”

Continue to pursue your spouse, God’s best for you, every day. “Be lost in her love forever” (Prov. 5:19).

Faithful Endurance: A Book Review of a Book Pastors Need in 2021

My article originally appeared at the Small Town Summits website as part of Small Town Summits Articles, for which I serve as Content Manager. This article was also featured on The Gospel Coalition’s “Around the Web” listing.

This past year has found me asking God now more than ever, “Help me to faithfully endure as a pastor. I need your strength. I need your wisdom. I need your grace.” It’s not that I have wanted to quit. And it’s not that we do not see God’s blessing on our church during one of the most difficult years in recent memory. In fact, in 2020 we saw God’s hand on our church in blessing and sustaining and expanding our ministry more than we have in past years. So why did I desperately pray for God’s help so often this year? Simply for the same reason that I hear from my other pastor friends: we are tired. 

We are tired of walking the tightrope between government regulations and freedom of worship. We are tired of the tension of valid health concerns and wanting to do ministry boldly at a time that people need it most. We are tired of trying to shepherd some through masks and others through Zoom. We are tired of facing the stresses and constant changes and challenges of doing our job during a worldwide pandemic—as all in our church are in their work also. 

But there is gospel hope in pandemic fatigue. The same Lord who shepherds our people is the same Lord who stands with us every day as pastors (2 Timothy 4:17). We need powerful reminders of this as we look ahead to 2021 and continue to pray for God’s strength, wisdom, and grace. 

A few months ago, I had the privilege of sitting down for a long chat with a good cup of coffee with my pastoral mentor. There was something refreshing, encouraging, challenging, and strengthening in talking and praying with somebody who has “been there” and who is still in the fight, serving faithfully during a hard season. This is why I picked up Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People For a Lifetime, edited by Collin Hansen and Jeff Robinson Sr. I needed more wisdom and strength and grace from God through his faithful servants. I needed what amounts to a long chat with a good cup of coffee with many different pastors on many different topics who have centuries of combined pastoral ministry experience. I would recommend that you do the same in 2021.

The book’s strength is combining well-known pastors and ministry leaders like Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, Dave Harvey and Bryan Chapell with lesser-known but equally faithful pastors and ministry leaders like Mark McCullough, Scott Patty, and Brandon Shields. They are able to speak from a variety of backgrounds on multiple pressing pastoral concerns such as, “Ministry has left me spiritually listless” (Chapter 1), “My preaching always sounds the same” (Chapter 3), “My critics are a burden for my wife” (Chapter 6), “They’ve left, and I’m crushed!” (Chapter 7), “My church has outgrown my gifts” (Chapter 10), and “How am I going to make it financially?” (Chapter 11). This is all capped off with an interview with John MacArthur on the anniversary of his fiftieth year of serving at Grace Community Church.

I had not read a specific pastoral ministry book this year, and as I read I discovered that it was just what I needed to help me faithfully endure. I needed the reminders of godly, gospel-centered pastors to help me look not to them but to the Jesus whom we serve and trust in. I needed the sharpening in some areas, such as my preaching and my practice of a day of rest. After a difficult year, I needed the reminders of how to serve with and lead my wife more faithfully (Chapter 6), and how to keep difficulties such as people leaving the church in proper perspective (Chapter 7). 

I was challenged to look at the difficulties of ministry with eternity in view: “Pastor, that pain you feel, that stinging pain in your stomach that wells up each time you remember the friend who left—convert that aching moment into a reminder that there is a day coming when you will be reconciled. There’s a day coming when closure will happen.” (Dave Harvey, p. 82) I was encouraged with practical steps to grow in my leadership, all the while being pointed to what is most important: “The wise pastor also remembers that the main goal is to lead people to Jesus. We often overemphasize organizational leadership skills and underemphasize the pastoral skills of preaching, having conversations, and praying with people. Keeping the main emphasis on leading people to Jesus doesn’t mean we accept poorly led organizations as the norm, but it does remind us that we don’t have to be able to run a massive corporation to be an effective pastor. We do, however, need to know Jesus and be able to lead others to him.” (Scott Patty, p. 108)

For small-town pastors such as myself, there are gold nuggets throughout the book that will help us to have faithful endurance in 2021 and beyond. But the most significant chapter for you, like me, will probably be Mark McCullough’s chapter (8), “Does Staying in a Small Rural Church Make Me a Failure?” I learned from Keller and Carson, but I received an arm around my shoulder as a fellow rural pastor when I read McCullough’s words of warmth and joy from a man who has served the same rural congregation for almost three decades. McCullough spurs us on to faithful endurance by focusing on three joys that would serve us well to focus on during 2021: the joy of knowing and being known by God, the joy of making God known, and the joy of knowing others.

I pray that you will have faithful endurance in ministry in 2021. We can do this not from looking to our own wisdom or strength, but from looking to the Jesus who has promised us that he is with us always (Matthew 28:20). Faithful Endurance will help you do exactly that.

A Thrill of Hope, the Weary World Rejoices!

This article will be featured in the December 25, 2020 edition of The Manchester Journal, our local paper.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year that has made us weary. Whether your weariness is social, economic, physical, relational, job-related, screen-related, or a combination of all of these and other reasons, “wearisome” is probably an apt description of your 2020. Experts talk about “pandemic fatigue,” but we might not even read their articles because we are fatigued of thinking about fatigue. While I was writing this article, a news notification popped up, “Can you get coronavirus from Christmas cards?” Mercifully, the basic answer is no, but one year ago who would have ever thought we would have this kind of low-grade stress constantly in the back of our minds? However you are celebrating Christmas this year, you and I are bringing all of that into this holiday season. In the midst of this weariness, however, there is one Christmas carol line that keeps coming back to my mind: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!”

This line from O Holy Night is talking about a hope that is just as true and vibrant today as it was the night that Christ was born. The Bible tells us that two of the reasons that Christ came were to bring hope through personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. We get wearied by our lack of personal peace. We wonder if there is a God who cares. We wonder if anything that happened in Bible times has anything to do with us today. Christmas reminds us that God cares, and God acts for us—today. The Gospel of Matthew explains the relevance of an ancient prophecy, written 700 years before Jesus in the book of Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

The reason that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth is because we believe what the Bible teaches, that it marks the entrance of God into the world in human flesh. Jesus entered into our suffering world, and after living a perfect life of love, died on the cross at the time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The Bible explains in Romans 5:1 why this matters today, after talking about Jesus’s death and resurrection:  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the gift of God to all who will receive it: our sins are paid for and we are accepted by God as our father. Because of Jesus we can live life knowing that God is for us and with us no matter what kind of suffering or what kind of year we are walking through.

But the message of Christmas doesn’t end with an earth that is so susceptible to viruses and suffering and sin. The thrill of hope isn’t just for now. The weary world rejoices because one day it will be made new. We celebrate Jesus’s first advent, his first coming, now, but the Bible promises that one day, he will come to earth again—his second advent. He will make all things new and create a new heaven and new earth where we will be safe from sin, and suffering, and death. This is God’s Christmas gift to us, encapsulated in the memorable words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

On Christmas Eve in 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and sang the first line from O Holy Night in French. After he sang all three verses, a German soldier emerged and sang a popular German carol, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The story says that both sides then joined together in singing an Austrian carol. The battle stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Temporary peace was initiated by O Holy Night.

Wouldn’t it seem too good to be true if peace were initiated not just for 24 hours but for today and for eternity? The gospel always sounds like the best news you’ve ever heard once you understand it. That is the truth Christians celebrate at Christmas, that Jesus came to bring personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. That is the best reason for a thrill of hope, and for a weary world to rejoice. In the weariness of 2020, may you find peace in Christ this Christmas.

Thanksgiving In (Not in Spite Of) Difficulty

Although there were many Thanksgiving feasts and observances throughout the United States for almost two and a half centuries before Lincoln, the nationally recognized holiday that we will soon celebrate was put into place in the middle of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, while the war was raging and the country was literally divided. 

While citizens were becoming widows and orphans daily, President Lincoln and his Secretary of State William Steward wrote:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Even in the midst of great pain and hardship, they were recognizing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” One of the ways that they gave thanks in all circumstances, even horrible ones such as civil war, was by looking to blessings that God had given:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

They were looking for God’s good providence and for things to be thankful for, so that God would be praised no matter what, recognizing that He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17). Surely we need to do the same in 2020. 

Philippians 1:29 shocks us into recalibrating our thoughts during a year of great difficulty: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” The word “granted” is the same word used in Romans 8:32 about God graciously giving us all things:  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” We expect God to “graciously give” us blessings (as we see in Romans 8:32), but we often don’t understand how suffering could be a grace-gift (as we see in Philippians 1:29).

One answer is because God uses it all.  Nothing is wasted in God’s providence.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) This is why the Apostle Paul could write, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” (Col. 1:24). As a pastor I worked with would often say, “Who talks like this? Rejoicing in our sufferings? Christians do!”

We can bubble over with genuine thanksgiving at any time if we look to the blessings God has given us, even if mixed with suffering and difficulty as we have seen on a large scale this year. Our God is both sovereign and good. He is the God who promised Romans 8:28, a promise that rests on the bedrock of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Blessings. Thanksgiving. Hope. Even during Civil War. Even during COVID-19. Even in 1863. Even in 2020.

A Christian’s Declaration of Stability In God In an Unstable Country

2020 has been a year of instability for the United States. I–and so many others–have never felt the stresses and strains of living in what we would call an “unstable country,” until now. But that doesn’t change my stability in God.

As we see new developments each day, and new crises and controversies that can stretch our faith and test our sanctification, perhaps you can pray each of these commitments with me, daily.

Every day I will choose to:

  • Praise God regardless of how He is answering my prayers (Psalm 145:2-3). Every day, regardless of the new headlines, I will repeat the Psalmist’s declaration: “Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” God is worthy of praise because He is God, not because He has answered my prayers the way I think He should.
  • Remember that God sets up & tears down kingdoms for His purposes (Daniel 2:21, 4:34-35). My generation is not the first that He has worked mightily in through upheaval, and unless Jesus returns first, it won’t be the last. God is not wringing His hands in Heaven in despair or wishing He could do more. The “king’s” heart is in His sovereign hands (Proverbs 21:1). I will remember that God is working through generations over decades and centuries and millennia, not just today. Every day I will choose to believe and remember that my time and place is just a small part of His great tapestry of redemption.
  • Be an active and good citizen to the best of my ability, shining light where it needs to be & being involved in the political process as much as is helpful. I will do what I believe God is calling me to do to make our country a better place (Jeremiah 29:7). I will not hesitate to contact my legislators, to vote informed, and to raise awareness when appropriate. I can do this without it overtaking my witness for Christ (I want to win people to Christ, not to a political party). I will work hard to hold the tension between being involved as a citizen because decisions in government do really matter, but remembering that in the end even the country I love is not my ultimate home. I am a citizen of the Unites States, so I care, but I am a citizen of Heaven, so I trust.
  • Trust my children’s unknown future to a known God. Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God,” and I will apply this biblical principle to not only my life, but to the concerns I have for the country my children will inherit. The same God who has been my shepherd will be the same God who will shepherd them in decades to come (Genesis 48:15-16).
  • Pray that God will use this unstable time in our country to prepare hearts for another great awakening of faith in Christ. God has chosen to bring many to Christ through times of national unrest in the past, and I will pray that He will do it again, for His glory. It is often when the rug is pulled out from under people that they begin to ask questions about God or Jesus. In our own country, “The Jesus Movement” followed the tumultuous 60s. In our own time, I will pray that many will come to know Jesus as they begin to question where their trust is. I will pray that many believers will rise up to not be afraid to share the stability of knowing God in Christ, and that churches will be strengthened to be true to the Word, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Preach the gospel to myself and others, reminding myself that I am not my own but have been bought with a price. My life is not my own. I have been placed in this time in history and this place in the world on purpose, for a purpose–which is to glorify God by knowing Christ and making Him known. It is no accident that I live here and now (Acts 17:26). I will share the hope of Jesus with all in my community who will listen. Jesus truly is our only hope. I will remember that eternity is more significant than this moment in history, and that each person I interact with–either in-person or online–is an eternal being who either needs Jesus or whom I will spend eternity with in Heaven. God will hold me accountable for each word I speak or type (Matthew 12:36-37).
  • Spend more time in the Word than reading or listening or watching politics each day. My mind will be renewed by God speaking through His Word (1 Timothy 3:16), not by being immersed in the latest political development. I can dip into the news and be informed without it becoming the driving force behind my thinking–which is the place of God’s Word alone. Charles Spurgeon is attributed with rightly observing, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” I am not putting my head in the sand–I will be informed–but I am intentionally choosing to listen to God’s voice more than any other, which puts my feet on solid rock.
  • Remember that many of the people of God have gone through more difficult trials in their countries and have still held fast to Christ (Hebrews 10:34). From the prophets & faithful Israelites before Christ, to countless faithful believers in church history, to the persecuted church around the world today, many have gone before me in great persecution–and just plain unrest–and have continued to hold fast to Christ. Simply because I was born in the U.S., I am no better than my brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world who are refugees worshiping in a makeshift tent with only a bag of possessions left to their name. In fact, I will look to them for examples of perseverance in the faith in the face of great political upheaval.
  • Hold fast to God in faith, rather than letting fear build in my heart. I want my actions and my words to be led by faith, not fear. Every day I will choose to remember that God is for me (Romans 8:31), that Jesus loves me (Galatians 2:20), and that the Holy Spirit empowers me and is even in me (John 14:15-20, 27).

At the funeral of the Puritan Richard Sibbes, Isaak Walton remarked, “…Heaven was in him, before he was in heaven.” May heaven be more seen in us because of our longings, actions, prayers, and reflection of God’s heart. May the same be said of us in spite of–no, because of–this moment in our country’s history.

4 Ways to Honor Marriage

God commands us, “Let marriage be held in honor among all…” (Hebrews 13:4a) The word “honor” is sometimes translated “precious” in the Bible. It is used to talk of precious stones used in the Temple (1 Kings 7:9-11 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament), of the precious stones that make up the walls of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 18), and of Christ’s precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). In other words, whether married or single, young or old, Christians are called by God to prize marriage. It was created by him for blessing and to be embedded in the world as a pointer to the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33 which quotes Genesis 2).

Here are four ways you can hold marriage in honor, as something precious & valuable. The first two are ways you can honor marriage as a married couple, and the second two are ways both singles and married couples can obey Hebrews 13:4.

1) Be faithful to your marriage covenant. The full text of Hebrews 13:4 reads, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” God declares that the first way to honor marriage is to be faithful to your marriage covenant. When you said, “I do,” you weren’t simply signing a contract. You were entering into a covenant before God and witnesses. Part of keeping that covenant is to stay sexually faithful to your spouse.

God gives a strong warning to help us be faithful in marriage: “For God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13:4b) In the Old Covenant, the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). In the New Covenant, we can be thankful that Jesus took the punishment of death for us. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have God’s discipline and judgment if you are unfaithful to your wife or husband. Often “natural” consequences of adultery such as shattered trust, potential STDs (testing is needed after a confession), pregnancy outside of marriage, and the complicated relationship problems that follow are God’s judgment. King David’s life after adultery in 2 Samuel should be warning enough.

But there is also the spiritual side. Before adultery is committed, there has been a gradual falling away from God. Jesus warned about adultery and hell (Matthew 5:27-30) and the Apostle Paul includes “the sexually immoral” and “adulterers” in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Part of repentance if you have been unfaithful to your marriage covenant is examining your heart before God. There is grace and forgiveness if we will come to Christ after any sin. Paul explains the gospel in the same passage, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

God warns us against his judgment to protect us spiritually and to protect us in our marriage relationships. He wants you to honor–to prize–marriage and that starts with being faithful to your marriage covenant.

2) Enjoy the gift of your spouse.
Hebrews 13:4 doesn’t just give us a warning. One great way that we honor marriage is by enjoying the gift of our spouses. God also says, “…and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” This is tied into the deterrent of consequences due to adultery or other forms of sexual immorality, but it is also a reminder that the purity of sex in marriage is good and created by God. Remember when it was common in Christian jargon to say, “I’m keeping myself pure until marriage?” Those who said it had good intentions, but a better way to say it would be, “I am saving sex for the purity and enjoyment of sex in marriage.” We need to embrace the gracious reality that the marriage bed is designed by God to be a place of purity and refreshment (Proverbs 5:15-19).

Anything God has designed to be beautiful and refreshing can become stained and stagnant due to our sin. But the gospel redeems what we may have polluted by our sin. When you repent of any sexual sin, either adultery or lust in any of its forms, and embrace the gift of your spouse, God loves to transform and renew. When God speaks to a newly married couple, this is his banner over their marriage bed, his wedding gift to them and to you no matter how long you’ve been married: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (Song of Solomon 5:1)

The gift of the marriage bed is just the cherry on top of the marriage relationship. You honor marriage when you enjoy the gift of your spouse as your closest friend.  One of the reasons God created marriage was to create life-long companionship in a lonely world (Genesis 2:18). We honor marriage when we build into that one-flesh relationship and when we enjoy life with our spouses. The writer of Ecclesiastes encourages this in 9:9. Do you see the world through her eyes? Do you know what his greatest joys and deepest difficulties are right now? If not, set some intentional time aside. Go have fun together and ask a few questions–and listen. Your time on earth and your time with your husband or wife is limited, so honor marriage by enjoying the gift of your spouse.

3) Celebrate anniversaries.
I used to look at happy couples in their 70s or 80s who have been married for 50 or 60 years and think that their success in marriage is due to them being very compatible. I didn’t express it that way and I couldn’t have backed that up biblically. But it’s easy to see a couple who can now complete each other’s sentences and think that they coasted into their golden years together, always with smiles on their faces and kind words on their lips. Now that I’ve been married almost two decades myself, have counseled and talked about marriage with many couples over the years as a pastor, and have studied what the Bible says about marriage–I know that I was completely off-target.

Every anniversary is a hard-won victory. Every anniversary is a declaration to Satan and the world that God’s power and grace at the cross is greater than our sin. Every anniversary is a renewal of vows, a break in the day-to-day that says, “I still do.” Every anniversary is a reminder that our marriage is a shadow of the greater marriage between Christ and his bride (Ephesians 5:31-32), every anniversary dinner a pointer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

We don’t coast into decades of marriage. We fight into decades of marriage. We fight our flesh and the devil and the world that tells us we will never be happy with one–while all the while God calls us into the deeper delicacies of delighting in marriage one day, one decade at a time. We can never coast in marriage because we are called to reflect the gospel in marriage, and Jesus always pursues us.

You honor marriage by celebrating your anniversaries, whether that is a carefully-planned and hard-budgeted weekend away, or take-out on the couch like we did when our youngest was only a few months old. We also honor marriage when we recognize and celebrate God’s work in a couple through honoring their anniversary–as simple as a comment on social media or in-person or as elaborate as helping to plan a party.

4) Build up other couples.
One of my favorite types of counseling to do is premarital counseling. Maybe it’s because there are not often major problems to untangle, but I think it has more to do with the fact that my wife and I usually do this together in our home. As we talk about biblical principles for communication and forgiveness and money and sex and portraying the gospel in marriage with a starry-eyed couple, there’s a joy in sharing our own mistakes and victories. The oneness we share deepens as we shock the couple with the fact that they will fight some day, and soothe them with the fact that with the love of Jesus they can overcome any argument or obstacle.

What I have just described is something that any couple can do for any other couple, whether or not they know Jesus. We often think that building up other marriages means that we need special training or an office, but so many young couples wish they had an older couple to just talk with over a cup of coffee in their home.

This is an area the entire church can link arms in. Singles can build up couples by praying for them, offering occasional childcare for date nights, or by simply sharing a word of encouragement in Christ. We often think that only marriage counseling builds other couples up, but pushing each other to Jesus as we are called to do in the church is the best thing we can do for marriage. Often elderly couples who will never know they helped somebody will be the encouragement a younger couple in the church needs. It may be just by seeing one of them help the other through getting the walker out of the car and slowly going into the Sanctuary together. Build up other couples, both intentionally and by being present in their lives.

“Let marriage by held in honor among all…” Prize marriage. Hold marriage as precious. In doing this, we point to the enduring, sacrificial love of Jesus. And we help others along their pilgrimage to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

 

Five Ways to Pray For Your Pastor at This Point in the Pandemic

This article was featured at Small Town Summits Articles.

When we had to make the decision to not meet physically as a church months ago, I thought the hardest decisions were behind us. One of my pastor friends shared a meme of Chris Farley walking down the aisle of a church building, high-fiving and chest-bumping with church members, ecstatic to be there. We all thought our first Sunday back would be something similar, thrilled to be back in church together before long.

But as I write this, many of us are still preaching online only. Others are gathering with drive-in or outdoor services, and a few are meeting indoors with precautions, including capacity limits.

 Every job has stress that has never been felt before right now, new situations that are facing us at work that we never thought we’d be thinking through. Pastors know that we are not unique in this and we are praying for you. But as a pastor, I want to ask you to pray specifically for your pastor and elders. They feel the weight of shepherding and leading the people of God. And the path ahead is foggy. They may be battling a low-grade sense of malaise, of wondering what crisis is next and how they will deal with it from a distance. Here are five ways to pray for your pastor and church leaders at this point in the pandemic.

1. For wisdom
Part of shepherding and leading a church is planning for the future. But it is hard to do that when we hardly know what next Sunday may look like. There are a multitude of decisions facing your pastor and leaders every day right now. Should there be singing in the sanctuary or not? Masks required or recommended? Virtual or in the sanctuary if the outdoor service is canceled due to rain? Should the Memorial Service be planned for mid-July or postponed indefinitely for now, or would it be best to just do it on Zoom? Should small groups begin to be planned for the Fall again?

Every one of our ministries has been affected or canceled and we often don’t know what is best. We certainly don’t know the future. Pray for wisdom for your pastor and elders. They are probably praying often for wisdom, claiming the promise of James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Can you also ask God for them?

2. For a shepherd’s heart
We want to advance the gospel. We want to disciple people. We want to fellowship. We want to encourage. But it’s hard right now. We are used to counseling people face to face and having difficult conversations looking in each other’s eyes rather than over the phone or by seeing each other in a box on our computer. We want to call everyone on the church list or go visit them in their driveway but decisions we didn’t want to make this week are forced upon us. Somebody goes into the hospital and we try to figure out whether or not we can visit them. Everything we do seems to take longer because all of our processes and routines are off, and we just can’t seem to make it through the list.

Pray that your pastor and elders will have perseverance, and continue to have the same shepherd’s hearts even if how the heart of Jesus is displayed through them looks different right now. Pray that they will know that Jesus is shepherding his sheep just fine. Pray that your pastor will have the patience to face his own shortcomings and trust that God will use his shepherding efforts during this crisis. Pray that he will rely on other church leaders and that they will give him the help that he needs.

3. For peace
Pastors are people too. And people struggle with worry, especially in a time of crisis. It could be that his wife’s job has been affected financially and nobody in the church knows. It could be that the church finances are struggling and he wonders if he will be able to continue serving there long-term even though he wants to, or if he will need to find a part-time job or cut staff. He may be worried about how this has affected his marriage, or whether or not certain new attendees who he has not seen online will come back.

He may be struggling with the right decisions about reopening. Some church members are saying none of this matters and everyone is overreacting. Others say they don’t know if they will ever come back as they have health problems or are caretakers for an elderly relative.

Pray that every day your pastor will find peace in Jesus as he leads others to peace in Jesus (John 14:27). Pray that he and your elders will ultimately care most about answering to God for how they led during this pandemic rather than what the loudest or most powerful church members think. Pray that they will run to God their Father for refuge and strength each and every day.

4. For rest
Pray for rest for your pastor. There may be the rare pastor who has somehow figured out how to pastor during this pandemic with the same workload he had before. But every pastor I know is tired. Many are struggling to take their regular day off. He may get to the end of the week every week and the demands for changing ministries and future planning that may feel futile have all just worn him out. He may be feeling inadequate for the challenges of the new week. It turns out that preaching to a computer in your pajama pants and dress shirt is exhausting.

One pastor friend explained it like this, “I get to late afternoon and I look at what I accomplished, and it seems like it should still be morning. I’m just in a fog.” I was telling someone recently that preaching has been a bit like a driving simulator that has a baby carriage, a dog, and an old lady pop out into the street at the most unexpected times. In a matter of weeks I’ve gone from preaching to a computer screen to preaching to cars to preaching to people on a lawn. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue to preach God’s Word, but I always wonder if I did the best I could have. I didn’t realize the wind would blow my Bible pages around so much. Should we rearrange it a different direction next time due to the angle of the sun? Who was in that car over in the corner of our Drive-In Service?

Pray that your pastor will find and guard some sort of rhythm of rest during this time, both physically and spiritually. Pray that he will be able to figure out a way to take his vacation time. Pray that, contrary to all he feels, that he will realize that sometimes the most Christ-like thing he could do during this crisis is take a nap (Mark 4:37-38).

5. For his family
I have sometimes been guilty during this pandemic of caring for the needs of so many others and neglecting the needs right under my nose. Pray that your pastor would take the time to go do something outside with his family, and not feel guilty about it. Pray that he would make time in his constantly changing schedule to just be with them. Pray that his wife and children would know his love and care, and know how to support and share him during this crisis.

Pray that they would have unique opportunities to minister together as a family. Pray that they would know the joy of the Lord and the comfort of walking with him each day, step by step. Pray that by a miracle of God’s grace, that he and his family would come out on the other side of this crisis stronger in their relationships with each other.

One of the greatest gifts you can give your pastor is to faithfully pray for him, maybe even with him. At one point several weeks into the pandemic, we had an elder and deacon meeting in which we were making some decisions that could have a major impact towards gospel advance. But the decisions required courage and wisdom. I wanted both but just didn’t have it on Zoom that evening. During our prayer time, one of my brothers prayed for me out loud. Knowing what they were all dealing with at their jobs, it meant so much to hear his prayer for me. But more than that, I experienced the power of prayer for a pastor as I had more clarity of mind and strength in the rest of that meeting than I knew I had left.

 The Spirit works powerfully when his people pray. Prayer is not a ritual, but an actual tapping into the power of God. Be sure to pray for your pastor and church leaders today. They need it.

We Are All Shut-Ins Now: 3 Lessons I Don’t Want to Forget About Ministry to Shut-Ins

We are all shut-ins now. We are home but we have found just how exhausting it can be to be home all of the time. The daily grind begins to get at us mentally and socially in a way we never expected. We are restricted, but hopefully we have learned some empathy in our restrictions.

As I ask God what he wants me to learn during the crisis of COVID-19, there are multiple lessons. I’m learning to pray more, I’m being reminded of the preciousness of being with God’s people, and I’m freshly aware of “if the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” But one theme that keeps coming back to my mind is that I don’t want to forget to have more empathy with those who can’t go out when we are all out again. Here are three lessons from quarantine about ministry to shut-ins.

A Call Means a Lot
I remember the first time our small group met on Zoom about one week after stay-at-home orders. We were overjoyed to hear each other’s voices after just days into isolation. During this quarantine, when I pick up the phone and call someone, there is a connection through hearing each other’s voices again that uniquely says, “I haven’t forgotten about you.” When quarantine is over, I want to remember how much it means to hear the voice of someone I haven’t seen in weeks or months. I want to remember that for a shut-in, a call means a lot.

A Handwritten Note Means a Lot
My kids are more excited than ever to check the mail nowadays. And secretly, I am too. When we can’t gather as a church body, there is power in receiving a handwritten note from a friend. During quarantine, I can send out multiple church updates and prayer requests through e-mail. But holding a handwritten note and seeing somebody’s handwriting, knowing they took the time to mail that note of encouragement and prayer to you, means something different. The ironic thing is, seniors are primarily the ones I have received handwritten notes from during this crisis. So a handwritten note may be a key to their love language, reminding them of the church body’s love and God’s love for them.

A Visit Means a Lot
Stay-at-home orders came from our governor not long after I had major leg surgery. So quarantine for me has basically made me a shut-in with health problems who can hardly leave the house. When it has been a beautiful Spring day and my family has gone for a walk or hike, I have been on the couch icing and elevating my leg. This has made the couple of socially-distanced driveway visits we have had from church members incredibly encouraging. I have learned that when you can’t go anywhere, but people go to the trouble to come to you, it points to the love and kindness of God. I hope I never forget that.

Those who can no longer come to church need the church to go to them. Sometimes that may look like a call, sometimes a note, and other times a visit. And in God’s economy, both the “giver” and the “recipient” are blessed. Some of the most encouraging times of ministry have been reading Scripture with a blind shut-in or hearing that they are praying for my family and the church. I am sure that I have often been more encouraged in Christ than them after a visit.

I have not always done well with this ministry although I do try my best to practice it. By God’s grace, I want to not forget these three simple lessons that God has taught me about being a shut-in during this crisis.

Shut-ins commonly feel forgotten as they go through long days with all of their health struggles and isolation. Let’s remind them that they are not forgotten by us–or by God. The God who told us to rise in the presence of the aged (Leviticus 19:32) still tells us today to honor their presence when they are at home.

We are all shut-ins now. Let’s not forget what it’s like to be encouraged by someone who expresses the love of Christ and points you to the Lord.

Together In Our Solitude: The Power of “One Spirit” During COVID-19

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

I never knew the power of these phrases from Ephesians 2 until we were forced to shelter in place. But these inspired words have been infused with new meaning for our local church bodies. The power of “one Spirit” bringing us together in our solitude brought a smile to my face last week.

The tone on the other end of the line sounded again and I wondered how I could get their correct phone number. But suddenly, this time, a cheery voice came through on the other end.

“Hello, Jane?” I inquired.

“Oh, Pastor Tim, how wonderful to hear your voice!”

I had been trying to get ahold of the elderly couple who had recently moved to town. I was worried they would think no one from their new church cared. I wondered about their health. Was her husband’s heart ok?

Jane assured me they were fine. “We pray regularly for the church prayer requests you have been e-mailing,” she shared. “And we pray for you and your precious wife and kids every day.”

That’s when it hit me. One Spirit.

My concern for Jane and her husband was eclipsed by their daily prayers for me and my family. Because we share the same Holy Spirit, we are together in our solitude.

We are only a prayer away from strengthening hearts and impacting eternity.

The Spirit binds us even when we are apart. The Spirit works in our lives even when we are not physically in each other’s lives. The Spirit ministers in each person when I only wish I could minister in person.

Because of the power of the Spirit’s ministry, we are together in our solitude.

One faith.

One Lord.

One baptism.

One body.

One Spirit.

Even far apart.

 

Easter Was Made For a Time Like This

This article appeared in our local paper, The Manchester Journal, and also at the Baptist Convention of New England blog.

We are living in a time in which we are desperate for good news. We are all reading this hunkered down in our homes under the looming specter of disaster. We feel the state of emergency, and we see it with our eyes. It is on the signs on every business door and on faces everywhere we look. The mood has changed in our community, as friends or neighbors who might happen to see each other outside now talk from a distance. Anyone who dares to venture out to buy groceries notices the absence of the laughter of children. We worry about our elderly relatives and neighbors, even as we try to help them, all the while hoping we are not putting them at greater risk. We wince when we check the latest statistics on confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. We wonder how long this will go on. Oh, how desperately we need good news.

Just when we think the low-grade stress of trying to hide from an invisible enemy is getting unbearable, we hear of another cancellation of an event we had looked forward to for months. We know it is the right thing to do, and we might even feel guilty for wishing it wasn’t so, but we mourn our old lives nonetheless. As a parent, I am joining moms and dads all across the world who have to explain to their kids why their favorite spring activities are canceled.

But as a pastor, I am joining pastors all across the world explaining to their congregations that Easter is not canceled.

No, we are not physically meeting. But Easter is not canceled because Easter was made to bring good news to a world that groans under the strain of more bad news. Easter was made for a time like this.

Jesus’ disciples were crushed after Jesus’ death on the cross. They were confused. But when the report of the empty tomb reached them, and when Jesus himself stood in front of them again so much alive that they could touch him and watch him eat, his earlier words flooded back. Right before he had raised Lazarus from the dead they had heard him proclaim, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26) Now they understood that Jesus’ resurrection was the guarantee of their resurrection. It sealed his promise of eternal life for those who would believe in him.

Some say the resurrection is a time of celebration of new life, as if it is nothing more than a celebration of Spring. Certainly the fact that it took place during a time of new life on earth is bursting with meaning. But if that is all it means, Easter is hollow. We need something more substantial. We need a resurrection.

As our church joins churches around the world during this historic Easter, celebrating the resurrection for the first time virtually and not physically gathered, our joy will be no less. We will wish it was different. We may shed tears of loss and heartbreak. But we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with joy because we know that in his conquering of death, he has promised to make all things new. The Bible looks forward to a day when fear and abuse and hunger and loneliness and viruses will all die, never to raise their ugly heads again. And in their demise, a new heaven and a new earth will be created, a place that believers in King Jesus were made to live in with their resurrection bodies. 

This is good news. This is why Easter was made for a time like this. And because of Easter, because of Jesus, I invite you to make this best of news your news.