As Long as We Both Shall Live

Last weekend my wife and I attended two weddings. Both couples used traditional vows:

To have and to hold, from this day forward,
For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer,
In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish,
Forsaking all others, as long as we both shall live.

Beauty-and-the-Beast

My wife and I got married thirty-three years ago, but our church met in the YMCA, so we asked another local church to rent their building. They required, however, that we receive premarital counseling from one of their staff.

The pastor they provided encouraged us to write our own vows, but he disliked our traditional ending. He suggested we change the last clause to read,

“As long as we both shall love.”

The Hope of Our Suffering

As a college student, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but money was so tight that Raman noodles were my Sunday treat. I found a communal farm in Israel (sort of like modern WWOOFING) that provided room and board plus ten dollars a month (and a daily pack of cigarettes!) for simple, manual labor. I signed up.

Alarm Clock r1

I talked with a few people who had “volunteered” in the past. They said that it’s difficult to gain the respect of the communal farm members; partly because the large farms attracted loads of volunteers; but mostly because the host members found the volunteers to be irresponsible, unreliable, and lazy.

I wanted the respect of the farm members, so I signed up for a small farm (in order to actually rub elbows with members) and I resolved myself to be responsible and diligent.

On the flight to Tel Aviv I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). In my continuing determination to gain respect, I decided to speak less and listen more.

My siblings had been urging this practice on me for years.

Learning to Doubt our Doubts

My natural inclination is to believe life will turn out just fine; I lean towards the positive. It’s not that I think every day will be sunshine and daisies (my home is in Michigan, the birthplace of gray skies), it’s just that I believe the sun will come out eventually.

Doubting our doubts

Last month my outlook on life was normal: optimistic. I had reasonably high hopes that my next book will sell well after its July release; I felt positive about the “fruit” of my daily tasks (writing, counseling, etc.); and I mostly believed God would work things for the good.

But when I’m sick, my personality leans toward the negative. It’s not that I’m Eeyore or Puddleglum, but their gloomy forecasts no longer seem farfetched.

These past couple weeks I’ve been sick and my outlook on life turned sour.

I began to doubt that people are interested in learning to hear God (the topic of my book); I questioned whether anything I do contributes anything of value to the world; and I began to worry that God wanted to punish me for some past, forgotten sin.

Bear in mind: nothing external had changed! I didn’t receive negative comments from my publisher. Readership of my blog and one-on-one counseling interaction remained the same. And I didn’t read a Scripture passage that says, “God really dislikes you.”

The world outside remained constant. No new information came my way—not the dinkiest fact—that should convert my beliefs into doubts. And yet my fears festered and flourished.

Sometimes we need to doubt our doubts.

The Heart of Spiritual Warfare

Plato urges us: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” If you are breathing, you are under a spiritual assault. The question we face is not, “Are we under attack?” but, “What is the heart of the attack?” Let me tell a recent story of mine. See if you can recognize the field of battle for the spiritual warfare.

Uruk Hai r2

Two friends and I host a weekly podcast on various spiritual topics. Last Thursday we planned to discuss (I kid you not), How to Recognize Spiritual Assault in Our Lives. Schedule conflicts and illness had caused the cancellation of our two previous podcasts. We didn’t want to call off a third.

To complicate matters, one of my friends was still under the weather, the other was swamped with work, and I had a longstanding 6:00 pm dinner date with great, out-of-town friends. I planned to leave the dinner at 7:30 to make our 8:00 call.

That was the situation going in; this is the story that followed:

  • Late in the afternoon, my wife and I had a tense discussion. I missed much of my podcast planning time, leaving me irritated, distracted and unprepared.
  • Our dinner reservation was changed from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, leaving me little time for conversation, and even less time for food.
  • The closest parking spot was half a dozen blocks from the restaurant, and I arrived five minutes late.
  • As I left the restaurant, a torrential downpour greeted me with open arms, and I splashed and waded the six blocks back to my car.
  • Three different traffic jams—three!—delayed me further. I arrived home with two minutes to spare, soaking wet and freezing.
  • I began the call in a frenzied, intense, and distracted state of mind.

Do you recognize the frontlines of the spiritual assault?

Common Sense or Nonsense?

The speaker was persuasive and moving. He asked us to hug a friend, stomp on the floor, and even pinch our own forearms. It didn’t hurt that he could have been a GQ model: six foot three, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and funny. When he looked each of us in the eye, we felt his personal care.

preach r1

(This is not the actual speaker, just a photo of an unknown preacher I found on the web.)

The conference theme was Knowing God. Its most popular presenter was this man with passion for feeling God’s love:

  • He asked, “How can we know God’s love?
  • He answered, “We feel love in the hug, we sense the solid floor in the stomp, and we experience pain in the pinch.”
  • He argued, “God knows our frame, our need for hugs; he longs for us to detect his touch. And that is how we’ll know his love. When we feel it.”
fact faith feeling

Carrie Koens http://www.carriesbusynothings.com

He scorned the old evangelical formula, “Fact–Faith–Feeling” with its mundane illustration of a train: the locomotive represents “fact,” the coal-car “faith,” and the caboose “feelings.”

If we put our faith (fuel) in the facts (locomotive), our feelings will follow. He snickered at its antiquated answer.

“That perversion,” he laughed, “is completely contrary to the God-man of the gospels. Jesus was a man of compassion. We know his love only when we feel it. Feelings teach us facts.”