Saturday, December 3, 2011

Life Is a Puzzle (But Only God Sees the Picture on the Front of the Box)

I just have to write today to clear my mind about the enigma of life from my angle. I fully believe in a transcendent but engaged God Who is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-aware Who further created everything and seeks to delight in His creatures as they seek to delight in Him. I get that.

From my view, though I wholly embrace what I just wrote, I confess that I am terrible at trying to piece together all that goes on from my viewpoint. I firmly believe that God will work all things out according to His will. I fail miserably at making sense of it or being able to find sense or logic that can be embraced for the details and seeming tragedies of life. It is like trying to put a very large and complex puzzle together without having a hint at what the picture is intended to look like.

This week has been one of those weeks that has been almost overwhelming to the spiritual senses. So much is going on, and the pieces of the puzzle just do not fit together. The pieces are there, in good news and bad news, but they make no sense to me.

Let me pull back the curtain of my observations and reveal just a few of my non-fitting pieces.

I believe God alone is the giver and taker of life. Man seeks to circumvent God’s realm by preventing life or speeding up death in many ways for many reasons. In the end, God Himself can only give life. Why, in His wisdom and goodness, does God create life in a womb and then permit that sacred cradle of life to become the baby’s tomb before it is even born? Now I understand that some choose to play God and intentionally kill their conceived babies for a host of one-sided reasons. But what about the miscarriage? A life is conceived and grows to a point, and then from some physical reason the baby dies or is ejected by its mother’s own body. Why does God wait weeks or months? I’m sure there are all-wise reasons (and I mean that), but I just cannot see them from where I sit.

Here is another handful of puzzle pieces. Just today I received great news from my 21-year-old daughter: she has been given an “all clear” from her second bout of lung cancer in less than three years. Everyone in my family is inexpressibly elated. On this same day, however, I receive an update that the beautiful younger-than-me mother of four children is nearing the end of her life because of an inoperable brain tumor. Huddled with her family and loved ones at the hospice just a few blocks down the street from my home, this woman will soon leave her loving husband and four not-yet-fully-grown-up children without a mother. I believe God can heal, and that He does, and that He has. I just do not get the logic behind His discretionary practice of doing so. During my daughter's last battle with cancer, God allowed a daddy with three very young children to be taken by cancer. I cannot put into words how happy I am that we still have our daughter. I cannot put into words how shaken I am that God in His goodness and greatness allows families to lose their mommy or daddy before it seems right to allow it to happen. Yet He does. I do not, and cannot, put those pieces together.

I have many more pieces which I will not share presently, if ever. I just write these things to express what my eyes and heart cannot mesh together. I do not write to discourage anyone. If anything, I write to say that you can have profound questions about how life works, and yet still fully embrace God and His goodness. I do not reject the belief that God weaves all the details and tragedies of life together wonderfully. I truly believe that He does. I simply acknowledge that God has seen fit not to show us the front of the puzzle box. It puts us in a great place to need to trust Him, rather than trying to fit everything together ourselves. From my view, there is so much that will make sense to me only after I see the front of the box. ~ KES

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-- in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. – Ephesians 1:7-12

38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Should "Average Joe" Believers Read the Word? YES, But...

This is a comment that I posted relating to this article: I do not argue against the article. I just throw out some clarifications that I believe are important.


I have no problem with people reading or studying the Bible on their own. I encourage our assembly to read through the Bible each year, and many do. What I would suggest are the following clarifications or guidelines:
  1. God gave pastors and teachers to equip the saints (Eph 4:11-16). If these were not necessary, they wouldn't exist. There is no indication that we can disciple ourselves (at least in any full fashion) without being taught. Reading the Bible is great, but understanding it accurately requires instruction.
  2. God gave pastors to protect the flock of God from external and internal wolves (Acts 20:28-31). This indicates that it is easy to be misled by wrong teaching or wrong teachers. There is no indication that anyone is self-protected from error or error teachers. This is further illustrated in 2 Tim 4:1-4 where apparent believers are led away from the truth listening to teachers (many books and many teachers do not necessarily add up to spirituality or accuracy. In fact, I believe it almost always undermines what is directed in Eph 4:11-16).
  3. God prohibits many from being teachers (James 3:1). Studying is one thing; teaching is another, which requires proper depth, study, and understanding before one should ever teach (there goes SS curriculum...). This is also addressed in 1 Tim 1:7, where some "desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm" are to be forbidden to teach by Timothy. You have to thoroughly know what you are talking about, not just have the ability to read a teacher's manual. This also seems to be addressed by the "few" who should teach in the qualifications of a pastor. "Apt to teach" or being able to "exhort and convince the gainsayers" is evidence of a base of understanding of the Word of God and a working knowledge of it.
  4. It is very clear that rightly dividing the Word of God is hard, tedious work. Paul commands Timothy, after 20 years of mutual ministry, to work hard at showing himself approved to God by rightly dividing the Word (2 Tim 2:15). It is very tempting as a pastor to be lazy or rely upon someone else's efforts without doing the study. Reading the Word is not studying the Word. The latter takes learned skill and instruction (2 Tim 2:2) and much time and much effort. (1 Tim 5:17-18).
I would (and do) encourage every believer to read the Word of God in its entirety regularly. I also warn every believer to be very, very careful of books, teachers, etc. I teach people to understand the "what" and the "why" of the Word of God. (Kudos to Dr. Myron Houghton, who's goal in class was to encourage us to understand why he said what he did!) God's plan and program is for the local shepherds to equip and protect the sheep. That cannot be discouraged or weakened apart from hurting or endangering the flock of God. ~ KES

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Review of "Courageous"

Before I get into my review in detail, it goes without saying that the message and emphasis of Courageous is sorely needed. Biblical manhood is at the core of God’s plan for the family, the church, and the world. From the day God created Adam and commanded him concerning the Tree before the woman was created, God has intended for men to lead responsibly and lovingly.
I commend Sherwood Films for their ongoing emphasis in this area. Each of the four films they have produced has addressed the area of Biblical manhood in some way:
  • Flywheel – Biblical manhood, primarily in the realm of work integrity and family priorities.
  • Facing the Giants – Biblical leadership which encourages obedience and faith in challenging times.
  • Fireproof – Biblical manhood, primarily in the realm of being a godly husband.
  • Courageous – Biblical manhood, primarily in the realm of being a godly father.
Each film hits a key area, and without reservation I hope that Sherwood Baptist Church continues to make such films of the same character and focus.

What I Did Not Like About “Courageous”

Even though I liked the film, I do not think that Courageous came close to the other Sherwood films for many reasons:
  1. The film was painfully predictable. It seemed to be possible to guess the outcome of most plots as soon as they were revealed in the film. I consider this a result of two forms of previous exposure.
    First, I had seen (several times, at least) the three films that Sherwood Films had previously produced. Much of the plot structure mirrored that of previous films. For example, the poor father who is focused on work and uninvolved with his children who becomes the good father reflects the plot in Flywheel. (Courageous, in many ways, is Flywheel with the key person recast as a police officer rather than a car salesman.) The formal commitment for fatherhood in Courageous is unmistakably a copy of the 40-Day Love Dare adventure. There were a few fresh plot ideas in the film, but not many.
    Second, the film was wholly predictable because I had viewed a handful of clips and the trailer propagated by relentless promotion of the makers of the film. Though some clips might be helpful to generate interest, many of the clips (including the trailer) were spoilers in their own right. Before I ever saw the film, I had viewed the first scene completely, I had viewed the proposal of the formal commitment to fatherhood, I had seen the key actor running with his son, and I had seen the single father handing a gift to his daughter (the latter was in the trailer). There was no surprise left in the movie. Maybe take a hint from Apple and keep the good parts secret until show day. Give hints, but don’t give away the story. Lost was the first impression impact that the film could have had. I doubt if I was the only viewer with this impression.
  2. The film was choppy, and just didn’t seem to flow well. I heard this from several viewers. Courageous had many good points and scenes, but they just didn’t fit together smoothly like they had in previous films. Maybe they just had to cut too many parts to keep it the right length for it all to make sense. (I remember seeing The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and I was baffled, never having read the book. I continually had to ask my son, who had read the series many times, for explanation. It wasn’t until the extra 40 minutes was added in later that the story made sense to me on its own.) Regardless, it felt rushed as it hurried through to the resolutions of the plots.
  3. The film seemed to eek along at times. I know this sounds contradictory to my last point, but at least for one scene (in the home of the key actor after a tragic event) it seemed to take forever to move on. I rarely get impatient while watching a film. I did for this scene. Maybe the producers could have sped this up some and left in some other scenes for better flow.
  4. The film seems to be another setup for merchandising products (in addition to delivering its message). I honestly do not know where to draw the line here. I’m fine with paying for things. However, would it not be possible to flood the world with free tools that encourage implementation, rather than generating for-purchase helps? ( Why not offer free PDFs of tools on the internet, if the goal is to promote the message?
  5. The film was hard to “get into.” Some viewers never “get into” a film. I am one that gets engaged and fully absorbed into a good story (please don’t talk while I’m watching!) However, I could not get engaged with this film. I kept looking at it from the outside, knowing I was watching a film, rather than becoming part of it. This unusual phenomenon was true for at least three reasons:
    First, having the key actor playing a key role that was very similar to his other two roles. Alex Kendrick is an amazing actor. It is just hard to see him playing essentially the same part over and over again (Flywheel and Facing the Giants). In addition, he’s constantly being interviewed (as himself), so he is so familiar that I cannot pretend he’s in character. So far, that hasn’t happened regarding Ken Bevel (key actor in Fireproof and Courageous), but it might.
    Second, Sherwood Films uses former key actors in “extras” scenes. You go from following the plot to “Hey, isn’t that the father who was in the wheelchair in Facing the Giants?” or “There is Stephen Kendrick in the crowd.” One of the most potentially impacting scenes (the church scene where Alex Kendrick’s character challenges the men) was ruined by this. The message and the atmosphere trying to be created was fully lost (for me) because of all the character extras that were shown in the congregation. I went from listening to Alex’s speech to looking to see who else was in the audience that I recognized. I found several. (This obviously would be of no impact to those who have never viewed other Sherwood films.) I would eliminate focusing in on key actors from previous films when they function as extras. Keep the message and plot central by eliminating unnecessary distractions.
    Third, Sherwood Films continued its practice of secret repeats. Again, if you have never viewed a Sherwood film and the extras that come on the DVDs, then you may not know or care about these purposefully placed quirks. However, if you have viewed the DVDs and extras, these can be distracting. From the “Jay Austin Motors” license plate to the cereal box (both used in every film to date), these types of things, though cute and harmless traditions, caused me to bounce from being engaged by the film’s plot to looking for these quirks and think "I'm watching a production." At least the “evil coach” of the Giants didn’t have a lollipop in his mouth this time (that I saw, anyway).
  6. This film had excessive hype to the point of complete overkill. Now maybe this is true because I “liked” Courageous on Facebook (and the incredible promotion that came with that). However, if there is any indication, it has to be the most talked about, most promoted, most prayed for movie ever produced. That might lead you to give a hearty “Amen.” To me, I ask, does such a production live up to the incessant hype / advertising? And should all this focus be placed on one movie? Should we not “hype” our local churches, our church leaders and workers more aggressively than a movie? Is it not the hearing and enduring of sound doctrine that ultimately grows a believer (2 Tim 4:1-4)?
    Also, how did people live for God before such movies or productions? Are we developing movie-emotion prompted living, instead of the consistent reading, study, and preaching of the Word of God? Can we not live for God without a movie to prompt us to do so? Do we need some emotion-laden movie to make us live as Christian men and women? Is the Word of God no longer effective? If not, we should be looking for the reason why the Word is not effective in our lives, rather than hoping a movie makes the life-changing difference the hype seems to indicate that it will. My theory is that people largely have abandoned reading and studying (and preaching) the Word of God. Such a movie makes a profound noise in a truth vacuum, and is incredibly delicious to the spiritually underfed.
What I Liked About “Courageous”

Courageous did get several things right. Though not equal in message or flow to the previous Sherwood Films productions, it did meet or surpass them in several ways:
  1. Technically, this is undeniably the most professional production thus far. The shots and special effects were superior to any film previously produced by Sherwood.
    (I’m not sure that the professional production makes that much difference. The message and flow seem to be the key with me. I was more profoundly moved by Flywheel than Courageous, and there are miles of technical improvements between the two.)
  2. The Kendrick brothers always weave great amounts of humor into their movies. You go from crying to laughing in most of their movies because of their ability to connect. Courageous reflects some of the same skill. The “I love you” phone call sub-plot in this film is just one example of the wit that keeps you chuckling throughout the movie.
  3. Courageous has by far the clearest Gospel presentation of any Sherwood Film to date. Though I wonder how many unsaved view the Sherwood Films, I am sure there are a good number all along the life of the production, and they need to hear the Gospel in this venue. I am extremely glad that they have not only refused to compromise this eternally important part of their movie script, but also that they have increased the clarity and accuracy of the Gospel presentation in this film over any of the previous films.
  4. Next to the very clear, bold Gospel presentation, the best thing about the movie is the extremely bold challenges for men to be men, including some that much of the Christian world would think old-fashioned or out-dated, but are still desperately needed today.
    I give top kudos to this film for encouraging fathers to be the protector and advisor for their daughters when they are being sought after by potential suitors. That message alone, if heeded, by fathers and daughters, could prevent countless broken marriages, violated purity, and lifelong heartache of rapidly made and soon lost relationships.
    The movie further encourages fathers to spend time with their children (especially teens) by involving themselves in those things which interest their children. Probably the key here is developing common interests from the start, but the movie gets the point across.
    Two additional bold challenges impressed me. One was the willingness of a father in the movie to mentor and help another troubled teen that had no father - an important element in Christian living (James 1:27). Also, the movie did not focus on perfect men. It focused on men from all levels of success and failure, from a father distant from his teen son, to a father who grew up without a good father, to a father who had never met his out-of-wedlock daughter. The movie touches every man in every situation, including a father who fails in a big way with big life-changing consequences.
    Somewhat like Fireproof, the movie Courageous does present a formal commitment to being a good father (something you sign and hang on your wall) that accompanies a formal ceremony. Both are good ideas which I would encourage when it fits. However, I would suggest that neither is required to be a good father, or to encourage men to step up to Biblical fatherhood. The formality might give an awkward bar that is too high for some, but who still would step up to Biblical manhood if challenged to do so in other ways.
Final Thoughts

For Christians, I have several general exhortations:
  1. Don’t wait for or rely upon a movie to move you to live for God. Be faithful in reading the Word of God daily, and learning from godly, Bible-studying shepherds at your local Bible-believing assembly. Let the Word of God do its work in you daily, not just every three years when a movie is released.
  2. Don’t make such a big deal about movies that the living Word of God which changes lives is diminished in the eyes of believers and unbelievers. Movies should encourage and enforce Bible study, not replace it.
  3. Don’t put such an emphasis on a movie as to miss the power of the Word of God. Does the Christian world rotate around the production of one movie? You can be all that God wants to you be without ever, ever watching a single movie. (2 Pet 1:2-8)
As long as Sherwood Films produces works as they have thus far, I will promote them. Support their theatre showings. Buy their DVDs and watch them regularly. Give them as gifts to impact the lives of others in an entertaining way. I have been blessed and challenged by their stories, their presentations, and even their processes (church-based, and volunteer-driven). My hope is that they do not lose what they have in the pursuit of reaching more, and that they continue to embrace the fact that the preaching of the Word is the primary means of equipping and growing believers, and the making of movies is a small tool compared to the teaching of God’s Word. – KES

Friday, August 19, 2011

Why Have a Wedding Ceremony? - Part 2

Here I give just a few brief additional thoughts about weddings. I would hope to whet the appetites of those reading to investigate this further. ~ CT (picture is of my own wedding day with me and my still very beautiful bride - we have celebrated this occasion 30 years already!)

Wedding ceremonies are a big deal in the Bible. The Bible pretty much begins and ends with wedding ceremonies. Wedding ceremonies also have a prominent place in Jesus' ministry and teaching.

  1. The very first human to human interaction was a wedding, conducted by God Himself. It was His main point of the moment, and it set in motion the entire idea of marriage for the human race for all of history. God established marriage with a wedding ceremony that remains the pattern for all humanity today as evidenced throughout the Bible. (Gen 2)
  2. Jesus performed his first recorded miracle at a wedding ceremony. Jesus’ attendance affirms the importance of such a ceremony. Jesus was invited along with the disciples to attend this wedding. He apparently considered it worthy of His time to witness and celebrate this God-designed union. (John 2:1-10)
  3. The parable of the ten virgins indicates the “big deal” that weddings held in Jesus’ day. The uniting of a husband and wife was a huge, important event that took several days. Jesus explains the kingdom of God using wedding ceremony terminology. (Matt 25:1-12)
  4. The key celebratory culminating event that the church looks forward to is a wedding ceremony! Although not much is said about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, it is obvious that it is something prophesied with the intent of yielding great anticipation by the Church. God pictures the formal uniting of the Church with her Savior by nothing less than an elaborate marriage ceremony, which included preparations throughout this age. It is the formal beginning of an eternity of blessing. God is into formality! The last two chapters of Revelation also highlight this event by continuing to refer to the Bride. (Rev 19:7-9; 21:9; 22:17)
I could further discuss the importance of marriage as expressed throughout the Bible as a key indicator of the importance of a wedding, and the marriage relationship being a huge responsibility as the primary picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, but that will have to be reserved for another time.

I just wanted to scratch some brief Bible thoughts that seem to elevate a wedding ceremony above personal preference or cultural disregard. Have a wedding ceremony, and let it reflect the importance God Himself places upon this most wonderful occasion!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Have a Wedding Ceremony? - Part 1

I recently shared this with an engaged couple that was considering not having a wedding ceremony because of the trouble and difficulty that planning and carrying out such an event always brings. I haven't attempted to document this - I have simply shared my heart as a one-time groom, as a husband, as a father of several adult married children (with 9 more "unmarrieds" to go!), and as a pastor (who has performed enough weddings to learn). I will add to this with an additional post in the near future, with more thoughts that have come to my mind since I wrote this. ~ CT (picture is of my parents' wedding)


I do believe that a ceremony before other believers is a very good idea.
  1. Since God ordained marriage, it is a God-thing, not just a man-thing.
  2. A marriage ceremony is intended to affirm Christian beliefs as two come together. The couple is publicly affirming their belief in God's creation of, purpose for, and design in marriage. (The ceremony may also serve to teach those that are unaware of these truths.)
  3. A marriage ceremony is a public declaration of the covenant of marriage before others. The couple is surrounded by those that witness their vows, and therefore can attest to and hold the couple accountable for their vows.
  4. A marriage ceremony often (usually?) precipitates preparations of heart and mind through required counseling. Trust me - You know less about marriage than you think you do. (I would say that to anyone.) You need to talk through Biblical teachings (that you may be fully aware of) and get common agreement and understanding before entering into marriage. I would suggest (and if I had the power, require) all engaged couples to have pre-marital counseling with a seasoned couple (i.e. married for many years) before entering into marriage. I could not in good conscience perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that has not done so. I'm not sure what pastor would do so.
  5. A marriage ceremony allows an initial bonding with extended family. Though brief, it does allow for the couple to meet the family/extended family of the spouse.
  6. It blesses the parents to experience the wedding of their child. It is a formality, but a nice one.
  7. It is something (usually) that a young lady dreams about growing up.
  8. It is a tradition affirmed by history of the church to encourage (often require) couples to present themselves before God's people to be joined together.
  9. It lets others rejoice in the union.
  10. A ceremony of some type is required by Iowa law.
With that said, there is no particular mandate about the size or elaborateness of the ceremony.
  1. I encourage spending less on the wedding, and more on the honeymoon. Simple is good. (We practiced this by having our men wear dark suits, and I just bought them matching ties. Sounds dumb, but it worked for us.)
  2. Inviting many or few is fine. I would recommend at least including close family (see #6 above).
  3. I would encourage the groom to let this be the bride's day (see #7 above). It may not mean as much to us as men, but it does mean more to the gals. It's not just an event, but a key transition. Make it a special day for her.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart

This is my review of Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor, Crossway Books (2007), 160 pp. Paperback, 9781581348422. The review was done for, and was published there first (

You truly cannot judge a book by its cover or its title. In John Ensor’s book, Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart, I would suggest that neither the cover nor the title do justice to this outstanding book. Neither does the title fully relay its critical contents. Based upon the title, I assumed that this book was another nouthetic counseling book about the heart. Instead, I found a profoundly well-written “heart surgery” book on the roles of men and women as it relates to real life, both before marriage and in marriage. In his book, Ensor declares that his objective “is to provide a winsomely radical alternative to the prevailing ideas, almost absolute doctrines, that guide our current thinking about manhood and womanhood and define our actions and expectations when pursuing matters of the heart.” (p. 15). In a footnote, he likens his book to a user-friendly, basic version of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Piper and Grudem (p. 20).

Ensor approaches this with a somewhat unique background of twenty five years of pastoral counseling, including twelve years as a pastor, and fifteen helping to establish pregnancy help centers in the Boston area, and at the time of publishing, he was helping to start five pregnancy centers in the neediest neighborhoods in Miami. Repeatedly he has seen the results of lives pursuing what the world demanded they pursue, only to come up empty-handed, hurt, diseased, ashamed, broken, and unfulfilled. He is not writing from theory. Ensor’s approach examines Scripture as it clashes with the heart of culture today from a firsthand experience.

In the first section of the book, Ensor attempts “to get to the heart of manhood and womanhood according to the Bible. What does it mean to be a man and not a woman? What is distinctively meaningful about being a woman and not a man? What marks the mature man? What does it mean to be, dare I say, a godly man? What marks the mature and godly woman and makes her attractive and fulfilled? How do we complement and fit together?” (p. 20-21) He offers that culture’s “forced upon” solution to its underlying thirst is precisely opposite to what the Creator actually designed. Further, what the Creator designed is ultimately what the world craves after its solutions leave it broken and shattered.

In the second section, Ensor presents “direct and clear lines of approach,” illustrating what a Biblical (albeit imperfect) two-gender relationship looks like from many different angles in both its pursuit and in marriage itself. His pointed chapter headings in this section give a great idea of his approach:
  • He Initiates…She Responds
  • He Leads…She Guides
  • He Works…She Waits
  • He Protects…She Welcomes Protection
  • He Abstains to Protect…She, to Test
  • His Unmet Desire Drives Him toward Marriage…Hers Is Rewarded with Marriage
  • He Displays Integrity…She, Inner Beauty
  • He Loves by Sacrificing…She, by Submitting
  • He Seeks His Happiness in Hers…She Seeks Hers in His
  • He Is the Primary Provider for the Family…She, the Primary Nurturer
Ensor compares the overwhelming but false views of the world with reality – the Biblical world. He contrasts the crushed lives of men and women who follow these lies with his profusely repeated declaration that God’s design, order, and intention by His revelation is to lead a man and a woman “to form a healthy, tender, passionate, enduring, mutually satisfying relationship.” This relationship only comes to fruition when men function as men, and women as women, as God defines and describes in Scripture.

The author addresses both men and women throughout the book, and he does so with directness that is indicative of one who has had much experience doing so. Ensor’s writing is very direct, almost edgy (but never over the edge), but also smothered with love and understanding. It is extremely practical. Here is an example to women:

“There is no doubt that young women are being taught today to be sexually aggressive and to expect many partners. Modesty and restraint are considered signs of obsequious surrender to a foregone age of sexual repression. The strong woman is one who takes responsibility for her own body and who is smart enough to know how to use it. If she is good at it, it is assumed that she will have many partners. Women can and do get to this point. But this is not what they are by nature. This was not their starting point, only their settling point. Blow away the ash, and the ember yet burns for a healthy, tender, passionate, enduring, mutually satisfying relationship with just one man.” (p.29)
Ensor is not lopsided in his perspectives of gender. He sees clear differences revealed in Scripture, and yet affirms the Scriptural equality of both genders. They are equal, but different:
Why these differences should be so threatening is hard to grasp. The issue is not about equality—equality is a given. Nor is it about superiority and inferiority. It is about men being stronger than women and women being stronger than men in different and complementary ways. Our complementarity is rooted in nature. (p.74)
The author gives what I consider to be outstanding, direct counsel to both men and women who are anticipating marriage (as well as those already married). Every chapter addresses key ideas for waiting in purity as one prepares for marriage or how gender is fleshed out in marriage. I can only give samples for each apart from quoting the entire work.

For men, I offer a very clear sample of Ensor’s way of writing:

Unmet sexual passion is like carrots: it helps a man see better what he really wants in life. Unmet sexual passion brings into focus a vision for being a husband and potentially a father. Unmet sexual passion drives him toward removing all the obstacles, whether they are inner fears and doubts or the need to work toward preparing him to know her family, to talk about their future, and to finish up what needs to be done in order to be able to make a living. It drives us to solve problems and get ready. It matures us. (p. 121).
For women, Ensor is equally direct and helpful:
Sisters, abstaining from sexual immorality is, for you, too, a matter of submitting to God and his commands. But it is more. It is God’s “Mature Manhood Test Kit” for women. The immature, self-centered, ungodly man will test negative in a matter of weeks. The deceitful and cunning predator will test negative in a matter of days. Men willing to wait, and wanting to wait, will test positive. It is not a lack of sexual interest; it is a healthy fear of God. It is love, which at this point rightfully expresses itself as protection from sin and shame. If he weakens, help him succeed. If all else goes well in the development of the relationship, you know you are marrying a godly man, one who has self-control and a clear sense of his calling as a man. (p.118)
Though I would probably land a bit more conservatively on some issues than Ensor (women and working outside the home, for example, which he briefly addresses in Chapter 15), I think that the greatest blunder of the book is the title of the book itself. The title is vague, and gives no clear indication of the treasure that this small 160-page book contains. Benefit is certain to any reader who is serious about God’s teaching on gender, and who is desiring a God-intended quality relationship with one person of the opposite gender throughout life. People of both genders would be greatly benefited by this book, if only they knew of its excellent life-directing content.

I would offer the following alternate titles:

  • Manhood and Womanhood: What God-Designed Gender Differences to Look Like in a Romantic Relationship 
  • Male and Female He Created Them: Living Out Gender Differences in Relationships as God Intended
Knowingly taking the chance of sounding “over the top,” I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If within my power, I would (after changing the title and cover art) put this book in the hands of every teenager and adult believer. Ensor’s book is that helpful and practical. I have read it several times, only to be convicted and challenged over and over. The book cannot be summarized. Each page is therapeutically piercing in a time when the very existence of gender is being questioned, ignored, or forsaken. ~ KES

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

30 Years of Marriage: A Few Things I've Learned

My wife and I celebrated 30 years of marriage yesterday. We began our second 30 years today. After 30 years, 15 children, and 7 grand children (so far), I'd have to admit I've got lots of experience, but the whole "expert" label has been very evasive. Here are a few things I've learned (and often, re-learned):

1. No one is ever truly "ready" for marriage. A "good marriage" is a moving target. Conditions that make a great marriage today are the same conditions that make it hard the next day. I suppose that any marriage is, in part, the sum of the two personalities, which varies with each couple. My wife and I both have strong personalities, willing to stand up and speak up for what we think is right, which produces conflict. (Such willingness can can be good and bad, depending upon the situation). Some couples might be more passive, or have one member that is strong-willed and the other that is not up to fighting or  (some are not up to fighting for even what they need to fight for). Regardless - two people are involved in a marriage (not counting the children).

Marriage is also influenced by each person's individual life experiences, which create an expected "norm" which does not exist. Each marriage is different, because each marriage brings with it two unique individuals with all of their unique perspectives that derive from their unique combination of observations, experiences, instructions, and other influences. The result is a beautiful complexity that produces a one-of-a-kind union. Though each marriage has commonalities, each marriage is uncharted territory, to a great degree.

Each day brings its own challenges. Sleepless nights or stress-filled days come, because of long work hours or a needy, sick child (sometimes for nights on end), inevitable personal hardships or sickness, daily challenges and needs from car care to house maintenance emergencies, unscheduled or unplanned obligations, and even emergency room visits - all can change one's day and outlook instantly. Further, these challenges can be compounded on any given day. Sometimes life is more like an endurance test or obstacle course rather than a relaxing stroll. In fact, it can often be the norm to face these challenges.

Who is ready for such things? Really, one only can learn and grow through the experiences as God weaves them into our lives. Each experience (and combination of experiences) brings its own unique blend of difficulty. Such requires a proper heart attitude to endure the challenges and enjoy life in the midst of what life brings, rather than waiting until "all is well." C.S. Lewis hits on this several times. One of his statements rings home: "We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life."

The truth is, God allows difficulties to refine us. Marriage is, in part, there to refine us more than existing to make us happy (happiness comes and goes). God uses the strengths and weaknesses of our spouse to reveal our own rough edges or inaccurate views of our own self. Hopefully the marriage is focused on God to the point that the couple allows God to help them work through and grow through the inevitable conflicts and challenges of life. This is a hard process, but a fruitful and beneficial one if we work through, rather than run away from, these refining moments which God allows.

2. Marriage is worth the effort. Though marriage (and by extension, family) is a tapestry of challenges, difficulties, unfulfilled (often unrealistic) expectations, changed plans, and an ongoing series of reality checks, this idea created by God is worth every bit of the effort. One key is understanding that God is at work, in us (what is going on inside of us) and on us (the pressures on the outside), to conform us to the image of His Son. This happens a bit each day, over the long haul. God's sanctifying work can often go unseen in the momentary blips of routine or chaos of a day, but it is happening. We need to continue to press on with humble and faithful hearts, even though we face difficult times.

As Jane and I have the chance to review and discuss our lives together, we readily admit the difficulty, but we also embrace the difficulties because of what they have accomplished in us. We have not ended up with all the answers, but we have a deeper sense that God does have all the answers.

In the midst of these challenges, Jane and I enjoy being lifelong "best friends." We delight in each other's company (usually in the midst of some number of children, younger or older). We enjoy being home together, rather than chasing the wind of individual, external hobbies. Life moves quickly, but it is truly a blessing of the Lord to spend that brief life with your best friend. The companionship that marriage brings to those who work at it is incomparable, and makes the struggles of life a shared challenge, rather than a lonely one.

In the midst of all of these reality checks, God brings joy. Honoring God by keeping the covenant of marriage brings abundant blessing while these struggles of life go on. Intimate conflict grows us as individuals, but also as a couple. We have some "rugs of expectation" pulled out from under us, but God replaces them with the foundations of truth. We enjoy the deep companionship that can only be molded through time and tempest. We catch glimmers of understanding of what God's bigger picture is, beyond us as individuals or us as a couple. Things may not be what our fairy tale ideas would have liked them to be, but they are better in a much deeper way. Things are as they should be. We affirm God's goodness and greatness because of His goodness and greatness, which is beyond our designs or plans.

3. Marriage is workable in God's pattern. To the best of our understanding, we have embraced the Biblical gender roles - doing what God designed us each to do. Jane has stayed home and cared for the family and home, and I have provided for the family. Such a practice is seen by most in our day, as "swimming upstream," and often classified as "impossible" by many. We are living proof that it can be done with just me working outside the home so that Jane could be the active mother of our children (not just holding the title), and the homemaker (truly making our house a home).

We have been able to do this in a way that does not depend upon the government or others to upplement our needs. We have lived, at times, on very little, and we have lived healthy lives. We did not consider it unreasonable to support and care for our own family. We actually think it has worked out better than any other "option" that others might consider. We have been able to home school our children, giving them what we believe is a better quality more realistic, more rounded education than they could get anywhere else. We have enjoyed family closeness at meals throughout our marriage which would not nor could not have happened in any other scenario. We have been able to be a family because of our commitment to this pattern which pervades the Bible. We have thrived, in the midst of struggle, on what it has brought to us. We would not change a thing. As we see it, we could only trade down.

4. Marriage really blossoms with a large family. People have heard me say, "People think we're crazy because we have so many children. We think their crazy because they don't." Jane and I really believe this. Allowing God to give us children as He saw fit produced no disappointment on our part. Rather, we have experienced incredible joy (and yes, laundry) throughout our married lives to this day. Children truly do increase the love of a home, rather than stretching it thinly. A larger family gives an ongoing joyous "mission" to parents that is truly fulfilling beyond any career or early retirement or sport or hobby. It postpones or eliminates the empty nest, and fills a home with constant companionship for everyone for years and years and years. Our children delight in one another's company at many different levels. They understand better that the world does not rotate around any one person. They learn to love and share and care and help as a lifestyle. Further, it allows us to send these blessings on into the next generation with the capability of influencing more for the cause of Christ. We cannot imagine a home without such love. Children are one of the few eternal focuses that anyone can have, and they are worth our lives to raise for God's glory, in the midst of the struggles of life. You can add more to our wealth, but you cannot add more to our joy. Children, as God's gifts, bring that joy.

We look at the nine children yet at home. We often marvel that we have been blessed the number of children that we have had. We have so much more because we have allowed God to make the decisions. We love each of our children deeply, and would not trade one of them for a better circumstance, greater liberty, more money, a higher position - nothing. Each is truly a gift from the Lord, an eternal being with his or her specialness to bring to the world. Nothing compares to the joy that each one has brought to the family, and to the world. We are incredibly, richly, blessed, and grateful beyond words.

I've learned much more, and I've had to unlearn and relearn a great deal. The learning process continues, but I wouldn't trade what I have for anything on earth. God, in establishing marriage, knew what He was doing! Bring on the next 30 years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It Pays to Blog (if for no other reason...)

I have confirmed that there at least exists one reason to keep blogging: You can keep your account active.

I registered with Blogger in 2005. I'm not sure how many posts I made (not many, for sure), but I did save my login info. When I tried to log into Blogger, my blog name had been acquired by someone else. I'm not sure how that can happen, but it did.

Be warned. If you cease blogging, you will be forgotten...