Marriage

We do not enter into a marriage as an obligation, as something that has to be done.  We do not enter into a marriage for the sake of the ritual or ceremony.  We do not enter into a marriage as a law given by the state.

But rather… we marry as a celebration, as a signpost, of how God takes two beautiful and unique individuals and brings them gloriously together as one.

No longer are there two individuals… but rather one flesh- united together as one.

No longer are there two separate or competing interests, but rather one cooperative interest.

No longer are there two sets of priorities, but rather one shared set of priorities.

No longer is there a mindset of mine and yours, but rather ours.

No longer are there “your responsibilities and my responsibilities, your role and my role, your duty and my duty,” but rather our responsibility, our role, our duty… together.

It is this new creation, this two becoming one, this beautiful union, that we celebrate in marriage.

You may have heard the saying, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

But I would go even further:  Let each one of us- every friend, every family member, and every person do our very best to, not just avoid separating or dividing marriages, but let us work together cooperatively to encourage, build up, strengthen marriages and families through our words, our actions, and our prayers.

Marriage is a communal responsibility-  we all take part and have a responsibility in the life of this new creation.

But may the bride and groom always work to encourage, build up, and strengthen their marriage and family as well.

With words of life, grace, peace, and love to one another.  With the disposition of Christ, always serving each other in selfless and humble love.  With prayers never ceasing for your marriage and your family, as you are showered and covered with God’s blessing and love.

And may the love of God received… be the very love given to one another.

A love that is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude.

A love that is not selfish or quick-tempered.

A love that does not keep a record of wrongs that others do.

A love that rejoices in the truth, and not in evil.

A love that is always supportive.
A love that is loyal.
A love that is hopeful.
And a love that is trusting.

It is this kind of love that will never fail.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a marriage.

It is this kind of love that will never fail a family.

Thank God for that kind of love.  For demonstrating that kind of love.  And for letting each of us take part in that kind of love.

I am performing a wedding today.  This is a small edited portion of my message.

peace…

brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.

a suffering servant to all…

Relationships are a struggle. No joke.

And it doesn’t matter what kind of relationships we are talking about. Marriages, engagements, dating, friendships, acquaintances, family…it’s all the same.

There are always so many emotional, mental, and spiritual dynamics at work within the individual, and then between people, it is a wonder that we ever get along.

It could simply be a word that is said or a look that is given that can tip the delicate balance of a relationship.

It could be misconstrued intentions or just a lack of communication that makes one sideways with another.

It could be a selfish act or a betrayal of trust that works to devastate a friendship.

And as you are well aware…the list goes on and on and on.

All of this makes one wonder if there is any hope for a person to ever have whole and healed relationships with others. It seems as if the odds weigh too heavily against it.

But let me suggest that if just one person in a relationship has the awareness and courage to take the humble and lowly position of Christ, there is greater opportunity for the fertile ground of forgiveness and reconciliation to bring forth healing, peace, and a stronger relationship.

The truth is that the path to whole and healed relationships always begins with the emptying of oneself, the pouring out of oneself, and the crucifying of oneself. It is the very imitation of Christ’s humility.

We do nothing out of selfish ambition or out of our own self-interest, but we are always, always, always looking to the interest of others. In our relationships with one another we should have the same attitude of Jesus by humbling ourselves and being obedient to others even to the point of death.

These are not just big and lofty ideas without any hope for practical application. For we are reminded through the Scriptures that we should, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” I have hope in my own life that the way of Jesus can be lived out in humility and self-sacrifice because I have witnessed it happening first hand with two close friends of mine.

Ann and Linda have been very close friends for quite sometime. Both are followers of Christ and have a past history of substance abuse. Through meeting together weekly, they have walked together, prayed together, and held each other accountable on the path of sobriety.

One day I received a text from Ann asking me to pray for Linda, as she went back to her old ways of substance abuse. Linda had even told Ann that she didn’t care if her behavior ruined their relationship. As you can imagine, Ann was in tremendous pain. She not only felt as if she was losing a friend to substance abuse, but that she was losing a close sister and friend who did not seem to value their friendship any longer. I encouraged Ann to pray for Linda, to be patient with her, and to extend her enormous grace.

After several days went by and Linda began to realize that she did not like the path that she was on, she and Ann began to talk. Although deeply hurt and wounded by Linda’s actions and words, Ann humbled herself and selflessly forgave her friend, welcoming her back without judgment and with unconditional love.

I have never seen the love and forgiveness of Christ played out so beautifully in the lives of two great friends. To be honest, when I have seen situations like this in the past they have never ended up very good. I believe that this situation ended differently because each lady was committed to imitating the way of Christ in the way they humbled, forgave, and loved each other through their suffering.

The truth is that every single time we take the humble and submissive way of Christ, it may look like defeat for you as an individual, but it is a great victory for the Kingdom. The victory is the giving of grace, forgiveness, and love in return despite the offense.

It is the unconventional response to an offense that is the upside-down way of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. When you have every right to be bitter and to cut another person off, but instead choose to show Christ-like love through your submission, grace, and forgiveness…that is the unpopular, but healing, way of the Kingdom.

It is when everyone has counted a relationship as dead and buried that the scandal and victory of resurrection can be lived out in and through those who carry the cross of Christ. Yes, in the moment when all seems bleak and lost, healing and life break forth from the grip of destruction and death. When you humble yourself and become obedient to everything including death itself, resurrection comes for those who have died. And when your will and your way have died, that is the great accomplishment of Christ that resurrects in you.

When the abused son or daughter, years or decades after dealing with the consequences of verbal, mental, sexual, or physical abuse chooses to forgive and love rather than harbor bitterness and hatred…That is the scandal of the resurrection.

When those who are at odds with each other within the church put down their arms of contention and actions of division and submit humbly to each other…That is the great victory and accomplishment of Christ.

When a close friend violates your trust and hurts you to the core with her words or actions, but you tirelessly forgive and work for healing and reconciliation…That is when the love of Christ is victorious in you.

When a marriage is on the rocks because of unmet needs or expectations of your spouse and you believe that it is all her fault, but you continue to carry the towel and water basin kneeling like a servant to wash her feet…That is the way of the suffering servant.

The glory of God on earth is when we become the very embodiment of the broken body and spilled blood of Christ in every situation and circumstance by humbly breaking ourselves open and pouring ourselves out…not only for our greatest friends who may fail and wound us, but even for the vilest offender who violates us. That is the way of Jesus Christ…and the way of those who follow him.

still learning…

brandon