More Than I Ever Imagined

Prayer (2)I was blessed to grow up in a home with two parents who’s love for each other was a beautiful picture of Biblical love. Because of their love, I couldn’t wait to have a family of my own, so in 1980 at the age of sixteen I started praying for my wife. At first, my prayers were as shallow as most boys my age, you know, I wanted her to be pretty, have blonde hair, blue eyes, and be head over heals in love with me. As the years began to add up and I was still single, my prayers began to change. Oh, I still prayed for everything as before but I added that she needed to love Jesus, have a wonderful testimony, want to be on mission for the Lord, and once again be crazy about me.

I would love to say I patiently waited for the woman who perfectly matched up to my prayers, unfortunately my fear of being alone was greater than my trust in God’s timing, so I was in and out of a lot of relationships. In spite of my impatience, God was faithful and continued to prepare the perfect wife for me. I had to wait thirteen years to finally meet her, but it was well worth the previous heart-break, loneliness, sadness, and seemingly unanswered prayers.

Because we were both college students and poorer than a church mouse, img_0018our first date was at Subway where I could only afford a soft-drink and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. We spent several hours talking about our life’s journey and how we became Christians. As she shared about her life before and after meeting Jesus I was stunned at how she was listing off all that I had prayed for over the last thirteen years. She had already been on two mission trips, one to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the other to Trinidad and Tobago. It was quite clear that night just how in love she was with Jesus.  It was so clear I convinced her to marry me six months later.

Over the last twenty-three years of marriage, she has taught me so much about God’s love.  Shirley loves me unconditionally in spite of all my idiosyncrasies (a nice way of saying I have a lot of hang ups). I don’t have to perform, serve, or love her in any special way to earn or keep her love. She just loves me unconditionally. And yet, without a doubt I am the second man in her life, the first being Jesus, which is exactly what I was praying for all the way back in 1980. You see, it is her love relationship with Jesus that taught her how to love me.

So, today on our twenty-third wedding anniversary I am especially thankful toFebruary 2015 Almighty God for the way He answered the prayer of a sixteen year old boy by giving me so much more than I ever asked for in a wife. She is truly more than I ever imagined or deserved!

I love you Shirley!

It’s Just a Wedding Ring!

This Saturday Shirley and I will celebrate twenty-three years of marriage. I remember back in 2004 when we were celebrating our ten-year anniversary. Over the previous few months she had been trying to convince me that I needed to buy her a ten-year wedding ring to mark this special occasion. My reply had been consistently the same during the six months leading up to our anniversary, “I gave you a ring when we were married so I don’t think you need another one.” I know that may seem mean to some of you, but that ring had special meaning to me. As the months went on, I kept up my resolve to not buy her a ring, well, at least in front of her. Secretly, I had been putting money away so that I could get her the anniversary present she wanted. Shirley had no idea what was coming that special night.

I remember we were sitting in the restaurant talking about how wonderful the past ten years had been together. We made it through college; we were serving God at a wonderful church; we had a nice house; two dependable cars; we were healthy, happy, and deeply in love with each other. To make things even better, Shirley was pregnant. Doctors had told us just a few years before we wouldn’t be able to have children and yet here we sat on our ten-year anniversary just months away from our first child’s birth. Life was great!

After dinner we continued to talk about all the wonderful things we had experienced together, and I slid the box with the ring across the table and told Shirley how much I loved her.  She immediately started crying, put the ring on, jumped up from the table, and started hugging and kissing me right there in front of everyone! She was overjoyed.

For her the ring was a symbol of my love for her. She didn’t love the ring but was grateful for what the ring stood for—my unconditional love and commitment to her. The rest of the week she was showing off her new ring. She never said to people, “I am so in love with this ring” or “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this ring” or even “This ring has made me the happiest person in the world.” Instead, she was saying things like, “I am so in love with Bob and look forward to spending the rest of my life with Him. Being married to him has made me the happiest person in the world.” She understood the ring was a token of my love. It is a constant reminder that regardless of what comes our way I will always be by her side until death do us part.

I share this story because it taught me a wonderful truth about God and heaven. I often hear people talk about how great it will be to go to heaven. They talk about its beauty and splendor and about how there will be no more pain, suffering, sickness, separation, or sorrow. They eagerly anticipate seeing their loved ones once again. They go on and on talking about heaven when the truth is it is just the wedding ring!

Heaven is going to be great not because of the streets of gold, the pearly gates, or getting to spend forever with our loved ones. Heaven will be unbelievably satisfying because we will be in the presence of God forever. We will be able to behold our Savior. We will be holy and righteous before Him. We will spend eternity with our one true love. Heaven will be great because we get God!

Heaven, like my wife’s anniversary ring, is simply an expression of God’s love for us. We won’t fall in love with heaven, we won’t develop a relationship with heaven, nor will we worship and glorify heaven. We will love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We will develop an ever-deepening relationship with our Lord. And we will worship and glorify Him without end!

I am thankful that Jesus is preparing such a special place for me to spend eternity; however, I am overwhelmed at the promise of spending eternity with the one who gave everything so that I will get eternity with Him!

More Like Falling in Love

My BelovedYesterday my wife and I celebrated nineteen years of marriage. The memories of our meeting for the first time are still so clear in my mind. I was turning in my resume’ at the Office of Institutional Advancement so that my name could be added to the supply preaching list. There sitting at the desk was this incredibly beautiful twenty-year-old girl (I had used the word “woman” and my wife said she was a sweet young twenty-year-old) . As I talked to her boss I wanted to introduce myself to her, but I was at school to get a Theology Degree so I could be a better pastor. I just didn’t have time for dating. A few days later I showed up for my first New Testament class and guess who was sitting beside me? Yep, Shirley! I was determined to just focus on school, so I didn’t pay her much attention. After class she walked up to me and introduced herself. Needless to say I was surprised.

I wasn’t surprised because she approached me; even though that had never happened to me before. I was surprised because I had been praying for my wife since I was sixteen. My prayers had developed over the years, and because I was scared that I would not be smart enough to recognize God’s gift to me, I developed a very specific prayer. I prayed that when the right girl came along I would know it because she would ask if she could water my camels. This specific prayer came from the Old Testament when Abraham wanted a wife for his son Isaac, so he sends his servant to find her. In Genesis 24.12-14 we see the prayer of this faithful servant:

Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I can’t miss a sign from God when some girl asks to water my camels!

Over the next few months our relationship and love for each other grew deeper and deeper. The more I learned about her the more I wanted to know. I eventually realized that I could go on living my life alone and be happy; however, I also figured out just how much better life would be if she was by my side as my wife. Just six months after we met we were married. The joy of falling in love was awesome, but it didn’t compare to indescribable joy of being loved unconditionally. The way she has sacrificed, served, and supported me over the years has been a constant reassurance that we are one, and that nothing will ever separate us in this life.

On my way to work this morning I was thinking about the last nineteen years, when a song by Jason Gray came on the radio, “More Like Falling in Love.” The song is about falling in love with Jesus. Throughout the Bible God compares His great love for us to that of a marriage. In fact, throughout the New Testament those who are followers of Jesus are called the “Bride of Christ.” The song continually repeats the theme that following Jesus is more like falling in love rather than just believing, keeping some rules, or declaring your allegiance to Him. Religion is what I try to do to make myself acceptable to Jesus; whereas, being in love with Jesus means everything I do is an overflow of my love because I am already accepted by Him.

When we don’t know Jesus we can’t understand why anyone would give up so many things this world has to offer. It seems like you cut your weekend short by one day, you cut your income by at least ten percent, and you cut out all the things in life that are really fun. But just like my growing relationship with Shirley, the more we know about Jesus, the more we want to know. The more we experience His love the more we want to experience. Falling in love with Jesus brings growing joy and love into your life each and every day. Understanding all that He sacrificed, the ways He serves us, as well as His constant support even when we’re too weak to carry on reassures us that we are His beloved. He will never leave or forsake us. Even when we fail to live up to His commandments He still sees us as His holy bride dressed in the radiant white rob of righteousness.

When Christianity is more like falling in love there are no rules to keep, stories to believe, or even sacrifices to make. All of these and many more become the overflow of a love relationship that will last throughout all eternity. That love affair will one day carry us to heaven where we will see Him and be like Him.

Won’t you fall in love with Jesus today?

 Here is the song by Jason Gray “More Like Falling in Love.”