Unconditional Love

This was written by Robertson McQuilkin six years after stepping down as president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary to care for his wife, Muriel, who suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Seventeen summers ago, Muriel and I began our journey into the twilight. It’s midnight now, at least for her, and sometimes I wonder when dawn will break. Even the dread of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t supposed to attack so early and torment so long. Yet, in her silent world, Muriel is so content, so lovable. If Jesus took her home, how I would miss her gentle, sweet presence. Yes, there are times when I get irritated, but not often. It doesn’t make much sense to get angry. And besides, perhaps the Lord has been answering the prayer of my youth to mellow my spirit.

Once, though, I completely lost it. In the days when Muriel could still stand and walk and we had not resorted to diapers, sometimes there were “accidents.” I was on my knees beside her, trying to clean up the mess as she stood, confused, by the toilet. It would have been easier if she weren’t so insistent on helping. I got more and more frustrated. Suddenly, to make her stand still, I slapped her calf–as if that would do any good. It wasn’t a hard slap, but she was startled. I was, too. Never in our forty-four years of marriage had I ever so much as touched her in anger or in rebuke of any kind. Never, wasn’t even tempted, in fact. But, now, when she needed me most…

Sobbing, I pled with her to forgive me–no matter that she didn’t understand words any better than she could speak them. So I turned to the Lord to tell Him how sorry I was. It took me days to get over it. Maybe God bottled those tears to quench the fires that might ignite again someday.

Recently, a student wife asked me, “Don’t you ever get tired?”

“Tired? Every night. That’s why I go to bed.”

“No, I mean tired of…” and she tilted her head toward Muriel, who sat silently in her wheelchair, her vacant eyes saying, “No one at home just now.” I responded to Cindi’s question, “Why no, I don’t get tired. I love to care for her. She’s my precious…”

Love is said to evaporate if the relationship is not mutual, if it’s not physical, if the other person does not communicate, or if one party doesn’t carry his or her share of the load. When I hear the litany of essentials for a happy marriage, I count off what my beloved can no longer contribute, and then I contemplate how truly mysterious love is.

What some people find so hard to understand is that loving Muriel isn’t hard. They wonder about my former loves–like my work. “Don’t you miss being president?” a student asked as we sat in our little garden. I told him I’d never thought about it, but, on reflection, no. As exhilarating as my work had been, I enjoyed learning to cook and keep house. No, I’d never looked back.

But that night I did reflect on his question and turned it to the Lord. “Father, I like this assignment, and I have no regrets. But if a coach puts a man on the bench, he must not want him in the game. You needn’t tell me, of course, but I’d like to know–why didn’t you keep me in the game?

I didn’t sleep well that night and awoke contemplating the puzzle. Muriel was still mobile at that time, so we set out on our morning walk around the block. She wasn’t too sure on her feet, so we went slowly and held hands as we always do. This day I heard footsteps behind me and looked back to see the familiar form of a local derelict behind us. He staggered past us, then turned and looked us up and down. “Tha’s good. I likes ’it,” he said. Tha’s real good. I likes it.” He turned and headed back down the street, mumbling to himself over and over, “Tha’s good. I likes it.”

When Muriel and I reached our little garden and sat down, his words came back to me. Then the realization hit me; the Lord had spoken through an inebriated old derelict. “It is you who is whispering to my spirit, ‘I likes it, tha’s good.’” I said aloud. “I may be on the bench, but if you like it and say it’s good, that’s all that counts…”

I think my life is happier than the lives of 95 percent of the people on planet Earth.

Why Do I Worship?

Graceway MediaNot long ago I was reading from Matthew 15:7-9. Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (ESV). After reading these verses, I spent most of the day examining my own worship to see if there were any part of me that was merely honoring God with my words, but my heart was far from Him.

When I arrived home from work that evening, the first words out of my wife’s mouth were, “You didn’t call me today!” She was not angry, but surprised. You see, after years of marriage she is accustomed to my calling, emailing, or texting her several times a day to see how she is doing, say “I love you,” and just to talk for a few minutes. So, it was very unusual for me not to contact her in any way for a whole day.

Without any explanation I quickly replied, “Do you want me to call you because I love and miss you, or because I feel guilty for not calling you all day?” Understandably, she was shocked at first, then hurt, and finally a bit concerned. She asked, “Do you ever call me out of guilt and not out of love?” I quickly assured her that it is because of my love that I call her almost every day, and that it had just been one crazy, eventful day at work. Then I talked with her about my Bible study that morning (Matt. 15:7-9). I had asked her the question, not to be a jerk, but to see her reaction to the thought that I might just be honoring her with my lips and not my heart. We want our spouse to love us, long for us, and be honest with us. My comment left her wondering, “Is he faking his love for me, and if so, for how long?”

Shirley’s reaction and the following conversation made both of us stop and reconsider our daily acts of worshipping God. Is my quiet time, which consists of prayer and Bible study, just something I cross off the list each day to feel better about myself spiritually? Do I listen for God during quiet time or just hurry through it? When attending a worship service, am I more concerned about how long it takes, what I have to do after church, or how it affects me more than lifting up praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to the One who died for me? Am I just going through the motions of what is expected? Is my spirituality a mask I put on to play a certain part when I am around my Christian friends or at church?

None of these “spiritual activities” are true worship. Jesus has commanded us, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Just as we would be offended at someone faking their feelings for us to get something they wanted, so is God! Worship, Bible study, church, living a righteous life, and obeying God’s commands are not things we do to keep from angering God. These good things are not to be practiced so that He will give us everything on our wish list of wants, needs, and desires. Worship is giving to God what He deserves. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so Christians should reflect the character, attributes, love, and holiness of God. We don’t do it because of what we might get, but because the Spirit of God resides in us and that is who we are in Christ.

I don’t want to live a hypocritical life. I don’t want worship to be out of guilt or something I do for my benefit.  I want my worship driven by an insatiable thirst for God’s glory, honor, and praise. I want my worship to be the direct result of who I am in Christ. I want my worship to be something I live out every minute of every day. I want my worship to be sincere, honest, and from a heart of love!

Take time today to read Matthew 15:7-9 and examine your motives for worship.

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 come to know Christ. 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-four 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 am weird). 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-four 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!

In ‘sex-crazed culture,’ Bible makes ‘no exceptions’

give a holy temple to a holy godThe following is a post by Grace Thornton, assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist, in regard to a sermon series preached by David Platt.

Thornton writes:

Be careful about shaking your head at same-sex marriage, warned David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., and author of the best-selling book “Radical.” Christians should grieve the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal ban on same-sex marriage, but believers should also be “careful not to be guilty of selective moral outrage when it comes to the issue of homosexuality,” Platt said.

Everyone, each individual, is bent toward sexual sin, Platt said.

“This is something that every sinful heart is prone to struggle with in some way or another,” said Platt, who preached in late June on the subject of the cross and sexuality. His two-part sermon series on 1 Corinthians 6 book-ended the week of the Supreme Court’s two rulings June 26 supporting gay marriage. 

“If we roll our eyes and shake our heads when we see the Supreme Court ruling on this case, yet we turn the channels on our TVs to watch the trivialization of sex on shows and advertisements, to surf the Internet to find images in order to satisfy our lusts, to go to movies that glamorize sex … and entertain sexual thoughts and desires outside of our own marriage, then we have missed the entire point,” Platt said.

Sins shouldn’t be acceptable just because they are the sins of the majority, he said. The church needs to declare war on every sexual sin that plagues Christians in order to show the world sexual purity and godly marriage.

“All throughout the Bible from cover to cover, sex is only celebrated … in the context of exclusive covenant relationship between a husband and wife. Period. There are no exceptions to that,” Platt said.

There’s no exception for homosexuality but there’s also no exception for adultery, promiscuity, pornography or masturbation, he said.

What’s happening in “our sex-crazed culture” today is essentially sex worship — the idea that “I would be happy if I had the freedom to express myself sexually,” Platt said.

“According to [secular culture], we’re not human if we can’t please our bodies however we desire, so any attempts to limit sexual expression are seen as oppressive and inhumane,” he said. “We set our minds on the things of the flesh, which is hostile to God, and we exchange God’s Word for our experience.”

So often the Bible is twisted to fit preference — as with the argument for homosexuality — or its supposed silence is interpreted as liberty, Platt said. For instance, he said, when he was a teenager he and others would ask the question, “How far is too far?”

“I never once heard a well-reasoned, objective answer based on Scripture,” he said, explaining that instead leaders would tell youth to pray, set boundaries and decide what they thought was right, because the Bible didn’t spell it out. So when he and other guys would talk about it, they would “do what teenage boys do” — set the standards as low as they could.

“I found myself in this dangerous gray area that led to guilt and failure,” Platt said, noting that even though he and his wife Heather didn’t have sex with each other or anyone else before their marriage, “that doesn’t mean we glorified God with our bodies.”

Platt urged unmarried men and women to consider that the reason God has no explicit instructions for sexual behavior between unmarried people in relationships is because God didn’t intend for them to engage in any at all.

“God in His Word has no category for two people who aren’t married but kinda sorta act like they are. It’s not mentioned one place,” he said. “That’s because they are your brother or sister in Christ and likely to be someone else’s spouse some day. If you say, ‘Well, I think I’m going to marry her,’ then marry her.

“Looking for a guideline? Don’t do anything with a brother or sister in Christ that you wouldn’t do with your brother or sister, or with someone else’s wife or husband.”

That also goes for how married people relate to people other than their spouse, he said, as well as in the case of pornography. Pornography isn’t at all relational as God intended for sexual activity to be, and in no way emulates the character of Christ.

“Men, these women are someone’s daughter — they aren’t objects, they are souls,” Platt said. “They need you to point them to Christ, not fuel their exploitation.”

Platt said he’s convinced the reason the mission field is dominated by so many single women is because pornography has such a grip on men that they are too weak to follow Christ’s call. Men need to fight the battle for the sake of unreached people worldwide and for the sake of God’s glory, he said.

“So much of the power of sin is found in its secrecy,” Platt said, urging Christians to be intentional about having accountability in place. “Guard yourself with godly friendships and Gospel accountability.”

And don’t give in to the desires of the flesh outside of marriage, even in masturbation, he said.

“God designed sex to be relational; masturbation is lustful,” Platt said. “It teaches people to satisfy themselves” and is isolating, noncommittal and self-centered. Masturbation “goes against the design of God” just as homosexuality does, he said.

“Let us give ourselves to His design and reclaim godly marriages” for the sake of Christ, families, the church and the world, he said.

Platt said he’s convinced that “living as a Christ follower is going to be harder, not easier, in the coming days” and that the Supreme Court decision will “have ramifications on religious liberty.”

But “marriage is a union that represents our union with Christ in heaven, and it will not go away,” Platt said. “It is wise to be confident in the resiliency of marriage, in the opportunity for the Gospel and in the sovereignty of our God.”

“Flee sexual sin and run to Christ,” he said.