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My Wife Has Been Married to Five Men

Jun. 14, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Today my wife and I celebrate thirteen years of marriage. I don't think either one of use were "ready" for what was to come. Then again, who is? As we have grown up and learned to treasure the gospel and each other in different ways it is amazing to ponder the last few years. Is life and marriage momentary? More than we realized. Is our marriage a picture of the gospel? On some days more than others. Are we more committed than ever before? I think so. We are not the same. Not even close. My wife has had to live with five different men.

Fun D - My good friend I met when I came to seminary used to call me Fun-D because of my fundamentalist tendency. I certainly had passion for just about every issue one could think of. I stopped using charts to put together the end of the world, got rid of my $100 bill gospel tracts, and drank some wine.  Look - I am so thankful for the first few men who discipled me. Even though we don't agree on a lot of things today, we are still bound together by the gospel. That being said, I did not know very much. AW Tozer was my Bible. Apologists like Norm Geisler and Hank Hanegraaff were my heroes. This is the man my wife married. 

Confused Reformed Evangelical - Two days after we got back from our honeymoon I started six weeks of Suicide Greek. It was the beginning of a crazy four years at Trinity that included two degrees, a Christian school split we were involved in, five different jobs, hospital stays, 18 credit hour semesters, summer courses and more. Seminary forces you to think and causes confusion, but when the fog lifted I was a Reformed Evangelical that had left Fundamental Dispensational Christianity. For those who make the shift, it is a little bit of a culture shock. So the Lord changed me dramatically.  My theological convictions were deeper. My ability to relate to people grew and I was no longer angry at the world around me. I will admit I had a tendency to be young, restless, and foolish, but that too passed. I was no longer the man Amy married. 

Jobless Father - Two years after graduation I was asked to resign from my first vocational position in ministry. This has a way of changing a man. It is tempting to get cynical when things don't go your way. That is how religion works - if you don't get your way it must be God's fault. I was no longer the seminary graduate, but a father of two baby girls and had no way of providing for them. I think this is when I started growing gray hair on my head. The weight of fatherhood will change anyone who cares. Not knowing how I would provide for them felt like a yoke around my neck. This was a deep valley, lower than we had both been. Emerging from the muck took time and when we did I had scars from lessons learned. I was no longer the man Amy married. I was little more hardened, slower to speak, and more protective of my words.

Risk Taking Missionary

In 2009, with the help of friends, I founded TLI with no idea how to fund the ministry. The economy had been trending downward for three years, but starting a ministry tethered to sound theology with a desire to bring theological education to the nations in the midst of a recession seemed like a good idea. I laid my family’s life on the line. No promise of income. No supporting churches. A small network of friends who loved us, but were not sure of the ministry idea. Serious illness, vandalism, a fractured spine, and a furnace that we could not afford to fix one winter will make you cling to Jesus - there is nowhere else to go. It was not exactly been easy, but no way would the man my wife married ever consider doing such a suicidal venture. 

A Flourishing Ministry and a Big Family

It's now 2016. I write this from a retreat with 48 people that are associated with TLI. By the end of this year we will have 35 staff, 10-15 missionaries, 3 established schools, and 20 sites where we are sending teams. I have 5 children, started another company, and am in the midst of PhD research. People now ask me for advice - a strange phenomena for me. We are in pleasant fields, but the temptations are endless. Will I become enamored with the growth of a ministry or stay close to Jesus? Will I over-schedule myself and ignore my family? Will I try to make a name for myself? Can I be faithful in the small things that no one sees? Will these events foster pride? Will I be ok when people will think I am proud for boasting in the Lord? These are new temptations, not ones I could have handled 13 years ago. If I am honest I can barely handle them now. It was easy to be faithful in the small things when I knew no one cared.

Our marriage is not a perfect picture of the gospel. I don’t always love her as Christ loves the church. I have told friends that if my kids are minor prophets who expose my heart, my wife is a major prophet. Marriage has exposed, beaten, refined, and hammered my soul. Without my wife, the change would not have been as dramatic.

But here is the beauty of the gospel. The Lord saves us from devastating self-worship, sinful desires that seek to prop oneself up over others, and a tendency to worship created things over the Creator. And at the moment we become His child His loving discipline begins. Sometimes with a tap on the shoulder, sometimes with a push back onto the right path, and sometimes a punch in the gut to wake us up. As we grow and mature we no longer the person He saved. We are much different. We may have Christ's righteousness from the moment of our salvation, but that Spirit-empowered movement toward Christlikeness means we move further and further away from our old life. 

I am not the man Jesus Christ saved years ago. I am not the man Amy married. For this and more, I am thankful.

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Gay Marriage and the Future of Global Missions

Aug. 4, 2015By: Karl Dahlfred

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, the internet has been alight with articles from almost every possible angle.  As an American and a Christian, I am fascinated and concerned about what this historic decision means.  But as a missionary living abroad, I am also concerned with how this decision will affect other countries and the work of global missions. 

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Of course, the U.S. is not the first to legalize gay marriage, and Christians in other nations (Canada and the U.K., for example) have reminded American Christians that legalized gay marriage doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.  However, the American Supreme Court decision is symbolic of a larger cultural juggernaut.  Given the influence that the U.S. currently has on the global scene, the pro-homosexuality zeitgeist that is now ascendant in the U.S. will most certainly have global ramifications.

Some readers may think that I am being alarmist.  I can understand that.  Where I work in Thailand, gay marriage and LGBT rights are barely a blip on the radar.  Every once in a while, there is a Thai news article about transgender bathrooms or a transvestite entering a female beauty contest. However, there is no widespread call for gay rights and equality in Thailand.  On the one hand, many Thai accept gays and transvesites as a normal part of society, despite the fact they don’t have the right to marry.  On the other hand, Thai culture at large is still fine with transvestites being the butt of jokes on TV comedy shows, and gay or transgender students regularly get made fun of in classrooms.  Thailand, as a whole, seems quite far from jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon.

But just because gay rights has not yet become a hot topic in Thailand (among other countries), that does not mean that those working abroad can safely ignore the Supreme Court decision.   Many trends have a way of making their way abroad.  And in a globalized world, this is truer than ever.  For that reason, I think that there are a number of implications that legalized gay marriage in the U.S. will have for global missions.   Some of these scenarios may not have occurred yet (or may not yet be widespread), but Christians involved in global missions should be aware that they are coming.

1)    Pro-Gay Missionary Candidates and Short-Term Workers
Many churches and missionary organizations might feel safe because they have an evangelical statement of belief which implicitly or explicitly endorses traditional marriage.  But as the cultural winds shift, we will begin to see men and women applying for missionary work who affirm an evangelical statement of faith but also support the gay marriage and/or homosexual practice.  They may or may not be gay themselves, but this discussion will likely come up.  Will churches and missionary organizations be prepared legally to deal with possible lawsuits from homosexual missionary candidates who were not accepted as missionary workers? (Read “How to protect your church against sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits”)

Full-time missionary candidates are screened more thoroughly, but short-term workers are often required to sign only a very minimal statement of faith.  Wouldn’t a long-term missionary be surprised if he took a team of short-termers to do an outreach and discovered one of them assuring a transgender man that being gay is compatible with being a Christian?  Those processing potential short-termers need to start checking their views on homosexuality and gay marriage before they head out on a trip.

2)    Losing Supporters and Supporting Churches
There is an increasing number of otherwise evangelical churches and Christians in the United States who are changing their position on homosexuality, and endorsing the gay lifestyle as compatible with the Christian faith.  Other churches and believers are trying out a third way, stopping short of endorsing homosexuality but still supporting the legal right for homosexuals to marry.  Although missionaries who hold to traditional views of biblical sexuality might believe that none of THEIR supporters would go in those directions, it is wholly possible that missionaries and their supporters might find themselves on different sides, either theologically, politically, or both.  Given the nature of missionary communication, this issue might not come up while the missionary is on the field.  However, when there is more time to talk and catch up during home assignment (furlough), it might come to light that not everyone holds the view that they used to.  American missionaries in particular may lose supporters over this issue, and they need to be prepared for that possibility.

3)    Meeting Pro-Gay Missionaries on the Field
Since there is a growing divide among Christians over gay marriage, it is very likely that missionaries who hold to traditional marriage will meet other missionaries on the field who endorse legalized gay marriage, and perhaps LGBT views of gender and sexuality.  Just after the Supreme Court decision, I saw a pro-gay marriage photo posted by a missionary on the Facebook.  On the mission field, missionaries of different theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds tend to interact with each other much more often than they would in their home countries. Where there are few Christians, those who are Christians often stick together.  But will differing views on homosexuality increasingly cause division among tiny missionary communities around the world?

4)    Pro-LGBT American Foreign Policy
Many countries around the world are not enthusiastic about gay rights, but the U.S. government would like to change that.  Despite the fact that there are many atrocities and injustices around the globe that deserve attention, the Obama administration has decided to devote itself to pushing for gay rights in other countries.  For example, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have threatened to cut off aid to Uganda unless they repeal anti-sodomy laws.  It seems that if the Obama administration (and future administrations of the same mindset) are able to force the issue of gay rights upon foreign nations, they will do so.  Many missionaries and Christians outside the U.S. will sooner or later find themselves in a pro-gay marriage culture, if for no other reason than the fact that the countries they are working in are concerned to keep good relations with the U.S. (and to keep the aid money flowing).

The above four points are not comprehensive and over time the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage will become more apparent.  But as Christians, we need to be aware of the direction the culture is going so that we will be ready to be agents of grace in a hostile culture.  And those who are missionaries need to be observant of the storms brewing offshore, because what is far away now will eventually hit land somewhere.

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