Today my wife and I celebrate thirteen years of marriage. I don't think either one of us was “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. Are 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.
“We are not the same. Not even close. My wife has had to live with five different men.”
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. A. W. 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.
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 who 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 a little more hardened, slower to speak, and more protective of my words.
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 has 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 phenomenon 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 okay 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 Amy 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 ourselves 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 with a punch in the gut to wake us up. As we grow and mature we are 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.