Tag Archives: Marriage

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

First Love

‘Encourage one another daily…so that no-one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We share in Christ if we hold firmly to the confidence we had at first.’ (Heb. 3:13, 14)

My life and the life of Desert Stream Ministries is bound together in marriage: Annette and mine, 39-years-old, just one year short of our first Desert Stream gathering in 1980. Marital growth multiplied our offering to others. No doubt about it: as we learned to submit to each other out of fear and joy, God increased the quality of our service. Water levels rose from the well we dug together.

Maybe it had something to do with our brokenness. I was in love with this woman but selfish and subject to immoral shadows; she was abused and hesitant to give up control in certain areas. We knew sin’s deceitfulness!

We shared in Christ together, actively, deliberately. We told the truth of our wounds and learned to prayerfully extend mercy to each other. We strove for justice too, to give the other his or her due. We had a right, lovingly, to the other’s body—to share our love physically. But this had little meaning if we weren’t willing to do the hard work of real ‘foreplay’: sharing the whole of ourselves, as best we could, with our clothes on. It is easier to open your pants than your mouth! As I denied my isolated, wordless brooding for her wise and soft response (usually!), I became a stronger, more whole man. I solidified into a spouse who could help tenderize her sometimes wary heart.

Trust is a gift and a condition of heart that one must cultivate daily in marriage. ‘Sin’s deceitfulness’ is sly, subtle: we harden over time in little unspoken ways as we project old fears and shames onto the beloved.

More than ever in this 40th year of our ministry, the enemy of our marital soul wants to tempt us onto separate tracks. There Anette and I function well enough, like well-tuned roommates, but fail to access marital grace. Only as we submit to one another (Eph. 5:21) deliberately is that grace ours. Time does not make us better spouses; it may well make us presumptuous, unwilling to reveal the blessed, broken, still-needing-confirmation parts to each other.

The marital blow-ups that have singed us all did not begin with a brazen seduction, just a slow cooling of trust and affection then the pull of other gods, other covenants. We can say without hyperbole that the world has never been more effective in firing marital discontent and driving us to dissolve our vows.

This year Annette and I celebrated 40 Christmases together. I want 20 more. To actualize my desire, I must hold fast to these words from Hebrews: ‘We share in Christ IF we hold FIRMLY to the confidence we had at first.’ I have a responsibility to strengthen today what I promised 39-years-ago.

This year I have committed to initiate a weekly time with Annette where we will deliberately go where we may not want to go—focused blessing and also pointed questions about where we are, how we are. We pray and talk spontaneously during the week but in the roar of things we skim hard stuff. It is my duty to take us deeper. If you are a husband, would you consider joining me in this initiative? It is always refreshing to me when the man leads the conversation. What most wives long for, we men dodge. Stop dodging. Slay your enemy by revealing your love, however uneven, to the one who needs it most.

Marital confidence should never become passive; it demands our engagement if we are to thrive in its benefits and reveal something of Jesus’ love for His Bride.

‘Repent and do the things you did at first.’ (Rev. 2:5)

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

Going the Distance: 40 Years of Healing, Equipping and Proclaiming.

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Saved by Beauty

‘This aspiration—born of love—is a search for integral beauty, for purity free from stain. It is a search for perfection that contains a synthesis of human beauty—body and soul.’ (Theology of the Body, St. John Paul ll)

As she sat in the morning light, hair shining silver, I realized that she had never been lovelier. All the years together, just shy of 40—and she more dignified and womanly than ever. I thought of the Rogers and Hammerstein lyric: ‘Do I love you because you are beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?’ and concluded nothing except life means little without her. Beautiful Annette, or better put, beautiful marriage, saved me.

Isn’t that idolatry? Doesn’t only Jesus save? Of course, only one Savior, but Jesus has given marriage power to permeate its players with His very Presence in a way that saves man and woman through their communion—body, soul, spirit. St. Paul likens sexual fusion between husband and wife to the ‘great mystery’ of Christ’s union with the Church. For years now, I have participated in this most holy, earthy communion with another; in so doing, Annette and I share in Jesus infusing His Church with divine presence. As Annette and I permeate each other with our self-giving, we are being saved—made holy through love as we ‘submit to each other out of reverence for Jesus’ (Eph. 5:21).

This flies in the face of charges—laughably foolish—that any person who has same-sex attraction cannot be redeemed in his or her sexuality. I came across an ad for the film ‘Boy Erased’ that ominously read: ‘The truth cannot be converted…’ Du, du, du, dumb. Talk about an inverted, uninspired worldview!

As our common enemy would have it, homosexuality, the big ‘H’, now subordinates Jesus to little ‘j’. For every sheep that drank the cool-aid and now believes all we can do for the LGBT+ set is to agree with their divided, sterile identifications—hear this: Jesus redeems us for beauty! And that means He has power to enable sinners from any fractured starting point to join the dance of life. Marital love with Jesus at center redeems persons who participate in it.

‘Boy Erased’ and the trendy assault on anyone who efforts to grow beyond sexual illusion reveal a loss of vision for human creativity and dignity. Not beautiful Jesus; He has never lost sight nor power to summon what He sees. That takes disciplined response, of course. Any good thing does. Becoming who I am is hard yet deeply fulfilling. I am not even tempted to trade my marriage and its unitive, creative power for a weird friendship with a dude. I was created and redeemed for beauty. Beauty saved me.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Courage for Chaste Sex

At the Courage conference last week in Chicago, Annette and I had the privilege to testify on the glorious challenge of forging a marriage in light of my same-sex attraction and her sexual abuse—two gifts that keep on giving! Actually, we are gifts to each other who through the grace of Jesus’ cross have delighted in our co-humanity for nearly 40 years now.

We spoke candidly on our intimate life. We wanted to break the false yet common assumption that chastity always involves abstinence. Not so. Chastity is integrating one’s sexuality in such a way that frees one to be faithful to God in singleness or marriage. If married, that means being faithful to the one you actively engage with sexually. For us, chastity invites us into a robust sexual life that celebrates this bond of two–body, soul, and spirit.

The context mattered as Courage has not majored on marriage and the person with same-sex attraction. One might get the impression (however erroneous) that Courage is comfortable supporting singles en route to chastity but uncertain about whether God calls persons with same-sex attraction to marriage. Untrue. Many Courage members are married. And in truth, Annette and I are treated with such dignity in the Courage world. For Annette in particular, the Courage family has been the most warm and consistent and hospitable to her than she has experienced in any other comparable network.

Nevertheless, you could say that marrieds are underrepresented at Courage. Several members have questioned my call to marriage as if my diminishing same-sex attraction invalidates that call. Or disables it. Not true. I am convinced that persons with a background of same-sex attraction who become espoused to Jesus and who ‘work the program’ of acquiring self-control and activating their gender gift for the other become the best spouses. We rely on Jesus and are intentional in our love for this other. We make great lovers. Period.

And we realize that chaste lovemaking—earthy and sensational as it is–must take place in the context of a greater regard for the whole person. We prepare for nakedness by disclosing—fully clothed–our dirty secrets, our ragged complaints, and our gratitude for this person before us who seeks to give all to us. Surrounding our sharing is the grace of Jesus. He gave all, He gives all still, and that makes all the difference.

I close with this brief note I recently found from Annette, fall ’82. It represents for me the foundation for chaste sex. ‘When you remarked on my complexity, I began to reflect on how profoundly the Lord has transformed me. He has wrought changes in me that have created a new heart: a soft, feminine one, not the hard protective shell of a heart I had when we met three years ago. Thank you for standing by me. You represent security to me—the Lord has used you to give me a kind of permanence I’ve always needed. I love you very much.’ Annette

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Cross Fit: Sorrow and Self-Giving

I am just winding up a month off in which I spent a lot of time with the one I love most—me! Ouch. Truth hurts. Gratefully my native selfishness was no match for the glorious time Annette and I shared. We stayed home, caught our breath, and renewed our vows. Time off and tuned to each other: nothing better.

A long time ago Jesus called Annette and me to our primary vocation, which is marriage. Anything good that springs out of ministry flows from this most important union.

No-one deserves my attention like her. Consider this: for the last 36 years of our lives together, Annette has said ‘yes’ over and over again to Jesus as I have gone throughout the world to impart His transforming power for sexually broken people. We love to minister together but kids and Annette’s homing instinct have resulted in a division of labor, which became even more accentuated over the last six months. A flurry of national and international trips rendered Annette nothing short of a ‘war bride’ so it was a huge gift to have a month off to reunite. Thank you to all who helped to sustain Desert Stream in our absence. You freed us from any financial concern; we are deeply grateful. You gave and we rested. Bravo.

As always, repose brought exposure. At the beginning of our time off, Annette brought up afresh an area in which we have disagreed. I disagreed again and could not see her perspective. That day’s Gospel reading—‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me’ (Matt. 10:38)—hit me hard and exposed a plank in my eye. A familiar stronghold of selfishness blinded me to Annette’s greater need.

I sought out my pastor and he counseled me well. A deep sorrow over my sin resulted, something only the Spirit and holy space could inspire. Aquinas wrote that such sorrow is sign that the Cross is being born in one’s heart. Let it be so. In areas where I do not see well, I need to slow down and feel the gravity of my sin. Only then will my repentance be genuine, not a superficial shaking off of shame.

That repentance has continued over these weeks and resulted in what I can only describe as a renewed passion in me to fulfill St. Paul’s words ‘to love our wives as Jesus loves the Church and gave Himself up for her’ (Eph. 5:25). No small task! When I take seriously Jesus’ self-giving on Calvary—the piercing that released the healing flood (Zech. 12:10-13:2)—I can re-enter His fruitful surrender and deny afresh my selfish, controlling ways in order to offer what I can to this amazing woman who deserves that and more.

I do not allow my evident faults to stop me from giving more. That is always Jesus’ direction to husbands, a self-giving that springs from the arresting sorrow of His Cross.

Please join Annette and me in Chicago July 27th-30th at the annual Courage Conference where we will share about our rich life together. As I said, we don’t speak together often so join us for this unusual opportunity. The Courage gathering offers an array of healing persons and gifts. Hope to see you there.

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Bloody Marriage

Marriage is messy business. So much so that Jesus allowed Himself to get messed up for us. He shed blood to reveal our starting point as spouses: ‘O God, the love I desire to give, I do not!’ Or more accurately, I cannot. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Annette and I just finished leading a round of Beauty and the Breach, an 8-week course in which we invite frustrated couples to discover the Cross together through merciful exchanges of blessing, sin, and need. Each couple bore distinct wounds but faced a common block in offering themselves freely to the other. We placed a big Cross in the middle of our gathering as a reminder that Jesus’ covenant with us—His commitment to the marriage–supersedes our own; we stirred up the faith that somehow His blood could bore through the debris obscuring our true selves from the other. His Cross also reminded us that when it came to expressing hard stuff to the other, or hearing hard stuff, we could pick up our little crosses and endure shame and pain for the joy set before us.

Some of the couples could point to big historic sins as contributors to the current breach. A few had thought ‘marriage’ might cure sexual addiction or same-sex attraction or deep-seated fears; in truth, they realized that a good marriage exposes before it absolves. In a previous group, one woman expressed how her husband’s confession of a litany of sexual sins may have been in his words ‘a resurrection’ but for her, it was the beginning of a slow, long crucifixion. She had to die to what she thought her life would be. A source of security had become a threat; her closest walking partner, a dangerous sinner. How to love? ‘Lord, have mercy on me, sinner…’

I am not being romantic here. All sin is not created equal and certain betrayals require solid boundaries in order to protect the betrayed and provoke genuine repentance on the part of the obvious sinner. But it also invites the offended party to reckon with his or her limited love—the way (s)he loves according to contract, because the other keeps his or her end of the marital deal and thus justifies one’s love. When that contract is broken, one feels justified in breaking vows. But we marry based on covenant, the truth that we invoked the ONE who shed blood to grant us the mercy needed to extend mercy, especially to the sinner we’re sleeping with.

During our last night at Beauty and the Breach, the Spirit directed me to Luke 18: 9-14 where Jesus gives wise counsel to any ‘confident of their own righteousness’ (v.9), namely the Pharisee who thanked God for not making him an adulterer. Next to him at church was such an adulterer who simply cried out for mercy. God saved only the latter (v. 14). My prayer? That the Cross reveal to all spouses our inability to love the other as we should. May mercy come quickly to meet former Pharisees and former prostitutes who marry; may the bloody God be glorified on such broken, level and ultimately beautiful ground.

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