Tag Archives: marriage

Our Wonderful, Less than Ideal Life Together

Today Christi and I celebrate 22 years of marriage. We’ve been married almost half my life, as she pointed out to me this morning. Someone said we make marriage look easy. What may look easy is the end result of a lot of love, forgiveness, patience, and endurance. Love is only easy in fairy tales. Our life together has been no fairy tale. 99382149_3596680343680601_1588761888018137088_n

We got married in a historic train depot and had the reception on its deck. The day of the wedding terrible thunder storms moved through spawning deadly tornadoes. One almost blew Christi’s grandparents’ car off the road as they made their way to the wedding. It knocked the power out. We ended up getting married by candle light and using a battery powered boom box for music in the sweltering heat and muggy humidity of eastern, NC. That day we made the best of a less than ideal situation. It sort of set the pattern for the rest of our lives together.

Two years later we were both poor college students and working in retail. We had our first child, Grace, in the second semester of a Master’s program I was in at East Carolina, which I completed the following year. A couple of weeks later we learned that my father had cancer and our Grace had hip displaysia. Both would require major surgeries within a few weeks of each other. We had to move back to my home area beforehand to be there for my parents.

We moved in next to my parents shortly after my father had a laryngectomy and was still recovering only to discover there was no running water at our house or theirs. This was just a couple of weeks before our 17 month old daughter was scheduled to have hip surgery. Thanks to some good neighbors we were able to figure out a temporary solution to the water problem that got us by for a while. Like a lot of other things, it was less than ideal.

The next year, June 2003, Christi gave birth to our second child, our son, Ian. It was after this that postpartum depression and incredibly difficult circumstances took its toll on Christi. It was far from ideal. She would battle clinical depression for years to come. Regretfully, I often didn’t handle it very well. At times I was selfish rather than self-sacrificial, resentful rather than forgiving, callous rather than compassionate. At times we both treated each other badly.

Over the nest decade we would have many, many joyous moments, miraculous moments even, but not without hardship. In December of 2005 Anna was born but stillborn until being revived about 10 minutes after delivery by emergency C-section. She not only survived but has thrived by far exceeding the early prognoses of doctors. In 2008 I took a salary of less than half of what I had been making in the business world to pastor a small country church. I also became a full-time divinity school student at Duke. It was wonderful in many ways, but all less than ideal, especially after my mother, for whom I am an only child, developed concerning health issues.

In 2012 I completed my MDiv studies. Just a few weeks before finals Christi had to be hospitalized for a couple of weeks. After graduation we had to prepare for another move. In 2012 we moved to another church that was going through a major financial crisis. And I not only had to move my family, I had also had to find an affordable apartment for my mother and move her too. It was all far less than ideal.

By 2013 it looked like Christi had been finally delivered from depression. In September that year Silas was born. In June of 2015, Catherine was born. In 2016 we moved to another church, and also had to move my mother into another apartment near by. In June of 2018 Benjamin was born. It was all so wonderful, but still less than ideal. By February of 2019 it became evident that my mother would no longer be able to live on her own. I had to stay with her for several weeks before getting her moved into an assisted living facility because of dementia while in the middle of the busiest semester of my DMin program . Today we celebrate our anniversary and await the arrival of our seventh child (another one in June!) in the midst of the uncertainty  due to a pandemic and the economic calamity that has ensued. It’s all far less than ideal, but it’s still wonderful.

It’s wonderful because I get to share this less than ideal life with the wonderful, even if less than ideal, woman with which God has blessed me. She is still my wonder woman! We have learned through the years that less than ideal in this world is all we can expect, including from each other. Yet we enjoy the good things in life and each other because of a love that has endured, because we committed to endure together. The hope of God’s ideal world gives us the strength to make the best of what we have now, knowing that “for those who love God all all things work together for good, . . . ” (Rom 8:28 ESV).

Sometimes people miss out on the really good things, the God things, in life because they’re not willing to patiently endure through that which is less than ideal. The marriage that lasts is built on love that endures through a life that is far from easy.

I am far from the ideal husband; Christi is less than the ideal wife. But our life together is still wonderful, even if it has been less than ideal.

When the Annual Conference Opposes the Global Denomination

Last week, at Lake Junaluska Assembly, the 2019 Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church elected General Conference delegates and passed petitions related to the denominational debates on sexuality and gender identity. Overall, the votes of the Annual Conference body of clergy and lay delegates showed strong support for the progressive agenda, and corresponding opposition to the official position of the United Methodist Church. All clergy and lay delegates to the 2020 General Conference are progressive. Traditionalists only garnered three reserve lay jurisdictional delegates.cross

The Annual Conference also passed petitions to ask the General Conference to remove the statement that “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” from The Book of Discipline. The rationale given was that there is no clear Christian teaching to which this statement applies and that there is teaching from some scholars that some homosexual relationships can be justified from the Bible. The truth is the “teaching” that the official statement refers to was the univocal teaching of the universal Church that was really only questioned by pagans outside the Church until the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. This is a fact acknowledged by progressive scholar Dan O. Via in a book called Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (Robert Gagnon presents the other view). I heard progressive scholar Phyllis Tickle say in a lecture on her 500 year cycle theory of church history that it is a “fool’s game” to try to prove that any form of homosexual relationships are justified from the Bible. Yet people continue to try.

As I shared from the floor during the debate, even some of the best progressive/liberal scholars admit that the Bible is actually clear in its absolute prohibition. Most scholars like this end up rationalizing their rejection of “the straightforward commands of scripture,” as Luke Timothy Johnson puts it, by dubiously pitting “Jesus” or “the Gospel” against the law and/or Paul. This is what Adam Hamilton does. Yet their vision of Jesus is not one that is actually in harmony with Jesus as he is revealed in the New Testament. There Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount no less, affirms the entirety of the law and the prophets and warns about those who might lead others to even “relax” the commandments (Matt 5:17-20). For Jesus obedience to the will of the Father revealed in his written word is the fruit to look for in godly teachers and his true disciples (Matt 7:15-23).

William Loader, a progressive scholar, who has written a few thousand pages on ancient Jewish and Christian beliefs about sex, acknowledges that the biblical teaching throughout the history of ancient Judaism and early Christianity was that marriage between male and female was the only appropriate place for sexual expression, which was the good gift of the Creator. The foundation of this view was the creation story in Genesis. The creation of male and female for what was intended to be a permanent, life-long marital union set the norm for what was only appropriate within the marriage covenant. Anything outside of that was seen as contrary to the commandments given in Torah, beginning with the summary found in the Ten Words (Ex 20; Dt 5). Homosexual practice, which clearly violates the “natural,” God-given male/female complementarity evident in the structures of creation, was seen as especially egregious (Loader, Making Sense of Sex (2013), 146). According to Loader it is not surprising that Jesus makes a point about the intended permanence of the marriage covenant based on the creation texts in Genesis (i.e. Mark 10; Matt 19) (Loader, 46). These texts were viewed by many as revealing God’s design for sex and marriage in a general sense that would have specific application to any number of specific issues that might come up.

Loader, nonetheless, believes that the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Bible are simply outdated for the modern world wherein there is access to effective birth control. He also assumes a modern absolute, essentialist nature argument for sexual orientation for which, however, there is not a modern scientific consensus. The evidence actually indicates that it is not entirely genetic like race, to which it is so often falsely compared. It is, nonetheless, simply historically untenable and absurd to insist that Jesus must have approved of some same-sex relationships, but failed to pass that message on to his apostles. But progressives continue to try to distance themselves from the Bible while claiming to still cling to Jesus for justification of their rejection of God’s commands.

One progressive lay delegate, who was elected to General Conference, made it a point to declare that she believes Jesus is the Word of God, the clear implication being the Bible is not. But what does she—or anyone else—know about Jesus apart from the Bible? According to Luke 24, on the first day of the resurrection Jesus led his disciples in a study of the entirety of the Bible to show them how it all pointed to him for its fulfillment. Without the Bible, we will never recognize Jesus for who he truly is; apart from the Bible we are likely to create an idol and call it Jesus really in order to worship Aphrodite.

When it comes down to it, it seems progressives do not really care what the Bible says. That’s why when they are pressed to justify their views from scripture, they will often begin by maligning scripture by taking the most harsh sounding passages out of context. This is clearly the modus operandi of Adam Hamilton and his followers.  And that is what actually happened on the floor of Annual Conference when progressives were pressed to justify their position from the Bible. The Bible is clear and Jesus insisted he was in harmony with it. Moreover, it is not justifiable for progressives to declare that the Holy Spirit is leading them to something new, because the Bible clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit brings obedience to the just requirements of the law (Rom 8:4), which was one of the central promises of the new covenant (Ezk 36:27). If there is a spirit leading progressives to reject the straightforward commands of the Bible, it cannot be the Holy Spirit.

The Western North Carolina Annual Conference also passed a petition “Endorsing the Commitments of UMC Next and Supporting the Full Inclusion of All People.” This petition declares the traditional plan, which reaffirmed and reinforced the longstanding official position of the United Methodist Church, to be evil, unjust, and oppressive to the LBGTQIA+ community and to be “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It also commits the Western North Carolina Conference to actively work toward the “full inclusion” and “full participation” of LGBTQIA+ persons in membership and leadership of the church. In the context of the progressive movement this undoubtedly means regardless of whether such persons are living within the framework of the United Methodist and Christian standard of fidelity within the covenant of opposite-sex marriage or celibacy in singleness. From the floor progressives acknowledged that gender-identity can include multiple different genders and that the sexual identities along the entirety of the spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ acronym can be virtually endless. Progressive activist and lay delegate to General Conference, Hellen Ryde, explained, what all the letters and the + mean: there are many, many possible expressions of sexual and gender identity and the + stands for those things that we haven’t yet found a name for.

In other words, this petition declares the teaching that God created sex for marriage, and marriage to only be between a man and a woman, to be “evil, unjust, and oppressive” and “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” And it commits the Annual Conference to resist the implementation of the traditional plan, which reaffirms and reinforces that view. It also declares that the church is to include and affirm the expression of the entirety of the  LBGTQIA+ spectrum, at least among all consenting adults. This must of necessity include polyamarous relationships (like open marriages) and pan-sexualism, where a person is attracted to people of multiple gender identities and sexual identities. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that a free-for-all of sexual “liberation” is exactly what they demand.  Note that I personally was called a liar in February for saying this is where the progressive movement in the church was headed, despite the fact that I provided plenty of evidence.

What this means is the church is being asked to reject not only the straightforward commands in the word of God concerning homosexual practice, but to renounce as “evil, unjust, and oppressive” the entirety of the biblical and traditional Christian sexual ethic set in place by Jesus himself. It was clearly Jesus himself that raised the bar and tightened the restrictions on sexual conduct for his disciples. The progressive petitions completely reverse the trajectory set by the teachings of Jesus and the apostles in a way that even goes far beyond what the early Marxists did by promoting the “free love” movement. They say they are fighting for justice, but they are moralistic sexual and cultural revolutionaries, who, like the revolutionaries in the novels of Dostoevsky, are hell-bent on bringing down the two pillars of western society, the orthodox Christian Church and the traditional family. Both of which, they see as main pillars of the “evil patriarchy” they so despise. But I do know that some are caught up in this movement, who do not realize what they are actually supporting in totality. May God open their eyes!

So it seems pretty obvious that the Western North Carolina Conference has declared its opposition to the global United Methodist denomination. It is also obvious that the Annual Conference has been, is, and will continue to use conference resources not only to promote the acceptance of homosexual practice, but to vilify the traditional and official position of the United Methodist Church, and to promote sexual licentiousness in all of its consensual expressions. Most of the conference leadership has worked to create an atmosphere of intimidation for traditionalists. The deck is certainly stacked against traditionalists when it comes to going before the board of ordained ministry. The conference summer youth event, Spirtus, had to be canceled due to controversy because the main speaker chosen was an LGBTQIA+ activist. During the opening worship service of the Annual Conference there was a choral hymn that was obviously promoting “justice” for LGBTQIA+ persons. The chorus used the tagline “For Everyone Born” straight from the progressive caucus groups that proclaim they are fighting against the “evil, injustice, and oppression” of not affirming the entirety of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

They have falsely argued for decades that because people are born with fixed sexual orientations therefore the church must accept committed same-sex relationships, when in reality it really seems they just think people ought to be free to have sex with whoever and however and whenever they want without restrictions and negative judgment. The Bible teaches that fallen humans are born with sinful desires, but by the grace of God do not have to be slaves to them. Progressives seem to share the philosophy of Alfred Kinsey that unfettered, mutually-consensual expression of almost any sexual desire is natural, good, and healthy and that sexual repression is bad and, as one of the petitions (Petition 21) put it, “has been the source of tremendous harm to countless people within The United Methodist Church and beyond.”

Progressives have declared the traditional teaching of the Church—what is clearly biblical teaching—to be evil, unjust, and oppressive. Isaiah 5:20-24 (ESV) warns:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

During the discussion on the floor regarding the UMC Next petition, an elderly African American gentleman, Coley Hooker, who was a lay delegate to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences, basically asked who are we to tell God his word is wrong? Mr. Hooker also insisted that when he voted for the traditional plan that he did not vote for evil and hate, he voted for love. He said sometimes the most loving thing God does is to say NO! to what we want. Indeed, getting what we want, when it suits the sinful desires of the flesh, is a dangerous thing.

Conservatives, individuals and churches, must say NO! to the progressive agenda. We must stand firm for what is right and stand against and resist the resistance as we submit ourselves to God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. ~James 4:1-10

On Twenty Years of Marriage

May 23rd this year makes twenty years that Christi and I have been married. We got married in a whirlwind and we’re still twirling through life together after all these years. The day we were married there was a severe thunderstorm with tornadoes. The storm almost blew Christi’s grandparents and uncle off the road as they drove to the wedding. It also knocked out the power at the historic old train depot where we held the wedding and reception in Grifton, NC.

whirlwind of love

We got married by candle light in the sweltering heat and smothering humidity of eastern North Carolina. At our reception on the outside deck we danced our first dance to Don Williams’ “Years from Now.” The music resounded from a battery powered boom box as we twirled around together. Twenty years and six children—#6 is due in a few weeks!— later, we’re still dancing (mostly figuratively sometimes sillily); and we’re still loving each other.

There have been plenty of other storms. We made it through Hurricane Floyd together in 1999. We’ve also made it through many severe emotional storms when the high pressure of her OCD met the low pressure of my ADD. There have also been the storms where my high and unrealistic expectations, or hers, met the lows of reality. Some of those storms shook the very foundations of our otherwise happy home.

We’ve had lots and lots of good times; but we’ve had our fair share of bad times too. Sometimes the latter has been because of our bad choices and selfishness. Sometimes because of difficult circumstances that were out of our control. We’ve been through periods of great frustration, anxiety, spine-crushing pressure, sadness, and deep depression. In Christi’s case the latter has been clinical and required hospitalization a couple of times. Sometimes I was understanding and compassionate; sometimes I was resentful and selfish.

At times we have both hurt each other deeply. Sometimes we haven’t been able to stand each other. Now, thankfully, we mostly just understand and forgive each other. In many ways we have both changed so much for the better. In other ways not so much. But we choose to love each other anyway. And love her I do; I know she loves me too.

The negative aspects of life and people have a way of blinding us to the blessings right in front of our eyes. Sometimes our own insecurities mislead us to expect to be loved perfectly by one who is flawed and stumbles because of sin in many different ways. There is only One who loves us perfectly in all our imperfections. Through discovering that perfect love, we learn to love those who are sometimes, sometimes a lot of the time, unlovable. We also learn to be thankful for the good things of which there are many, none of which we should take for granted.

The day of our wedding I toasted my new wife with a quote from Proverbs: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (18:22). Christi, isn’t the best thing in my life; the love of God in Christ Jesus is. But Christi is a good wife. In fact she is a great wife, and because of that I am blessed beyond measure, more than I deserve.
There are seven reasons why we are forever joined together. The first is because we said I do and I will. The other reasons are our six wonderful children. Our six children, one for each of the active days of God’s work in creation (Genesis 1), remind us of our sharing in the ongoing work of creation, and the new creation as we make disciples of Jesus Christ. I told Christi when I first asked her to marry me that I believed God brought us together. There have been times we both doubted it. But we don’t doubt it today.

In love or out, we choose to act like we love each other every day. By act I don’t mean pretend; I mean we act on our decision to love. There’s a reason that love and faithfulness are virtually synonymous in the Bible. Love is much more than a fleeting and fluttering, sometimes faltering emotion. Love is a decision of the will to love because of, and sometimes, by the grace of God, in spite of.

Christi is one of the greatest blessings I have ever received. She is an amazing mother and she is an incredible wife, both in ways great and small. We got married in a whirlwind. We’ve held on to each other as God has held us up through all the storms. We’re still twirling through life together and loving each other every day. I thank the Lord, who is able to calm the storms around us and in us, and through the rushing mighty wind of the Holy Spirit is able to blow new life and love into us.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV

Cliff and Christi (1)