One Word–Divorce

Hard lessons learned

I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone.”

I’m going to lay it right out there— two or three years ago we had over 40 people here pretty consistently in our small rural church, and there were times when we were looking for extra chairs to put out. Today 20 seems like a lot.

What happened? One worddivorce.

I hate to admit that because it doesn’t seem to speak well of a ministry. But we cannot hide from the truth and pretending that it was something else does not fix it nor heal it. There are no dark corners here to hide things in.

We had a handful of divorces and a broken engagement or two all within a two year span. In a small tight knit church family, that is devastating and has immediate and long lasting ripple effects on everyone.

And honestly, all things considered, especially that they involved the worship team and my own family, I don’t think many churches could have survived the devastation, period. But God is good and he led us through as best as possible and we are now rebuilding wiser and stronger and I hope more in tuned to, and certainly more dependent on, the Holy Spirit and his presence here than ever.

But the casualty rate was high. I don’t blame anyone but the enemy—and he is a clever and wily one. He just started peeling people off– How?

For starters, in a divorce—everyone takes sides and soon one side has to leave because they cannot be in the presence of the other side.

Then some people feel condemned and judged—so they leave.

Others feel the tension and the pressure—and they leave.

There is a fear that it is contagious and fear for their own marriages—so they leave.

Others do not like the way the pastor handled it—so they leave.

Some of the most challenging ministry and spiritual battles I have ever fought happened in the midst of all that.

If I did everything everyone thought I should do, everything that the flesh demanded I do—the carnage would have been horrendous and our building would be a Hair salon or a Yoga studio right now.

And the flock would all be somewhere else telling everyone what a judgmental bible and head thumper I was.

As a result some people were upset because I refused to condemn and stop loving and welcoming anyone. (You would not believe the backlash that created.) That is a battle that still continues, the dysfunctions caused by divorces are long lasting and far reaching.

Dysfunctions

But I refuse to play those games. If you have read either of my first two books you know why, I’m just done with accommodating other’s issues—done.

I have spent my entire life either being a victim of, or trying to minister to, other victims of those games. And what truly makes me angry is that it’s usually the children who suffer most. So whenever I find myself standing at dysfunction junction again deciding which track to follow—I will go down the road of the heart that functions fully in love.

It is the hard heart that always leads to destruction.

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. Mark 10:5

God only allowed Moses to write a provision for divorce into the law because of man’s stubborn and self-seeking nature. But the heartache is then only exacerbated by the heart hardening that follows and demands that everyone else follow suit.

That doesn’t mean I condone or turn a blind eye to sin and bad choices, it just means that I love, as Jesus loves, unconditionally.

I will not be an enabler of your dysfunctions.  But neither will I stop trying to love you back into wholeness. And that, my friends, is a very fine and hard line to walk—apart from the Holy Spirit.

And if the trials of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that nothing is more important than being completely sold out and 100% obedient to God no matter what or who is coming against you.

We must continually recognize that our enemy is not flesh and blood and that we are all susceptible to making mistakes and just outright foolish choices. And all I can do as a pastor is to keep loving you and inviting you to follow Jesus—for real, not just with lip service. This blog will always encourage and challenge you in that.

Love

The Lord gave me a real simple mandate in the heat of these battles, and he reminded me of it repeatedly as I struggled with—’what do I do?I feel like I need to rail on the virtues of marriage, to call people out, to bang some heads together—how do I make everyone happy, how do I appear in charge and make sure everyone knows just how I—I mean God—expects them to behave? “Lord, what am I to do here? How do I make these people see?”

You know what he said to me? “I have called you to love people. You let me take care of the rest—Just love people.”

 I cannot tell you how freeing that was to my weary and tortured soul. ‘Yes Lord, I can do that. Just love people.’ If that makes those who believe I need to come down on some, and vindicate others, angry to the point of leaving—then so be it.

The angry people needed to leave, or just get over them bad selves. Because, honestly— It was the tension and the whispering and the rumors between the various camps that did the worst damage—more so than the actual divorces.

Jesus’ love is unconditional—and so is mine. And anything and anyone that gets in the way of that love being known by his beloved will be dealt with in no uncertain terms.

If you have suffered the violence’s that that divorce does to your heart and soul, or picked up the pieces of the damage done, you know what this means and why God hates divorce. He hates it because of the violence it does to the hearts of those he loves. If you are that bruised soul–HE DOES NOT hate you, he hates what has happened to you, and he only wants to heal and restore you–just trust him. You are loved child.

Another Turn of the Wheel

Today I celebrate my 57th birthday, another year, another turn on the wheel of the master potter, and another day to trust and marvel at his work. And best of all, to get to share it with those whom I love—and with you, my unseen but truly appreciated and heart connected brother and sisters. Be blessed, and please don’t be shy about leaving a comment, I would love to hear from you too.

adult arts and crafts clay dirty
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” Jeremiah 18

Turns of the wheel

Moving from the Frozen North to the Southwest, leaving home to go far away into Job Corp, getting hooked on partying in any shape or form only to be radically delivered by an encounter with the Holy Spirit, getting married, becoming a dad and a rancher, leaving a lead man position in a welding shop to become a carpenter at 30. Taking college level theology classes at age 40, becoming a kids pastor in a church started in an old school on the wrong side of the tracks in Billings.

Becoming the pastor of a church that I planted at age 50—and that’s just the highlights—there were a lot of low lights along the way also, impurities that needed worked out, things that I think hindered me from skipping  over some of the more challenging turns of the wheel and fulfilling my call to pastor much earlier in life.

But God is good, God is patient and I had to be broken a few times to be remade along the way. I told you one of those stories last week, falling into the pit a work and blowing out two discs in my back; definitely a breaking that enabled God to retool me and reset some of my thinking. The night I realized just how hopelessly addicted I was to marijuana was certainly a breaking point as I cried out to the Lord, to the Potter—’please have mercy on me and set me free!’ He did, I was restored and his hand of blessing restored.

We have to be broken sometimes to be rid of the impurities that ruin us but we don’t have to be resigned to things being broken that are good, like homes, hearts, promises and lives.

When it comes to those things we often have a choice. It’s being broken of the things that cause the good things to end up broke that I’m talking about.  I remember when we first got married I had this almost crippling fear that Donna was going to leave me at some point, that our marriage would inevitably fail because that’s what I saw all around me and especially growing up.

Growing up in a broken home was hell, I’m sorry but it was, and it deeply affected my perception of life and relationships. It planted an unhealthy fear in me that had to be broken.

It started three weeks after our wedding when our house burned down. My greatest fear as I stood there watching everything we owned go up in smoke was that Donna would now leave me because I had nothing, not even a home to live in.

She didn’t.

We moved into a trailer house literally across the road that just happened to belong to her Dad and her sister and her family had just happened to have moved out of it two weeks earlier. A month or two later we had one of our first real arguments and in the aftermath I kept seeing this picture in my mind of her packing her things, which wouldn’t have taken long at that point after the fire, and walking out the door.

She didn’t

I remember telling her one day in that first year, I wish we could just jump ahead ten years so that we could say we made it, we’re still married. I had heard a statistic that most marriages don’t make it past five years and my own parents had divorced when I was five. She kind of laughed at me and then realized I was serious, she assured me she wasn’t going anywhere.

She didn’t.

During this time I prayed earnestly every day that the Lord would bless our marriage, that we would stay together and never have to suffer the trauma and pain of divorce and I remember very clearly the Lord speaking to me as I was driving home on Blue Creek road and praying as I always did. I still remember where I was on the highway when the Lord told me in no uncertain terms; ‘Your marriage will not fail, it is founded on the rock and nothing will ever come between you.’

“That is my word to you, put that right down there under your feet and stand on it.”

I wept and praised the Lord, something had broken in me at that point, the fear was gone. My marriage was safe in the hands of the Lord, my wife would not leave me, I had made a vow to her and her to me and as long as we were both committed to that vow, to one another, and to the one who gives us the ability to keep those vows, to the only one who can give us that assurance—we would make it.

We did.  And we will- 30 years and counting. . .

We serve a God of miracles, whatever you fear, whatever causes you grief, give it up to Jesus; “In this world you will have trouble, but do not fear, I have overcome the world.”

mountain preacher

 

I love you all, have a blessed week!

 

Trial by Fire

Covenant Mafirerriage?

I’ve been starting to hear the term; “Covenant marriage” bandied about in Christian circles lately and it has baffled me. It baffles me because that is what a marriage is— a covenant— so why all of a sudden the need to tack on that qualifier. It’s like saying, I just found paying employment, or, let’s go for a vehicular drive,— ‘covenant marriage’ —that’s the whole point!  That’s why we get married, without the covenant it’s just a temporary arrangement where you each try to get all you can out of it before it becomes untenable and is dissolved.

Yeah, if that’s your idea of marriage then don’t bother, Just live together and save the cost of divorce. But that’s not God’s idea of marriage. In the Kingdom of God, marriage is a covenant, and if you’ve ever been to one of my weddings you have heard me say just that.

Hearing and understanding that, and living it, are two different things.

Trial by Fire

When Donna and I first met and eventually became friends who decided to pursue a more serious relationship, we were both at the place in our lives where we had been around the block a few times. And, we were both fairly new in our commitment to doing things God’s way. So we went into our relationship knowing that if we were going to date that it would only be for the purpose of ultimately getting married, otherwise it was just a waste of time.

Because we did take our walk with the Lord seriously and wanted to avoid any train wrecks down the road— and because we earnestly desired his blessing— we had many serious discussions about what marriage was about and what we could do to make sure that this  would be the one that would last a lifetime for both of us.

We decided before we even set a date that divorce would never be an option, that it would not even be a part of our vocabulary, that this marriage would be a lifetime commitment— no ifs, ands or buts.  We sought godly counsel from our pastors, kept our relationship pure until the honeymoon and made the vows before God and a couple hundred of our closest friends. A truly blessed day.

I have a hard time imagining the anticlimactic nature of a honeymoon that has  had the wonder of discovery taken out of it by too many rehearsals— but that’s a topic for another week.

The honeymoon was amazing on all levels and we returned home to our Honeymoon cottage on Blue Creek; the old Helfrick homestead all fixed up and added on to by previous owners and we set out to build our lives and our family there. Then came that fateful night three weeks after our wedding when the smoke alarm woke us up just before midnight.

Having a wood stove this wasn’t the first time the alarm had gone off so I didn’t think much of it as I got up to wave my hand in front of the smoke detector to dispel the smoke that surely just got belched form the stove. But this time it only stopped momentarily before it started blaring again.

I was about to pull it off the wall and throw it outside or something when I noticed out the window that our back yard was all lit up. Not a good sign. I ran and grabbed my bathrobe and went outside to see what was going on— the roof was on fire The blaze rapidly spreading across the old cedar shakes. I grabbed the leaky garden hose connected to the outside spigot and did my best to spray water on to the roof with the pathetic water pressure that emanated from that particular orifice of this old house as the cold water ran down my arm on this frosty mid-March Montana night.

Donna came out to see what was going on and I told her to go in and call her brother who lived next door and to grab our clothes from the closet. We were outside of any existing fire precinct at the time though the Blue Creek volunteers did venture out eventually. Anyway, long story short, after Donna’s brother and a few close neighbors helped us salvage a few items from the house it got to the point where all we could do was stand in the driveway and watch it burn.

By this point many more neighbors and just random people who could see the blaze from the highway had also gathered round. I met many of our neighbors for the first time that night wearing my bath robe, a pair of old cowboy boots and my old brown cowboy hat. When things had settled down to just being pretty much a bonfire gathering, I did manage to sneak into a shed and change into some clothes from the laundry hamper someone had thought to grab from the house.

So there I stood, next to Donna who was standing next to her mother who had come out all the way from the farm on west end of Billings. You know what I’m thinking at that moment? ‘Donna is going to go home with her mother and our marriage is done for, just three weeks into it.’

I know that sounds absurd in light of all that I told you about our commitment to a lasting marriage but think about it. She had just moved everything she owned into that house— 30 years’ worth of  stuff, photos, treasures, childhood keepsakes, artwork, furniture, yearbooks— you name it. All of our wedding presents were still piled up on and around the kitchen table where we had opened them after our honeymoon trip.

The house on the land that she loved, that her Dad had loaned me the money to buy on land in the area she had always dreamed of living in, where we had planned to raise a family and critters— it was all going up in smoke. We were suddenly homeless and owned little more than our bathrobes and a hamper full of dirty laundry.

It’s embarrassing now and I feel ashamed for even having had the fear because I grossly underestimated her strength of character, but that was what I had seen happen all around me growing up; when things get tough— cut and run. She didn’t. We spent the rest of that night on her brothers hide-a-bed in his living room being traumatized by the sound of the fire crackling in his wood stove. But we were together and have been ever since. Trial by fire, a great way to start.

Thots

I was afraid because I had missed the whole point of commitment;  The lack of fear that it will be broken. I knew that I was not going to break it, but I was only trusting in one side of the covenant. That’s not a covenant, that’s just a hope, a hope that the other person is going to stick around also.

A covenant is worthless, those marriage vows are worthless— as far as affording the stability and security that makes a marriage worth entering into in the first place— if you are not convinced that the other person is as committed to it as you are. Donna was not going anywhere, we were in this together and together we built a new house, a life and a family, all based on one thing— trust

As I stood there and watched all that Donna owned go up in flames, not to mention all that I owned,  I was afraid; not trusting her commitment to our marriage, to our vows. I have since learned to have faith in her promise that we were in this together through, good times and bad, richer and poorer.

And believe me there has been plenty of other tests of this promise, but each and every hurdle and challenge has only made us stronger, has solidified the covenant, because we learned to trust each other’s commitment.

That is a marriage, and that is why you need to get married.  Without mutual trust there is no covenant, without covenant there is no marriage, without any marriage there is no blessing and your tears will flood the alter.

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Malachi 2