Pastor Chad's Itinarary

Thursday, December 27, 2018

“The Marital Slaughterhouse”

Today's guest blogger is Jessica Cleveland Thoms. Jessica lives in middle Tennessee where she currently teaches high school English. You can usually find her writing, shopping, attending concerts, laughing at her own jokes, loving on any animal she can find, and purchasing unnecessary items covered in glitter. She and her husband, Tristen, are both members at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Orlinda, TN. You can read more of Jessica's writing at Grace for Sparrows.

Y’all know how much I love writing, and if I can combine that with the ability to entertain people, then I am ecstatic.  I totally get why comedians do what they do professionally— for me, there is no better high than making people laugh.
I must warn you that it is a bit awkward for me to write this because I am used to throwing in humor when talking about marriage and navigating the world as a Christian, but the nature of this post is a bit more serious. I know for a fact that I’m not alone on this subject and knew that it was important to share the struggles I’ve encountered and what I’ve learned in the hopes that it may help or encourage someone else.

So without further ado, here it is:

My husband and I are not in love.

That’s right.

Seven years of togetherness and five years of marriage next month, and we both agree that we are no longer in love.

There was no lavish affair, no devastating secrets, no lack of fulfillment of marital duties—nothing that would seemingly “justify” a falling out of love in today’s society.
That is not to say that we don’t care about one another deeply— we most certainly do.  But if you ask most people in this day and age, “love, but not IN love” is 100% enough of a reason to walk away from a marriage.

We got married when we were both in bad places in our lives.  By our own admission, our motives were extremely selfish.  We didn’t know what we were doing, and we didn’t care.  We also changed.  We grew up a lot.  We have very different families and backgrounds and experiences.  I realized that I spent my life trying to mold myself after whatever man I was interested in, and when I stopped doing that and became my own person a few years ago, we realized that we were two very different people now more than ever.

Tristin and I have had no shortage of opinions and advice from people on our situation.  I can’t speak for him, but I know the advice I have been given has been all over the board.  Don’t misunderstand me—I’ve been thankful for the kindness of my friends and family members and co-workers who have known about our struggles and offered their advice; however, I have been occasionally saddened by what I’ve been told as well.

A friend of mine who is an outspoken non-believer told me that I should get divorced immediately, which didn’t surprise me too much.  I quote: “You’re still so young, Jess. You are too good of a person and would be too amazing of a mother to stay somewhere where you’re not worshipped every day.”  (Yes.  Me.  Worshipped.  More on that later.)

Some told me to fight it out, quite literally, to the death. Counseling, retreats, books—whatever it took to save the marriage, even if I had to do it alone.

A surprising number of people on both sides of the religious aisle told me we should have a baby to occupy our time and energy, going so far as to even say it’s what they did and that it was the perfect distraction.  Some even threw in that if we had had kids sooner, we would’ve been too busy to discover or care about any underlying problems.  And before you scoff at that suggestion judgmentally, just know that that happens all the time.  I know too many divorced parents of toddlers for it to not be a thing that people do.

Many, MANY others, both Christians and flat-out atheists, told me that I should just “let my heart decide.”

I was and am very thankful for the advice I’ve received over the last couple of years.  I’m also thankful that I’m secure enough in my beliefs and knowledge to know what biblically sound advice is and what is heartfelt but often misguided.

I think the first fundamental truth you have to know about navigating marriage starts here:

Place your right hand over the left side of your chest.
Feel that?
That thumping you feel is your heart, and it’s a built-in marriage killer—a marital slaughterhouse, if you will.

Your heart is absolutely full of sin.  And even someone who is truly transformed by the power and blood of Christ will always, always, ALWAYS be naturally inclined to follow the evil desires of your flesh (heart) if left unchecked and without the Spirit of God.  Man is totally deprived of goodness; literally, no one is “good” (Romans 3:23).  This is why you have to crucify yourself and YOUR wants and desires daily to be a Christian, and especially to be a married Christian (Matthew 16:24).

My sinful heart tells me that, just as my friend said, I deserve to be placed upon a pedestal and worshipped.  Our feminist culture makes women feel like failures if they don’t have a significant other who’s a mindless slave and tells them that they’re perfect all day long, which is dangerous on a lot of levels— but that’s for another blog.

My sinful heart tells me that I deserve to be with someone who appreciates the facets of my personality that I find to be the most endearing.

My sinful heart tells me that if I’m not happy, I should jump ship because I deserve to be happy.
This is why I’ve become especially thankful for our church and the elders who have taught me so much over the last several years.  I’m thankful that I read books on marriage that taught me about what it is and is not.  I am also immensely thankful for a pastor who sat down with us before we got married and told us, in so many words, that marriage is not about your happiness.
I KNOW.  The minute some of y’all read that, you went, “WHAT THE WHAT?! IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY, IT AIN’T WORTH IT! Life is too short, sister!!”
And I’ll be the first to admit, I spent several months and years believing that to be true also. 

But I’m here to tell you that:
  • Happiness is irrelevant because it is rooted in emotions and feelings.
  • Emotions and feelings are fleeting and unstable.
  • Being “in love” is circumstantial, as it is based on feelings and emotions.
  • Therefore, I cannot break marriage vows over feelings or “unhappiness.”
If I were to listen to some of the people who have offered me advice along with the consensus of the general population in 2018, I would have full permission to get a divorce based upon our lack of being “in love.” Ultimately, we do not personally believe that we have biblical grounds for such a move. Quite honestly, we both have had to get to a place where we decided that we are going to work at it and become transparent and pliable enough to receive and accept help from spiritually-based resources.  You’ve heard a thousand times that marriage is work, but I don’t think I ever believed it until I lived it.  We are in the process of rebuilding at ground zero, and honestly, it’s not fun.  I don’t enjoy being selfless and submitting.  There are still many days where we look at one another and are honest enough to say, “I’m struggling to do this today.”  We don’t take it personally because we know it doesn’t come from a place of hurt or resentment.  It stems from selfishness and sinful hearts, and we just have to pray for the Spirit to break us of our own desires.  The bottom line is that we are just two sinners trying to do the best we can through the grace of God. We fail a lot, but we are trying to keep going.  God alone gives us the ability to stay.  That’s it.

I share this with you for a lot of reasons.  One is so that you can pray for God to lead us and for us to be obedient to His will.  Another is so that you know that no marriage is or can ever be perfect, despite what the world of social media would have you believe.  I’d also advise you to really dig into your own relationships and be proactive in keeping them intact, and for the love of all that is holy, KEEP YOURSELF GUARDED WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE DOWN FOR THE COUNT.

Do you know how easy it is to have an affair today?  You don’t have to go down to a bar or strip club… affair-starters lie next to our beds each night on a charging cable. It’s wild. I even joined a Christian marriage advice group on Facebook and within two weeks had an unhappily married father of three trying to proposition me. Throw in the weekly fishing Instagram DMs and all of the other apps at our disposal, and it can spiral out of control SO quickly (blocking people is your friend… honestly, staying off of social media is your friend sometimes).  It can become a slippery slope if you fail to be discerning. I’ve found that it’s just proof that the enemy hates marriage because he hates what it represents (Christ and His church), and he wants that destroyed by any means possible.  While outside temptations can certainly help do that, more often than not, our own hearts—that very thing that we pledge to “give” to a partner for eternity—are often our own undoing.

I wish I could end this on a fluffy note, but honestly, I can’t say with absolute certainty that this will end “happily ever after.”  I can’t say with absolute certainty that Tristin and I will be “happy” or “in love.” But I do know for sure that we serve a God Who conquered death and the powers of hell, and that same Spirit is within us.

And so, we press on (Philippians 3:14).

If any of this resonates with you, know that you’re not alone. None of us are alone.

We just have to roll up our sleeves and dig in.  It’s work.  And it hurts.  But we’re not the first ones who’ve struggled.

Keep fighting the fight.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"The Birth in Bethlehem"

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7
The time had come. Mary felt the pain in her lower abdomen, which shot around to her back. Then all of the sudden she felt the warm water trickle down her legs. She exclaimed, “Joseph! It is time.” Mary’s water had broke and now the time to deliver the Messiah was upon them. Scurrying around Bethlehem to deliver the baby was quite the task than most realize. Alas, Joseph finds the perfect spot, which had all they needed to bring their child, the Savior, into the world.
I want you to notice a couple of things from the text; God appointed the right time; God provided the right resources; God provided the right place for the birth of the Messiah. In other words, God was in control over the entire situation that night in Bethlehem as the Savior was born. Often times, we focus our attention on Joseph, Mary, or the wise men forgetting it was God sovereignly orchestrating all these things to bring them to pass.
I am sure there are many out there scurrying around still trying to find that perfect gift. Some may be stressed out and overwhelmed with worry and frustration about how they will pay for all the “stuff” they want to get for others. Yet, we see in the text God provided for all of Joseph and Mary’s needs. As followers of Christ, we must realize God never promised His people a life of ease and luxury. Rather, He promised us across and that our needs would be met in Christ Jesus.
What can we learn from this? God provides all His children need in Christ Jesus. We must simply look to Jesus. He is the real reason for the season. This season is not about gifts and stuff, but the eternal Son took on flesh to purchase those whom the Father had given him. Just as God met Joseph and Mary’s needs, He graciously meets our needs today as well in Christ. So, stop stressing and worrying about your situation whether it be purchasing gifts or trying to make ends meet. Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Look to the One who is the Perfect Gift, and gave His life a ransom in order that sinners could bring Him glory. SDG.
Oh, wondrous mystery,
That Thou, Eternal One,
Shouldst enter human history
As Mary's lowly Son!
Each baby sigh and breath
Proclaims Thee now my kin;
Oh, perfect life! Oh, Calvary death!
Atonement for my sin!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Shepherd the Flock Among You

"Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:1-3).

     The Apostle Peter gave a final exhortation to the elders of the persecuted churches throughout "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1). These churches were highly discouraged and confused concerning persecution for their faith. Peter wrote this letter to encourage these saints to stand strong, as he reminds them over and over again of Christ's afflictions and sufferings. He reminds them not only of his sufferings but their inheritance in Christ and the blessed hope of his return again to take them to heaven. In other words, Peter's thesis was; Trust in the Lord!

     Just as Peter exhorted these first-century believers, we too are exhorted in the same manner. We are to trust in the Lord through difficult seasons in our life. And God gives faithful elders to remind God's people to stay the course in trusting the Lord. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion in the church today when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of the elders. It is here that Peter gives a quick description of an elder's task. First, notice the term elder is plural. In other words, Peter is assuming churches have a plurality of men who are qualified to minister to the church through the teaching and preaching of God's Word. Second, elders are to shepherd the flock among them. They are to feed, care, and protect their flock. Third, they are to oversee the flock. They are to exhort, encourage and rebuke their flock. Fourth, elders are to lead by example. They are to lead the flock by faithfully preaching God's Word and living a life above reproach.  

      The outline seems nice and neat. Yet, the ministry is not near clean cut as the outline. Ministry can be very messy at times. Ministry is messy because people are involved and we live in a fallen world. This has proved itself true over the course of my ministry, but more so these past few months than ever. And with each event, I am reminded that people are my ministry. In other words, without people, I have no ministry.  Therefore, my chief responsibility as an elder is to be as a shepherd to the flock. Hence, Peter tells the elders to "shepherd the flock that is among you" (1 Peter 5:2).

      So, what is an elder to do when there is a division among the flock? What is an elder to do when the finances are slim? What is an elder to do when a dear saint dies of cancer? What is an elder to do when a family's child has gone wayward? What do you do when a wife does not understand why her husband continually rejects Christ? What is an elder to do when a couple is headed for divorce? What is an elder to do when a member takes their own life? The Apostle Peter gives the imperative to "shepherd the flock that is among you." 

     Peter commands "shepherd the flock..." He is referring to God's people. Those he called the elect (1:1). The flock is those whom Christ has redeemed by his precious blood. The flock is those who have experienced "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). The flock is those who hear Jesus's "voice and follow him" (John 10:27-28). These are the ones whom the elders are to shepherd. They are to preach and teach the flock. They are to pray for the flock. They are to be concerned for the flock. They are to know their flock. They are to lay down their lives for their flock. This is what it means to "shepherd the flock."

     Peter continues to write, "that is among you." Notice, Peter does not say, "the flock down the road" or "the flock you wish you had." He says, "the flock that is among you." God calls gifts and places men where He sovereignly chooses. It is not up to an elder to choose where he wants to serve, but God. God has uniquely selected the flock for the man and the man for the flock. Therefore, the elders are to shepherd the flock among them. They must have tunnel vision. They must seek the good for those whom God has entrusted to them. I am afraid too many pastors have the "greener grass syndrome." They think the grass is greener in other places. And usually, they are; because they have more manure on them. In other words, the shepherd must be focused on his flock with no plan B. 

     So, what is a pastor to do when troubles arise and ministry becomes difficult? He is to "shepherd the flock that his among him." This phrase should discourage pastors from church hopping when things get tough. Instead of trying to find a reason to leave, find a reason to stay. Ask God to give you the strength by the power of the Spirit to faithfully shepherd the flock. Continue to pursue Christ and His righteousness. Watch your life and doctrine. Most of all, when you think you can go no further...keep being faithful by looking to Jesus! SDG.