I couldn’t believe it, and it broke my heart.

For more than 20 years, Susan and I had always received this family’s end-of-year updates, complete with a great picture of husband, wife and kids.  It was always a great general update on these two college friends of mine, who’d married shortly after we all graduated. They shared about how their kids were growing and what they were doing, how the husband’s ministry to destitute and addicted men was super difficult yet so rewarding and how the wife’s work with a nationwide ministry to youth and young adults was right up her alley; a ministry and minister match made in heaven. The update was always brimming with faith, hope and love; exactly what I’d expect from this wonderful family whom I’d always known to have Jesus at the center.

Then we got the heart-breaking update last week. It was immediately apparent that something was amiss when I saw the picture at the bottom of the letter. There was mom and her now adult kids; but dad was missing. In the paragraphs above that incomplete family photo, Mom apologized for having not gotten an update out for the past several years. She went on to say how she’s struggled with exactly how to give an update during a very difficult situation. She shared how she’d continued to have “hope and belief” as they got “much counseling” and made “repeated efforts” for “healing and reconciliation.” Then came the punch-in-the-gut line, “We’re divorced.”

Ever had one of those surreal, this-can’t-be-happening or this-happens-to-other-people-but-not-me or -them moments? I had one of those on July 1, 1992 when I received the call telling me my wife’s 33-year-old brother – husband, father of 3-year-old twins and an 11-month old, attorney and deeply devoted lover and follower of Jesus – had just been shot to death in the Tarrant County Courthouse. Well, last week I had another one of those moments. “What? Are you kidding me?! They are divorced?”

At this moment, I have no idea what happened in this couple’s relationship that led to their divorce, and I don’t have a critical or judgmental thought in my mind or bone in my body toward them, or any divorcees, for that matter. I’m a very firm believer in, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” (John Bradford) and, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). As I said at the start, I’m simply heart broken. Oh, the pain this man, woman, the children, their extended families, close friends and colleagues must have experienced and continue to feel.

Why do I share that tiny snippet of a very difficult and painful story? Because as 2017 wound down and 2018 cranked up recently, it was just one of several big, complex and challenging situations either very near or somewhat near to my life. And all these hard things led me once again, as I’ve done numerous times before, to slow down and ponder questions such as these:

“HOW CAN WE, LOVERS AND FOLLOWERS OF JESUS, NOT CRASH AND BURN IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES, FAMILIES AND FAITH WALKS IN CHRIST?”

“How can we avoid the slippery slopes that lead to falling into sin, pain, addictions and destruction?” “How can we not become a John 24:12, ‘the-love-of-most-will-grow-cold’ statistic?” “How can we make every effort, by the grace and power of God, to stay near to the heart of Jesus and endure to the end?”

There are a hundred, if not a thousand, solid, biblical answers to these kinds of questions. Vincent Carpenter happened to preach on THE key this past Sunday – abiding in Jesus.  But as I prayed through what I’m sharing here, I sensed the Holy Spirit highlight a couple of slippery slopes to avoid and another key to being an endure-to-the-end disciple of Jesus.

HERE THEY ARE:

  • Don’t lust // If you want to get serious about it, use filters and accountability programs on your internet-enabled devices, and don’t channel surf without your wife and/or someone else to whom you can be accountable present with you.
  • Avoid the comparison trap // Scripture says in everything give thanks. That includes giving thanks for how your Heavenly Father cares for and has handmade you AND how He cares for and has handmade others.  The next time you’re tempted in your heart or conversation with someone to compare yourself with someone else, thank God for them – and yourself – and bless them instead. Let’s all adhere to the Antioch Kids Ministry mantra, “Don’t compare and don’t complain!”
  • Live in the living Word of God, and let it live in you every day // It’s irreplaceable and oh so satisfying in the life of an endure-to-the-end disciple! Job says, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food,” (Job 23:12). Jeremiah says, “Your words were found and I ate them,” (Jeremiah 15:16). And Jesus says, “(let) My words abide in you,” (John 15:7).  What if you got to December 31st of this year and you could say, “I spent time in the Word every day this year”? It certainly wouldn’t be anything to brag about. But mixed with some, “now fill me, Holy Spirit!” every day, you’ll be more powerful and victorious than the Alabama Crimson Tide (Yep, 1985 graduate.)

By Steve Findley, AMI Director of Pastoral Care