Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Anniversary

May 28th is the anniversary of our wedding. It was twenty-seven years ago this week that Tammy and I entered into the covenant of marriage. Even when the now fading pictures were bright with color and newness, they could tell only a small part of the story. Young faces, luminous in their garments of hope, laced with fear of the unknown.

I was an idealist and she was the pragmatist. We began with little but the best of intentions. I believe we meant it when we said the words, "Till death do us part," yet in my heart my fingers where crossed as I refused to grasp the weight of those words. I know there was no way to fully embrace the reality of those words on that warm evening in May of 1982.

Now I often stand at the altar with young couples, many of them as idealistic as I was the night of my own wedding. I lead them to repeat the same vows, and I know they have no more clue of their reality than Tammy or I did years ago; nonetheless, vows matter. We make vows not just for those warm, clear nights when stars twinkle with hope. We make vows that are weighted with truth and value for a thousand dark storms that threaten to blot out those stars. We make vows to love, honor, and cherish. We make vows to endure because enduring is essential in this, the one human relationship that challenges our self-centeredness to its core. We make vows that sustain commitment through sickness, poverty, and worse.

Everyone needs ideals that guide them through reality. We all need to take them seriously and think of them more often than we do. We ought never to forget what we pledge on that day. I’m blessed to officiate for many couples who make such vows, and thus I’m reminded more often than most. As they repeat these solemn words I wonder how little they truly understand what they are pledging themselves to. Yet I’m happy to repeat them over and again. These vows remind me that God adores the serious commitment as much as the celebration of that commitment. He officiates our wedding days, knowing full well the storms that await us. He smiles, knowing that those who take him seriously he greatly helps. He is my help, and today I remember and celebrate that it was with Him that Tammy and I entered into this covenant. He knew the very moment that covenant would be completed and yet remained utterly silent about it so as not to remove the mystery of his ways or to place an impediment to our growing faith. He kept his end of the bargain with great faithfulness. We kept ours by his grace and good favor.

Now I stand on the threshold of making those same vows again. This time the repetition of these words will be tempered by a better sense of how they’re often lived out. Sorrow and pain have informed my intellect but have not stolen my passion, for by his grace I stand on the other side of that covenant with the ideal intact and passion undiminished. That is a miracle.

Happy Anniversary!
Ed Litton

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jesus is Watching

In the eighth chapter of John's gospel, where Jesus is verbally jousting with the Pharisees in the Temple court, a seeming throwaway comment about the location of this verbal scuffle tells us something important: "He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put..." Both Luke and Mark tell us of another time when Jesus sat there during the giving of offerings. Taking note of a widow giving two fractional coins, together amounting to less than half a penny in our currency, Jesus stunningly declared that the woman had given more than all the others.

Apparently Jesus regularly sat near the place where offerings were taken. Even today he observes the offerings in my church. He observes the amount we give to missions, as well as other necessary and supporting causes—a sobering reminder to Southern Baptists at this moment in our history. Jesus is watching. When tempted to argue over the allocation of funds, we need to remember He who sees our hearts is still watching. Jesus sits near the place where the offerings are made, and he knows when what we give demands greater trust. He also knows how flippant and boastful I can be in my giving.

I am all about percentages in giving, since the tithe is a percentage. Our Cooperative Program giving is a percentage, too. Yet we have not begun to give as we ought. The unnamed widow whom Jesus observed gave out of her extreme poverty and need, which forced her into a greater dependence upon the Lord. What am I giving that reflects such a sacrifice? When smugness washes over me, I tend to relax the tension of my giving and forget that Jesus’ favorite seat is near the place where the offering is taken. I forget that those piercing eyes are fixed upon my heart. I forget that giving matters more than anything else I do, because it indicates my heart condition like nothing else. The question that haunts me is, does my giving hurt? Does it threaten my security? It’s not a sacrifice if it costs me nothing.

C.S. Lewis believed in the tithe, but he also questioned the settled feeling that comes to those who live by percentages. “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." Southern Baptists have missionaries ready to go on the field but cannot send them because of the limitation of resources; something in me says we cannot, in the face of Great Commission opportunity, be satisfied with merely giving what we can spare.

On a personal note Lewis adds, “There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” We need to give, sacrificially give, and not stop giving until it hurts. Why should those we send to the nations be in want of resources while we stay in our nation and smugly leave the offering plate, satisfied that we’ve done enough?

Ed Litton

Monday, May 11, 2009

Joy in the Mourning

There is a difference between joy and happiness. They can coexist, but don't confuse the two; they're nothing alike. One endures in the presence of overwhelming darkness, the other only in the pleasant daylight. One gives the will to breathe another breath. The other can take your breath away but is fleeting.

I am in love with a beautiful woman named Kathy Ferguson. I asked her to be my wife and she said yes. She is strong, wise and fun. She lifts my weary head and reminds me that there is still living to do. She came alongside me in my grief as a friend and showed me that even the greatest loss can be endured. The quiet moments between us remind us that we each understand the other.

We come from relationships that were healthy and strong. We each have three children, two boys and one daughter. Our lives have traveled on parallel tracks that never crossed. I long admired her husband, Rick Ferguson, from a distance. There are fellow pastors you hear about but never meet. You hear about their character or strength under fire. You admire their vision and thank God for their faithfulness. One church planter who knew Rick told me, "There are some things I will never understand about the ways of God. We still miss Rick, and church planting in Colorado has never been the same."

Kathy is different from Tammy—but then why would God start a new chapter of my life with someone just the same? I’m drawn to Kathy for many reasons. Her wit is quick. Her wisdom is strong. She has opinions, but they’re tempered by a grace that quickly remembers her opinions are not the center of the universe. She loves to laugh, and the joy of the Lord is her strength. She genuinely cares about the hurting, and those who suffer the most profound losses move her. She loves her family deeply. She is wise. Her taste in men is superb. Okay, I threw that one in as a joke. We’ve both been tempered by our losses the way fire strengthens steel. We share a deep resolve and desire for our lives to bring glory to Christ. Oh yeah, she is gorgeous! I’m energized by just the sight of her.

Whatever is left of our days on this earth, we’ve agreed that we want God to use us together for His glory and the good of His Kingdom. May God continue to be glorified! May we build upon the strong foundations of our lives past as we reach for the future.

Ed Litton