Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Treehouse Project: The Beams and Platform

Patent Pending #0257648891535
In case you missed it, see previous post on why I am building a treehouse HERE. To prove that anyone can build a treehouse I have posted a picture of the only other woodworking project I have completed in my entire life. About 5 years ago I needed a stand for my printer in my office so I built one from scratch. Not to brag, but while I've gone through multiple printers (e.g. Canon, HP, Brother) this stand has outlasted all of them. I’m sure your first thought was “This is most assuredly the workmanship of a skilled Amish craftsman!” I forgive you. 

I share this all in jest of course because who attempts to build a treehouse after building a printer stand like that? I didn’t know where to start so I did quite a bit of research on the interwebs but full disclosure my primary resource in guiding me through this project has been this book (Amazon link HERE). It’s pretty simple read with lots of pics (who doesn't like pics?) but it covers a lot of things you may run into and stresses important things one might overlook. It also contains a lot of creative ideas  - which is the fun part! I highly recommend it as a basic guide. Lastly, my advice to anyone attempting to build a treehouse is “plan ahead but expect the unexpected and be flexible”.  Every tree and treehouse is different, and almost nothing goes exactly as planned so get ready to use your power drill clockwise (to assemble) and counterclockwise (to undo mistakes).

The Beams, Wood and Hardware
So the most important part of a treehouse are the beams. You cannot skimp on this part because this is what will be bearing the weight of your house (and your children!) and so it must be done right. As Jesus said, it’s better to build on rock than sand or the house will come tumbling down (i.e. your foundation matters!). I decided to go with two 2’x6’ beams on each side of the tree. The two oak trees I was securing the beams on are about 7 feet apart. If the beams were spanning much more than that I would have went with 2’x8’ beams but combining two pieces of wood is much stronger than going with one thicker piece (4’x6’) because two distinct cuts of lumber will have varying weak spots making the combined piece stronger overall. Yes, King Solomon was right when he said: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:12) The two pieces are secured by 4" galvanized carriage bolts secured with washer and nut on the other side (single bolt on right).  Don't skimp and not get galvanized. This is a non-negotiable. You don’t want water rusting your bolts over time and your structure is only as strong as the bolts holding them. For the screws I went with two ½” thick by 7 inch long galvanized lag screws and washers on each side for attaching the main beams to the trunks. This would ensure that even after going through the two pieces of wood there would be a good 3-4 inches embedded into the hardwood of that solid oak tree. 

level is key!
Now before you affix it to the tree you have to make sure that everything is level both across the beam and between both beams. Though time-consuming this step is very important because if it is not consistently level throughout the base the weight will not be distributed evenly and the final structure will be more susceptible to collapse. Don't trust your eyes! The leveler does not lie. I also highly recommend getting pressure-treated wood at least for the beams and platform. Water is wood’s worst enemy and so getting pressure treated wood will make everything last much longer than untreated wood will. Yes, it looks uglier (greenish tint), yes, it costs more, and yes, it weighs more but it is well worth the investment in the long run.

The Platform
The size of the platform will depend on the strength of the tree and the design of the house. I wanted to make it as big as possible without compromising safety and so the platform spans about 9x12 - stretching short of 2 feet beyond each trunk. That’s over 100 SF suspended over 10 feet in the air. Plenty big. I used pressure-treated 2x6 wood for this as well and doubled up the perimeter for additional strength and stability. The biggest challenge was calculating how far away from the tree the platform could span before requiring additional support. I’m trying not to use additional posts as it starts to feel less like an authentic treehouse and more like an elevated house next to a tree. Well, there’s no exact science to this but I went about 3.5 feet beyond the trees on each side.

Since at this time it was just me and my cousin Young working on this we weren’t quite sure how we were going to get the platform up and on to the main beams. We thought it would be easier to build the platform leaning up against the beams so we could just slide it up when complete. We used a 6 ft ladder to help us prop up the frame while we screwed it together. It wasn’t until after we finished this and were getting ready to hoist it up that we realized the ladder had become permanently affixed to the frame.
Do not try this at home...
Doh!! Like I said “expect the unexpected”. We unscrewed one corner and slid it out and tried again. We quickly found that with the frame doubled up on perimeter and with joists running across it was now too heavy to hoist 8 feet up. Mind you, we are both very strong men. =) 

pulleys are the best!
We had already set up some pulleys on each side to hoist the main beams and so we tied ropes around one end and my cousin got on the lower side and used the ropes like a cable crossover machine. Meanwhile, I was on the other end pushing the platform up as if I was doing a clean and jerk lift. Now imagine two out-of-shape men squeezing every aiota of strength out of their middle-aged bodies to get this platform up. I'm pretty sure we scared all the crows out of all the trees in a 3 mile radius when we released the primitive screams reminiscent of an olympic power-lifter....


However, when the platform was placed above the beams we noticed it would tip if there was too much weight on one side. To mitigate this we secured deck ties between the joists and main beams. After doing this I could stand on the edge with zero movement. 
deck ties galore

But just to make sure I also put in some corner braces at a 45 degree angle in each corner. Again, this is primarily to support the platform from tipping if there was too much weight on one side - highly recommended if you are going more than 2 feet over the beam.

Next week I’ll point out the essential  power tools you’ll need, how we put in the floors and also show the beginning stages of framing the treehouse. 
framing chapter next!!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Gospel Treehouse (and other DIY thoughts)

So for those that did not know - we bought a bank foreclosure last winter out in “the country”. We weren't in the market for a new home but had been thinking it would be nice to have more room and an actual yard especially since we home-schooled and would utilize a home and yard more than most families. Well, last October we were at Kim’s sister’s place and we spent the night in their home out in the country. My brother-in-law Kurt is an amazing landscaper and arborist and they have a beautiful home that forces you to unwind and appreciate God’s creative beauty and so the whole family has always enjoyed visiting them. I’ve posted a pic below of their place so you don’t have to use your imagination.

Anyways, despite the peaceful setting, I woke up at 2am that night in their home and couldn’t fall back asleep so I opened up my iPad and perused through Zillow to assuage my boredom. Long story short, I happened upon a listing for a bank foreclosure that was only two miles from their home that made quite an impression on me – especially at the listed price. So at the break of dawn I whisked over there and walked around the outside (i.e. the inside was locked up) and I must say I instantly fell in love. The pictures did not do it justice. After some prayer on whether we should move forward, a hot and heavy multiple bidding process ensued but God graciously provided and we moved in during polar vortex #2 (or was it #3?). The home is far more than we could have ever dreamed of – especially considering we lived in a small townhome for 9 years prior with no yard. It’s a bit of a shocker to go from managing one small hanging plant on our back deck to managing 2+ acres and a private pond but who am I to complain….God is good!

Hammer wins....again.
But while God is good, I am not handyman stuff. In fact, we used to have a guy named Dean do a lot of handyman work in our old townhouse because the only tools I knew how to use were a hammer and a drill and as you can see from my thumb even operating a hammer can be challenging at times. True story: when Caleb was three years old he once saw a light bulb go out and he immediately yelled, “Call Dean!”. But, anyone can change and if necessity is the mother of invention, than frugality is the mother of motivation. In other words, when I saw all that needed to be done at our new home I became very motivated when I realized I could do it myself for ¼ the cost of a professional. However, my wife and I have learned that there are few rigid mathematical proofs when it comes to DIY ("Do It Yourself") projects: 

Proof #1: DIY = contractor cost x 0.25
Proof #2: DIY = contractor time x 10
Proof #3: DIY = contractor quality x 0.125

But all men can focus on is Proof #1: "I can do it myself for 1/4 the cost! AND use these incredible cost savings to get some cool power tools for future projects!" (grunting and scratching and loss of all rational thought ensues here)  While wives tend to focus on proof #2: "Are you planning on painting the other half of the room?" and Proof #3: "Aren't doors supposed to close all the way?" Details! Details! Joking aside, I think people are drawn to home improvement and extreme home make-over shows  because they are innately drawn to the gospel. Think about it. You are taking something that is typically old, broken and dilapidated. And you are infusing undeserved love and sacrificial devotion into it. And in that process you transform it into something new, beautiful and whole. There is something that feels so good and right about that and if that isn’t the story of the gospel….I don’t know what is.  
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come." -2 Cor 5:17
Anyways, I may post some of my other DIY projects I’ve been working on here in the future but this post is dedicated to my treehouse. So one of the things I immediately noticed on my first walk around the home back in the fall were two beautiful oak trees standing nearly 40 feet tall. When I was in high school I used to attend a youth group at a church called “Twin Oaks” which was named after a verse in Isaiah: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isa 61:3b - NIV)”  For some reason when I looked at these trees I thought of that verse and felt a treehouse just belonged here.  To give you some context this exact passage was actually quoted by Jesus when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth and unfurls the scroll of Isaiah in Luke 4.  I find it interesting that he specifically chose this passage to inaugurate his earthly ministry. Why? Because it prophesied his earthly mission -- a mission which contains a beautiful message of hope for the lost and the broken:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearterd, to proclaim liberty to the comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.  -Isaiah 61:2-3 (ESV)
Jesus is in the business of finding that which is lost. Freeing that which is imprisoned. Restoring that which is broken. This is quite simply what he does and he does it for his glory and for our good. Praise him.

Not my childhood treehouse....but close.
I should also mention that this isn’t my first treehouse project. When I was 12 years old I attempted to build a treehouse with a neighborhood buddy named Steve. It was a frightening conglomeration of rusty nails, graying scrap wood and splintered lumber and probably a civil engineer’s worst nightmare but hey it was our own leaning tower, we built it, dang it, and had a lot of great memories in that creaky mess! So why not give my kids some great memories to build on as well (sans the splinters and myriad safety hazards)? I made the mistake of telling my 6 year old girl a few months ago that I planned on building a treehouse and she made me promise that I would do it this summer (and asks me almost daily when it will be done). So despite a long list of other projects awaiting (like putting covers on our electrical outlets) the treehouse project has nevertheless begun. 

I hope it's a source of great memories for my children...
I hope it reminds us that our home must be built upon the greatest "oak of righteousness"....
I hope it creates a joy and a longing for the greatest restoration project in the history of the universe...

....the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Next week I’ll share how I laid down the main beams (the most important part!), joists and flooring. If you're interested... =)

Peace of Christ,

Peter & Kim

Thursday, June 12, 2014

If Dads Only Knew...

Who would have thought that a Dove commercial would inspire me to write a poem? In honor of the upcoming Father's Day....

If Dads Only Knew....

If dads only knew the power they possess,
To inspire a child's heart and to bring out their best.

If dads only knew that it's not gifts of great privilege,
But his talks and his touches that shape a self-image.

If dads only knew that a child's "God" perception,
Is formed by modeling our Father in Heaven.

If dads only knew the dark forces against him.
You take down the family. You take down a nation.

If dads only knew that they're just stewards from birth,
Of what belongs to God only and what belonged to Him first.

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" -1 John 3:1

Monday, April 21, 2014

THE GOSPEL MARRIAGE: Headship, Submission and Marriage Roles

Happy 13th Anniversary to the love of my life! In honor of this, I'm posting on the controversial topic of marriage roles and what the Oscar’s, Dancing with the Stars, and Homer Simpson have to do with marriage, the gospel and the glory of God. This is a continuation of a series on marriage and the gospel and how God created both for our good and for His glory. Please see previous entries here
With three young children I don’t have a lot of time to watch movies so I often use the Oscars as a litmus test to deem what might be worthy of my time and money.  When a film wins Best Picture and Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor/Actress I feel confident it’s worth watching not only because I know it tells a great story but those chosen to tell the story tell it well.  That said, one of my all-time favorite movies is Glory. Not only is the historical narrative of a black Civil War regiment so powerful but Matthew Broderick and supporting actors Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington give incredible performances and complement each other so well. I’ve realized in every good film each actor has a distinct role whether it is the lead, supporting or other, and the story is best told when each actor/actress embraces their unique role with excellence to propel the story which is the biggest star. In short, the glory is the story.

So what does all this have to do with marriage? Well, just as in every great film or story a director or author chooses different characters to play a unique role I believe the same is true of God and marriage. It may have little to do with who is better fitted or who deserves a certain role and more to do with honoring the role the Producer/Director (God Himself) has given. At the end of the day, it’s not about the actors – it’s about the story and no one loves telling stories more than God (author of best-selling book of all time) and just as He has chosen certain men and women in the Bible to display his glory by telling His story I believe He has also given every husband and wife that same privilege through His creation of marriage. So what are our God-given roles and what is the God-given story? Ephesians 5 tells us:  

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. -Ephesians 5:22-25

These verses usually trigger a visceral reaction from people and are often criticized as old-fashioned at best and misogynistic at worst but embracing these roles has nothing to do with preserving a tradition and everything to do with proclaiming a truth. When the husband assumes his role of Christ in the marriage serving his wife through humble leadership and sacrifice and when the wife assumes her role of the Church volitionally supporting her husband’s leadership the world witnesses the wisdom and beauty of God’s design.  These verses are far more than Paul dispensing practical marriage advice.  He is describing God-given roles for a God-given purpose to tell a God-given story -- the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As difficult as it may be there are practical implications when marriage is done God’s way. I am convinced that the added benefit is that when each embraces their respective role marriages are generally happier and healthier. Husbands feel honored and respected and wives feel loved and cherished. God has done this both for His glory and for our good.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world that mocks our differences and unique roles and sadly much of this criticism is well-deserved. With more fatherless homes than ever, men have often failed miserably (myself included) to love and lead their wives and families as Christ loves the Church and so what we now have as cultural symbols for husbands are bumbling idiots like Al Bundy, Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, etc.  Sadly, sometimes “Christian” husbands are the worst. Kent Hughes says it well:

“God’s Word in the hands of a religious fool can do immense harm. I have seen “couch potatoes” who order their wives and children around like the grand sultan of Morocco – adulterous misogynists with the domestic ethics of “Jabba the Hut” who cow their wives around with Bible verses about submission – insecure men whose wives do not dare go to the grocery without permission, who even tell their wives how to dress. But the fact that evil, disordered men have perverted God’s Word is no reason to throw it out.” –Kent Hughes in Ephesians

Let’s face it – men have a sinful bent for being selfish and proud and have generally failed to love and lead. Look no further than the Garden of Eden and notice Adam’s conspicuous absence in Eve’s encounter with the serpent.  Perhaps in response to this failure, women are now encouraged to live a life completely independent of a man with little desire to respect or yield to anyone else as a leader of the household. Couple this with a wives sinful bent to rule over her husband (which also originated at the Garden of Eden (Gen  3:16b) and it’s no wonder why it’s so difficult to find a gospel picture in marriages the way God intended.

However, imagine a gentle husband who loves his wife so much that he constantly puts her needs before his own – even his very life; a man who leads her, not by invoking his sacred authority for his own selfish gain or to stroke his fragile ego, but by serving and protecting her with humility, strength and courage. Now imagine a beautiful bride who willingly sets aside her own selfish desires to control or manipulate and volitionally yields herself to this loving husband by choosing to respect and honor him and by yielding to his humble servant leadership. While the controversial topic tends to generate more heat than light in the Church, I am convinced that this type of union and dynamic between a husband and the wife is one of the most profound real-life pictures of the gospel.  

What is Biblical Submission?
These are hard words. So how are we to understand submission in the context of Scripture and within the context of my life? The apostle Paul tells us:
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. -1 Corinthians 11:3
The first thing one should notice from this verse is that no one escapes the calling to submit. Not women (who are to submit to their husbands). Not men (who are to submit to Christ). Not even Christ himself (who submits to God the Father).  And so the moment a Christian (man or woman) claims they are above “submission” they imply they are above Christ Himself who joyfully submitted to the will and authority of the Father.  The beauty of all this is that in Christ we see perfect examples for both the husband and wife to follow.  

The word “submission” admittedly has become an ugly term in today’s vernacular but as defined and demonstrated by God it is a beautiful thing. Because our culture has so distorted its biblical definition in some ways it’s easier to define by describing what it is not: submission is not a blind obedience to power. It does not forfeit your God-given personality or marginalize a voice or an opinion. It does not excuse or tolerate abuse of power nor is it a sign of inferiority or weakness. Rather, it is quite the opposite because it takes great strength to submit –supernatural strength at times.  

NOT...biblical submission.
Biblical submission is not about one member forcing their will upon the other like a wrestler executing a crippling hold. The beauty and power of biblical submission is that the one who submits does it completely on their own volition and by their own will.  Jesus modeled this in His own prayers when he taught the disciples to pray “thy [the Fathers’s] will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And perhaps the greatest test of this prayer and it's most seminal moment came in the crush of Gethsemane (Mt 26:39) where with blood, sweat and tears Jesus prayed, “…not my will, but your will.” His arm was not twisted by the Father. His was a unilateral yielding of his own volition by faith. We are all called to this type of biblical submission; just as Christ submitted to the Father - husbands are called to submit to Christ and wives to their husbands as they submit to Christ. In obeying this command by faith we are being like Christ….for Christ. We are modeling Jesus’ beautiful submission to the Father to our spouse, our children, and to a watching world for the glory of Jesus.  

What is Biblical Love?
This one is much easier to define and yet much harder to execute. Biblical love is not a touchy-feely, uncommitted whimsical selfish love. It is a self-sacrificing (1 Jn 3:16), life-long, covenant-bound love. It is a love as pictured by the life and death of Jesus and as defined by His Word. As 1 Corinthians 13 states it is a love that is “patient and kind – not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude”. Husbands are called to lead with this kind of love, and in the same way his leadership should not “insist on his on his own way” or be “irritable or resentful” if or when the wife disagrees with him. This is the love and leadership Jesus himself modeled.  

I saw a recent video of Bubba Watson after he won this year's Masters. Two minutes into the interview Bubba begins to talk about life, his faith and the Christ-like role model he tries to play for his family which I found so refreshing and which I believe captures the spirit of the role God calls fathers and husbands to assume.

With that said, I have intentionally refrained from providing specific examples of what these marriage roles might look like in more narrow terms because I believe it may look different for every marriage as every man and woman is unique (although I will attempt to flesh out what this dynamic might look like in future posts). Ultimately these roles are not about determining who plays the family breadwinner, or who wins unilateral decision-making authority. It’s so much bigger than this. It’s about believing by faith that God has a design for marriage because His desire is to project a picture in and through it - the picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His love for the Church (His bride).   

So what happens when a couple follows God’s order and design? One of my wife’s favorite shows is “Dancing with the Stars” and although there are many other ways I’d prefer to spend an hour, I must admit seeing each aspiring couple rise to the challenge of performing their routine in front of a live audience is exciting. But the truth is it only works when three things happen:  when the man knows how to lead, when the woman follows his lead and when both dance in rhythm to the music. When these three things come together even an old curmudgeon like myself can find something inherently beautiful in it. In the same way, when the wife supports her husband’s leadership, when the husband leads as a servant as Jesus modeled, and when both are in rhythm with God’s word and in sync with the Spirit – the world is witnessing a powerful picture of Christ and the Church and God receives glory.

Many of us vastly underestimate the power we possess in our marriage relationship to model this Gospel picture and communicate this Gospel story. I mean how much of a difference can two people make in a world that is so broken? Looking back at my own spiritual journey I realized that although I had grown up in a loving Christian home it wasn’t until I was in high school and met my youth pastor and his wife that I saw this dynamic in play. I saw the way he treated his wife and kids – humble, gentle and sacrificial in the way he led. And I saw the way she treated him – respectful and honoring in the way she trusted his leadership of the home and I was inexplicably drawn to that. I was only a young teenager and at the time I didn’t really understand what I was seeing but I knew I wanted it in my own life and in my own marriage someday [though admittedly still a work in progress]. Only now do I realize that I was actually witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ embodied in the union between a husband and wife – the way God intended it to be. I am convinced that this, more than anything else, is ultimately what drew me into a relationship with Christ and a saving faith.

I understand that this post can be a frustrating read for some married couples. What if my husband cannot or will not lead our home? What if my wife won’t support my leadership or is a more capable leader? What if feeling loved or respected matters little to my wife or husband?  What is this really supposed to look like in the 21st century?

These are good questions and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. It will require great faith in God’s word – and faith that at the end of every difficult command is a promised blessing. The truth is neither role is easy. Who wants to support a leader that doesn’t lead well? Who among us are qualified to love and lead like Christ loves the Church? But by faith we obey these commands we are being “like Christ…for Christ”. He is our model and our motive – not our spouse. That said, God has given each spouse great power. Even when only one party plays his/her role, by faith, I believe it has the power to transform the heart of the other by “sanctifying them “ (Eph 5:25-26) or even “winning them over” (1Pet 3:1) to Christ.

Only with a gospel model in marriage, can we fully understand and appreciate that the biblical headship model was not just an arbitrary decision or a practical “tie-breaker” but was created to project a physical picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and this is most profoundly pictured when both husband and wife play their parts. When this happens God, the master story-teller, uses the marriage to re-enact the drama of the Gospel.  What a privilege to participate in the most compelling drama and redemptive story ever told. May we tell His story and may we tell it well. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Seeing Jesus in Tangled

At the risk of turning in my man-card I confess I watched Tangled again for the umpteenth time with my kids last night. I share this because every time I watch it I see the Gospel through and through
  • the redemption of a lost child 
  • the resurrection of the dead 
  • the restoration of a kingdom.
I love the scene when Rapunzel has her epiphany and realizes all the signs that were always around her which declares her identity, where she came from, who she is and who she belongs to.

She is from a kingdom she has never seen. She is a child of the King. She is dearly loved and missed. God has given us His Word as the ultimate declaration of His love for us. But the entire universe proclaims this truth as well. (Ps 19:1)

“God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers clouds and stars.” –Martin Luther

Monday, December 16, 2013

Canon in C (Jesus Loves Me)

Went to a Phil Keaggy/Michael Card concert recently and got inspired and put together this little song/arrangement. Merry Christmas friends!

God so loved the world you see.
He became like you and me.
Took on flesh, and blood, and bone.
That we might, so we might know.
Yes....Jesus loves me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Gospel Marriage: Covenant

Above is a clip from Disney Pixar's Up chronicling the marriage of Carl and Ellie. In 4 brief minutes it encapsulates a beautiful union and I doubt you will find yourself so moved by another animated short - especially one where not a single word is uttered. I am convinced that the reason why it tugs at our heart so powerfully is because we are not just seeing the enduring love shared between a husband and wife but we are also witnessing a small glimpse of God's great love towards us -- a love each and every one of us were created to receive.  

In my previous marriage posts (found HERE) I have attempted to stress that God’s central purpose for creating marriage was that it might be a picture of Christ and the Church, for our good and for His glory. I understand that this might sound nice for the “theologically-inclined” but you're probably thinking "What relevance does this have for my marriage today?" Well, in very practical terms I think one of the most profound ways in which a marriage between a man and a woman can picture Christ’s love for the Church (i.e. me as a believer) is in the way we view and honor our marriage covenant.

When you think about weddings what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Perhaps it’s the flowers, the music, the tuxedos? Maybe it’s that dress, the procession, or the rings? But beyond all the pageantry what do you think is the most important part of that wedding day? It’s not when the father hands his daughter over to the groom. It’s not when the preacher gives a poignant sermon. It’s not even when the newlyweds kiss to seal the deal. There is really only one part of that special day that if you removed it from the program, it would no longer qualify as a wedding, and that is…..the “exchange of vows”.

This is that salient moment where the husband and wife look into each other’s eyes and while standing before family, friends and most importantly God Himself – they make a sacred promise to one another – a “covenant” in fact. It often goes something like this:

“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. I, ____, take you, ____, for my lawful (husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

What do you notice there? Not all vows are the same but what nearly all share in common is that they involve a long list of circumstances in which both parties promise to be faithful to one another despite whatever might come their way in the years ahead.  Therefore, the purpose of the wedding ceremony is not for the groom and the bride to publicly proclaim their love for one another – but rather to publicly promise their love to one another – no matter what troubles may lie ahead. 

Mike & Leslie
Some dear friends of mine, named Mike and Leslie, found their own vows tested a few years ago like they had never before imagined. Mike was struggling with a severe nerve pain that began in his esophagus and subsequently spread all over his body – a pain so great that it debilitated him physically, mentally and emotionally. He was forced to go on indefinite medical leave from his job as a partner at a law firm, and his condition only worsened over time. Perhaps the greatest challenge in all of this was that despite having seen numerous doctors, psychiatrists, and pastors, no one was able to diagnose and treat the problem let alone find a cure. There he found himself spiraling into a vortex of hopelessness and depression.

This is one of the strongest Christian couples I know, but they will be the first to tell you that Mike’s condition had pushed the very limits of what they thought their marriage could endure. On their anniversary, Leslie confessed her struggle in a very public and powerful way on a blog post she wrote entitled 8 Years Ago Today”. In it she recalled her wedding day and portions of her vow to him and reflected upon them in the midst of their darkest trial. I can’t say it better than her so I have reprinted it below with their permission:

“I, Leslie, take you, Mike, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward…”

Today is our anniversary. I remember so many things about that day. It was truly meaningful and a ton of fun for me. I remember saying my vows and having my voice go two octaves higher as I lost control and sobbed through them. I felt so blessed to have found such a good guy; he was my diamond in the rough….our new life together was filled with adventure and the promise of good things to come.

 ”…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer…”

And good things came. Mike had a super job lined up. We moved to the great city of Chicago. We became part of a diverse, mission-minded church that has become family to us. We had two adorable boys who light up our lives every single day. We have become a part of a neighborhood and school community full of wonderful people and friends. Life could not get any better.

 “…in sickness and in health…”

You know where we are now. Mike continues to have pain, no specific causal diagnosis, no signs of improvement. The longer this goes on, the more he feels cursed. The longer this goes on, the deeper he slips into darkness. I think I can handle his physical ailments. I think I can handle the uncertain future and whatever changes may have to come however drastic. I think I can even handle some anxiety and sadness. But dealing with the growing darkness that has consumed him so that he has almost become a different person altogether makes me miss the man I married 8 years ago. It is hard. And I am failing in so many ways when it comes to loving him as I should. But like him, I am trying. We are both trying so hard even if it seems impossible for him to hope and see beyond himself and impossible for me to be encouraging and patient.

“…to love and to cherish, ’till death do us part. I pledge you my faithfulness.”

In times of testing, words are not just words. They go beyond formality, way beyond lip service. I think of these vows spoken 8 years ago in a different time and a different place. Whether on the mountain top or in the deep valley, I still mean them. Now I know that I really do because I can say them here in the barren wilderness. I still live and swear by them. Michael, YOU CANNOT GET RID OF ME. We are in this war together and I will fight with you till the end, love of my still very blessed life.

What a powerful model and testimony of the very purpose of the marriage covenant! As they were faithful to their vows God proved faithful to them and I’m happy to say that they are doing well and their marriage has never been stronger.  In moments like these, we come to realize why the covenant is so important – they serve as the very glue in holding the marriage union together.  It is here that you realize that you are not holding the promise you made on that day, but rather the promise is holding you. And contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, LOVE is not the bond that holds the relationship together - rather the COVENANT is. Mike Mason articulates the power of these vows so well in his book, The Mystery of Marriage”:

The impact of love may be felt as an exclamation mark, but vows ask a question. “How bright is the sun!” exclaims love, while the vow asks, “How dark a night are you prepared to pass through?” Marriages which are dependent on good feelings fall apart, or at best are in for a stormy time of it. But marriages which consistently look back into their vows, to those wild promises made before God, and which trust Him to make sense out of them, find a continual source of strength and renewal.” (Mason 117)

But while vows look back for strength to endure difficult seasons in a marriage, when they are first made and consecrated on the wedding day they are looking forward as they are promises for an unknown future. And so vows are predicated on FAITH because they place trust in a promise yet to be fulfilled in the future. I believe this is why when a husband or wife violates their vows it is described as being “unfaithful” or “infidelity”. Even the world recognizes that faith is at the very center of this sacred promise.

Well, if, as Paul says, the marriage union between a husband and wife was designed by God to profoundly picture to the world the gospel (Eph 5:32) which is the relationship between Christ and the Church (i.e.”me”), then what can we learn about the gospel in regards to these covenant vows and how should it affect my marriage?

If you read through the Bible you will quickly realize that God loves making promises to His people and God loves keeping His promises to His people.  But despite all his covenants to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and others, I think the greatest covenant He made was to us (the Church).  It is the new covenant which was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34) that not only fulfills but supercedes the old covenant. In fact in Romans Paul describes the unbreakable love found in this new covenant that Jesus has vowed to those who come to him by faith:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ….for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  –Romans 8:35,38-39

Do you notice anything here? In many ways these verses read just like a traditional wedding vow however it goes above and beyond any wedding vow I’ve ever seen, because it promises a faithful love that goes beyond the physical (“neither height nor depth”), beyond the metaphysical (“neither angels nor rulers”), beyond even the dimension of time (“nor things present nor things to come”). Where marriage vows promise "til death do us part" Jesus' vow goes beyond even death itself (“neither death nor life”) – these are all promises no earthly marriage would dare fathom. God is communicating one truth here: nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of Jesus – this is His covenant promise of love to us and it need only be received by faith. 

So in much the same way that a man pursues the woman that he loves for marriage, Jesus, as the bridegroom, initiates his love relationship with us - a love relationship that was broken by our sin. He professes his unconditional love for us and proposes an eternal union with us – his bride – which is the Church. And in the same way that a husband and wife make vows to one another on their wedding day, he has made a solemn covenantal promise to love us without conditions and without end.

 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." -Hebrews 13:5b

…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:20b

Therefore as a married couple, you will never project a more powerful picture of the covenant love found in the gospel than when you hold on to your vows even in the midst of great marital hardship especially when your spouse doesn't deserve it. 

Why? Because you are modeling to a watching world the faithful and enduring covenant love God has for you when you didn't deserve it. Ray Ortlund writes, “It is the heavenly marriage that warrants and dignifies an earthly marriage. In Paul’s reasoning, therefore, human marriage is not the reality for which Christ and the church provide a sermonic illustration, but the reverse. Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality.”

Let me tie this back to the video that opened this post. The reason we are so moved by Carl and Ellie in the movie "Up" is because we are bearing witness to a love that is faithful to a covenant. A love that has endured through both good times and bad. A love that holds true to a promise made many years ago. In fact, the entire movie is essentially about Carl's quest to fulfill his promise to Ellie of taking their house to Paradise Falls - against near impossible odds - just as he promised her as a child. 

What a profound picture of Jesus' covenant love towards us! His is a love not dependent upon our performance but upon His promise. His is a love that found victory against impossible odds. His is a love that endures until the end. This supernatural love and sacred covenant should serve as both the model and the motive for our own marriages. 

May our earthly marriages be a faithful picture of our divine union with Him. 

For His glory and for our good.

Peter & Kim

My next post on The Gospel Marriage will likely be a "touchy" one. I will attempt to show how the biblical model of "male headship" as designed by God in marriage was meant to be a powerful picture of the gospel. Yes...I am going where "angels fear to tread". =) Pray for me, stay tuned and thanks for reading....