Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb; there had been no time to prepare one specifically for him. What his family and friends did not know was that he would only use it three days. His final destination was home to be with his Father. And his task was to prepare a place for us. Easter is a celebration that we are only guests on this world, it is not our home. We are living in borrowed space.
Today marks the 41st wedding anniversary of Richard and Barbara Black. As a couple with over 40 years behind us, we are frequently asked what the secret is to our longevity. In our case, we actually have two; although they are hardly secrets.
One is obvious to anyone who knows us; we have learned to love each other. The ancient Greeks were an intelligent people. They had six words for love while English has only one. In English, the same word is used for the affection between two people and a liking for potato chips.
When Barbara and I first met, we developed a fondness for each other, an attraction of two young people with hormones running wild. With the passing of years, we moved from youthful romantic love to an unconditional love as a couple. Each of us has developed a love where our partner has become the most important person in our life at the cost of our own personal wants and needs.
It is my contention that most marriages fail because many people do not grow in their love for their mates. Their concept of marriage does not expand beyond romance and no married couple can survive on sexual attraction alone; it fades and must constantly be renewed. Eventually for many, it becomes too hard to retrieve the old physical sensation with the same intensity and dies.
We have shared the second non-secret to our success numerous times when people ask us about our sustained romance. Nevertheless, it appears to be particular to us. That is, we have never encountered another couple who have made the same commitment to one another. While we had a formal wedding which included vows we exchanged in the presence of our family and friends, we also made a private vow to each other prior to our marriage. There was no ceremony, no candles, romantic music or warm atmosphere. I do not even remember where we were or what we were doing at the time. However, we made a verbal pledge, we spoke the words out loud. Our declaration to each other was clear and unmistakable.
Our promise was that we would never, under any circumstances, ever use the D-word in connection to our marriage. We would not speak the word in anger, frustration or antagonism and even decided that it included not joking about the word. We would not tease or mockingly use the D-word with each other or about each other. After 41 years of marriage, we have never used the word in a conversation between the two of us or with anyone else in reference to our marital relationship. Not in our most heated disagreements or lightest moments have we said it or implied the meaning of the word. It is a promise that we have faithfully kept.
It may be, for some, difficult to believe, yet I assure you that it is the absolute truth. Even now, I cannot bring myself to write the word as it relates to the union of Richard and Barbara Black. A habit of 41 years is hard to break.
In a world of instant everything and the fragility of obligations, contracts and agreements, it is often forgotten that anything which is worthwhile takes work, perseverance and determination. Rarely is anything of value or permanence gained easily. We have developed something special and enduring with a dedication to keeping our commitment.
Forty-Onederful Years of marriage speak for themselves.
During my time at the Bible College, I took a course on Marriage and Family. Although our professor was a forward thinking and practical instructor, I do not think he could have envisioned the current state of marriage and family in this country given the cultural shifts that have taken place in my lifetime. However, I remember one principle he taught which could revolutionize the family unit if practiced in any age. He stated that marriage was not a 50/50 relationship; 50% give and 50% receive. Marriage, he said, was a 100% commitment; giving 100% to the relationship without expecting or demanding anything in return.
Granted, given that we are flawed humans, it is more a utopian dream than a practical expectation that someone would give 100% to a marriage without anticipating anything in return. Nevertheless, there would be fewer broken marriages, dysfunctional families and shattered lives if more spouses would strive to meet their partner’s needs and wants instead of attempting to have their own desires fulfilled or insisting on some kind of equal tradeoff. Someone who is 100% committed to their mate, or as close as is humanly possible, will be more likely to remain faithful to their marital relationship when trials test it.
Over 40 years ago, I fell in love with Barbara. Our love has matured and grown through the struggles of life. Together, we have enjoyed the high points of life and shared the disappointments of the low points. Her commitment to me was never more evident than when I had my heart attack and was on a very uncomfortable emergency room bed waiting for the doctors to decide what to do. Right beside me the entire night was Barbara on an even more uncomfortable chair. I have had the time to reflect on how much more difficult my health crisis experience could have been and might still be had I not had someone faithfully and supportive there with me through it all.
One of the great privileges Barbara and I had attending a Bible College was that we met other couples making the same lifelong commitments we made and traveling the same marital path we took. Some of our friends have seen their spouses go on ahead of them to the next life after many years together. Others continue to celebrate new anniversaries of life together. They all can attest to the power of love in living life to its fullest as a couple. Whatever the future holds, the past has been worth the journey as two people bonded together in love.
This Valentine’s Day, I hope others can find the same love that I have had with Barbara.
Most people are unaware of many of the real details of the Christmas story. Most notably they do not know that the Magi were not present on the first Christmas night. The ones we call the Wise Men arrived several months, possibly as long as a year or more after the event. We know that they were men of some political influence because they were granted an audience with King Herod and were rich from the gifts they gave to Mary and Joseph. It is uncertain how many of them there were. Given their wealth and influence, they probably traveled in a large caravan with many servants and guards. They were also men of learning and well educated to have known that one particular star in a heaven filled with stars was unique and that it would lead to a great king.
However, although they were not there to witness the birth of Jesus, their faith is astonishing, nonetheless. It is my belief that the star they would follow appeared on that miraculous night of the nativity. I can imagine them gathered on the balcony of a large palace in Bagdad or some other splendid eastern city, possibly eating a meal and enjoying fellowship with each other. They saw the star and determined that they had to go and see the ruler who had so much favor in Heaven that a celestial body announced his birth. Think of the faith it took to undertake a long journey that was not without obstacles and danger and came at a personal cost as travel was not cheap.
Their faith was so strong that they believed the little baby they found in Bethlehem, though of a humble family, was destined to be not only a king, but a might king. It was demonstrated by the fact that they presented to the child the expensive gifts they brought with them then obeyed God’s warning not to speak to Herod about what they had found. They risked their own lives quietly leaving Judea as they did because the Jewish king was known for his vindictive nature and intense cruelty toward his enemies.
For those looking back to an event which took place over 2000 years ago, their faith should be an inspiration. They believed, even though they saw nothing more than a star in the sky. Then they acted on that faith.
As a writer, I never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Therefore, like most people, I have the three wise men in my annual manger scene. In commemorating the first Christmas, I recognize the faith of all who believed in the miracle of that night, especially several men in a faraway city gazing up at a star.
Recently, I attended an event with hundreds of people; front row seat. I was in to it, those around me were in to it and then I looked to the side. A few front row seats down, a young woman was on her cell phone. Okay, sure, I thought, she might have received a text or email and was responding then would rejoin us enjoying the live moment. Nope, she was surfing the social networks.
I tried to refocus on the event, but my attention kept getting drawn over to the woman. For the entire length of the event, almost two hours, she stood and sat and stood and even clapped with the rest of us as if she was a part of what was happening around her. Nevertheless, at no point did she put down her phone and only glanced around on occasion. Instead, she giggled, chuckled and smiled at what was occurring on her phone. A few times, her fingers flew as she responded to a post before flipping to the next page.
However, this story becomes stranger. A month later, I once more encountered her at a similar event. We appear to run in similar social circles. Again, she pulled out her cell phone before things began and started to peruse her social contacts. As before, she went through the event connected to her phone and tepidly interested with what was happening on stage. My assumption was that she checked-in as attending so that she had the post on her page then turned to internet interacting; the cyber world seemed to carry more fascination for her than the real one.
More than likely, the young woman believes that she has an active social life. Sadly, she does not.
Being connected is one of today’s marvels. I appreciate the security of having a cell phone and knowing that my wife and daughter have them when they are out-and-about or traveling. It is great to have the ability to contact family and friends when and where it is necessary. Also, modern cell phones can give directions, find places and save the time of going from store to store in search of goods and services. It allows people to conduct business or do their jobs anywhere and everywhere. However, like anything that has value, when improperly used beyond moderation, it can become more a danger than an asset. I would suggest that being too connected is the new addiction, harmful and detrimental to the metal health of those caught in its grip.
As with any addiction, becoming too connected is a difficult habit to break. The very real risk of individuals caught up in staying connected is becoming isolated in cyber cocoons.
As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NASB) “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Use your cyber connection to enhance your life, not become your life.
The headlines are filled with the latest scandal of a man who used his power, wealth and position in the film industry to exploit and abuse people. But he neither suddenly become a monster nor was he born one; he was created by the little choices he made. Incremental, small things which did not appear all that evil at the time. The name I have for them is white sins; those little wrongs, those small moral failures or ethic compromises that people think are not so bad or too harmful until they grow bigger and become serious problems that control and destroy lives. Yet, be warned. It is not only Hollywood producers who fall under the weight of white sins.
This cautionary tale comes to mind; a true story with the names omitted, the places changed and details altered to protect the innocent.
At the prestigious firm, she was a trusted employee working in the financial department where hundreds of thousands of dollars were handled. Well paid and with generous benefits, she lived the good life and had the potential of advancement with bigger, more important responsibilities or she could move to another company that might offer her even higher pay and more perks; her options were many.
However, a dark spot sprouted and was beginning to grow far under the surface where no one could see it.
Not satisfied with what her salary could afford her, she began spending more than she made. The larger house, better car and clothes were draining her paycheck until she was living from payday to payday. Then, one day, she needed funds for lunch and gas but the credit cards were maxed out. Her eyes fell on the petty cash box she kept locked in her desk. A loan, she would loan herself the money and pay it back after payday. Of course, there was the question of the log for the money, but a bogus entry took care of that.
Payday came and went and there were bills to pay and money to stretch until the next month’s salary payment. Also, there were additional dips into the petty cash box and new fabricated line items in the ledger. Eventually, she determined that there was no reason to pay back the appropriated funds. After all, the owners of the firm made so much money because of her efforts and she was not necessarily adequately compensated for all she did for them. The petty cash acquisitions were, well, the raise she deserved. Anyway, none of the executives noticed such small sums, given the large amounts that passed through the firm on a monthly basis.
Each month, she reported to her boss with the accounts and each time he verified and accepted them as correct. Nevertheless, leading up to the annual audit, she was nervous and swore that she was done, finished with using out of petty cash. Yet, when the outside agency auditors came and went without incident, she felt secure.
Unfortunately, her spending habits had not changed with her resolution. Instead, they were becoming more problematic and she was constantly reaching the end of her bank account before the end of the month. A bill sat in her purse that had to be paid, but she did not have the money. While her mind tried to find an option as she worked, one suddenly presented itself in the form of a check from a client. With a simple adjustment, the client account showed paid but the funds were not directed into the firm’s bank account, but hers. Her bill was promptly paid and the pressure was off; momentarily.
Another month and another unpaid expense short, she found it necessary to creatively transfer another check into her account. By the fourth or fifth time, it had become easy and she was confident that her boss and the owners would never see or notice the missing funds.
At the annual holiday party, she accepted the adoration of the owners as one of the key employees who were responsible for the success of the firm. She was given a raise and additional perks including a parking place closer to the door near the executive parking. There was nothing to fear from those above her.
Trouble came when a lower level accountant under her supervision notice a small discrepancy, a minor detail. Clearing up the trivial little things was part of the accountant’s job and she thrived on dealing with them. After eliminating all the potential reasons for the error, she was left with a banking error. When the bank verified that it had not made a mistake on their part, there left only one explanation; someone in the firm had fraudulently altered the check’s passage through the company accounts. She finally, fearfully took her documentation secretly over her boss’ head.
After carefully combing the books, it was determined that more than $100,000.00 had been embezzled over months and years. In reality, the figure was estimated to have been much larger, but so well disguised were the thefts that it would have taken months to find them all.
Some might argue that her mistake was in taking one too many checks while others would maintain that it was the moment when she determined that she had a right to the funds or some point to her failure to repay the initial dip into the petty cash. I maintain that it was surrendering to white sins which led her down a path that saw her eventually fired, almost prosecuted, and financially and personally damaged for many years. The moment she gave in to a white sin, she set herself up for devastation. For one white sin led to another and another until they became an avalanche of destructive behavior and ruinous consequences.
To avoid the devastation brought on by the eventual results of gigantic sins, avoid the temptations of white sins.
My old French neighbor told me a fascinating story during our resent vacation in France that illustrates the smallness of the world. If I get some of the details wrong, it is because he was telling the story in good French and I was listening in bad French. I apologize in advance for any errors.
In the mid 80s, both of our families lived on a street in the village of Epron, France called Rue de la Croix Cantee. A few years after we left France, our neighbors moved from Normandy to a suburb of Paris. Time passed, he changed jobs, the children grew and life continued.
As one of the perks of his new company, he and his wife were given a weekend holiday package at the Hippodrome de Longchamp outside of Paris.
Since they did not know anyone else at the hotel, they asked to be seated for dinner at a small table with one other couple as opposed to a table with a large party of people. As the evening progressed, they began getting to know their dinner companions. To their surprise, they discovered that the other couple not only lived in Epron, but also on Rue de la Croix Cantee. In fact, they had lived there for years and were there while we and our neighbors were in Epron. Our homes were on one end of the short street and the other couple resided on the opposite end. Our old neighbors and the couple did not remember ever meeting and had to travel halfway across France to get to know each other.
Epron was a small town and we attended several local events. My neighbor and I also participated in the community tennis tournament. I imagine that we encountered the other couple, passed them on occasion and probably knew them in that casual manner people in little communities do.
Many are no doubt familiar with the principle of six degrees of separation. The theory states that a person is six steps or less away from any other person in the world through a chain of acquaintances or events. With 7.44 billion inhabitants on Earth, the concept is that we all know each and every other person in some form or fashion.
As we live life and wander through this world, perhaps we should do so with greater care in how we treat others. Maybe our words should be more measured, especially on the social networks, and our actions considerably gentler. We do not know who we might encounter along the way that might someday hold sway over a reputation, job or home, or even become our dinner companion. And no one wants another person to end a sentence badly that begins, “I know someone who knows someone who has a friend that knows you and they said…”
“I think I’m quite ready for another adventure,” said an old and tired Bilbo Baggins at the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The idea of sailing off in the last ship to leave Middle Earth invigorated his soul and spirit. That’s the magic of adventures.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” Bilbo earlier told his young friend. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Far too often, people allow the mundane of life to interfere with the potential adventures of life. They become so wrapped up in the daily aspects of it that they fail to grab for its gusto. They mistake comfort for contentment and live a quiet restlessness never understanding why. There are bills to pay, jobs with work that must be done and responsibilities, always responsibilities. Then, quite suddenly, the opportunities for adventure have come and gone; unused.
Barbara and I have our regrets; the things we have tried which have not worked out as we had hoped. But of all the ventures that have not ended as we planned, we have no regrets about taking them on, stepping out our door. We would rather have gone on an adventure and failed than to have not gone at all. And age, it seems, has not dimmed our enthusiasm for life’s quests.
Together therefore, as we have always done in our partnership, we are going on another adventure. We have heard the call of Paris, France calling us back for a visit. Our French has long ago turned to rust and we no longer have the physical stamina we once possessed. Nevertheless, our spirits need the rejuvenation of something new and exciting, so vive la France!
You will forgive us if we use the social network to document our latest adventure. You are welcome to come along, that is, if you are not on one of your own.
Under the heading of old news that is new again, a number of months ago, ASJ Publishing released my novel Heresy's Child as an eBook. However, the hardcopy got caught up in events where everyone connected to the project, including me, were so busy with other projects that we failed to realize the it had not been released to print. Yes, that can actually happen. That has been corrected and everyone can now get their own page-turning book.
Heresy's Child is a story where I looked at the course that world events were taking and saw God working and the Bible becoming more and more real. I believe that I was inspired to write it and especially enjoyable was how the twist I love to put in my stories managed to surprise the people who read it.
It is my hope that you will support a starving author by picking up a copy, but more than that, I pray that you will be inspired in reading it to believe that God is active in our ever-changing world.
Once again, my very talented daughter, MD Black of MDBlackPhotography.com provided the cover photo.
"To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" John 8:31-32