Businesses, organisations, clubs and even individuals often get to a stage where making a clear decisive statement of what they truly believe can be helpful. This is called their Statement of Beliefs. My theatre company, The Backyard Bard wrote up our Statement of Beliefs many years ago (you can read it here). Get some advice fromÂ Jimmy John Founder and get inspired by him to make life more interesting.
On this blog, I often am trying to explain, defend, explore and articulate my beliefs. I hope the testimony of this blog is that they are founded on Scripture and my own experience of life and God. But I also acknowledge that I hold many unfounded beliefs. Beliefs that I hold to dearly, that are founded on very little if anything other than my own imagination, superstition or paranoia.
I thought it good to state my unfounded beliefs (the ones I am aware of, or at least, the ones I could think of in the last few hours). May they be recorded for posterity, reflection and understanding. May I live my life admitting and uncovering the beliefs that I hold without foundation.
SIMON CAMILLERI’S STATEMENT OF UNFOUNDED BELIEFS
1. DAIRY PRODUCTS WILL IMMEDIATELY GO OFF IF LEFT OUT OF THE FRIDGE FOR ANY MORE TIME THAN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
I think this one was instilled by my father who insisted that the milk be put away immediately after use. I also have many distinct and fond memories of mum or dad coming home after a big shop at the supermarket and as soon as you heard the car horn beep it was all hands on deck! We all had to run out to help bring in the bags of groceries and re-enforced every single time was the important principle that all the fridge stuff had to be put away first and as quickly as possible.
As you can imagine, every time I go on a church camp I experience great angst when during breakfast the jug of milk is just sitting on the table for the hour or so while everyone eats. Every time I can hear my internal Statement of Unfounded Beliefs screaming “PUT IT BACK IN THE FRIDGE!!”.
2. SPIDERS WILL JUMP ON YOUR FACE IF YOU LOOK DIRECTLY AT THEM, AS OPPOSED TO RUNNING PAST THEM WITH YOUR EYES DIVERTED.
You would think that this arachnophobia was caused by some traumatic experience as a child when a spider jumped on my face, but no, a spider has NEVER jumped on my face, but I would put that down to the fact that I never look at them directly and I run past them with my eyes diverted. See! It works! Just like I save myself from being eaten by sharks by not spending to much time in the ocean and I avoid being attacked by bears by not going to Russia. It all makes perfect sense to me.
3. GETTING THE PERFECT SEAT IN THE CINEMA IS VITAL TO AN ENJOYABLE MOVIE GOING EXPERIENCE.
Dad, I must once again attribute this principle to your training. You know how when you go to the movies they rip your ticket and then you go to find your particular cinema, well, back when I was a boy you used to have to line up outside of your cinema before they ripped your ticket and let you in. My dad loved (and still loves) the movies and we would get to the cinema as early as humanly possible in order to be as close to the front of the queue as possible to get the best seats in the cinema. On the tragic occasions that we arrived at the cinema after a long queue had already formed, I distinctly remember on more than one occasion, my dad would instruct me to sneak to the front of the queue so that I could get in and save seats for the rest of the family. I would have to have only been around 6 or 7 years old at the time.
So there I was, a young innocent child carrying four large jackets ready to claim seats for my parents and my two older brothers (and maybe my baby brother, I can’t remember). Not conspicuous at all! Well, I sort of felt less than convincing as I tried to sneak in to near the front of the queue. So, of my own cunning, I developed a technique. I used the fact that I was a child standing alone and I simply stood near an adult so the everyone else thought I was with them. If the adult or family I was standing with got suspicious, I would simply lean a little closer to another adult and their suspicions would subside. So my life of crime and deceit began, and so Number 3 on my Statement of Unfounded Beliefs was written in stone.
My friends (and especially my wife) know that if you’re going to a movie with me then you’re going early or you’re booking online. If there’s a big group of friends meeting before the movie, I will abandon all the social catchup and unhelpful human relationship building that traditionally goes on as you wait for everyone to arrive. I will grab my ticket, get into the cinema and save the best seats for everyone. I think in my entire life (which must involve around 1,000 movie-going experiences) I can only remember 3 times that I have had to endure crappy seats – “The Witches” in 1990, “Twister” in 1996 and “Paul” in 2011. I guess 3 out of a 1,000 ain’t too bad.
4. I CAN DO FULL-TIME WORK, PART-TIME MINISTRY AND PART-TIME THEATRE, WHILST MAINTAINING A HEALTHY MARRIAGE AND AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE… AND HAVE TIME TO BLOG.
Back in my twenties I seemed to be able to juggle all these things… or at least that’s what I believe as I look back with nostalgic eyes at the “glory days” when I had so much time and energy and could do so much. But come to think of it, even that is an unfounded belief. I never worked full-time in my early twenties. I worked part-time as a checkout chick at Safeway for most of it! I did do part-time theatre, but that was my main involvement in ministry, whereas now I lead the Bible Reading Ministry at my church, run a support group for guys struggling with porn addiction and am getting my “Elephant Room” ministry off the ground. I also hope to co-lead a Bible Study in my home with my wife next year and am getting more involved in various leadership roles as my church stretches its legs in its new church building. As for my marriage, well I was married at 23 and it ended in divorce! So I guess I shouldn’t really look on my twenties as my “glory days”. They sorta sucked.Â
I am older and more overweight than I was, but I’m also a lot more busy with more important things, and now that I am married again, I want to invest in it and prioritise it. So I do need to realise I can’t do it all. I sometimes think of it like I’m driving on the freeway of my life, and parallel to my freeway is another freeway, where another Simon is driving a different life. At some point, I made a choice at some junction and now I am on this path. There are multiple freeways all travelling along next to each other. On one freeway I travel the world doing storytelling. On another freeway, I moved to the US to study to be aÂ psychologist. On another freeway, I spent my days single,Â pursuingÂ reconciliation with my first wife. On another freeway, I went back to Uni to study to be a teacher. I can not live every possible life and then at the end of them all see which one glorifies God the most. I must chose a freeway. And I have. And I love the freeway I’m on. So, when I’m reminded of all the things I could be doing and I look across at the other Simons driving on the other freeways, I can just smile, give them a wave and keep driving.Â
5. A CHICKEN SCHNITZEL SANDWICH IS A HEALTHY LUNCH BECAUSE IT HAS SALAD IN IT.
My efforts to eat healthier are full of unfounded beliefs and the world of marketing is full of lies from “Mars Bar Lite” to Nutra Grain being “Iron Man Food”. Over the years, I have worked jobs that have required me to eat at a shopping centre food court, which has always kept me looking for the newest top rated weight loss supps – but enough is enough. I have come to believe that if I can avoid KFC and the Fish n Chips outlet and stick to the healthy Sandwich Bar, I am safe… not matter what I buy from them. I have a particular fancy for Chicken Schnitzel sandwiches, with swish cheese and mayo… oh, and lots of salad as well, which clearly makes up for all the fat that I consume from the other stuff.
I recently saw at my regular lunch venue, just how they fry up the chicken schnitzels that I love so very much. They guy lathered on at least aÂ centimetre or twoÂ of pureÂ margarine across both sides of the crumbed schnitzel and chucked it on the hot plate. After witnessing that, this unfounded belief just became a little more unfounded!
6. IT’S GOING TO BE A STRUGGLE FOR CAT & I TO LIVE ON JUST MY WAGE NEXT YEAR.
In 2013, Cat & I will try to live on just my wage and have all of her wage going into savings. This is partly because we want to save but mostly because we’re hoping to start a family in the next year or so and Cat wants to be a stay at home mum for the first few years. If that is going to be our life, we thought it best to start getting used to living on only one wage. This seems hard. It’s going to be a real challenge. It will take a lot of budgetting and financial planning and luxury sacrificing to pull it off.
What a load of first-world baloney! Here in Australia, we have very little concept of real poverty and real struggle. When we think of the poor, we think of people who have a beat up old car, live in a crappy high rise apartment with mould on the walls and who are unemployed. But (not to diminish the suffering of anyone who is in those circumstances), on a global scale that is still incredibly wealthy. Half of the world’s population lives on around $2 a day.Â
I don’t have any concept of what it means to live without clean drinking water, access to a toilet or to actually feel real hunger that couldÂ endangerÂ my life, and the truth is, it is almost impossible in Australia that I could ever be in that position. Even if both Cat & I lost our jobs tomorrow, we would realistically never end up living on the streets. I enjoy the luxurious benefits of material possessions, money in the bank, University education, a wide social circle, and general health (despite the chicken schnitzel sandwiches). But even if I lost all those things, I live in a country that provides water, sanitation, education, health services and employment assistance to anyone. I am truly rich. I am filthy rich. I have no right to complain about the potential “struggle” I may face by living off only one income. That income still puts me in the top %1 of the entire world, and if I have to make some petty sacrifices to adjust to a slightly lower income, they will be very superficial on a global scale.
It is so so easy to compare your plight with the wealthy around you. As we may shake our head and laugh at someone who thinks he is doing it tough if he has to travel business class rather than first class, I would look even moreÂ ridiculousÂ to the majority of people in the world. I must always keep that in perspective and my blindness to my ownÂ privilegeÂ and wealth has earned this unfounded belief a place on the list.Â
7. I CAN MAINTAIN A HEALTHY, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WITHOUT READING THE BIBLE REGULARLY.
This is actually not something I consciously believe. I mean, I would never say this or teach this or encourage this, but I guess the real test of what we believe is not what we profess with our mouths but what we actually do. Like the guy who says, “I love you honey”, but treats his wife like crap, our words are pretty shallow expressions of our beliefs if they are not backed up by action. The Bible is full of this principle. Like Isaiah 29:13 where it says, “The Lord says: ‘These peopleÂ come near to me with their mouthÂ and honor me with their lips,Â but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of meÂ is made up only of rules taught by men.'” or 1 John 3:17-18,Â “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,Â how can the love of God be in him?Â Dear children,Â let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”, or if you want it from the mouth of Jesus himself, check out the challenging passage in Matthew 7:15-28, where Jesus warns that it’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and listen to his words, you have to put them into practise.
God doesn’t want just lip service, he wants wholehearted discipleship, and it is by our fruit that we will be known. If you say you believe that God hears our prayers and that he is powerful to act, and yet you do not pray, then something is very wrong. As Samuel Chadwick, the Methodist preacher said 100 years ago, “Prayer is the acid test of devotion”.
Well, I find the same hypocrisy in my own life when it comes to Bible reading. I very rarely read the Bible to commune with God. I read it often to look up something, or to prepare for a study I’m writing, or for a biblical storytelling performance that I need to practise. But the Bible is not simply a text book of useful information. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. What that means is that although the words of the Bible were written down by ordinary people, God’s Spirit had a hand in guiding and at times even dictating directly what they were to write. As Peter wrote, “Above all, you must understandÂ that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophetâ€™s own interpretation.Â For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from GodÂ as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). So the Bible is a collection of writings that are inspired by God. They are, as Paul puts it, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)
But they aren’t simple a record of things that God once said (or wanted to be said). They hold ONGOING truths. Truths that are unchanging and must be engaged with by all people. The greatest example in the Bible of this truth is found in Hebrews 3:7 where it talks of an Old Testament scripture as something that the Holy Spirit “says” not “said”. The tense is present/continuous not in the past. Now, you have to be careful to seek wisdom as to how you understand and apply scripture and Christians may disagree profoundly on this, but what we must not disagree on is the fact that the Bible is Scripture – it is sacred. It is God speaking.
Now all that is fine and dandy to write in a blog with such confidence, but what do I actually believe? If I actually believe that God is real, and I have a relationship with him that is real, and the primary way in which he communicates with my Spirit is through the Bible, then why on earth aren’t I reading it more often?? Does it simply come down to a lack ofÂ discipline? Is it laziness? No, not really. I seem to fill my days with lots of other stuff I deem important enough to fit in. Is it because I find the Bible boring or difficult to understand? Not at all! My years of doing and teaching Biblical Storytelling has given me great tools for enjoying and understanding the Bible, along with my involvement with the Christian Union and my own church, Bundoora Presbyterian, both of which have helped train me in how to study and interpret the Bible. Is it actually a sign that everything I just wrote about the Bible being God’s Word is a big lie – an unfounded belief? I don’t think so, but I have to test my heart closely on that one, because as I said earlier, a person’s true beliefs are shown by their actions.
I actually think one of my problems is pride. I have read the bible lots over the last two decades and I have studied most of its books in depth. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of Scripture and so I go to the Bible with a sad expectation that I have heard it already. I know God will speak to me if I read the Bible, but I also arrogantly think I will know what he will say!
I recall my first few months as a new believer at age 16. I consumed the Bible like a starving child that had been just given a banquet to eat! I read it with passion and real spiritual hunger. Have I lost that hunger? Do I just feel full and think it now not all that necessary to feast. Maybe a snack now and then, but I’ll rely on what I took in yesterday to get me through tomorrow. In the end, if that is the source of my lack of regular bible reading, I really need to wake up.Â
I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with God without reading the Bible regularly just as well as I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife without ever communicating with her. Or imagine if I just wanted to talk to my wife Cat, but I made no time to listen to her (don’t ask Cat if that is ever her experience… please). In the end, we may still be married, but our relationship wouldÂ definitelyÂ not be healthy and intimate. But I want a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife, and I want a healthy, intimate relationship with God. And so, I must talk and listen to Cat, and I must pray and read the Bible with God. Let’s hope I will learn this lesson, be shaken out of my pride and my true beliefs (backed up by action) will be revealed.
So, that’s my list… so far.
I’m sure there’s lots of unfounded beliefs I still hold. Some petty, some profound.
Why not reflect on your own life and bring out into the light some of your own unfounded beliefs. You may not have to throw them out (I think I’ll always try to get a good seat at the cinema, and I’m not going to start staring at spiders) but you can at least own them for what they are. It also has been a lot of fun and it has helped me identify those beliefs I hold that I actually do think have a foundation.
For countless Christian guys (both married and unmarried) their struggle against pornography is turning into a losing battle.
Believe it or not, porn addiction is the number one sexual issue that the church is facing today. It is destroying marriages, hijacking ministries, and slowly but surely making the majority of guys feel weak in their faith, distant from God and disqualified from useful service.
Porn itself isÂ ridiculouslyÂ accessible, powerfully addictive and full of lies and illusions about men, women, sex, God and where we can find our identity and ultimate fulfillment.
One of the biggest problems as I see it is that although porn is the “elephant in the room” for most guys – we very rarely talk about it. Even with our close friends or mentors, how we are going in the area of sexual purity outside of marriage, and sexual faithfulness inside marriage, is one taboo that we often steer clear from. It is often too full of shame, regret and confusion and we convince ourselves that we don’t need help or we can do it alone by sheer will power.
We need to develop a culture where we can easily talk about this issue, not because like the rest of society, we don’t think it’s a big sin, but because we have experienced the grace of the gospel, and so that grace can be extended to all those who trust in Jesus. We should have no shame in bringing our sin into the light and when we do we should experience no condemnation from our brothers in Christ, because as Romans 8:1 says, “there isÂ nowÂ noÂ condemnationÂ forÂ thoseÂ who are in Christ Jesus.”Â
Helping Christian guys who struggle with porn and building a culture of grace in the church is one of my greatest passions.
If you didn’t know I also run a ministry and a website (that needs a lot of work!) called “Elephant Room”. Check it out here.
This is my version of Proverbs 31:10-31, to the tune of “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” by Cake.
For those that don’t know the passage, the woman described is actually a personification of Wisdom. It is not meant to be (thank God) a check-list for godly women!
This comes right at the end of King Solomon’s collection of wise sayings, known as the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom is always portrayed as a woman and he ends his book by summing up all the things he has said about how to live a wise life – working hard, being prudent etc. His climax is the final line that says that although beauty doesn’t last, the ultimate defining characteristic of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh (“Yahweh” is the name for God). This echoes what he says near the beginning of the book in Proverbs 9:10, “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom”.
The “fear of Yahweh” is an odd concept in today’s culture where we value conquering our fears and see those who instill fear in others as cruel or just a bully.
Some people try to soften the idea down to say that “fear” really just means “respect” or “awe” and although this is true, the word also means, “be afraid of” pure and simple.
I equate it to the sun. The sun is glorious and life-giving. But you don’t go hugging the sun. You shouldn’t even stare at the sun, it is too brilliant. True we should give the sun respect and awe, but at the same time it is foolishness to forget the consequences of treating the sun with disrespect or apathy. In this regard, we fear the sun. When we are where we should be and we relate to the sun as it truly is – a giant ball of burning fire hotter than anything you can imagine – then we can enjoy it’s warmth and light.
God is a bit like that, although I know the analogy has LOTS of holes.
This is my wedding ring. I designed it myself and it holds a lot of symbolic meaning for me. I thought I’d share it with you. I also thought of sharing with you some of these best silicone wedding rings I found.
Firstly, a wedding ring for me is a powerful symbol. If you’re not into rings, or you just think they’re another scam of a materialist culture (like diamond engagement rings), that’s totally fine. The meaning I give wedding rings is totally my own. I don’t base it on any Bible verse or spiritual insight, but I do believe that ritual, traditions and symbols (even when humanly invented) are very powerful things. Also, I think socially, there is a sense that wedding rings do communicate that someone has made the commitment of marriage. I know women who, when they meet a guy, will immediate take note of whether they are wearing a wedding ring or not, and the idea of the sleaze-bag guy who takes off his wedding ring when he goes on a work trip, is looked on with contempt by general society, even in this climate of the scepticism or redefinition of what marriage is about.
My thoughts about the powerful symbolic nature of the wedding ring became most potent in my life during my three and a half year long separation at the end of my first marriage.
For those three and a half years I had to decide whether I would wear my wedding ring or not. My wife had taken her ring off pretty much at the beginning of the separation and I do think it contributed to her belief that the separation was for her, when we became emotionally divorced. But for me, I was fighting for reconciliation and in my mind (and I believed, in God’s mind) we were still married, and so, I wore the ring. There was in fact, only a brief period over those three and a half years (about a month, I think) where I decided to take the ring off. This, in itself was a very powerful thing to do and I think I did it at the time because my obsession with restoring my marriage was causing me unhealthy depression and so I decided to symbolically “take a break”. I did not completely take off the ring though. I put it on a chain around my neck until I felt I could put it on my finger where it belonged.
This simple band of gold was for me a symbol of my vows. It represented the fact that I was committed to the promises I had made and that in my mind at least, that I was still married.
That is why, when the divorce became finalised, I knew what I had to do to accept the reality that my mariage had ended. I had to take off my ring.
As I had been fighting so hard for my marriage for so long, I thought that I better do something even more potent than simply take it off, and so, on the day before my divorce was finalised I invented a little ritual. Having worked in the funeral industry for a while, I have come to see the importance of the funeral experience in the process of grief and acceptance and so I decided to have one of my own little funeral-type ritual. The counsellor I was seeing at the time recommended that I draw a line on the ground somewhere and go for a long walk thinking through my entire relationship and then come back to that line and simply… walk over it. This would physically symbolise the moment that my marriage ended and that I was walking beyond it. I liked this idea and so incorporated it into my little ritual.
I went to the spot where I had proposed to my first wife – It’s in a park in the city of Melbourne – and at the exact spot where I had bent my knee to ask her to marry me, I once again bent down and dug a small hole in the dirt. There I sat and cried and prayed as I held in my hand the photo I had kept in my wallet throughout the separation. And when I was ready, I took off my wedding ring and placed it along with the photo, into that small hole and covered them up. Then I stood up and went for a very long walk and did exactly what my counsellor had advised. I eventually came back to that spot where my wedding ring was buried… and I stepped over it. I walked forward as a single man and kept on walking. That moment was extremely powerful and helpful.
If you are facing divorce and you need to accept its reality in your life (I’m not commenting here on situations where a legal divorce would not constitute a “real” divorce in God’s eyes – that’s maybe for another blog!), then I would suggest doing some sort of ritual like this. I also had friends around that evening and I played a variety of songs that had been significant to my marriage and prayed and received their comfort. You should do what would be significant and helpful to you. The main thing I would suggest is not to wait for the legal certificate of divorce to come in the mail to be your “marker” or “moment of acceptance”. The document may take a bit to get to you and it is a cold symbol. Also, you need to file that document away and keep it safe so that you can marry again in the future, so don’t treat it with too much symbolic or emotional significance as you may end up destroying it.
Anyway, back to the subject of wedding rings.
By God’s kindness and mercy, a couple of years after my divorce I was looking for a new wedding ring. I had met Cat Wort, a wonderful, fun, godly and genuine woman, and a week before we had been dating for a year, I had asked her to marry me.
Now, after all that I have shared in the first part of this blog, I’m sure you can understand how thinking about purchasing a new wedding ring was quite an emotional thing for me. After all that I had been through, what did a wedding ring mean to me? Did it hold that traditional concept of a perfect unbroken circle of eternal commitment?
Well, I thought through a lot of this, and realised that no matter what I chose, I knew two things – One, I wanted the ring to be gold, and two, it had to be different from my first ring.
The “it had to be gold” thing was completely meaningless I could admit, but I couldn’t shake it. I looked and looked at heaps of other options, but I couldn’t get past the idea that deep in my psyche, there is implanted a cliche that a wedding ring is gold. The titanium wedding ring for men and the solid sterling silver menâ€™s rings just didn’t feel right. It’s not a great argument, but, with Cat’s encouragement, I admitted to myself that it being classic yellow gold was actually important to me.
It also had to be different from my first ring. This was a bit trickier to accomodate. My first wedding ring was the classic simple band of gold – like the ring in “Lord of the Rings”. These you can find in any jewellery store.
Unfortunately, that first ring had so powerfully become a symbol to me, I knew I couldn’t buy another one that looked like it. I knew my new marriage wasn’t simply a replacement for the old. Cat wasn’t a substitute or a re-run. I never even refer to her as my “second-wife” and I never want her to feel like anything less than my “wife”.
So, I knew the ring that symbolised my marriage to her had to be special. I wanted it to symbolise what I had learnt about marriage and be a reminder to me and anyone else of those truths. I hope one day I can show my wedding ring to my kids or grandkids and explaining its meaning to them.
After searching high and low, and getting a little bit stressed about it, I found a little jewellery maker on Sydney Rd in Coburg (right near where I lived) and saw in the window a ring that looked like it was made up of lots of panels. It was very cool, and creative and so I tried it on. I really liked it and and was even more pleased after I found out that I could use that concept of the panels and design my own original ring and it wouldn’t cost any more.
After a few sketches and different designs, I eventually came up with the one I am wearing today. It says a few things to me…
The Broken Ring
The first thing you might notice about my ring is that it’s not just a solid band of gold. It’s made up of all these panels in a brick-like pattern. Now, I didn’t intend for it to imply that my first marriage was solid and now my new marriage is somehow broken, but it does reflect something of my experience. There is a fragility in marriage that I think all married people should acknowledge.
In hindsight, I see that in my first marriage I had, what I call a “Titanic” view of marriage. I thought, because we were both Christians and we were making a life-long commitment, that, like the Titanic, not even God could sink this ship! One of the reasons why so many people died on the Titanic was because they had such an expectation that the ship was unsinkable, they they did not take the proper precautions to make sure people would survive if they ever struck a big enough iceberg. They didn’t have nearly enough lifeboats and they had a poor emergency strategy. I think I thought of my marriage like that. I thought, as a Christian, I will never consider divorce an option – which I think was a godly position to take – but this foolishly fostered in me an over-confidence that meant I did not expect that we would ever hit a big enough iceberg to sink us, and because of that, I did not protect my marriage and ensure we had a healthy enough relationship to save us if disaster ever struck. So when we hit a big iceberg, the weakness of our marriage was exposed and the ship sunk.
The brick-like panels of my wedding ring reminds me that although my first marriage was broken, God is a God of redemption and restoration. He taught me so many things about his character, about my need and about how I should properly and biblically think about marriage, my identity in Christ, and where my hope must ultimately lie. So, like a broken wall being rebuilt, God has rebuilt my life and graciously given me a marriage that is built on the right foundations.
I look at my ring and the fact that it is made up of panels reminds me that on one level my marriage is fragile. Like a brick wall, it is made up of pieces, but it is also well constructed. I am confident that my marriage to Cat will last until death do us part, not because of the strength of our commitment or simply the fact that we are Christians and so divorce will never seem like an option… I am confident because acknowledging our fragility helps me to be committed daily and diligently and most importantly, it helps me to be dependent on the one thing that truly holds our marriage together – the gospel.
Another aspect of the ring that you may have noticed is that the spaces between the panels create the shape of a cross.
For Christians, the cross is the heart of Christianity. There is nothing magical about the symbol itself. It refers to the horrible place of execution that Jesus experienced. So why is this symbol of death and disgrace the central symbol of Christianity? And why did I chose for it to be the key symbol on my wedding ring?
Well, there is so much that could be said about this topic, but I will try to just make three main points relevant to my marriage.
Firstly, the cross is the place where sin is acknowledged and dealt with. Marriage is always a commitment between two sinful people. In your wedding vows, you are making huge commitments that inevitably you will fail to keep perfectly. Your love will be mixed with selfishness. Your trust will go through seasons of doubt. Even your fidelity will be tested and you may struggle with attraction for other people or temptation to engage in porn use or even worse. If you have no way of dealing with sin and empowering forgiveness, then you will inevitably have a marriage that is based on performance and devoid of grace.
Our relationship with God is based on the grace found at the cross of Jesus. We can’t even begin to engage with the gospel if we can not acknowledge the most basic of all truths – that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We come to God with our sin in our hands and God comes to earth in Jesus and welcomes us into his family. But he doesn’t ignore our sin or sweep it under the carpet. He takes it onto himself and bears the full punishment it deserves. In the cross, our sin is rightly acknowledged as wrong and yet at the same time, it is paid for and dealt with. The cross is the place of atonement. It is the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. It is the doorway to forgiveness. As Peter writes, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).
The wonderful thing now is that, in trusting in what Jesus did on the cross, we can be reconciled to God and enter a relationship with our Creator that is not based on guilt or winning God’s favour by being good. Guilt is completely done away with. There is no judgement, no condemnation, no distance. Our relationship with God can begin and be built on grace and mercy and forgiveness. God still acknowledges our sin, but having being dealt with on the cross, is it no longer a thing that separates us from him, and so he can help us to change from the inside out.
This is how marriage should operate also. Because God has forgiven my sin and Cat’s sin, how could I hold any sin against my wife? As Paul instructs us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
Because the cross is the centre of our mariage, it is the place where we can acknowledge and deal with the sin in our marriage. It is the place that shows us and empowers us to forgive each other. When we are both daily remembering the wonder of God’s grace and mercy to us, this overflows into grace and mercy for each other and for ourselves.
It also means we can be honest about when we sin and when we are sinned against. Because we do not fear condemnation from God and we do not fear condemnation from each other, we can bring up areas of failure freely (though still with sensitivity) and we can deal with them quickly and without the need to justify, hide or defend our sin. Now, naturally, we sometimes fail at showing grace to each other, but even that failure is covered in grace!
Secondly, the cross is the greatest display and description of love. The bible passage that was central at our wedding was from 1 John 4:9-11. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Probably Jesus’ most famous teaching was to love our enemies, or love your neighbour as yourself. Clearly love is so important to marriage and everyone would agree that one of the saddest relationships is a loveless marriage. Staying faithfully committed is not God’s central goal for marriage. God wants marriage to be a place where love is experienced and deepened and displayed.
But what is love? What does it look like? Is it a feeling? Is it a choice? Is it simply a biochemical reaction in the brain? Well, if you are looking for an extensive list describing how love must practically demonstrate itself, then I’d point you to Paul’s brilliant and beautiful description in 1 Corinthians 13, but if you want it shown to you in a picture form, then time and time again the New Testament points us to the cross as the place where we see the love of God most potently displayed.
Again, that may seem odd. How can this symbol of death and torture show us God’s love? And how can it show us how we are to love each other? Well, in being willing to die for our salvation, Jesus shows us that selflessness is at the heart of love. Being willing to “die to ourself” for the good of our spouse, to bless rather than curse, to bear pain rather than inflict it, is what love is all about. It is not simply a warm fuzzy feeling that comes and goes and that we “fall into” and “fall out of”. It is a verb. It is a doing word. But at the same time, it is not devoid of emotion, like some sort of cold duty or theological principle. Love is passionate and genuine. Love longs for the good of the other. Love weeps when the beloved is hurting and is bold to fight for their good. As Paul says, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7) These are practical words, but they are also emotional words.
And this is way Jesus loved us in dying for us on the cross. The cross in my wedding ring is a reminder that I must love Cat with the same sacrificial love that Jesus showed me. This is especially relevant for me as a husband, as part of the meaning and purpose of marriage is to be a living parable of the covenant love between Christ and the church. Christ is the “bridegroom” and the church is his “bride” and the Bible instructs Christians to display this dynamic in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Specifically, to Christian husbands, Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25)
For Cat & I, the cross instructs our love, it models our love, it defines our love and it empowers our love.
Thirdly, the cross reminds me of my relationship with Cat that is deeper and longer lasting than marriage. Primarily, the cross is not about marriage. It is probably the greatest pivotal moment in all of history, where the greatest problem of mankind and all of creation was dealt its fatal blow. It is an event of epic and eternal consequences. Marriage, on the other hand, is quite insignificant in comparison. I do not define myself primarily by my marriage to Cat. Sure, I am her husband and she is my wife, but the cross on my ring reminds me that something so much more important is happening here. Our relationship as husband and wife will only last as long as we are both alive. As soon as one of us dies, we are instantly not married any more. Marriage is not eternal. It is fleeting like a breath, or as Ecclesiastes says… it is hevel (see my blog on Ecclesiastes for more). I do not put my hope or security or the centre of my identity in the fact that I am married. I think one of the problems in my first marriage was that I had done exactly that and came to discover just how “hevel” marriage really is.
At the most, I will be married to Cat for say, 40 years, and who knows, one of us could die any day (I work in the funeral industry, so I see how fragile life is). But as Christians who have come to the cross and put our trust in Jesus and found forgiveness and new life, we have become brother and sister in Christ. Now THAT is a relationship that will last! We will be worshippers of Jesus for eternity, which makes our 40 year long (if we’re lucky) marriage, seem quite small.
The best we can do for each other is to be faithful, not to each other, but first and foremost to Jesus. I want Cat to love Jesus more than she loves me, to be committed to Jesus more than she’s committed to me, and to seek to please Jesus more than she seeks to please me. And she wants that for me as well. Our relationship as spiritual siblings and fellow-followers of Jesus is deeper and richer and more eternal than our marriage. It is at the very core of our identity and so, consequently, it must be the very core of our marriage.
The cross is the mortar of my marriage
The reason why I did not design a ring with a cross engraved on to the gold surface is because the cross is not something I simply add on to my marriage to make it look more pretty or more religious. The cross is in the gaps of the broken pieces, holding them together. It is like the mortar in between the bricks. Take away the mortar and the brick wall can fall over with a bit of a push. But the mortar makes it all come together and gives it a strength that it would not otherwise have.
Likewise, the cross is fundamental to the strength of my mariage. Between every part of my marriage it can be found, and I like that my wedding ring displays this. When I look at it, the brick-like panels mean that I can see the cross in my direction, and in the next two panels, the cross is shown out to the world. This was unintentional, but I like the fact that this message of the centrality of the cross is displayed to myself and others at the same time.
The final thing I have unintentionally found that my wedding ring teaches me is how much of a pain it is to clean! Because of all the little gaps, it is so easy to get dirt and grit and shaving cream and hair mousse stuck in between the panels. It makes me keep an eye on whether it is getting gummed up or dirty, and it reminds me to protect it when I am about to do something that could clog it up. But, I guess, that’s a great lesson for marriage as well!
So, what’s in a ring? Well, for me, quite a lot. I know that rings are just bits of metal, and that they are easily lost or stolen. I also know that symbols, like rings, can make us feel like we are really doing marriage, when they really mean nothing if we do not do the real and practical work of loving and forgiving and serving every day.
I only hope that for as long as I have it on my finger, I can look at my ring often and be reminded of what my marriage really means.
My divorce went through on the 13th of June 2009. Three years ago.
It was a dark and horrible time in my life as what I had fought long and hard to avoid, finally came to pass.
It had been a long and painful three and a half year long separation. God had used the whole experience to do wonderful and redemptive things in my life in the areas of personal purity, grounding my identity in Christ and deepening my intimacy and dependance with God, but sadly my marriage died in the process.
It was like sitting by the bedside of a terminally ill loved one and seeing them slip further and further away. No matter what I did, I could not convince my wife at the time to not go through with filing for divorce. Thankfully I talked with an affordable divorce lawyer putnam that guided me through this process.
The best expression of this time was given to me by a Christian counsellor who I began seeing as the divorce loomed closer and closer. On my very first session with him, after I had poured out my heart and told him exactly where the state of things was between me and my wife. He looked at me and said, “I hope you don’t mind me saying it like this but… you’re fucked.”
I was shocked that those words would come out of the mouth of a Christian counsellor, especially on the very first session, but I was also very impressed. He knew exactly what I needed to hear and in the next few sessions, he helped me face the reality of the divorce that was about to enter my life. Needed professional and legal help, continue reading to know more.
I wrote it three and a half days before the divorce became final. It is called “When the Fat Lady Sings.” Here is a recording I made of me singing it. (If you can’t watch YouTube clips, you can read the words here)
Three years has now passed.
God continues to show me his faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain world.
By God’s kindness and a wonderfully gracious woman’s willingness to give me a chance, I am now very happily married to Catherine.
My new marriage is a blessing, and Cat never expects me to forget my past. In fact, she thanks God for the ways in which my experience shaped and matured me.
On the three year anniversary of my divorce, I walked to work, and on the way, I reflected and prayed and became inspired to write a sequel to “The Fat Lady Sings”.
I could write several blogs on all the lessons I have learnt, and maybe one day, I’ll write more.
For now, I’ll simply leave you with the poem:
Three years later God is greater His faithfulnessÂ Has proved true And the girl in the wings With her song of redemption Everyday now sings Her song anew.
The lessons learnt Not left me burnt But showed me whatÂ I prayed they would When the fat lady sings There are still two true things… You will find God is kind And you will find God is good.
Pedophilia Rape Sexual assault STDs The sex slave trade Prostitution Unwanted children out of wedlock Pornography addiction Child pornography Adultery in marriage Cheating in relationships Divorces that result from these things
and all the pain, shame, heartache, brokenness, destruction, isolation, family breakdown, depression, confusion, disease, slavery, emptiness and loss that comes from these things…
could all be avoided. Not by STD testing and prevention methods only…
but if humanity obeyed God in one area of life…
God’s way is laughed at and ridiculed as old fashioned, outdated and irrelevant.
I was recently asked how it is possible to love a perfect God.
I am slightly confused by this question, as I don’t see why it would be difficult to love God because of his perfection, as if it would be easier to love him if he had some flaws.
I was happy to think about the topic though, because loving God is the heartbeat of Christianity.
Despite what you may have heard, “Love your neighbour” is not the greatest commandment that Jesus taught. When asked what is the first and greatest commandment, “loving others” wasÂ mentionedÂ as the second most important one, flowing out of the first, which is… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.Â This is the first and greatest commandment.Â And the second is like it: â€˜Love yourÂ neighbourÂ as yourself.â€™Â All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Loving God with absolutely everything we have is the most important thing we must do. The heart of sin is our lack of love for God. So, how are you going in that area? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind? Do you even love him with your little toe?
Well, to be frank, I don’t love God very well. I often love my self and my desires and happiness and comfort a lot more than I love God. IÂ definitelyÂ don’t love him with ALL my heart and soul and mind. But I expect, you don’t either… and I expect even Mother Teresa didn’t either. The only human being to ever love God wholly and perfectly is Jesus, and because he was the 2nd member of the Trinity incarnate in human flesh, his love was also wrapped up in his intimate knowledge and experience of the love of God shared between the members of the Trinity, so did he have a bit of an advantage?… I reckon so.
Fortunately, the joy of Christianity, is that we have the possibility of joining in on that love as well. We don’t become another member of the Trinity, but we do engage with a fellowship with God that is real and intimate and personal, where the 3rd member of the Trinity, God’s Holy Spirit can reside in us and we can experience the love of God poured out lavishly on us and experience it flowing through us to others.
Although I fail every day in loving God in the way that he deserves and to the degree that he has designed me to love, I do not have to face God’s anger or just condemnation for my lovelessness. God’s forgiveness is an expression of his love as well. But his forgiveness is not cheap. Jesus came, not just to embody God’s love and model love for God, he also came primarily on a rescue mission. He came to pay for our lovelessness – to be punished for our sin.
Why did he go to the cross? He died as the greatest expression of God’s love to a world that doesn’t love him back. He died for me, before I was born, even though he knew I would fail at loving him. He paid the penalty I deserve and 18 years ago I acknowledged that truth and put my life into God’s hands, trusting that Jesus’ death was for me.
This is what it means for me to love God. It’s actually primarily about me experiencing the love of God and letting that flow out of me back to God and to my neighbour. This changes everything – your entire life. That why Cat & I used this awesome verse from 1 John as the central focus of our wedding: “This is love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us andÂ sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.Â Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)
So now, thanks to what Jesus did 2,000 years ago, and because of what God led me to do 18 years ago, I know God’s love. The more I have experienced and learnt of God over the last 18 years has grown me to love God deeper and deeper, like a good marriage, where at the start the love is all froth and bubbles but after many years it matures and grows deep.
I look forward to loving God more and more as the years pass as well. I want to give him more of my heart and soul and mind, as I experience more and more of his love over the years.
O, if you don’t have any clue what that experience of God’s love looks like or feels like or how it can be real to you as it is real to me, I am praying for you that same prayer that Paul the apostle prayed for the Ephesians: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,Â may have power, together with all of God’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,Â and to know this love that surpasses knowledgeâ€”that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Truly as the psalmist writes in Psalm 63:3, “Your love is better than life.”
So I love the love of God. My love of God is like the love that someone has for air after they almost drowned. I gasp it in. It is my life. My salvation.
Although, God’s command to love him and our lack of love may hang over you like a gavel from a judge ready toÂ pronounceÂ your guilt, once Christ has freed you from that guilt and you have experienced the love and friendship of God and God comes to reside in you by his Spirit, then love of God ceases to be a demand or a command – it becomes like breathing.
I still suck at loving God. I still have a deep selfishness and lack of love for others. But I am better than I was. God’s love has transformed me and given me new appetites and new joys. I am most alive when I am notÂ hoardingÂ God’s love for myself where it stagnates like a swamp, but when I let it flow through me, back to God and to others like a stream of living water that brings life and love wherever it goes.
Why do many Christians not show the love of God to others? I think primarily because they do not enjoy it themselves.
The love of God is something you can’t keep locked down or bottled up. It’s like a Pandoras Box – open it and you can’t contain it.
I think many Christians are only “Christian” by label and have actually never experienced the love and forgiveness of God themselves (in which case, they would not actually be Christians at all). It is possible to simply mentally tick the box that you believe all that Christian stuff, but you have never actually embraced or encountered orÂ experienced or engaged with it personally.Â You believe in a God of love, but you do not KNOW the God of love and consequently, how on earth can you SHOW the love of God. If that’s you, I want you to know that Christianity is about a relationship with God, not just a label or a box to tick. There is so much more for you.
There are others though, like me, who have truly experienced the love of God, and yet struggle with letting it flow through us to others (or even back to God). With us, the problem isn’t that there’s no living water flowing in. The problem is with the plumbing. The pipes of our soul are broken or clogged and the water won’t flow through.
The reason for this is because Jesus doesn’t save perfect people. He saves dodgy, broken people. People who haven’t got it all together. People who don’t know how to receive or give love with all of their heart and soul and mind. People who need to be repaired and put right. People like you and me.
Jesus saves people as they are – with all their loveless baggage, and then begins the reconstruction process. It’s a lifelong process that the Bible calls “sanctification”.
But if you know of a Christian who isn’t loving you are right to expect more of them. Be gracious as Jesus is gracious with them, but also know that Jesus want to take them on to being more and more loving.
Ask them what they think about God’s love for them, and if you see their eyes light up and them talk with real and deep knowledge, then you should also see that love spilling over to other people.
If they don’t know of the love of God, then point them to Jesus. Jesus is not just a historical person you read about in an old dusty book. He is alive and able to engage and encounter people. He lived a life of love and died a death of love and opened a way of love for all those who would put the trust in him.
I have been living with his love for the last 18 years and Â I look forward to walking with him for the rest of my life.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,Â whoÂ have been called according to his purpose.Â For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.Â And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.Â
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?Â He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us allâ€”how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?Â Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.Â Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who diedâ€”more than that, who was raised to lifeâ€”is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.Â
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?Â As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long;Â we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.‘
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.Â For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,Â neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,Â neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As I write this I am in the car on the way back to Melbourne from the Oxygen Conference in Sydney. It was a wonderful time away with a couple of old mates of mine and I have been greatly challenged about living for God, growing in true joy and seeing that all of God’s plans for the Universe are for his glory. These are weighty and challenging issues that raise a lot of questions (I can write a blog on these if you like) but what I wanted to share is what my motivation for coming to the conference was actually about and how that made me reflect on why I originally became a Christian.
Although God used my time up in Sydney to achieve a great many things, the simple reason I wanted to come up was because of the fact that one of the two guest speakers was Pastor John Piper. It’s not a very noble reason and is smells of a bit of celebrity worship, but I have been blessed and challenged by Pipers teaching for many years and the prospect of seeing him in the flesh and meeting him face to face was very appealing.
In the end, when I did finally get to see him and meet him and thank him for the impact of his ministry in my life, I realized that although his preaching is bold and impressive, he is just a guy like me, frail and flawed and seeking to love and know Christ more and more.
After the conference was over, I was chatting with a friend over lunch and they asked me about why I became a Christian. It struck me that my reason for coming to Christ was pretty much the same reason why I came to the conference – put simply, it was an opportunity to meet someone.
All my life I had learnt about God. God was big and impressive and full of love. God was part of my thinking about the world and to be honest, I have never ever thought of the possibility that God might not exist. His existence to me was a given.
Now this may grieve those that believe that think that people should contemplate and conclude that God does not exist, but I see no problem with the fact that I had come to the conclusion that God exists simply because I was told as much. I know lots of problems can arise when you just blindly believe what you’ve been told as a child, but the reason why I don’t have a problem in this case is because I have come to discover that God’s existence is actually true and can be known and experienced. It’s like how parents tell children not to touch the flame otherwise they will be burnt. If they believe them without experiencing the truth of a burnt hand, it doesn’t make the fire any less hot.
For the first 16 years of my life I believed in God in the same way I believed in John Piper. I had no reason to doubt God’s existence and I had no reason to doubt Piper’s existence. I enjoyed what God had given me (life, the world, family, health etc.) and I enjoyed what Piper had given me (sermons, a clear theology of marriage, a passionate southern accent etc.). I admired and enjoyed both God and John Piper, but there was always a distance.
With Piper it was the fact that he was in America and although I wanted to travel to the States again, there was no expectation that I would ever meet him in person.
With God it was the fact that he was in heaven (not in any way comparing heaven to America!). God was far away and although I possibly hoped to go to heaven when I died, even then I guess I didn’t expect that I would be able to meet him in person. God was big and wonderful and good and loving, but he was distant and removed from my real life, day to day experience.
It wasn’t until I met some Christians when I was 16, that I came to discover the good news of Christianity. They shared with me, through their explanation of the gospel and through the way they lived and described their experience of God, that the whole point of Jesus’ coming and dying on the cross was to make it possible for me to have a real, living and personal relationship with God!
God who I had loved and admired from afar was now within reach. The distance was being covered and I could meet him in a way that was as real as face to face!
When I came to see this it blew me away! The moment I heard that Piper was coming to Australia was similar. Why did I go to the conference? Why did I decide to follow Jesus? The real question is, why not??
Like my motivation to go to the conference, maybe my reason for becoming a Christian was a bit of celebrity worship. Maybe it wasn’t very noble, but like after I had met Piper, once I met God, a lot changed. After meeting him, Piper for me was a bit less God-like, a bit more human. But after meeting God, he only grew in my opinion of him.
If you have never met God, if you have only heard about God and your relationship with him is distant and impersonal, my hope for you is that you will experience the same thing I have.
I hope that you come to Christ. He is the only one who has and can make it possible for you to know God in a way that is real and personal. That’s my experience. I believe the Christian good news is that it can be yours as well.
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” – 1 Peter 3:18
This is a poem I was inspired to write after attending an evening listening to the teaching of Sy Rogers.
God put his finger on an area of my life where I was holding on to a lot of bitterness. Well, to be frank, I was holding on to hate.
As I prayed and tried to just “give it to God” IÂ realizedÂ I wasn’t able to let it go so easily. My hate, IÂ realized, was actually very important to me, and couldn’t simply be thrown away like a used tissue. As I reflected on this relationship I had with my hate, this poem emerged….
LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP A poem by Simon Camilleri 18/3/2010
I love my hate
I hold it close
It keeps me warm
It holds my tears
My broken heart
It shields from pain
Ensuring it wonâ€™t break again
My hateâ€™s my friend
It sits with me
It hears my tale
It nods its head
It does not judge
It does not speak
It seethes for me when I am weak
It stands with me
Against the throng
Alone acknowledging the wrong
How could I
Sacrifice my hate?
How could I
Give up such a friend?
To let it go
Says I admit
That there was no real cause for it.
The only way
I could let go
Would be if God
Replaced my hate
It plays too much
A vital role
Its loss would leave too great a hole
God waits to see
What I will do
Will he be my
Will he be my true advocate?
Will I trust him more than my hate?