Happy New Year to you.
How will your 2021 be remembered? First, let's turn back the clock more than twenty years to gain some perspective.
On July 16, 1999, John F Kennedy Jr., son of US President John F. Kennedy, took off from Essex County airport in New Jersey in his Piper Saratoga, a single-engine plane on his way to Martha's Vineyard along with his wife, Carolyn, and sister-in-law. It would be their last day alive.
As a relatively inexperienced pilot, Kennedy was ill-prepared for what he would face on a hazy, moonless night. He crashed the plane killing all on board. In its final report released in 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the crash was caused by an inexperienced pilot who became disoriented in the dark and lost control of the plane due to what pilots call a spiral dive--plummeting from 2200 feet to 1100 feet in a span of 14 seconds and then disappearing from radar.
I know that opening this post with such a tragic account feels like a strange way to start the new year. But, I hope that during the course of your reading you will appreciate its poignancy.
For many of us, 2020 was a dark and disorienting experience in its own right--a perfect storm of a ravaging pandemic, quarantine challenges, and economic uncertainty devastated many homes across the country. In 2020, far too many Christian couples 'lost control' of their marriage too--emotionally or relationally crashed.
There are important marriage lessons that we glean from the heartbreaking experience of JFK Jr more than 10 years ago--especially in the wake of 2020.
First, an experienced flight instructor offered to accompany them that fateful night. Kennedy declined preferring to do it alone. In my experience as a marriage educator, I have watched far too many Christian couples try to do marriage alone. They underestimate how challenging it can be to navigate the rough spots. Dalia and I recently worked with a Christian couple whose marriage probably will not survive--not because help wasn't readily available to them but because for the past number of years they have systematically destroyed the foundation of their marriage in their naive effort to do it alone. It is sad. We all need community to be our best selves as a Kingdom couple. It is pride that comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).
Second, experts' reconstruction of JFK Jr.'s piloting have a clear and simple explanation of why the crash happened. His plane was caught in a spiral dive that requires the pilot to rely solely on their flight instrumentation rather than what they can sense. The disturbing irony of a spiral dive is that inside the plane everything "feels" completely normal--the pilot thinks he or she is flying with the wings level. In other words, the pilot must rely on instruments rather than senses to correct the problem before it is too late. Given his inexperience, JFK Jr. had no idea they were mere seconds from death.
How many Christian couples have no idea how close their marriage is to its own death? The unpredictability and challenges of 2020 revealed cracks in the marriage--selfishness, stubbornness, pridefulness. But, they are not looking at the signs. Instead, these couples are caught in their own proverbial spiral dive when it comes to their marriage. They feel like things are fine or maybe 'not too bad'. In reality, the marriage is dying--sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.
"We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician's instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not 'disciplined'? " -- A.W. Tozer
Here on the heels of one of the most catastrophic years in American (if not human) history, the Lord is calling us to 'Discipline'. While I certainly do not fully know where God intends to take us in this journey, he has directed us to the final words of the Apostle Paul to his protege, Timothy.
"For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
Over the course of this year, we invite you to join us on this road to Discipline--whatever discipline looks like for you. From Augustine centuries ago to Richard Foster in modern times, much has been written in Christian history about the spiritual disciplines that are the backbone of Christian faith. In his timeless, classic book, Celebration of Discipline: The path to spiritual growth, Richard Foster offers insightful examination of the spiritual disciplines to which God calls us (meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration).
Personally, I have thought of myself as a disciplined person. It has been part of my identity. However, the Lord is showing me many ways in which I am very spiritually undisciplined. It is sobering and humbling to see just how far I actually am from the discipline to which God calls me. And, there have been consequences. This lack of spiritual discipline places an inordinate strain on my marriage, my health, my stress level, and my creativity--all of which impact my ministry with Eusebeia and beyond. God is calling me to the spiritual disciplines to grow my dependence on him, to grow my courage, and to show how far his power can extend through me as I mature.
I'm again reminded of the warning of A.W. Tozer that 'discipline practically has disappeared' in the church. Yet, the spiritual revival of your marriage and mine depends wholly on these spiritual disciplines. The Adversary does his best to keep us spiritually undisciplined. But, no other things will benefit our marriages more than the spiritual disciplines.
I'd like to close this first post of the New Year with a simple yet profound prayer practice called Palms Up, Palms Down that Richard Foster advocates in his classic book Celebration of Discipline. Check it out and ask God how to use this practice to advance your own spiritual disciplines this year.
Let us not make the same mistakes of JFK Jr on that fateful night more than a decade ago. Don't try to do marriage alone and don't ignore the signs. Don't let the Adversary (or your emotions or pride) get in the way and tell you that 'everything is fine'. It isn't.
I pray that your 2021 will be remembered as the year Discipline won.
Join us at Eusebeia on this communal journey through the Disciplines and towards a spiritual revival for Christian marriage.
For those in our 40 Under 40 program for Millennial couples, we have an excellent program lined up for 2021 where the Discipline theme will be reinforced through an exciting topical lineup and exercises you complete following each month. Click the link to check out the comprehensive program we have planned.
And, of course, during our live event in October 14th-17th, our emphasis will be spiritual discipline.
God bless you and yours for the year of Discipline that lay ahead