Saturday, July 12, 2008

Living By Vows

I visited a church on June 8th, 2008. The preacher was a visiting professor who hails from Columbia International University, an alumnus of Gordon-Conwell, well sought after by the New England churches, Dr George Murray. In a sermon entitled "Go! Look! Be Moved! Pray!" he exhorted the congregation to reinvigorate their evangelism by making plans to go, yet willing to stay. Contrary to the popular option which often reverses the two. The harvest is plentiful, yet the workers out there are few. Conversely, the harvest at home is meagre, yet the workers are many. Despite the fact that 90% of any church are done by only 10% of the people, there are still lots of well-trained individuals in that 10% compared with the third world and less developed countries. I heard of one country where a believer became the pastor/teacher of the hungry flock in 1 day! I am not sure how many people will follow through with "Planning to Go, Willing to Stay." That was quite similar to what I heard years ago, that all Christians should make plans to be missionaries, unless otherwise stated. There are not many Abrahams or Samuels nowadays compared to Jonahs.

Living By Vows
What was memorable that day was not the sermon itself, but the story of Robertson McQuilkin and his commitment to his wife Muriel. In a very touching testimony in Living By Vows, Dr McQuilkin resigned from being President of Columbia International University in 1990 so that he can take full-time care of Muriel who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Initially, he was torn between two commitments, his responsibility as a President at the University vs his responsibility as a husband. He was torn between two divine callings: to serve as a Christian witness on campus matters, vs to serve as a witness within the boundaries of a small little house. What does it mean to put the kingdom of God first? What does it mean to 'hate my wife' for the sake of Christ and the kingdom? He was ripped right in the middle between two necessary and important deeds. He prayed:
"..we would trust the Lord to work a miracle in Muriel if He so desired, or work a miracle in me if He did not."
The advice comes fast as Dr McQuilkin was planning to quit. Some tried to persuade him not to give up a colourful career in academia. Others claim that his experience and talents will be wasted if not used for 'kingdom-work.' In 1990, he made his decision and resigned from all responsibilities save one: Care for his wife, Muriel. He rationalizes: "She is such a delight to me. I don't have to care for her, I GET TO. One blessing is the way she is teaching me so much - about love, for example, God's love...... Had I not promised, 42 years before, 'in sickness and in health...till death do us part?"

Dr McQuilkin spent 13 years caring for Muriel, until her death in September 2003. An established missionary of 12 years, as President of Columbia for 22 years, he willingly gave it all up to be faithful and committed to a wife who is dying from Alzheimer's disease. That day, God taught me something precious and important in my heart. It is one thing to know in the head my marriage vows. It is another thing to understand in my heart what it means. Dr McQuilkin's testimony reminds me once again how beautiful love can be. He taught me that the kingdom of God is most magnified in love, for it is in love that Christ came to earth to die for all of us. I learned that day that responsibilities in the will of God will never conflict. Dr McQuilkin's actions have done more for the gospel than if he had chosen to leave his wife alone. I sat at the pew that morning fighting back tears.

"Most women will stand by their men, but very few men stand by their women." McQuilkin bucked the trend. You can read a brief article, the Christianity Today reprint here.

For more details about Dr Robertson McQuilkin's testimony, read "A Promise Kept: The Story of an Unforgettable Love. (Tyndale House, 1998).

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