My wife and I have only occasionally done anything special for each other on Valentine’s Day mainly because it comes so close after our February 7th wedding anniversary when we typically celebrate our love and marriage. This year, it was a very special 40th wedding anniversary for us. We were so young 40 years ago. Since then, we have learned the difference between romantic love which rises and ebbs like ocean tides and love as steadfast, settled commitment that endures through the toughest of challenges. God, who created man male and female, gave us both kinds of love to enjoy for a lifetime (Genesis 1:26-28; Song Of Solomon 4; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; Ephesians 5:22-33).
Marital love between a man and a woman is of God’s greatest gifts to mankind (Genesis 2:18-25). I can say this not only in agreement with the general tenor of Scripture, but from my life experience. Before marriage as an unsaved teenager and not much better 1977 young adult new Christian, I was shamefully guilty of mistreating, lying to, cheating on and misusing the females I dated and/or went steady with. There was love, but it was very selfish and rooted too often in the temporary pleasures of lust. After fully surrendering to Christ in 1979 and later marriage as a lifetime commitment to one and oneness, I was forced by His will in His Word to change (Ephesians 4:17-32).
Because of the foregoing and after talking with my wife, we agreed that there are two major reasons we celebrate our love today to the glory of God and offer them as helpful instruction for especially younger engaged and married couples that read this. First, we purposely put Jesus Christ as Lord into and over our marriage and urge you to do the same. Second, we took divorce off the table for any reason except adultery or desertion as Scripture allows and urge you to do the same (Mark 10:1-12; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16). Every other issue that arises in marriage can be worked through because of the first reason we gave even if it requires involving professionals to help.
After the first couple’s fall, marriage as God designed it brings together two sinful mortal human beings that are by nature selfish and more often than not raised with different worldviews, values etc. It then requires that they in the bonds of mutual committed love blend their lives together as one. As the history of marital misery and divorce attest, sinful mankind has not done well with God’s perfect design of marriage (Proverbs 19:13; Malachi 2:13-16). As one example of what Christ can do when He is invited in and submitted to as Lord, He by the Spirit is able to renew each party’s mind about love as He has done us--selfish it is not (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)! We do not have a perfect marriage, but with the Lord’s help we are still celebrating our love 40 years later.
Still at the head of the New Year and on the eve of another February Black History Month, I am posting what the Lord led me to write for all, but especially the young, black American male inmates that read the print version of The Strong Man Of God Monthly Newsletter distributed by Strong Man Ministries to mostly Oregon and Washington prisons.1 These young men fill prisons across America. In the cause of Strong Man Ministries to restore men, their families and communities, I have gone forth as its Director into the prisons, streets, schools, football fields and basketball courts preaching the Gospel, teaching God’s Word and witnessing Christ to the end of saving even a willing few.2
Devontay was among the most promising of the twentysomethings I had encountered in our prison ministry. He was street smart, tough, but real and humble about wanting to turn his life around as I write in this anecdote. I have only done a minor edit and added footnotes to it. If it would be helpful to steer other young people (to include any of his four children) away from what he had endured in his life and suffered from his admitted poor choices which is my aim (hence, “cautionary” in the title) then, Devontay would be glad for me to put this post out. May it be so, Lord!
(There will not be a post next week, February 7th as I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary with my wife--praise the Lord! The Lord willing, my next post will be on the following Sunday evening, February 14th.)
Originally Published January 2021
The news put me in shock as the sudden death of those we know always does. I had not heard about the tragic early morning accident on the local television news shows I typically watch as I learned later was reported on. I found out about the accident that ended the mortal life of 27 year-old Devontay Rhodes back on October 22, 2020 from another one of my spiritual sons in the Christian faith who is on lockdown at Oregon’s Deer Creek Correctional Institution (DRCI), Martin Lockett, in a letter he wrote to me just before Thanksgiving.3 He thought I knew.
Martin had met Devontay when they were both at Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI). Devontay was transferred there after first being at the Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) in the fall of 2015 where I encountered him as a participant in our Ministry’s Strong Man Of God Men’s Group Study.4 Even now, my heart breaks thinking about how so very young he was and too many of our black American incarcerated males are. Unlike many of his peers though, bright, energetic and determined Devontay was genuinely eager for change in his life.
When an upcoming periodic baptismal service was announced during the study, Devontay requested that I baptize him. As a seasoned pastor, I proclaimed the Gospel to him to make sure the faith in Christ he professed rested on biblical grounds. However, I declined to baptize him until I had the opportunity to instruct him more in what it was about. He was disappointed, but clearly undeterred because he showed up at the service requesting again to be baptized. I relented. After giving him instruction, I baptized him.
As it turned out, Devontay was transferred soon after and I could not do any further instruction except through correspondence. I also wrote and asked Martin to help Devontay in the faith and he did up until his release. After his release, Devontay called me with some life issues I gave biblical counsel on how to handle. Then, began what became only our occasional phone contacts and more recently, e-mail exchanges until his death. In fact, we last exchanged e-mails this past August 31st in his renewed desire to live for Christ. I sent him a final follow-up e-mail on September 22nd.
My August e-mail to Devontay was like most of our previous phone conversations and e-mails with me providing biblical counsel on a life issue that went unheeded (Proverbs 19:21). In it, I addressed his ambition to be a bartender as a Christian and gave one reason it was incompatible with our faith being that serving alcohol to some led to intoxicated driving and tragic accidents. He died thirty days later ironically after a man charged with DUII crashed into his car on Oregon’s I-84. Devontay was eager for change in relationship with Christ, but was just not ready to do all of what He requires to obtain it! What about you? You only have so much time (Luke 9:23-26, 13:1-9)!
1 Subscription to the digital E-version of the newsletter is available.
2 Learn more about our evangelism and ministry among youth by visiting the Strong Man Minute Page on the Strong Man Ministries Web Site, The Strong Man Of God.Org.
3 Learn more about Martin Lockett (who will be released this year) and our ongoing national Books To USA Prisons Project on the Give Page of the Strong Man Of God Web
4 This is the same Strong Man Of God Men’s Group Study available for purchase in the Strong Man Store and most major internet booksellers.
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