Jim Burgen is the senior pastor at Flatirons Community Church, a non-denominational evangelical megachurch in Denver, Colorado with more than 7,000 members. He is a graduate of Milligan College and a youth ministry veteran. Flatirons Church identifies with all people, whoever they are & whatever problems they have, and offers an unconditionally loving & safe place.
Un-Dragon Your Life
I don’t know about you, but whenever I study the Bible, I find verse after verse where what God intended for us doesn’t match up with the reality of how we, as flawed individuals, have chosen to live. Like, for example, in Matthew 5, where Jesus tells us that if someone is suing you for your shirt, you should give them your coat as well. You don’t often see that scene played out down at the courthouse!
Another example of this might be in your marriage. In Genesis 1, God makes Man and Woman, puts them together and then calls it, “Very good.” Some of you, of course, have great marriages. Others of you might look at your own pairing of man and woman and the words “very good” don’t immediately come to mind…
What we do know is that God fully and completely made both men and women in his whole image, and both are equal reflectors of God. But, while we are all equal, we are not the same. However, I am not talking about worth or value; I’m talking about unique roles – distinct sexuality and gender.
While God could have done this any way he wanted, he chose to make us male and female, and when a man and a woman come together in a relationship that God created known as marriage or family, he assigned roles that are very gender-specific, and he based these two roles on two key ingredients: love and respect.
When Jesus was asked a question about marriage and divorce, he quoted a verse from Genesis 2:23-25:
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Then Jesus said:
So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” [Matthew 19:6]
When two people decide to spend the rest of their lives together, they leave their parents’ care and vow to share their lives in marriage. This is God’s plan – his calling. And with the exchange of marital vows and God’s blessing, He unites man and woman. From that moment on, they are changed forever because they are bonded together in “one flesh”.
This one-ness is known as “echad” in Hebrew. When God created Adam and Eve, they were both “naked and unashamed.” They lived a shared life and hid nothing from each other because there was no reason to. This same concept applies to all married couples today. There is no reason to be ashamed, insecure, or afraid of one another and of God. To live in “echad” is to live as one in unity for better or for worse.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Let’s not delve into the subject of divorce today, but know that the point Jesus was making is this: When two individuals become one and later try to break that bond and become two again, the pain of separation is inevitable.
Take, for example, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly by themselves are two very different substances in look, taste, and texture, and each are good on their own. However, when you combine them, it creates a more interesting and unique flavor dynamic, tasting even better than they did by themselves. If you try to pull the sandwich apart, you will notice that it is not easy to separate the peanut butter and jelly. There is always a little bit of peanut butter left in the jelly and a little bit of jelly left in the peanut butter.
Much like a peanut butter sandwich, the union of marriage enhances the individual man and woman in a very special way. Even if they separate or are pulled apart, they leave something behind with one another.
Those that have been through a divorce in their lives know that marriage has changed them in some way. Regardless of whose fault it is or why two people separated, marriage changes a man and a woman forever, and this is why the pain of separation is inevitable.
In this instance, Jesus teaches us that God forgives the mistakes of our past. Other people may not be as willing or quick to forgive, but God is always willing. And He will keep His promise to give us the grace, mercy, and strength to let go of the past, begin healing the wounds of separation, and move forward with life.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader & Me
So I grew up in Indiana, about an hour north of Indianapolis, in a farm town where my dad was the pastor of a little church. We lived in a house next door to the church. My mom played the organ and directed the choir. On holidays, he would decorate the whole church; he even set up a haunted house before Christians got uptight about Halloween! I recall playing army, roller skating, putting frogs in the baptistery. I loved church.
When I was in Jr. High, my church had a split; the two sides did not get along with one another, and my dad got caught in the middle. I had never seen my dad cry until he came home from a church meeting and laid his head down on the table, emotionally beaten down and discouraged. From that day on, everything somehow changed for me. I rebelled.
So, all through high school, I did everything I could get my hands on – smoked, drank, and got involved in sexual activity. Even though I was in church every Sunday, I didn’t feel guilty about it – well, not guilty enough to stop or change my ways.
When it was time to go to college, I chose this little Christian liberal arts college down in Tennessee, not because it was Christian based, but because it was 500 miles from my parents (not to mention that the drinking age in TN was 19). I partied my first year away, and by the beginning of my Sophomore year, I was on every probation my college offered: academic, disciplinary, you name it.
And then, I met Robin, who is now my wife. You see, she was a Christian, a real one. She didn’t get drunk. I did. She didn’t smoke anything. I did. She did know how to kiss (really well). But, in order to be with Robin, I had to start going to church with her. I thought to myself, “Oh no, I moved down here so I wouldn’t have to do that.” I didn’t like church anymore, but I really liked her, so I agreed to start going back to church.
We’d been going there for a few weeks, and the pastor was the best storyteller I ever heard. I never heard anyone weave life and Jesus together like this guy was able to do.
So, one day, I’m sitting in the front row beside Robin and the pastor begins to tell a story by C.S. Lewis from his novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It was about a boy named Eustace, who was a good boy, but over time, he thought dragon thoughts, and did dragon things, and he eventually turned into a dragon, which was fun for a while. Sure he could fly and start campfires, but it was lonely being a dragon.
One day, Eustace the dragon was walking through the forest when he encountered the great lion, Aslan. Aslan told Eustace to follow him, and Eustace followed him through the mountains to a pool of water. He wanted to get in, but the lion told him that he first, must get undressed. He started peeling off his dragon scales, only to discover layer upon layer underneath.
Aslan offered to remove Eustace’s scales, so Eustace let him. Aslan clawed deep into his chest and started tearing away the flesh. It hurt worse than anything, but he stood strong and watched his dragon scales come off. Finally, Aslan reached down, picked up Eustace, and threw him into the pool of water. When Eustace came up for air, he was a boy again; he had been “un-dragoned.”
Now, at this point in the story, I’m not breathing. I’m sitting there listening to this story and I’m thinking, “That’s me. I’m a dragon and I don’t know how to un-dragon my life.” I remember sitting there praying, “Jesus, if you can un-dragon my life, you can have it.”
You see, the dragon represented a monster that the boy had become, but he didn’t have the power to un-dragon himself. Only Aslan had the power and grace to un-dragon Eustace, however painful it was. And like Aslan, only Jesus has the power to free us from our demons. If we let him into our hearts, we can overcome darkness and “un-dragon” our own lives, just as Eustace did. Upon this realization, I knew my life would be different from that point on. Some things changed right away, and some took a lot longer. But I can look back and confidently say, that was one of the most important and crucial turning points in my life.
My Wife, My Tattoo
A few months ago, I was talking to one of our staffers, and I was asking him to explain some of the tattoos on his arms that he had designed. As he explained what they meant, he said that this was his testimony, the story of his life and God.
And, in that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. I was inspired. I didn’t just want a tattoo. I wanted to tell a story – my story – about how Jesus “un-dragoned” my life and that he can do the same to anyone who asks him.
So, I get home and, in passing, I tell my wife about my tattoo idea. Her first reaction is, “You’re having a mid-life crisis,” and I say, “Well, at least I’m not going out and buying a sports car or a motorcycle (yet).” So we laugh and change the subject.
However, I could not shake the idea of getting a tattoo out of my head. One day, my son, Jordan, turns me on to this great tattoo artist. I tell him my story and he starts sketching up some ideas.
The next Friday, Robin goes out of town to visit our daughter in Tennessee. While she’s away, I decide to do it – I head to the tattoo parlor and, a couple hours later? A ½ sleeve of total awesomeness! When I get home, and I do what any guy would do: post it on Facebook so that all of friends can see it and share the wonderful story of Jesus so beautifully displayed on my arm.
Of course, my daughter gets on Facebook, pulls up my page, and shows Robin. The phone rings. It’s my wife. She says, “Jim, what are you doing?” She’s not mad. She’s not crying. She just sounds sad. Why? Because I left her out of a major decision in my life.
And then, she drops the bomb. She brings out the Bible verse! She said, “I thought we were “one flesh” – that my body was your body and your body was my body (1 Corinthians 7). But, you did this without me.”
You know what? She was absolutely right. Of course, I feel horrible and almost sick to my stomach for what I did. Robin forgave me, but I realize that I am a step from living my life independently from my wife. I am at a fork, and my wife is on one side.
The lesson here is not “don’t get a tattoo.” It’s about making choices and decisions – in isolation. It’s about doing or wanting to do what you want, regardless of what your spouse may think or feel.
See, I have never met anyone who ruined marriage because of one bad decision. It is usually a string of bad decisions – of small steps in the wrong direction. Someone eventually gets fed up. And that person gets fed up because they were heading in different directions for a long time and growing apart. They one living as two instead two living as one.
Listen to what Paul writes to people who have chosen the path of marriage:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. [1 Corinthians 7: 3-5]
God is warning us that the greatest danger to your marriage or relationship or family is not an affair, addiction, or a mistake. It is isolation and independence from one another – everything else is a symptom of that greater danger.
See marriage is not about surrendering your identity, desires, hopes, or dreams to your partner. It’s about surrendering the idea of pursuing those things in isolation. You are still complete person God made you to be, and when you get married, you’re simply not alone anymore. You and your partner are now two halves of a whole.
If you try to live and make decisions like you are alone, it’s only a matter of time until you ARE alone – sometimes literally, but always emotionally and relationally – and that’s a dangerous road to travel.
So think about your relationships. Is there anything going on, that you think is “no big deal,” but if it keeps on going, has the potential to lead to a horrible, painful conversation?
Would independence and isolation describe your marriage, your family, your home? Has “echad/oneness” left the building and been replaced by, “I do my thing and they do theirs” or “that’s none of their business?”
God’s Word tells us to wake up – to repent. It takes two to make a relationship work, and if you are thinking only for yourself, then you need to change your mindset and direction. It’s not just about saying “I am sorry” It’s about wanting things to change for the better, being willing to do everything in your power to make that change happen, and trusting that God will give you the strength and guidance you need to succeed.
Un-Dragon Your Life
Are you willing to change your mind about how your life and relationship has been going and walk a different path? If you are saying, “I don’t know if I can do that – change, act different, and be different than who I am. I think what you’re saying is, I can’t “un-dragon” myself.
I’ve been married for 25 years. I still don’t have it down very well, and I still mess up, but I am willing to admit that I’m still learning. I’m not going to accept that relationship-killing line, “That’s just the way it is and it’s never going to change.” This is why I hope Jesus keeps on ripping more and more layers away; He’s my only hope and chance of not messing everything up.
If we take ownership of our mistakes, stop making excuses, admit our faults, and ask for forgiveness from God and whoever you’ve sinned against, I promise that God will forgive you.
One of my favorite parts of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is when Aslan frees Eustace from the dragon, picks him up, and throws him in the water – it is symbolic of washing all his past, his “dragon-ness,” away.
It is also symbolic of baptism. Baptism doesn’t save you, change you, un-dragon you, or earn you forgiveness. Only Jesus can do that. Baptism is just a gift that Jesus gives us as an outward display that we are letting go of our past, that Jesus is changing us and we’re with him now, walking with Him.
My tattoo doesn’t change anything. It simply reminds me to include Robin in my decisions. This ring doesn’t make me married; it just reminds me that I’m one with Robin. And baptism doesn’t save you, it just reminds you that you already are.
Sin messes up “one-ness,” or “echad,” and the only way back is by changing our minds, asking God to change us – asking Him to un-dragon us. It might be painful. It might hurt. Asking for forgiveness is never easy. But once you pull those layers off, you’ll be changed forever.
You want to show your spouse and your kids that you are serious about loving them by loving God? The humbly be the first to be the first in your family to un-dragon yourself.
Joshua 24:15…As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.