It’s a funny story that I love to tell, but my wife doesn’t enjoy so much (please forgive me, dearest!).

We were visiting my father-in-law in northern California and he took us sailing on a huge sailing ship. Being novice sailors, Betsy and I were excited to learn and to experience all of the thrills of hoisting sails, coming about, and the like. After we had been in the Monterey Harbor for awhile, heading out toward the Pacific Ocean, it was Betsy’s turn to pilot the ship. I was busy with all of my other sailing responsibilities, when I looked up and said, “Weren’t we headed toward the ocean? Why are we heading back toward land?” Betsy had thought she was keeping the ship pointed straight, but in all of her concentration, we had slowly made a 180-degree turn.

Sir William Edward ParryA similar thing happened to Sir William Edward Parry, the famous English naval officer and record-setting explorer of the Arctic. He made one of the first attempts to reach the North Pole and, in doing so, set a record for pushing farther north than anyone else, a record that was his for nearly fifty years.

On one of his trips to the Arctic, Parry and his men were trekking across the ice toward the North Pole. Admiral Parry stopped to calculated their position by using the stars. Hours later when the exhausted explorers stopped to rest, Parry again calculated their position and discovered something he could hardly believe. After hours of heading north, they were actually farther south than when he made his previous calculation! Fortunately, Parry quickly discovered the problem: they were on a gigantic ice floe that was moving south faster than they were sledding north. Much like Betsy’s experience on the sailing ship, the ice flow was so big and moving so slowly that the arctic team’s loss of position was barely perceptible until Parry recalculated.

This is why recalculations and realignments are so vital for Christians.

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Let a man thoroughly examine himself…. (1 Corinthians 11:28)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Don’t ever assume you’re still on the right course. Stop, listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice, recalculate your position by the perfect standard of God’s Word, and make the adjustments you need to. Otherwise, you may end up someplace you never intended to go!

Inside Out

Inside outRelationships can only grow from the inside out. Consider this passage from the book of Hebrews—

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Religion is concerned about the outside—how does it look? Relationship with Jesus is concerned about the inside—how does it work?

Religion seeks to work outside in. Relationship works inside out.

Religion is the starting point; relationship is the goal.

When I first met my wife Betsy, I was attracted initially by the outward things—her physical beauty, her actions, her words. But if I only stayed at the outward level, everything would be focused on keeping up appearances. I would be worshiping the idol of physical beauty. Then as soon as I saw someone whom I perceived to have more physical beauty, I would abandon Betsy for the latest fling.

But Betsy’s outside was only the starting point; it drew me deeper inside into a relationship. As I got to know the real Betsy, I fell more and more in love. The inner beauty far exceeded the outward beauty. But then something amazing happened: the inner beauty enhanced her outward beauty.

The outside (religion) is only finite. The inside (relationship) is infinite.

The old religion started on the outside; Jesus Christ works from the inside. He doesn’t ask me to clean up the outside, but He cleanses my conscience so I can clean up the inside. This inner cleansing will eventually show up outside. The inner relationship beautifies and makes more meaningful the outer religion. The inner life (infinite, eternal) overwhelms the outer life (finite, temporal).

Don’t throw out religion and religious practices, but don’t use those as the only means of coming to Christ. Allow Jesus to work inside on your relationship with Him, and then the outside will become more beautiful and even more meaningful.

My Best Friend

I am so blessed to have a best friend. 

Someone who has helped me grow and mature.

Someone who helps me dream bigger,

persevere longer,

act more kindly,

live more transparently,

love more empathically,

encourage more frequently,

lead more gently,

serve more Christ-like,

and glorify God more highly.

My best friend is my confidant, my playmate, my cheerleader, my counselor, my wife of 22 years.

I love you, Betsy! I cannot imagine a better friend. I cannot imagine how much of life I would have missed if you hadn’t been by my side, opening my eyes.

The first 22 years have been amazing. I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us for the next 22 years! 

Happy anniversary!

(We love working with Michelle Wise for our photographs. Check out her amazing work here.)

How Betsy Made A Memorable First Impression

After this story, I’m encouraging my wife to start a blog of her own! This is a note from her Facebook page from about 3 years ago, but it is too good to keep limited to just her Facebook friends.

Okay so let’s begin.

Last night Craig was speaking at a church for the purpose of evaluating whether or not it would be a good fit for us to pastor. So, just before the service began I ran to the ladies room. It was occupied and I had to wait quite awhile until it was available. By that time, service had already begun. I naturally hurried to get back into service.

Upon entering the sanctuary, Craig was in the middle of praying. I didn’t want to walk up front while he was praying, so I remained in the back until he was finished. I then very gracefully proceeded to the front pew to take my seat.

As is my natural custom, before sitting down, I always smooth out the back of my skirt to avoid unnecessary wrinkles. Upon doing this, I discovered that my skirt was ever so daintily tucked inside my underwear. Yes, it’s true.

My first response was embarrassment, then total mortification, then complete laughter. I was silently laughing for several moments in the front pew. Craig finally leaned over to ask me what was going on. I told him about the situation and he said, “It’s a sign, this can’t be the right place.”

I really don’t know if anyone saw or not, I’m guessing someone did. Thankfully there were no comments to me.

So… I’m telling you, if you want to create a memorable impression this is one way to do it — however, I don’t recommend it.

What do you think? Good first impression? Was this indeed a “sign” for us?

21 And Loving It

Today Betsy and I celebrate 21 years of  marriage!

It sounds like a long time, but it’s only 1095 weeks. That’s just enough time for my life to have been irrevocably changed for the better, and just enough time to know that we’ve only scratched the surface.

Betsy, I cannot wait to see what the next 1095 weeks are going to bring us!

I love you more and more with each passing day!

Get Off Your Knees & Pray (book review)

I know the subtitle of Sheila Walsh’s book Get Off Your Knees & Pray is “a woman’s guide to life-changing prayer,” but I thought it was fantastic!

I think something special happens when women pray, so I’d love to see more women getting serious about their prayer life. In a moment I’ll tell you how to win a FREE copy of this book. But first, I’ve asked my wife Betsy to share a thought with you about prayer.

I have never viewed myself as a consistent prayer warrior who stands in the gap for others. I pray for those in need and talk with God on a regular basis about my life, my heart’s desires, my fears, my needs. I always had a simple trust that God would come through, He would somehow make things right. Then one day, things weren’t right. My life was in a place I never imagined. I felt completely out of control. All stability was gone, a majority of my comfort was gone, and I looked at the future and felt uncertainty. I didn’t like this place – at all! The most confusing part was that all I had ever attempted to do was follow God’s leading. Although I attempted to cry out to God, it was difficult because I was angry with God. It’s an interesting place to be when you are attempting to pray to the one who helps you forgive others, when you have anger directed at Him.

That was a long, dark time. I am happy to say, I’m not there today. I have pressed through and God has helped me. Those prayers and cries for help…He heard them all. I remember specific moments when I chose to stand upon God’s Word in prayer and to confess what I could not yet see. My final breakthrough came when I surrendered the need to know why, I was simply willing to trust Him. Let me tell you, it was not a simple choice. It was an act of my will. Today, many of my prayers are still unfilled, but I am confident that God’s plan is happening in my life and the lives of those around me.

One thing that helped me to recognize answered prayer, was to focus on the little moments in my life. As I became grateful and acknowledged God’s leading and provision in my normal everyday life, I became increasingly aware that He was working. In those dark days I believe He was working, I just was focused on the wrong things.

So, if you don’t believe that God is working in your situation, ask Him for a new set of eyes. Begin to thank him for the good things around you, no matter how small. I believe you will begin to see bigger and bigger things emerging.

Here’s how to win a free copy of Get Off Your Knees & Pray. To be entered in the drawing (which will take place Friday, May 27, at 5pm EDT), do one or both of the following:

  1. Leave a comment below about what you’ve learned recently about prayer. Even if your comment is “I need to pray more,” it will help others to know they are not alone.
  2. Send the following message via Twitter: Win a free copy of @SheilaWalsh’s “Get Off Your Knees & Pray” from craigtowens.com at http://wp.me/pmy10-19P #prayingwomen

If you are the winner, you will be notified after the drawing on May 27, 2011.

My Heart Still Goes Pitter-Pat

Craig & Betsy

Twenty-six years ago today, Betsy and I went on our first date. My life has been immeasurably better because she has walked alongside me for all these years.

And, yes, 26 years later she is still the only one who makes my heart go pitter-pat like no one else!

I love you, Betsy… the only one who stole my heart away!

My Best Friend

Craig & Betsy

My Dearest Betsy,

Twenty-six years ago I began a relationship with my first girlfriend. Twenty years ago today I married my first and only girlfriend. Today I am more in love with you than I ever thought would be possible!

You are my best friend, my confidant, my favorite playmate, and still the only woman I’ve ever had eyes for.

Solomon wrote:

He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.

I’m so grateful that Solomon’s words have been a massive understatement for me. Being married to you has been so beyond good, and God’s favor has saturated my life.

So here’s to the next 20 years… I can hardly wait to see all that God has in store for us. And having you right by my side to share this adventure makes it all the more fulfilling.

I love you, my bride!

Campfire Stories

Have you ever just sat around a glowing campfire with your friends? During those times I’ll bet that some cool conversations took place.

  • Maybe you heard a story about a friend that you had never heard before.
  • Perhaps you got some insight into someone’s way of looking at life.
  • Or maybe you had a chance to share something that had been on your heart for a while.

Last night in Impact we had a great campfire time. We didn’t light any wood on fire. Actually, our worship time was really passionate and intimate, so the Holy Spirit lit a fire for us. Then instead of our usual setting with all our chairs facing the speaker on the platform, I asked everyone to turn their chairs into a big circle.

To wrap up our Be You series, my favorite guest shared. (Hint: she’s my first and only girlfriend.) We heard a great reminder that it’s our job to prepare ourselves to be ready to walk through the doors that God opens for us. Betsy reminded us that God isn’t going to open a door that we’re not yet ready to walk through. So we study, and pray, and prepare, and get degrees, and take classes, and stay ready. Then when God says, “Go,” we can say “Yes!”

I loved our campfire last night, and I’m definitely looking forward to more times like this.

Just Hangin’

Hangin’ with my best friend

I love to spend time with Betsy. Even if I just have a quick jaunt to Meijer for some milk and eggs, I want her to come along with me. Or an appointment I had that was an hour away, I was grateful that her schedule was freed up so we could be together. Today we had a looong, important but unexciting meeting; just being there together made it bearable.

I love the inside jokes, the “look” that speak volumes, the “squeeze” that tells me when I’m supposed to speak up (or keep quiet), the “smile” that’s so meaningful.

I truly believe that love is best spelled T-I-M-E.

Are you spending enough of this precious commodity with those closest to you? Are you hangin’ with those you love? If not, try it, and just wait to see what happens!

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