Monday, September 15, 2014

September 14, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: To Love and To Cherish - The Greatest Commans

I’ve seen some interesting wedding cakes over the years, but none quite like the one in a recent story.  The bride to be asked the caterer to inscribe I John 4:18 on the cake, which says there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  The caterer misread the verse as John 4:18 and inscribed that verse on the cake, which reads for you have had five husbands; and the one whom you now have is not truly your husband.

Next week we conclude our series on marriage with the final phrase of the wedding vows, which will combine two of the vows, in sickness and in health, and until death do us part.  From those vows we will examine the topic of Building Permanence In Marriage.

I want to begin this morning by asking you a simple question that serves as a litmus test about marriage, a wake up call of sorts – would you be happy if your child ended up in a marriage like yours?  Would you be pleased or troubled?  Let that sink in for a moment.  If you are troubled by that question, here are several other questions to consider – what is wrong with your marriage that you would not want your child in such a marriage?  How bad is your marriage?  Is your marriage salvageable?  Do you want to save it?  What will it take to save it?  What will you do to save it?

Today we come to the vow to love and to cherish.  This vow is really a summation of everything the other vows are saying.  To love and to cherish is a way of saying that if there’s anything else not covered by the other vows, it’s covered under this one.  All these messages are really just variations on the theme of love.

1.  Love Is Fragile.
How many of you have ever baby-proofed a home?  When you have very young children you have to take some precautions to prevent injuries to your children and to protect precious items from being broken.  Tanya has a very delicate statue, a Lladro, of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, which her brother brought to her from Italy some years ago.  It’s a beautiful piece, but very delicate and very fragile.  It sat on a small table in our foyer, which was a rather dangerous location for it.  When our kids were very young we put it away to protect it, and then took it out some years later, thinking it would be safe.  It wasn’t, but unfortunately, I was the problem.  I knocked that statue over and broke it about five times.  Poor Joseph has had his head super-glued back on his body so many times that he doesn’t have much of a neck left.

The damage came from an unexpected source – me.  It can be a surprise to find that the damage that comes to a marriage stems from an unexpected source – from ourselves.  

There is a great fragility to marriage.  Marriage is fragile, because love is fragile.  Love is susceptible to an ill-spoken word, a careless act, and so many other occurrences that can shatter a relationship, and once it is shattered it is very difficult to repair because of the residue of hurt.

That is why we must remember that love will not maintain itself; it takes time and care and effort, and some of the greatest damage that can come to marriage is not from the outside, but from the inside, because of our actions and our attitudes.  In one of my previous churches there was a young lady who burned up the engine in her car because she never checked the oil and never had the oil changed.  When her father asked about the last time she had the oil in her car changed she had no idea what he was talking about.  There’s oil in an engine?  And you have to change it?

Don’t place yourself in the position where you realize one day that the problem with your marriage resides in you, because you did not protect love.

2.  Love is tough.
I’ve observed some married couples with an amazing talent for conflict.  I say talent because they manage to take the smallest matters and turn them into World War III.  Maybe it’s that one person seems unable – or unwilling – to pick up after one’s self.  They are just being themselves by leaving things all over the house.  And their spouse gets tired of it, but doesn’t like stuff all over the floor and hanging from chairs, so they pick it up, day after day.  One person digs in their heels and says I have a right to be who I am, and if leaving stuff all over the floor is who I am then that’s just tough, and the other person quietly grinds their teeth, and gets mad, and gets bitter and resentful?  Is being one’s self worth damaging a marriage?

Is that a tough situation to fix?  It is if you’re focused on yourself.  We can be remarkably egocentric, self-centered, and self-absorbed people who want to do what we want to do and act they way we want to act.  That’s why love is tough, because love is not egocentric, or self-centered, or self-absorbed.

Anyone who says love is not tough really doesn’t understand love.  Love is tough because it takes you out of yourself and your own interests and wanting your own way and working for the best of another person, and that’s not easy.  Love asks us to sacrifice and to set aside what we want for the greater interest of a marriage and family, and that can is tough.

Everyone comes into marriage with a set of expectations, and many of those expectations relate to what we want from the other person.  Some people expect that they are getting a cook, a housekeeper, a mechanic, a yard care expert, an accountant, or an ATM.

But love does not concern itself with what it receives but what it gives.  There is an aspect of servanthood to love, and you cannot love someone you do not serve, not in the Biblical sense of love. 
You cannot express love when you are demanding things from your spouse, you cannot express love when you desire them to serve you; you express love when you serve them.

3.  Love is an act of the will.
The title of this message is To Love and To Cherish:  The Greatest Command.  I use the phrase the greatest command because that is what Jesus said of love – it was his greatest command.  But let me ask you a question – can you command love?  Is it really love if it has to be commanded?

You can’t command love, and I think what Jesus is talking about creating the conditions under which love can thrive.  When we talk about love in the context of a marriage, we have to move beyond romantic love and emotion.  Those are wonderful elements of a marriage, but love is far deeper than just romance and emotion.  In the context of a marriage, love is very often an act of the will.  It is an act of the will because it is a different kind of bond from that of parent and child, sibling – those relationships that are bond together by blood relations.  A marriage is a relationship entered into by a decision and it is maintained by a continual decision – an act of the will.

So what will you do?  I preached about marriage some years ago, and often, what happens after you preach about marriage, is that people come and talk to you more about their marriages.  One couple talked to me, and I was surprised to learn of how deeply they were struggling.  I told them they needed to get some help and pointed them to a good counselor, and they did great.  I wish it were always that easy.

One of the most difficult and nerve-wracking moments in life is when you tell someone for the first time I love you.  I remember very well the first time I said the words I love you to Tanya.  We had been dating a while and I knew I was in love with her.  I thought about how to tell her, and, of course, I had some anxiety about doing so.  When Tanya and I first went on a date she told me she never dated anyone longer then about six weeks.  I had somehow managed to continue on longer than six weeks and I had also come to the point of believing we had a great future together.  But to say those words – I love you – was a big step.  I came up with a plan, when and where I would tell her.  All during that day my stomach was in knots.  That evening, as I walked her back to her dorm, and as we stood in the courtyard of Hart Hall, I somehow managed to work up the courage to say I love you.  Thankfully, she said I love you in return!

It is a great gift to tell someone I love you; it is an even greater gift to hear someone say to us. I love you.

But love is not always smooth sailing, and there are many challenges that come to love.  We are programmed in our society to concentrate so much upon the emotions of love, and what happens in marriage if you don’t always feel the emotion?  It is absolutely essential to the health of a marriage to love and cherish your spouse, and to be sure they know this every day of your life together.

6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
 It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.
 If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7

Monday, September 08, 2014

September 7, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: For Richer Or Poorer - Building Wealth or Happiness?

Genesis 12:10-20

As a couple repeated their vows during a wedding the groom kept interrupting the pastor.  When the pastor said in sickness and in health, the groom said health.  When the pastor said for better, for worse, the groom said better.  When the pastor said for richer, for poorer, the groom said richer.  Finally, the pastor said, son, what are you doing?  You’re supposed to be repeating what I say.  The groom looked alarmed and said you mean we don’t get to choose!

We are continuing our series of messages on marriage, based around the traditional wedding vows, and this morning we come to the phrase for richer, for poorer.  The title of this message is Building Wealth Or Happiness?  Last week we talked about some of the financial challenges in marriage and this week my focus is a little less about the financial side of marriage and more on the happiness side of marriage.  Despite the title, my point is not to make wealth and happiness out to be a totally either/or type of proposition.  It’s obvious to us all that it is expensive to raise a family and cover household expenses and a certain amount of financial success is necessary to do those things adequately.

This morning, what I want us to examine is really a matter of focus – what is our focus in marriage?  It is a focus that is concentrated upon building wealth or building happiness, which is a question for all of us, and not just married couples.  And I will add that I think all of the messages in this series about marriage have some application to all people – married or not – and this message has the broadest application of them all, as the question of building wealth or happiness or one that faces every person, regardless of marital status.

Our Scriptural text for this message comes from the 12th chapter of Genesis, where we find a story from the life of Abraham that shows us one of his less than stellar moments.  It was shortly after God called Abraham and promised to build a great nation through him that he and his wife Sarah journeyed to the land of Canaan.  After their arrival in Canaan a severe famine drove them to Egypt, where Abraham feared for his life because of the beauty of Sarah.  Abraham feared that he would be killed and Sarah would be spared, so he decides they will say that Sarah is his sister, thus guaranteeing his safety.

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.
11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.
12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.
13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman.
15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.
16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.
18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?
19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!”
20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Although Abraham comes out of this episode in a much stronger financial situation, I’m certain it didn’t do much for the level of happiness in his marriage to Sarah.  So let’s look at some of the important truths we find in this episode in the life of Abraham and Sarah.

1.  Happiness cannot be purchased; happiness is generated by how we live.
We have all heard that money cannot buy happiness (although it does allow us to look in better places, as the old joke goes), although it seems that a lot of people in our society are more than willing to trade happiness for money.  Money can certainly buy certain things, and there are some things all people desire in life.  Money can also bring a certain level of comfort to life, as well as a certain level of security (at least as long as you money lasts), it can afford opportunity, and money can certainly relieve some anxiety and worry about the cost of living. 

But can money buy happiness?  Let’s be up front and say that it can buy some measure of happiness, but not genuine happiness; instead, money it buys a superficial level of happiness.  There is certainly some amount of happiness in purchasing something you desire and can afford, there is the happiness of being able to travel to a beautiful location, but there is a fleeting type of happiness in those things; it is a happiness that generally lasts for only a short period of time and is not an adequate substitute for the deeper and more meaningful happiness that we all desire.  Happiness is not guaranteed by our financial status; some people with money are happy and some are sad, just as some people with little or no money can be happy or sad.

In a marriage, money is more often a dividing point than it is a uniting point; it is more likely to bring conflict than unity; it is more likely to generate unhappiness than happiness.  Think for a moment; how many times has money brought you and your spouse closer together and how many times has it brought about conflict?

The question of building wealth or happiness is so important to understand because we must realize that happiness is not something that exists somewhere out in life that we can find by having a certain amount of money or owning certain things; instead, happiness is a by-product of how we live.

When a person goes off in search of happiness they will probably never find it, because it’s not out there to be found; but the person who concentrates on how they live will discover that happiness naturally comes to them.  In marriage, many people are trying to construct a perfect life, assuming it will create happiness.  They try and make their spouse perfect, their kids perfect, their home perfect, and all they do is drive everyone crazy, because you cannot force happiness to exist in such a way.  Happiness only comes when you live life in the right manner, and the entire story of Scripture is God communicating to mankind how life is to be lived, and that when it is lived in that way, happiness will be a natural by-product.

If you read the Beatitudes your translation may use the word happy instead of blessed.  The word happy conveys a better sense of what Jesus was trying to communicate, because he was saying that the person who lives according to those principals will find happiness.  The person who has a sensitive heart to those who mourn, those who have a hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are willing to be persecuted for what they believe; these are the people who find that happiness will be a byproduct of how they live.

I can’t imagine how the choice Abraham made would have brought him any measure of happiness; it brought him some financial security, but could have done nothing to increase the amount of love and happiness between himself and his wife Sarah.

2.  Happiness comes from a self-giving love.
The Pharaoh was so troubled by what Abraham had done that he ordered him to leave town; and to make sure Abraham left, the Pharaoh had him escorted out of town.

I wonder what the conversation was like between Abraham and Sarah as they were being escorted out of town.  Abraham may have sought to justify his actions – honey, I got a good deal out of this; you were worth all these sheep and oxen and camels.  I’m not even going to try and guess what her response was.  Have you ever had that kind of conversation with your spouse where you’re trying to justify something you did, and they don’t say anything, so you keep talking and digging a deeper hole for yourself – or is it just me?  I think that was Abraham’s situation.

What is really sad about Abraham’s actions is the cowardice in what Abraham did, because he recognized the Egyptians might kill him and allow Sarah to live.  When Genesis says that Sarah was taken up into Pharaoh’s house, it means she was added to his harem, which was a terrible fate for Sarah.  What was Abraham thinking?  Was he so worried about his own survival that he failed in his concern for Sarah?  Was he proud of not only saving his life but profiting rather handsomely as well out of the arrangement?  It’s not a shining moment in Abraham’s life.  And here is the irony of the story; Abraham, God’s chosen man, being outdone by the Pharaoh.  Pharaoh was so anxious to get Abraham out of town that he even has him escorted, rather than trusting that he would leave on his own.

To build happiness, you cannot be out for your own self-interest in marriage, and Abraham was.  Make no mistake about it; he was trying to save his own neck and to do so he was willing to put his wife Sarah in a terrible position.

People often make the wrong assumption that marriage is a 50-50 proposition.  Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition; sometimes it’s a 60-40 or even a 90-10 arrangement.  There are times when you may be called upon to give and give and receive very little in return, but you cannot always see marriage as a place to meet in the middle.  The attitude of love is not thinking of where our responsibility of love ends and what we can expect in return, but how can I love and serve my spouse, even when I am receiving nothing in return?  Our society has so programmed people into a me-first mentality that many people have a difficulty understanding that in marriage love is built upon self-giving, not receiving.  In fact, love is about giving, not receiving.  If you cannot give without an expectation of receiving something in return you are not expressing true love.

Let me hasten to add that I am speaking about healthy relationships, not an abusive relationship where someone uses faith as a way to trap another person in an unhealthy and abusive situation.  Some people use faith – or a twisted version of faith – in order to trap another person in an abusive situation.

The purpose of life is not to seek our own happiness, not to pack our lives with as many experiences as we can enjoy, but to love God and others, and to demonstrate a life of live as revealed in compassion.

3.  Happiness is built upon trust.
What do you think when you walk into a business and someone tells you trust me?  We start watching our wallet, don’t we?  There are so many people out to rip us off that we can find it difficult to trust.  And so many people have been hurt by bad relationships they find it difficult to trust.

This was Abraham’s first test of trust after being called by God.  Very quickly Abraham faces a test of trusting God, and he fails.  What Abraham did was to take his future, and that of his family, into his own hands.  In his mind, what he did probably made sense, because he was protecting the future God had promised.  How could he become the father of a great nation if the Egyptians killed him and took his wife?

But it was not Abraham’s task to do God’s job.  Abraham would probably protest his innocence, saying he was only trying to insure that God’s plan would survive – but it wasn’t his job to do that; God is going to see that his plan survives. 

And Abraham’s failure has some very real consequences. Because of his failure to trust God, people suffered who were innocent in the matter.  Pharaoh and his house suffered great plagues because of what Abraham had done (verse 17).  Pharaoh certainly had his shortcomings, but he and others suffered because of Abraham’s failure to trust. 

And think of how that failure to trust must have impacted the marriage of Abraham and Sarah.  By failing to trust God and by taking matters into his own hands Abraham put Sarah in a terrible position, which could not have been healthy for their marriage.

A lack of trust in our lives has an impact beyond our own lives; others face the consequences of our lack of trust as well.

I hear a lot of couples talk about their early years of marriage, when they had very little, but they were very happy.  And it’s interesting to listen to them because even though they have a much more secure financial situation now, it’s almost as though they are saying they were happier when they had less.  I think it is true that as a couple move through the years of marriage that financial concerns can overwhelm many other parts of life, and the demands of making a living and paying for a home and family gradually and subconsciously became the overriding concern, so that the things done previously to build happiness begin to fall by the wayside.  And the end result is that some couples find themselves with a much higher level of financial success and a much lower level of marital success and happiness.
Earn a living, support your family, plan for the future; but also take a very close look and ask if your satisfaction with your marriage has suffered in the process.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

August 31, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: For Better Or Worse - Overcoming Challenges In Marriage

I Samuel 25:36-42

For Better Or Worse:  Overcoming Challenges In Marriage

I can appreciate the fact that sometimes people say things in a way that sounds very different than what they intended; it happens to me often.  A minister received a note from a newlywed in his congregation, and the note read Dear Pastor – I want to thank you for performing our marriage ceremony.  It was beautiful the way you brought my happiness to a conclusion.

This morning we continue our series on marriage, and we come to the wedding vow that says for better, for worse.  All marriages have some of both, but hopefully it is much more of the better and much less of the worse.  We are talking about Overcoming Challenges this morning, and every married couple quickly finds there are challenges they will face.

The Scripture passage we read this morning tells of David’s marriage to Abigail.  Abigail had previously been married to a man named Nabal, and we read that he was not much of a husband or a person.  In fact, his name can be translated as fool. 

In some ways, Abigail’s life improved after she married David, but there were some very great challenges as well.  David would become king, and that role brought blessings but also tremendous stress to life.  David was a warrior, his family had many relationship problems and he famously became involved with another woman, Bathsheba. 

I think we can take comfort in the fact that the great Biblical characters were not immune to challenges in their marriages.  For David, some of those challenges came to him, and others – such as his involvement with Bathsheba – were of his own making.

I think we find that to be true of every marriage; some challenges come to us from outside the marriage relationship, as life brings particular challenges our way; but there are also challenges that come because of our own actions.

This morning we will examine some of the challenges marriages face and some solutions as well.  But allow me to also add another word this morning.  As I speak about marriage there is a very obvious reality, and some of you have experienced this reality – some marriages become broken and are not repairable, and they end.  People who have experienced divorce sometimes feel judged by churches or they are made to feel guilty – or both.  Some marriages end, and some become so broken that they need to end, as painful and as difficult as that may be.  But life can and does go on, and you do not have to carry around a burden of guilt or judgment.

1.  Conflict. 
Years ago I attended a 50th anniversary celebration for some friends of ours.  They were a wonderful couple and seemed to have a very happy marriage.  At the reception the couple shared some words with those in attendance and one of the things the wife said was this – 50 years of marriage and we never had a single argument!  Someone standing near me said, probably louder than they intended, I bet they could have used a few!

Even when two people deeply love one another it is inevitable that conflict will enter into the relationship, and it’s not always something to avoid or fear, because conflict can, at times, “clear the air” in a relationship.  Conflict can be a pressure release valve that prevents problems from festering and creating deeply hurt feelings and bitterness.  The key is that conflict is handled in a healthy manner – not something to be feared, or avoided, but a dynamic to recognize as a way to bring problems in a relationship into the open where they can be discussed and solved.

Conflict is not handled in a healthy manner creates anger, and anger that is not managed or spoken to can be very damaging to a relationship.

The first piece of advice about conflict I will mention is this, and it is addressed to our role as parents – your children should not witness your fights and arguments.  I am not saying that you should hide the fact that parents have disagreements and arguments, but a child’s sense of security is tied very directly to how they perceive the strength of their parent’s marriage.  If they witness arguing and fighting on a regular basis they are going to feel insecure because they will wonder if the marriage is going to last.

When I was in youth ministry I used to listen to a lot of kids talk about their concern over their parent’s marriage (and I wondered if the parents were aware of the fact of their children talking about their arguments and their struggles).  I witnessed first-hand the amount of anxiety that was created by those arguments and it obviously created a lot of insecurity.  That’s why I recommend that parents be very careful about their children witnessing their arguing and fighting and disagreements.

The second piece of advice is this – while conflict can be triggered by several factors, it often comes from – and is intensified by – poor communication skills.  Good communication begins by being a good listener, because people don’t always say what they really mean.

Even in a marriage relationship people do not always say what they mean, and marital conflict is generally triggered by poor communication.  There are two very important matters to remember about conflict and communication.  One, there is no logic to conflict and the ensuing hurt feelings.  The worse thing you can do is to approach your spouse’s feelings in a logical way; it will only make matters worse and confuse you in the process.  Don’t try to be so logical – listen to what your spouse is trying to tell you about what they feel.  Don’t say something such as this – it’s silly to get that upset about such a small matter or, you shouldn’t feel that way.  The person is upset and they do feel that way, whether they should or not.  Second, conflict affects every facet of a relationship.  It is a mistake to think that a single point of conflict can be ignored and the rest of a relationship will go unaffected.  Some people say well, we’re having a conflict over one issue but everything else is fine. 

The third piece of advice is this – conflict in one area affects the entire relationship because unresolved conflict destroys intimacy, and that will eventually fracture or destroy a relationship.

The fourth piece of advice is this – do not believe you must remain in an abusive situation.  The various types of abuse – physical, emotional, sexual – are situations no one should have to endure, and never allow yourself to believe that you cannot escape such a situation.

2.  Financial challenges. 
There are a lot of people struggling these days.  Is it all because of materialism?  Is it all because of greed?  No, I don’t believe so.  Certainly, materialism and greed do exist, but the financial costs of raising families are a very difficult reality.  In the early 60s my father was earning about $60.00 a week.  With that $60.00 he was buying a home, raising two children, and paying for all the other necessities of life.  Yes, things cost less then, but the cost of living was lower and today’s dollars have much less buying power. 

One of the dangers in the early days of marriage is the desire to have too much too quickly.  It took my parents a lot of years to arrive at a particular point economically, and it would have been unwise for me to think it possible to be at that point at, say, 25.  There is a very grave temptation to try and have too much, too fast, which can lead to a crippling financial situation.  Proverbs 21:5 tells us everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.

Let me offer the following words of advice about financial matters. 

1.  Beware of debt, and live within your means.  The Bible does not forbid debt, but it gives counsel about the dangers of debt.  Proverbs 22:7 says the borrower is servant to the lender and 22:26-27 says do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts.  If you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.

2. Don’t get caught up in competition over material possessions.  It is very easy to be caught up in the desire to have as much as someone else, and that begins a journey down a road that can lead to financial ruin.  Part of human nature is to have a greater desire for what we want than to be thankful for what we have, and that desire can be so powerful in our lives that we get swept up into the competition of outdoing our neighbors.  Jesus gave numerous warnings about the danger of desiring possessions.  In Luke 12:15 Jesus says not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.

3.  Invest wisely.  Be wary of shortcuts to building wealth, and when you make financial investments make investments that are honorable and with businesses that practice integrity in their business dealings.

4. Those suggestions make it possible to fulfill the biggest word of advice – be generous.  The symbol of the world is a closed hand, holding and hoarding resources; the Christian representation is the open hand, realizing that as God has blessed us we are to use those resources to bless others.  I am certainly grateful that our church has been so giving and generous as people have given so generously and faithfully.

3.  Health challenges. 
In sickness and health – that’s one of the vows, and some sickness can be very difficult, especially sickness that is chronic.  But there are health challenges that are not often discussed, especially in church.  There is the health challenges alcohol and substance abuse, which we will talk about on the final Sunday of September.  There is also the challenge of mental and emotional health.  The challenge of matters such as alcohol and substance abuse, and mental and emotional health is that they often remain hidden from view, and they remain hidden from view because there remains a great deal of stigma about those health challenges.

All of us have some first-hand experiences with the challenges of health.  When health challenges enter a family’s experience they can quickly reveal any fractured or damaged relationships that may exist.  One of the most difficult parts of health challenges can be the change in communication.  If a person is facing a very difficult situation, they may not want to talk about it, while their spouse feels a great need to talk.  The spouse will often feel shut out and become frustrated because the other person simply won’t talk about what they are facing.  It is a very profound moment to face your own mortality, and some people don’t want to face it or talk about it, but that doesn’t mean they are shutting you out.  It can also be frustrating because they don’t want to ask doctors questions; they probably don’t want to hear any more bad news.

Friends also need to understand this.  There will be times when someone doesn’t want to be asked a lot of questions or talk about their health, and it’s important to respect their wishes; when a person is ready to talk, they will talk.  You must give them the freedom to decide when they will talk.  I try to be careful not to ask people a lot of questions; my desire to know should never supersede their need to decide how and when they will talk about the challenge they face.

When it comes to health challenges, living near family is a great blessing.  If you have family living nearby, never take that gift for granted.

4.  Spiritual challenges. 
When I speak about spiritual challenges, I do mean religious faith, a relationship to a church, but I also mean those elements of life that have to do with our spirit, such as work and life balance, our basic perspective on life, our relationship to finances and possessions, how we use our time, how we relate to others – most every facet of life has a relationship to spirituality.

For some, that spirituality – and faith – can become a source of contention.  Not every couple sees eye to eye about faith.  Some couples have very different perspectives about faith and church involvement.  Sometimes parents and their children will have very different views, and that creates a lot of stress as well, as many of you mentioned as you answered the three questions I asked for a number of weeks this summer.

I don’t know why faith seems to grow naturally with some, but others in the same family will have little or no interest.  I do know that differences in this area of life can generate a great deal of stress and heartache.

There are two different issues that we need to separate.  A lack of church involvement and a lack of faith are two different matters.  I know people who have little or no involvement in the life of any church but I certainly believe they have a very real and genuine faith.

You cannot, and should not, seek to push or manipulate anyone into faith.  Instead, you should live your faith every day, speaking of it when you can, and continue to love and serve your spouse.

36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk.  So she told him nothing at all until daybreak.
37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone.
38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.
39 When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.”  Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife.
40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”
41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.”
42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 24, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: From This Day Forward - Growing Through the Seasons of Life

Genesis 29:10-20

How many of you have a special song with your spouse or someone you dated?  If your era was the 40’s your song was probably by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby or Tony Bennett.  If it was the 50’s it might be someone like Pat Boone or Elvis.  If the 60’s, perhaps the Beatles.  In the 70’s – the golden age of music, there were so many artists from which to choose.  If your era was the 80’s, I feel for you.  The 80’s had Men Without Hats and Flock of Seagulls, but perhaps it was something by Bon Jovi, like Living On A Prayer. 

Who will tell us your song?  Do you want to know the song Tanya and I had as our special song?  I wasn’t a disco person but it came from a very popular soundtrack to the disco age – can anybody guess?  Saturday Night Fever, and the song was How Deep Is Your Love, by – The Bee Gees.  You’re the light in my deepest, darkest night.  I should have kept my white disco suit!

This morning, we continue our series on marriage, and today we come to this phrase of the wedding vows – from this day forward.  This morning we will study the topic of Growing Through the Seasons of Life.  Just as we live through various seasons historically, we live through season of marriage as well.  I want to speak this morning about some qualities that should be a part of your marriage that will enable you and your spouse to grow together through each stage of life.

Those of you who have been married a while know at least some, or perhaps all, of the seasons of a married life.  There are the early years, of learning one another’s expectations and adapting to sharing your life with another person; there are the years of babies and young children, and the stresses that come from trying to balance time and work and the demands of a growing family; there are the teenage years, when your children are beginning to establish some independence from you and believe you to be the most clueless person on the face of the earth; there is the empty nest time, when the children are gone and in some ways you reestablish your relationship as just the two of you; there are the years of enjoying grandchildren and adjusting to retirement; there is the stage of caring for a spouse who may be in declining health; and finally, there is the stage of learning to adjust to life after your spouse is gone.

At every one of those stages it is of critical importance to have a foundation to your marriage that will carry you through the unique challenges that arrive at each stage.  And I should mention that I am assuming in each of these messages that the spiritual foundation to marriage will be present.  I see that as an essential foundation to a healthy marriage and family life.

I’ve had the blessing to know couples who were married for over 70 years.  Seventy years!  For a marriage to survive over seventy years requires the understanding of some important qualities.

We are looking to the marriage – or marriages I should say – of Jacob to learn our lessons this morning.  There are a number of issues and questions that arise from this passage. We could talk about Jacob as the deceiver, who stole his brother’s birthright; Jacob the deceiver who was deceived by Laban, his father-in-law; we could talk about the practice of polygamy that is common in the Old Testament; we could talk about Laban trading away his daughter’s in order to secure Jacob’s services as a worker.  These are some of the questions and issues that arise out of this passage, questions and issues that highlight that this story takes place in a very different culture, but those are for another time, today, we are going to examine some of those that are more directly related to the qualities that are necessary for a healthy marriage to exist throughout all the stages of married life. 

There are some very important qualities demonstrated in this passage that teach us about how we can assure that our love for our spouse will grow through all of the stages and seasons of life.

1.  Patience.
When Tanya and I had been dating a while, some of our friends who had dated for a shorter time were getting married.  They asked us why we were waiting and told us we should get married and how great it was.  I couldn’t help but notice that some of them stopped talking about how great it was after some months had passed.  We dated for six years and three months before we married, and I think that was a big factor in providing a solid foundation for our marriage.  After that amount of time, we knew each other very well and it made the first year a very easy adjustment.  I would not say that every couple should wait that long to get married; in fact, I have known some who waited a long time and the marriage was not strengthened or even successful, and I have known couples who dated a very short time and enjoy very strong, happy marriages.

But patience is so important because marriage should never be rushed.  I believe patience will increase the duration of a marriage.  I try to communicate to younger couples who are planning their marriages to be patient, and I tell them the rest of your life is a long time, hopefully, and there is no need to be in a rush.  Patience now may save a lot of heartache later.  But, interestingly, almost no one seeks counseling before marriage, because we know everything before we get married, don’t we? 

This is an opportune moment for me to tell you how I determine what marriages I will perform.  In past years, I used to officiate many, many weddings, accepting almost every request I received.  Some years ago I decided to change my policy, and it has reduced the number of weddings I officiate.  If I know one or both of the couple, I do not require pre-marital counseling, but I am happy to provide it.  If, however, I do not know either of the couple I will schedule a time when we can talk about what expect not just in terms of terms of their wedding, but of marriage.  I want to hear about the type of wedding they want, and how they view marriage, and then I tell them what I consider to be important in a wedding.  If we are in agreement about the wedding itself, I require them to meet with me for several sessions so we can talk about marriage.  Most couples decline to do so, which limits the number of weddings I officiate.

Let’s turn now to Jacob.  He agrees to work for Laban for seven years if Laban will allow him to marry his daughter Rachel.  After the seven years have passed Laban deceives Jacob by giving him his older daughter, Leah (which is an interesting story in and of itself as to what it says about marriage in the Old Testament), but Jacob agrees to work another seven years to be able to marry Rachel.  He does not have to wait another seven years before he can marry her; he actually marries her a week after he marries Leah, but he does agree to stay and work for Laban seven more years, being patient about his own independence from Laban.

Patience is born out of love; it’s the first descriptive word Paul uses in I Corinthians 13 as he defines love’s qualities.  Patience includes understanding that God created your spouse a unique individual that may need a few changes, but they don’t always need a complete makeover as a person.  Sometimes, people desire to create such a sameness in personality and how they think that it squeezes the uniqueness out of their relationship.  It’s not a sin to be different.  Be patient with your spouse; they may not be all you want them to be, and that’s all right.  Celebrate the uniqueness that God has created in your spouse.

2.  Healthy Family Relationships.
Tanya, Nick, Tyler and I have no relatives near us; the closest relatives are 350 miles away.  I often tell people there is a disadvantage and advantage to living away from your families.  The disadvantage is, you are away from your family.  Do you know the advantage?  You are away from your family.

If you live near parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family, understand what a blessing this is, especially when you are raising children.  To be able to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and call a parent, grandparent, or sibling and ask for help is a great blessing.  Don’t take that blessing for granted.

But I will say again this week, when you marry someone, you also marry their family, and that brings not only a blessing, but some difficulties as well, as different perspectives and attitudes are blending together, and not always successfully.

Jacob does not step into the best of situations as his future father-in-law deceives him from the very beginning.  He fails to tell Jacob something very important – that it was the custom for the older child marry first.  It’s not as though Laban didn’t have the opportunity to tell Jacob this important fact; Jacob had already agreed to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel, the younger daughter.  Someone should have seen this situation coming and mentioned it, but no one did, and Jacob marries the wrong woman.  How do you marry that wrong person? (that’s a discussion that is better in a setting other than morning worship, as it’s a PG-13 story.  You can read it for yourself).  Jacob continues to have a very conflicted family situation, and if you want all the details, read chapter 30 and you’ll find a soap opera of tangled relationships.

In chapter 31 of Genesis we see the relationships in Jacob’s extended family deteriorating to the point that one night he slips out of town to head off for Canaan.  Part of the reason Jacob left was because he was building his flocks at Laban’s expense through some treachery and Laban’s sons were not very happy when they discovered what Jacob was doing.  God eventually gets involved and even warns Jacob that it’s time to leave, so Jacob slips off one night.  The situation is a very complicated web of deceit and suspicion and jealousy – you need to read these chapters, they will make you feel better about your family.

I have listened to too many heartbreaking stories of broken family relationships, and this brokenness can place a tremendous strain on a marriage.  And so I would offer this advice – parents, when your children are married they have established their own family.  Be careful how you step into that family; they are still your children but they are now responsible for their family, which at times may be very hard for you; love and support them even when you disagree with them.  For those of you who are married and your parents are still surviving, understand that your parents are acting out of love, and listen to their advice, even if you don’t always take it; they are the voice of experience that can be very valuable.

3.  You Must Have A Deep and Abiding Love.
Laban asks Jacob an interesting question in verse 15, Tell me, what shall your wages be?  What a great question!  I wish my Dad would have asked me how much I wanted to be paid before sending me out into the hay field, but I don’t remember any pay actually being discussed.  Imagine being allowed to name your wages!  And Jacob doesn’t begin his negotiation in a manner that works to his advantage.  Jacob doesn’t think of money, or flocks or herds; he makes the offer to give seven years of his life to be able to marry Rachel.  It’s a touching scene of Jacob’s love.

But there’s more to the story.  There’s Leah, Jacob’s other wife.  Leah is the person in this story who really has my sympathies.  Listen to how Rachel is described in verse 17 – Rachel was beautiful of form and face.  Now listen to the description of Leah – and Leah’s eyes were weak.  That’s the Biblical equivalent of saying she has a nice personality.  This description will last for all of recorded history, so it’s hard not to feel for Leah.  It’s obvious from that moment what is going to happen – Leah will never compare to Rachel in the eyes of Jacob, and perhaps that’s what he gets for having two wives.

It seems so obvious to say that marriage must be based on a deep and abiding love, but there are people who go into marriage with less than that level of love.  Jacob had no real love for Leah, and immediately the problems began in his life as he found himself married to a person he did not really love.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be married and not feel the depth of love that makes you want to stay with that person for a lifetime.  It is absolutely essential to enter a marriage believing that you cannot imagine living without that other person, because if you don’t, when the challenges come and the years roll on, you’re going to have regrets and that is not healthy for any marriage.

After thirty years, I am still happy to see Tanya at the end of a day; I enjoy being with her now more than I did when we first married.

Love has to come before money, it has to come before career, and it has to come before other people – love for our spouse must be at the very foundation of our lives.  Only when a deep and abiding love exists will a marriage last a lifetime.

10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.
11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.
12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah.  So she ran and told her father.
13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”  After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month,
15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.
18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.”
20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.