Happily Ever After? – Not Your Parent’s Marriage

Happily Ever After? – Not Your Parent’s Marriage
Matthew 18:23-35
02-16-14
The last two weeks have been fun and I hope you are enjoying this series so far.  If you have missed either of the last two sermons you can read them on my blog or listen to them on our podcast site.  We have debunked some myths about marriage and talked about how to stay in love using the blueprint found in 1 Corinthians 13 and our love languages.
The video I showed during the children’s moment was a fun to do.  We have a cute bunch of kids and youth.  I wanted to create this because how our kids see that we love each other tells us a lot about how our marriage is perceived to others.  Now our children’s perception isn’t as accurate as the truth, they really don’t know everything.  But they do give us a window into what our marriage looks like.  The relationship that has the most impact on our marriage is our parent’s marriage.  For good or for bad, that relationship is what helps form how we approach marriage in general.  Our parent’s marriage doesn’t define it but it has a dramatic impact on it.
There are three negative ways that Rod Stafford, the author of this sermon series, brings up about how our parent’s marriage affects our marriages.  Actually to use his words, “Your parent’s marriage potentially has a deadly impact on your marriage in three different ways.”  The first one is the damage of comparison.  Growing up our parent’s marriage is really the only one we know well.  It is the relationship we see daily and the only one we can see behind closed doors.  We, as children, can hear the yells as our parents argue, or apparently from the view of our children and youth, a lot of hugging and kissing.  How we see them acting out married life will impact our own marriage because we will compare our marriage with their marriage.
Some of it is good.  You may think that your Dad is the best husband ever or that your Mom was the best wife ever.  If you hold this view I bet your spouse is abundantly aware that you have this view because it probably comes up a lot.  You may have heard your spouse say, “My Dad is the best husband.  He was always home at 5pm and remembered my Mom’s birthdays and anniversary.  He would bring fresh flowers home and candies.  He would rub her feet and always give her a kiss when he walked into the house.”  Or “My Mom is the best wife you can imagine.  She had dinner on the table by 6 every night and it didn’t come out of the microwave, it was a three course meal every evening.  Mom would press Dad’s shirts so he would look his best for work and would have a pot of coffee waiting for him when he got down stairs.”
Here is the issue that you may not realize.  When we say a statement like those, what you are saying to your spouse is, “We don’t line up to my parent’s marriage.”  “You don’t line up to the expectations I have as a husband/wife.”  You may not mean it but I guarantee that is what your spouse hears.  The damage of comparison is that we are holding up another marriage against ours and it is only our perception of a marriage not the reality.  Maybe Dad came home with flowers and candies because the reality was he really messed up last night and put his foot in his mouth and so he is begging your Mom for forgiveness.  Maybe your Mom served a three course meal every night because that is what the social norm for the day was and if she didn’t her friends would think she wasn’t being a good wife.  In reality she would have much rather have a job and a career all her own instead of being a homemaker.   What we perceive our parent’s marriage to be may not be the reality and so we need to step away from comparison, even the positive.
Now the negative comparison is also difficult.  Maybe your parent’s don’t have the best relationship and maybe this is a statement you have said before.  “I will not be like my mother.”  Or “I will not be like my father.”  But this can damage a marriage in two different ways.  The first is that we think about it too much.  If I told you not to think about ice cream I bet it would be really hard not to think about ice cream.  Your brain just automatically starts to think about it although I told you not too.  The same goes with that trait you couldn’t stand about your parent.  “I will not yell like my father.”  Then we get so caught up thinking about not being like our parent we actually start to embody the trait we are trying to dodge.  Before we know it we are yelling like our father and then we hate ourselves for it.  We end up battling the same demons our parents battle because we cannot stop thinking about not being like them.
The second way is that we get so preoccupied with not become like our parents that we grade our marriage on a curve.  Instead of living into the 16 behaviors of love that we found in 1 Corinthians 13 we live into the fact that at least I am not my mother.  We think, “I may yell at my husband but at least I don’t hit him like my mother did.”  The way we look at our marriage is through the lens of “at least I don’t do.”  That is not what God calls us to grade ourselves on and it looks nothing like the blueprint found in 1 Corinthians 13.
There are two other things that can potentially have a deadly impact on our marriage and I am going to cover them really quickly.  Besides the damaged caused by comparison there is also the damage done by withholding blessing.  Being blessed by the people in our lives is extremely important and God lays out ways that we can share blessings with one another.  There are things that parents should do for their children and ways they bless them growing up and sometimes those things are not done.  Maybe your father never told you he loved you or cared about you.  Maybe your mother never hugged you or said she was proud of you.  Those blessings we miss from our parents tend to follow us into our own marriages.  Since we did not get them from our parents we look to get them other places. 
We look to our spouses to fill that gap but the truth is they can never give you the blessings you wanted from your mother or father because they are not your mother or father.  If you have a gap where some sort of blessing should be the only one who can fill that gap is God.  God, our heavenly Father, is the only one who can give you what you missed from your parents.  Your spouse can’t, your friends can’t, your job can’t.  Only God and so we need to stop looking to fill that hole in our heart caused by missing those blessings, through our spouses and other things.  Only God can do it and God would be happy if we let him.
The third deadly impact on a marriage from your parents is abuse.  Parents can do some evil things to their children.  If you have been abused physically by your parents that will have an impact on your marriage.  If you have been abused emotionally by your parents by being told you are no good, worthless, stupid, a mistake, this will have an impact on your marriage.  If you have been sexually abused, this will have an impact on your marriage.  Abuse is horrible, evil, and more places then we realize.  It creates some heavy damage in our relationships and leaves scars on us that he world may never see but may have a huge effect on our relationship with our spouse. 
With these three types of damage that can be done by our parent’s marriage in mind what must we do?  Now that I have opened Pandora’s box what we do with the realities of these demons?  There are two ways to deal with them, revenge or forgiveness.  Revenge seems a little harsh but it is true when we look at the different types of revenge or vengeance.  When we think of revenge we think about an eye for an eye.  But revenge is simply payment for being hurt.  It can be an eye for an eye but there are other ways they are lived out.  We can get revenge by simply saying, “I’m done with you.”  We walk away or withdraw from a situation or life.  The person may never know why and we probably don’t explain we simply walk away.  Or we belittle or gossip about the person.  This is a way of revenge because we are socially hurting them for the hurt they caused in us.  Naturally if this person physically hurt you it will take a lot of gossip to hurt them back.  The other way we seek revenge is by stuffing the hurt way down.  We suppress it and compress it until it can’t be held back and the little think unleashes an explosion. 
Revenge isn’t healthy though.  It doesn’t really accomplish what we hope it will do.  Rod in his sermon on this topic equates revenge to the game Angry Birds and it works well.  I am sure many of you are familiar with the game Angry Birds but if not I will give you a quick little summary of this physics game.  There are some birds and they are angry because some pigs stole their eggs.  So to get revenge on this pigs they launch themselves at the pigs to destroy them.  The pigs build different things to protect themselves and different birds have different powers to help destroy the buildings and pigs.  Here is the catch though, for those who have played the game before, what happens to the birds after they are flung at the buildings and pigs?  They disappear.  Just like the pigs they disappear and in the end are destroyed.  As they seek revenge on the pigs for stealing their eggs they too die in the process.
Revenge eats at us because we hold on to that hate, that un-forgiveness.  We cannot forgive someone unless something happens to them equally or worse than what they did to us.  Hebrews 12:15 says, “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.”  When we seek revenge, which is holding back forgiveness, we are letting a root of bitterness grow up inside us.  This root of bitterness will show up in our marriage and almost all other relationships as well.  It will show up in our relationship with our children and with our friends.  Sometimes it consumes us and all we are angry birds waiting to self destruct for the sake of revenge. 
So how would God like us to handle it?  How would God like us to handle the damage we have in our past to move forward into a deeper and healthier relationship in our marriage?  For that we go back to the scripture I read.  I am sure many of you were wondering what the parable of the unforgiving servant or unmerciful servant had to do with the sermon title, “Not Your Parent’s Marriage.”  And now that you can see that train coming many of you maybe upset.  The F word is not really popular because we would rather just seek revenge.  We would rather hold onto the hurt because, for some of us, we don’t know who we would be without it.  The F word I am talking about is forgiveness.  Yep, I said it, and in church no less. 
The parable of the unmerciful servant is all about forgiveness.  The servant is forgiven a huge amount of debt, more than he could pay back in about 100 lifetimes.  The king is beyond gracious and compassionate.  He shows an abundance of mercy and more than the servant desires or even deserves.  Then the forgiven servant tries to chokes out a tiny bit of money out of someone who owes him.  The mercy he is shown doesn’t follow to the other relationships in his life and in turn the king doesn’t show him any more mercy either.  What this parable boils down to is the our own capacity to experience grace.  The fact that the servant could not forgive the one who owed him money shows that he really didn’t experience the grace from the king who just forgave him an obscene amount of money.
Now don’t get me wrong, our ability to be forgiven by God doesn’t hinge on our ability to forgive others.  Forgiving others doesn’t earn us forgiveness from God.  But our ability to extend grace to people that hurt us is impossible if we never really experienced God’s grace.  Grace cannot be truly extended if is never truly experienced. 
In Rod’s sermon he pointed me to a quote by Bono, the lead singer of the Band U2.  Bono says, “You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.”
When we get caught up in revenge we are seeking an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  We are getting caught up in the karma aspect of life.  Yet this isn’t how God works is it?  Romans 12:19 says, “Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord.”  We get comfortable with that because we hope God’s revenge involves hell fire and sulfur falling from the sky.  But what if God decides to handle the revenge we lay at his feet by sending his son to die on the cross and rise again?  What if God’s plan on handling the sins against us is by showing mercy and forgiveness?  What if the King of Kings shows the same mercy on our enemies as he does on us?  Are we comfortable with that?  Are we willing to be okay that grace and mercy overcomes all the evil in this world and in our lives?
If we are going to do what God calls us to do, which is to forgive and show mercy and grace to our enemies, our parents, those who have hurt us in the past so we can live healthier lives that reflect God’s love, then we will have to forgive.  We will have to surrender those sins against us on the altar of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  We will have to move forwards knowing that God loves us and commands us to love our enemy.  Are we willing to surrender to that or is our revenge, our un-forgiveness, too much a part of us that we aren’t willing to let it go?  Are we too consumed with the idea of getting back at those that hurt us, that we are willing to punish the people we are married too?  Do we really want to jeopardize our current relationships for how we have been hurt in past relationships?  Or are we ready to surrender them all to God’s love and grace?
The truth is that if we want a healthy marriage we will have to place God’s grace upon it.  We will have to be willing to surrender our past to the grace and forgiveness that God offers.  We will have to get rid of that root of bitterness that grows inside us.  Are you ready to surrender that to God?  Are you ready to forgive that person who has hurt you and caused you pain?  Leave it here with God, because revenge is all God’s.  Leave it here, surrender it in order to have a healthy, vibrant, and deep love. 

And all God’s people said…Amen.
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Happily Ever After? Part II – Staying in Love

Happily Ever After? Part II – Staying in Love
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
02-09-14
Last week we introduced this sermon series about marriage.  We had a good time identifying and debunking just a few of the myths about marriage.  We talked about how the world feeds us this idea that there is simply one person out there, Mr. Right, Miss Right, our soul mate that if we find that one person then marriage will be easy.  Well, that is simply not true.  Instead what we learn is that marriage is really hard and takes a lot of work.  That is what we are talking about today, the work part. 
Here is what we think love is really like.  We think it is only this moment. [You had me at hello video]  But actually love is longer than that moment.  Love isn’t a moment; love is a way of life.  Love is what we are all called to live out day in and day out in all our relationships.  But how?  It isn’t easy yet we are all called to do it.  One of the hardest places to do it is in that life long commitment.  We make that commitment to show the world what love can look like.  As a marriage couple that is what your relationship is, a mirror that reflects what true Christian love is to look like in a relationship.
The letters of Paul were written in Greek, the written language of the day.  In the Greek Language there are four different kinds of love; philia, eros, storge, and agape.  Philiais the love between friends, brotherly love.  This is where Philadelphia gets its name, the city of Brotherly Love.  Eros is the sense of being in love also known as lust.  That is where we get our English word erotic from and that basically sums that one up.  Storge is affection or the love one has for family.  It is the love we have for our kids and pets.  Agape is unconditional love, sacrificial love, God love. Now in English we simply have love.  We love hotdogs and we love our wife.  We love baseball and we love our kids.  Do we love all of them on the same level or in the same way, I truly hope not.  As Christians we are all called to live out agape love, God style love, unconditional and sacrificial love for one another, especially in marriage.
I went back to the Greek just to double check and sure enough agape is the Greek Paul uses throughout 1 Corinthians.  If we want to life out what love truly looks like in God’s eyes then we need to live out the blueprint that is set in front of us in this chapter.  Now this is a popular text at weddings.  Be honest, how many of you all had this as the scripture read at your wedding?  Now be honest again, how many have read it since you were married?  The truth is that if we truly want to stay in love with our spouse then we need to follow what Paul lays out here.  It is here that we get 16 habits of what love looks like; 16 actions or behaviors that if followed by each person, a marriage will last for a lifetime.  The thing is it has to be followed by each partner, the husband and the wife.  As we learned last week in Ephesians we are both on the same level and we each have to submit to this type of love for the other. 
Let’s walk through the text again and here these 16 habits or behaviors of love.
1.     Love is patient – patience is more than simply waiting.  It is the ability to watch a person grow and change with no pressure.  Love doesn’t add pressure on someone to do something they don’t want to do or go against who they are. We all grow into the likeness of God at different rates and if we love patiently we allow the other to arrive on their time and something that is not forced.  If it is forced it isn’t real, so love patiently waits.
2.     Love is kind – it recognizes that the other person has feelings and it validates them.  Cruelty is removing the humanity of someone but to love kindly means we realize that our actions and life effects the other and we recognize that.
3.     Love isn’t jealous – a confident love doesn’t mind our spouse outshines us.  It is jealous of their successes or if they make more money than we do.  Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett received great recognition for his work–but not every one savored his accomplishments. Beckett’s marriage, in fact, was soured by his wife’s jealousy of his growing fame and success as a writer. One day in 1969 his wife Suzanne answered the telephone, listened for a moment, spoke briefly, and hung up. She then turned to Beckett and with a stricken look whispered, “What a catastrophe!” Was it a devastating personal tragedy? No, she had just learned that Beckett had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature![1]  That is jealous love, that is not agape.
4.     Love doesn’t brag – there is a common theme in many marriages where the one spouse steps on the other to make themselves look better.  We see it all the time in commercials where the husband is worthless as a caregiver to their children without the wife/mom there.  Or we share stories that make our spouses look bad in order for us to look better.  Bragging is simply a way to hold ourselves up on toothpicks.  Agape love is one of humility…not boasting about ourselves.
5.     Love isn’t arrogant – to be arrogant is to focus on one’s self.  But in a marriage, in an agape relationship, the main focus is building up the other person.  It is out of love that we want to hold up the other more than ourselves.  Agape love puts the self on the back burner for the other, it is what sacrifice is all about.
6.     Love isn’t rude – it is really sad to me to watch couples who have been married for years communicate.  Many of them forget the common courtesy of any relationship.  We teach it to our children but then we forget to model it in the relationship that the look at the most.  How many times do you use please and thank you in your marriage?  How many times do you command instead of ask.  “Bill, could you please pass the salt.”  “Susan, would please take a look at this?”  Common courtesy is forgot in the comfortableness of marriage and that rudeness can start to eat at the relationship.
7.     Love doesn’t seek advantage – there is this really bad habit in all relationship but especially in a marriage that we tend to keep score.  We keep a tally in our heads of what we have done or what we haven’t done in order to make ourselves better than our spouse.  It sounds silly but we do it all the time.  You take out the trash, wash the dishes, and vacuum the floors in one week that gives you three points.  Your spouse cooked dinner and cleaned the bathroom, two points.  So you then, in this twisted game, have permission to hold the score over the other’s head letting them know you put more into the relationship.  But true agape love doesn’t seek to have an advantage in the relationship.
8.     Love isn’t irritable – we are allowed irritable days or moments because life can be stressful.  Both men and women have certain times in the month when their fuse can be shorter than normal.  Yet, you cannot live day in and day out walking on eggshells trying not to make the other person upset.  If in a relationship that fuse is always short there is an issue.  If everything you do is making your spouse upset or disappointed then something is not right, it is not agape love.
9.     Love doesn’t keep a record of wrong – How I Met Your Mother is a great show and it is about to come to a close.  One of the best relationships on TV is between two of their characters Lilly and Marshall.  They are devoted to one another and in a recent episode they got in a huge fight.  Marshall finally threw the trump card he was holding about a time when they broke up and Lilly moved to San Francisco.  We all have trump cards in our heads that if we were backed into a corner we can throw to win an argument.  But when we do we are keeping a record of wrong.  We are not forgiving and that isn’t agape love.
10.  Love isn’t happy with injustice – agape love is about doing what is right and treating the other person as a child of God.  We need to learn to see each other not through the other person’s eyes but through the eyes of God.  We need to stand up for our spouse and be comfortable in our relationship to stand up for the injustices we come across in life.
11.  Love is happy with the truth – the truth hurts sometime, it is painful to come to grips with, but love demands truth to be told.  Love has to based on truth and if not it is like the house built on sand, eventually it will erode and wash away.  Tell the truth, not matter how hard, no matter how painful.  Lying hurts longer than the truth.
12.  Love puts up with all things – another translation puts it this way, love always protects.  When we love someone we want the best for them and so we protect them as best as we can.  But the way that the CEB puts it sheds some light on it as well.  Unconditional love puts up with all things and doesn’t demand the other person changes who they are to be someone other than who God created them to be.
13.  Love hopes all things – hope is essential to life because when life gets bad, and life will from time to time, we need a hope greater than ourselves.  Agape love has a hope that is unconditional and is eternal.  Every marriage needs that type of hope.
14.  Love always trusts – if we have to place one thing in a relationship as a key to it, it would have to be trust.  We have to trust our spouse, with our children, with life decisions, with our care, with our lives because they sleep next to us!  Trust has to be essential and when it is not there, life is rocky and love doesn’t seem to be there.
15.  Love endures all things – like I said, life will get hard, life isn’t promised to be easy at all and so love needs to endure.  Love needs to endure mistakes the other person makes, the changes in life that comes with a new job, a new child, children moving out, a new house, the death of parents or siblings, and the little things that make some marriages seem like we are being pecked to death by ducks.
16.  The final one is that Love never fails – there are times when you might not like each other.  Alycia and I have a phrase that we use time to time, “I love you but I don’t like you right now.”  Marriage is not a call to like each other in absolutely every moment in life but we are called to love each other.  We promise for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, in the best of times and in the worst of time, to always love.  When we think that agape love, unconditional and sacrificial love can fail, then we have lost hope, lost joy, and there is something wrong.
As Christians we are called to love everyone like this agape love.  One place where this can be lived out is in a marriage.  In the second creation story in Genesis God creates man and woman and it says this “this is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.  The two of them were naked, that man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.”  In this relationship we become so naked for another person it can be really difficult.  Not only in the physical sense but also the emotional and spiritual sense.  This person will see you in your moments of deepest pain and suffering, greatest moments of joy and desire, tender and honest moments, this person will see you in your rawest form of who you are.  Your spouse will see you naked and if agape love is there then there will be no embarrassment, no shame, only love.
So if we want to stay in love with our spouse for 50+ years then we need to remember what Paul tells us about agape love, true love.  This is the blueprint we are asked to follow.  These are the habits and behaviors of what love truly looks like.
There is one other thing that I have learned over my 11 years of marriage and 19 years of dating one woman.  Not only did I rock the long hair in high school but we have to learn to love the other person how they want to be loved.  There is a book I first read in college during my marriage and family class.  It is called “The 5 Love Languages.”  I think it is essential to a good marriage and how we can learn to live out these habits that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians. 
The idea is that we all have a love language and each of us have one that is different than the other.  Here is a short video that explains the five different loves…[The 5 Love Languages]
So a quick review of the five love languages:
1.     Words of Affirmation – just like you think, it is verbally telling someone you love them, you are proud of them, you trust them, so for and so on.
2.     Acts of Service – actions speak louder than words, so picking up around the house, folding laundry, doing the dishes, mowing the grass are ways that these people know they are loved.
3.     Receiving Gifts – for these people it may not be about the size or cost but the thought that counts.  You were away and you were thinking of them.  You saw this item and it reminded them of you. 
4.     Quality Time – sometimes all people crave to know they are loved is your undivided attention, no phones, no internet, no children, just quality time with you.
5.     Physical Touch – holding hands, arm around the shoulder, a kiss goodbye or hello, these are all ways that people who have this love language feel loved.  They want to cuddle, be hugged, and have meaningful appropriate touch from their spouse. 
What we need to take from this book is to learn how we want to be loved but also how our spouse feels and receives love.  What happens is that if we feel loved with words of affirmation we tend to show our love to our spouse that way.  But our spouse may feel loved through quality time.  Maybe your spouse always wants to spend time with you because that is how they feel loved and no matter how you tell her that she is special she still doesn’t feel loved.  Many couples tend to be speaking different languages.  Visit their website 5lovelanguages.com and learn more about you and your spouse love language.
The key to staying in love is learning how to love. Learning your partner’s love language will give you the keys to how you can live into the sixteen habits Paul talks about.  If we are doing all 16 then our marriages will never fail.  We need to stand strong and strive for that agape love, that unconditional, sacrificial type of love.  The love that God modeled for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
So may you dust off that scripture that was read as you started your life together and start living it.
And all God’s people said….Amen.

Happily Ever After? – Debunking the Marriage Myth

Happily Ever After? – Debunking the Marriage Myth

Ephesians 5:21-33
02-02-14
Let me start off this sermon series with a couple of caveats.  First of all, I am not an expert in marriage.  I have been married for 11 years now and I am still learning what it means to be a husband.  This series, once again, will be a lot of me preaching to myself.  Secondly, I have run all sermon illustrations that have to do with my first wife Alycia by her.  As a good husband/preacher I make sure I am saying things that are approved first.  I found it easier to ask for permission instead of forgiveness. Thirdly, I got this sermon series from Rod Stafford thesenior pastor of Fairfax Community Church in Fairfax, VA.  I found it on a website called Open Resourceswhich help ministers tap into quality sermon series and other resources like these great graphics and the video that we showed before I read the scripture.  These are all my sermons, I personally wrote them, but the main ideas came from Pastor Rod and I need to give him the credit as we start off these series.
First of all let me figure out who has been married the longest and the shortest in our congregation.  If you have been married for more than 40 years, if you don’t mind stand up. [go up until only one couple left].  If you have been married for less then 10 years stand up. [go down until  only one couple left]  I wonder what advice {first couple} could give the {second couple} who is just starting off? I bet they could learn a lot from each other.  I hope to have some of that later this month as well, so do keep.  I am sure we can learn a lot from everyone who has made a marriage go beyond 40+ years.  That takes a lot of work.
Today we are talking about marriage myths and there are only three that I am going to highlight today.  There are plenty more but apparently there is a football game later on today that many people would like to see so I cannot go into all of them. 
The first myth that we need to debunk about marriage is that the past is the past.  Many people think that if they can simply get to the altar then there is a fresh start.  If they can get there then they don’t have to worry about anything else.  All that stuff that happened back then we hope that when we say I do doesn’t matter any more.  But that is simply a myth.  Our past is always with us and there is nothing we can do about it.  When two people agree to marry there are only two options that can happen.  They can either choose to ignore it or deal with it. 
For example, (here is when we have the no-chicken winging rule come into play) say the person you are planning on marring has a deep connection with his mother.  They talk daily.  They text.  She still does his laundry and he is 28 and doesn’t live at home.  You, as the soon to be wife, thinks this will all go away when you say I do, but the truth is it won’t.  That baggage that we carry around with us in our singlehood is simply the baggage you carry around in your marriage.  Those mistakes you made in your early 20s, they will don’t go away and your spouse will have to deal with them. 
If a couple is not willing to work through the past then they will not have a future.  The past has to be recognized and dealt with if a marriage is going to work out.  If it is ignored then it will always be there hanging out around our necks.  We have to deal with it. 
People who hope to get married someday.  Pay attention to this right now.  Rod uses this quote in his sermon to describe how people should live in their singlehood in order not to cause a problem in their marriage.  I thought it was worth repeating.  His quote is, “Your present will someday be your past and your past will eventually show up in your future.”  [repeat]  This is a good thing to remember as we start early adulthood.  Are the decisions I am making right now eventually going to effect me and my future spouse?  Do I want to make a different decision now so I won’t have extra baggage to carry later?
The second myth about marriage is people who are married have married problems.  This isn’t true.  There really aren’t problems that are stuck within a marriage.  What is really happening is people with problems keep getting married.  I have only married one couple here and Alycia has been to many of the weddings I have officiated, so only three other people have heard this but it bears repeating.  If someone told you that sharing a house, a car, the bills, the pantry, the bathroom, a bed, toothpaste, and TV remote with one person for the rest of your life was easy, that person was lying.  They lied straight to your face.  They looked you in the eye and fed you a line because it isn’t easy.
We have this idea of happily ever after that has been fed to us since we are children.  If you look at all the major fairy tales when do those fairy tales end, they end with the wedding and riding off into the sunset and we all know that they lived happily ever after.  Sun is starting to set and there goes Snow White and Prince Charming; or Ariel and Prince Eric, or Rapunzel and Eugene. They all ride off and are happily ever after.  But Eugene, aka Flynn Rider, has some problems.  He is an outlaw and has a habit of stealing.  How will that work itself out since he is now a prince?  Prince Charming has a kingdom to reign over, how will Snow White fall in line and help lead her people?  Ariel is only 16 years old when she falls in love with Prince Eric and she is a mermaid.  How will it work for Prince Eric to visit the in-laws on Thanksgiving or will Ariel miss breathing water? 
You see when two people get together and promise to live life together for the rest of their lives, if they have problems, those problems can be magnified in marriage.  These problems aren’t marriage problems, they are people problems.  If you think that eventually you will ‘fix’ him, then don’t get married.  If you think you can ‘fix’ her, then don’t get married.  You really can’t.  Sometimes those problems are too much but we go into a marriage with dreams of happily ever after.  We have to be realistic and realize that problems come with marriage and actually the intensity of this relationship actually leads to magnifying these problems. 
The final myth we will be talking about is marrying the right person.  There is this notion out there that there is this ‘one’ person out there for you.  Your soul mate is out there and if only you can find them.  Mr. Right and Miss Right are out there if you know what you are looking for.  Now there are websites that will connect you with 4000 points of compatibility, helping you find that Mr. Right more often.  If that doesn’t work, you can always go on TV where ABC will give you two dozen people to make out with, I mean, find who you’re compatibility with and then choose one to marry until the divorce special. 
Let me save you some time.  If you are asking yourself, “Did I marry the right person?” let me tell you now, you didn’t.  Everyone in here and all over has married the wrong person.  There is no such thing as the right person.  Mr. Right and Miss Right do not exist.  We are constantly looking for what Jerry McGuire is selling, someone to complete us.   We think if I am only like Tom Hanks then we are sure Meg Ryan will show up.  Or we wait for that perfect pale faced vampire or that millionaire guy who has 50 shades to his personality.  But we will never find him or her because they don’t exist.  It is a complete and utter myth.  It may sell a lot of  movie tickets or books but it isn’t real life.
Here is the thing.  If we look at the book that tells us how we are to live and God’s desires for our lives we learn some things.  We learn first that we are fallen creatures.  Your husband or wife is a fallen creature.  Paul in Romans tells us that we all have sinned and we fall short of the glory of God.  Unless you have married Jesus, the Son of God, then your spouse is not perfect.  He has and will sin.  She has and will sin.  You are doing yourself an injustice if you are waiting for that perfect person to show up because no one is perfect. 
Actually we are asking the wrong question.  Instead of asking ourselves, “Did I marry the right person?”  The question we should be asking is, “Am I becoming the right person?”  This is where the Ephesians text comes in.  If we follow what Ephesians truly says (TRULY SAYS) then we will be on the path of becoming a right person.  Now, this text is one of the most misunderstood, twisted, and manipulated texts in the Bible.  Many people have used this text to say that the husband is in charge of the family, the supreme ruler, the final decider.  If you read through this text quickly you can see how that can happen but it really isn’t true.
I started in verse 21 for a reason.  It says, “submit to each other out of respect for Christ,” and then it gives an example for how wives and husbands can live this mutual submission out of respect for Christ out.  This whole section is hinged on this first verse.  Both husbands and wives submit themselves to each other out of respect for Christ.  Not one or the other, but both.  We need to stop thinking this in our society and realize what this text is truly telling us. 
Paul tells wives, “submit to their husbands as if to the Lord.”  Husbands, before you jump up and point and say “I told you so,” just wait.  How are we to submit to the Lord?  How is it that we are to live in a way that is pleasing to God?  What is interesting is remember the passage we ended the last sermon series on.  That we are to be children of the light?  Well that is in the section of scripture right before this.  Paul is attempting to make clear that if we are to live as followers of Christ it has to appear in every relationship.  Not just how we act at church but also how we act at home.  If we are too truly love our neighbor as ourselves then this is as true with the neighbor across the street as it is the neighbor across the sheets.  We have to be willing to submit ourselves to the type of love that Christ has for us.  If we are going to be image bears of Christ, this will show up in every relationship.  Therefore wives, “submit to your husbands AS IF TO THE LORD.”
This text is actually pretty countercultural for its time.  We cannot ignore the fact that in Biblical times women were seen as property and a lower class.  There are rules in the Old Testament that if a husband dies then the wife is passed on to his brothers.  Like an old shirt, they are simply passed down.  But here Paul is actually bringing a husband and wife up to the same level.  Paul goes on to tell how husband how they are to live in a way that demonstrates God’s love for us and he has to spend twice as many verses telling guys how to do that.  There are only three verses on how wives are supposed to treat husbands, but there are seven verses on husbands. 
Husbands are to “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”  Husbands tend to stop reading this passage after they learn their wives are supposed to submit to them and that they are the head of the household.  They are like, “yep, and yep, go get me a beer I’m watching the game.”  But is that how Christ loved the church?  Is keeping your woman barefoot and pregnant and waiting on your every whim the way Christ demonstrated his love while here on earth?  NO.  Hear it one more time men, NO.
Christ loved us sacrificially.  He loved us in a way that made him humbly submit himself to torture and death for our sake.  Husbands ask yourself if you are loving your wife that way?  Are you loving your wife in a way that makes her see you humbly give yourself to her?  This is the way we, as husbands are to love our wives. 
The point of this text, not to make us better than one another but to understand that as follower of God we are transform ourselves into the likeness of Christ.  This type of love is found in all relationships, friendship, parenthood, as a child or sibling, and as husband and wife.  We are to love each other as Christ loved the church. 
Marriage is about a choice.  It is made every day.  Each day we wake up we pray that God can give us the strength to love our spouse as Christ loved the church.  We pray to be molded into the type of person that loves like Christ loves.  It is a daily choice to love that person in that way.  It doesn’t just happen but it takes work and more work.  This is fact.  It is not a myth.  This is the way that God calls us to love our spouses, our friends, our children, our family, and our neighbors.  The only way we can go through life and love like this is through lots and lots of prayer.  So I challenge the married couples here to take the prayer challenge.  Pray with each other everyday and ask each other the questions listed.  Then pray for each other and pray to love each other like Christ loves the Church. 
May you grow closer to one another and realize that you are both striving to be the right person, not that you already are.  May God take this relationship and mold it into something that is worthy of his love and truth.  May the love you share with one another, express the love that Christ has for every one of us.

And all God’s people said…Amen. 

Genesis 2:24-25 – Sermon – Marriage

Genesis 2:24-25
There’s An App For That
Marriage
09-12-10

Marwage. Marwage is what bwings us together today. (using Princess Bride accent) There I feel better now that I got that out. I don’t know about you but that is what I feel most of the time I think about the word marriage. What do you think about when you hear the word marriage? Do you think, wonderful, a joy, love, paradise? Or do you think pain, suffering, fighting, anger? It can really go either way. Most of the time our answer depends where you are and how your marriage is going and how your parent’s marriage is going. So let me start off by asking a question, how is your marriage today?

A note to anyone who is single or divorced. This sermon is not to separate you but is really about relationship in general. Jesus himself was never married but found value in it. In fact the Bible really isn’t a how to on marriage. Marriage is part of the Biblical story but it is not a focal point. The Christian story doesn’t start and end with marriage but the Bible does say some things on the topic. It does give some advice on how men can get a wife. David was always a fan of good clean marriages. He was able to marry Saul’s daughter by offering up 200 foreskins of his father-in-law’s enemy. (1 Samuel 18:27) Later he decided to just take one by killing her husband but he did lose four sons in the process. (2 Samuel 11) The prophet Hosea found a prostitute and married her, it is like the Old Testament’s Pretty Woman. In Deuteronomy it tells us to find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and giver her new clothes. Let her mourn her parents for a month and then she’s yours. (Deut. 21:10-14) Then there is the law found in Deuteronomy or Leviticus that tells us that when your brother dies it is your duty to marry his wife. You could be like King Xerxes and hold a beauty contest like in Ester (Ester 2:3-4). Then you could do it the way Jacob did. He worked for seven years in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. But on his wedding day he was tricked into marring the wrong woman and then worked another seven years to marry the woman he wanted in the first place. He worked 14 years to marry the woman of his dreams.

There are other options out there but these are basic Biblical stories about marriage. But the first marriage is found in the first couple to walk the face of the earth. In the story of Adam and Eve we learn that God wanted to provide Adam with a suitable partner and so he paraded all the animals in front of him but none really worked. Then God put Adam to sleep, took out a rib and formed Eve. Then you get the verses I read today. Adam and Eve became “one flesh.” This is what marriage is. It is two people becoming one and felt no shame being naked. We will get to the naked part in a moment.

First, take out your hymnals and flip over the page 864, all the way in the back. It is here that we have the United Methodist Service of Christian Marriage. Now if you read the first paragraph under the title, the part in red, you will read what the purpose of marriage is, according to the United Methodist Church. The second sentence explains it, “Christian marriage is proclaimed as a sacred covenant reflecting Christ’s covenant with the church.” Marriage is a reflection of Jesus and the type of love he has for the church. Marriage, to put it another way, is a perfect place to work on, perfect, understand deeper and practice the unconditional love Jesus Christ has for us. Note I did not say it is the only place to do this. This can be done in almost any relationship but today we are talking about marriage and marriage provides a place to practice God’s love for another human being.

Now to understand more of what this love is suppose to look like we could go to Ephesians 5 where Paul tells us “wives, submit to your husbands,” and “husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church.” I don’t want to walk down this road, because it is a sermon in itself but please note that Paul does give some good advice about marriage, although he wasn’t a fan of it. What he states in this piece of scripture, as long as you read everything, is a husband and wife offering the type of love God has for us. They have an unconditional, building up, supportive, honest, and deep love for one another. The key is to keep reading and not get caught up in the first piece, but that is another sermon for another time.

If the whole point of marriage is to provide a relationship where the love of God can be reflected and practice than it should be easy right? There is one thing I remind all couples I marry, marriage is hard. It is extremely hard. There is a 50/50 chance in today’s society that a couple’s marriage will actually last until “death do us part.” Marriage is hard. Say it with me, “Marriage is hard.” E.J. Graff has a great quote about marriage. He says, “Marriage is when you agree to spend the rest of your life sleeping in a room that’s too warm, beside someone who’s sleeping in a room that’s too cold.” The hardest part about marriage is dealing with the daily little things that come up and finding a way to compromise. It is working together to find out the best way to deal with dirty dishes, the melding of schedules, the upkeep of the house, replacing the toilet paper the right way, changing the oil in the car, sex, the remote control, the checkbook, and hobbies. If someone ever told you that living with someone for the rest of your life, sharing a bed, a house, a car, a life, with one person would be easy, THEY WERE LYING!

I know I have painted a wonderful picture of marriage. But marriage is wonderful. I asked people on Facebook to tell me what the best part of being married is and their answers were great. To sum them up, the best part of being married is to have someone to go through life with, a partner, a teammate, a best friend to laugh with, cry with, and simply live life with. But how do you keep it that way? I think all newlyweds have this idea that marriage will be like their honeymoon. The honeymoon stage is wonderful and exciting and it is the gooey, sappy, always smiling kind of love. But then life hits with job loss, kids, struggles, sickness, and frustration.

The minister who married Alycia and I, Paul, put it this way, “Realizing that at some point, staying married is a conscious choice of the will, and that it is far easier to give up and walk away. Loving the other person until you fall in love–over and over again is where “to have and to hold” begins to sound real.” That is the truth. Staying married doesn’t just happen; it is a “conscious choice of the will.” It is saying, I love you and meaning it throughout all the hills and valleys life has for us.

While I was attending a conference one year, there was a breakout session about keeping your marriage vibrant throughout your ministry. I had only been married for about two years and thought this might help. During the session we were asked to write down some advice for those who were about to get married. We passed up the cards and then the speaker read some of them. One that I still remember is, “Fight naked, it’s hard to be angry when you’re laughing.” Sure it is a funny image, two naked people arguing with one another but there is a deeper Biblical truth to this. Today’s scripture tells us, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” In the Old Testament shame came from understanding one’s own guilt, unworthiness or failure. Adam and Eve stood naked in front of one another and felt none of that, they felt no shame.

The key to a healthy marriage is to be naked. I’m just going to let that settle in for a second and everyone can get all the junior high giggles out. This is the key to a healthy marriage, to be comfortable being naked with one another. We are not comfortable with this and to say naked from behind the pulpit feels weird, but this is the Word of God today, so let’s get comfortable with it. Naked, naked, naked, naked. Say it with me, naked, naked, naked, naked.

There are a couple understandings to what this word means. Naked, N.A.K.E.D., means to be without clothes or covering. As one of my friends told me, nacked, N.A.C.K.E.D., means to be without clothes or covering and to be up to something. But naked could also mean blunt or plain spoken, as in the naked truth. It could mean defenseless, unprotected, unsheltered, or exposed. All these things are what we are to be with our spouse. We are to be open and raw with our spouse. When we stand in front of a mirror naked we see all our flaws, all our imperfections, all our scars on the outside but also on the inside. When we stand in front of our spouse naked we share all those things with that person and in the best relationships our spouse sees all of that and says, “I love you. I love you for not who I wish you would be but for exactly who you are.”

But how often in our marriages are we truly naked in front of our spouse? How many times have you unveiled the complete you to the person you promised to “have and to hold?” When was the last time you stripped down all the walls you put up to protect yourself and let the person you sleep next to every night in? If you learn to do this, your marriage will be strong and will last.

These verses are in Genesis because it was important to show the meaning of marriage. As a child, we looked to our parents for the primary companions and helpers in life but in marriage we have to now look to our spouse. We have to leave our parents and be united to our husband or wife. Larry Cunningham, in Reader’s Digest, tells this story, “We were visiting friends when they received a telephone call from their recently married daughter. After several tense minutes on the phone, the mother told the father to pick up the extension. The newlyweds had had their first big fight. In a few moments, the father rejoined us and briefly explained, “Said she wanted to come home.” Larry asked “What did you tell her?” His friend replied, “I told her she was home.”

The more we are united with our spouse the easier being naked will be. To get the intimacy we crave means we should constantly do something with our spouse. Wait for it…we should always…pray. If you desire to have a deeper relationship with your spouse, then every day hold his hand and pray. If you want to learn to be completely naked in front of your spouse and feel no shame, then ask every day how you can pray for her. Then lift those cares up to God and do so without judgment or criticism. If he is struggling with something, lift it up. If she needs something, lift it up. Pray always, pray constantly, and do it holding hands.

During the giving of vows the minister asks the couple to face one another and to hold each other’s hands. It is there that they make a solemn vow with one another. It is during this service that we ask a third person to be a part of this marriage. We ask God to “confirm [their] covenant and fill [them] both with grace.” If we daily hold the hand of the person we love and pray for and with that person, and offer up to that person the same type of love God has for us, we will have the marriage we always wanted. Plus, as we learn to love like God we become better followers of Christ and are more Christ like. This relationship will have transformed us into God’s likeness and allow us to be who God has created us to be.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

More thoughts on Gay Marriage

Usually when watching the Daily Show, I watch Jon Stewart’s commentary and then skip the interview. He is not my favorite interviewer by any means. Yet, I did find this one interesting. Mike Huckabee was on promoting his new book, Do the Right Thing. The conversation moved into a debate over gay marriage. Huckabee stuck to the fact that voters defined marriage as one man and one woman. Stewart refereed to Old Testament ideas of marriage as in polygamy. Nothing Biblical fell out of Huckabee’s mouth, no scriptural reference at all.

That got me looking into the Biblical accounts of a traditional marriage. Here is what I found (please add more if you know of any)
Gen. 2:18, 21-24 – God sees Adam as lonely and desires to make a companion for him, God creates Eve.
Malachi 2:14 – speaks of the marriage covenant, but is trying to get people not to marry foreigners.
1 Corinthians 7:1-2 – Paul tells us not to marry but that if we do every man should have a woman and every woman a man.
Ephesians 5:22-33 – wives submit to husbands, husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church. Talks about how a marriage should work, as far as the relationship itself
1 Peter 3:1-5, 7 – again talks about the relationship aspect of marriage
Hebrews 13:4 – states that marriage should be honored by all

Other than these there are rules about who should can marry a widow, how to set your daughters up with good husbands. There are stories of people trading their daughters for political purposes and many more, and even weirder scriptures. Besides the ones above nothing really speaks to why marriage should be between a man and a woman. Besides the Genesis passage, all the others speak to relationships and not to why marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.

Is our stance on marriage = man & woman, based off of more tradition than scripture? Are we fighting the idea of gay marriage because of social ideals or scriptural based theology? There was a time when a black man was seen as 3/4 human and women were property. Those were social ideals that were overturned. Ten years from now will we look at this issue and think the same thing?

I have a feeling I know what some people will say. Gay marriage is cultivating unbiblical morality. If gay marriage is legal then we are promoting homosexuality. I am wrestling with that idea as well…more to come.

Jon Stewart makes some good points and I think Huckabee (as a Baptist minister) should have come out stronger on Biblical principals. Yet he is also probably still trying to run for some sort of office and may want to shun the ‘preacher’ side of things. Here is the interview.

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Gay Marriage

What is the purpose of marriage? Why do two people vow to spend their lives intertwined? We are communal people who desire to be around and with others. But is that the only reason we marry? Is it only in order to have a buddy to go through life with or only to feed our sexual desires?

These are some of the questions that I have been wrestling with recently. I have been wresting with the issue of gay marriage. Am I for it or against it? Is there really anything biblical against the idea? Why is the government involved in marriage anyway, if it is a religious structure? I still have a ton of questions.

What I do know is the purpose marriage has seen some changes over time. The goal for Abraham’s kin was to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ Marriage was a place of procreation. When you are born to Jewish parents, you are considered a Jew. Having children, building a family, was and still is a way of building up a religious people and nation. That is not the case for Christians. Children born to Christian parents are not necessarily Christian. We promise, at infant baptism, to raise them up in a way pleasing to God, but eventually that child will have to make the decision him/herself. Being born into a Christian home doesn’t make you a Christian. Procreation within marriage is not an evangelical tool or building up a religion. What is the purpose of marriage now?
Marriage is a place where the love of Christ can be shared between two people in deeper and more intimate ways. It is a place of caring, joy, support and service to one another. It is a place where sacrificial love is practiced and perfected. Marriage is a place where when life happens there is someone there who will walk through it with you. It is having someone who will hold your hand when your parents die and also make sure to change the toilet paper when it runs out. Marriage is a place where tenderness is demonstrated with a kiss after being apart for a while and finding joy in doing nothing else but holding each other. Marriage is a place where deep conversations about what makes us, us happen with honesty and love.

Marriage is what happens in the bed room, the bath room, the living room, the kitchen and all the other places life happens. You cannot confine marriage to one room of the house. How you deal with dirty dishes day in and day out is as important as how you handle what happens in the martial bed. For marriage to succeed you look at all aspects of life and you promise to do everything you can for the other person.

If this is marriage, why does it have to be limited to only a man and a woman?

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24) But David has a great post on other verses in the Bible that talk about marriage, ones we ignore constantly. How do we deal with those? How do we deal with the pieces of scripture on issues we ignore or have come to understand differently because of our post-modern thinking; like slavery, the role of woman in the church, and many others.

Peter Storey once said, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, but Steve showed up. Now what are you going to do?” He also said, “Homosexuals are the only people we demand be celibate.” We give them no way to deal with their sexual desires. A strait person could get marriage and have as much sex as s/he would like. We don’t even make that big of a deal anymore if they stray within their marriage and decide that they desire someone else instead. Yet we don’t allow two homosexuals to join in a monogamous relationship where commitment is demanded and expected.

I’m still on the fence. I see my gay friends and I feel their pain. I see them look at my wife and I and I feel sorry they cannot experience our type of relationship for themselves. Yet, I cannot ignore the current Biblical thinking as well. So here I sit, pondering on the fence.