My One Word 2015 (Fast): February thoughts

If you read my end of January post regarding my first month experience about my 2015 One Word –  fast – you may have thought that it made no sense at all.

I would agree.

It was a month of confusion as I now look back because I was both overwhelmed at how to work/experience/do this one word fast with all of its implications (and… well baggage, too) and  of finally realizing at some point, (maybe after my end of January post, I don’t know for sure,)

that I need to simply fast…

in many different ways but for the same reason – there are many walls (barriers?) between God and me that need to come down because fasting is about getting quiet, small, silence before God and listening to/for Him.

 

I am not talking big, tall and several feet thick walls but walls that create rooms, many rooms, filled with many things that I have put there thinking “I need that right now.” It has become a museum to me and Joan Chittister’s words I quoted in another post a few weeks ago echo in my mind:

Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world.

This month has been a month of learning how to and experiencing seeing “beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves.” Not everyday but many days.

And one point of clarity that I have had is that my passionate pursuit of God is anything but passionate and a pursuit. These walls and rooms have blocked that passion; drained it.

Maybe… in some ways… I should say faith instead of passion… the rooms remind me of my shrine to myself; my worship of me… where as the Lord is not being worshiped.

Another thing that fasting has been teaching me is that I need, really need silence.

I have encouraged the congregation I serve to gift themselves this Lenten season with 15 minutes of silence a day. I try to do it the morning but I am beginning to think I need to do it later in the day because of how much the doubt, fear, impatience, anger, come running into my mind, heart, and soul.

But they coming running, I admit, into my mind, heart, and soul any time of the day and night.

But  I need silence.

I need to simply be quiet. still, focus, small; that all the stuff in all those rooms between God and me are demanding my attention and keeping me from really paying attention to God.

Silence is requiring me, I think, to fast from anxiety.

And anxiety and fear has always been a driver of/in my life.

Simplify

One of the connections I have made in my journey thus far has to do with the need for simplifying. Simplicity actually – a vital disciple.

My life is too cluttered and I have no margin.

At one point several years ago I began to make room for margin. I needed margin.

So, after as series of sermons about “Saying No so you can say Yes to God” I started simplifying my life. It took me three years to finally let go of all the community/denominational projects I was involved in.

But now it seems I have cluttered my life with other things… inner things – fear, anxiety, envy, and the like. And they too must go.

Fasting it seems is putting them on notice. And it is not a pretty sight.

Fasting, I am again learning, is not about being spiritually cool and hip, not about weight loss though that might take place, nor about becoming spiritually superior. No, it is about setting aside things that distract and seeking God for the sake of seeking God, period. Not to get something from Him but to simply be still, be quiet, be small (centered?) and hear Him say, “Jim, …”

O to hear that voice, clearly!

 

 

On the Book Table and the Kindle 2.23.15

Good Monday morning all!

While the Kindle is still full of good books that I am making  progress reading (click here to see my last post) there are a couple of recent arrivals to it and one to the book table.

7552428

 

 

 

NT Wright’s After You Believe (HarperOne, 2010) is a book that I started reading several years ago and never finished. I loved what I read and have wanted to finish it, so now I am moving it into my active reading list.

 

18706029

 

 

 

Bob Mayer’s Area 51: The Knightstalkers series has become my favorite science fiction series. I very much enjoyed the first two books and I am looking forward to The Rift (#3) (47 North, 2014)

Over on the book table is…

13687303

 

 

 

William Romanowski’s Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies (Oxford University Press, 2012) I have had my eye on this book for several years and was recently able to find a hardback copy in great condition and bought it.

Well lots of books and little time, so….

See you behind the page!

Sunday Sermon: The Good, The Bad, and The Truth

Joan Chittister has written

Lent is not a ritual. It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew our faith from the inside out… It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and re-oriented.

 What is it in your life and faith that needs some refreshing and/or re-orienting right now?

Is it an attitude that needs to change? Has cynicism or resentment or pride or self-pity planted itself in your thinking and decision making instead of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control?

Is it a habit or a hobby that needs to change or be ended? Have you engaged in too much social media, TV, internet games, video games, or gossip instead of serving others, prayer or Bible study?

Is it a substance which needs to stopped being used? Has alcohol, or food or illicit drugs taken over more and more of your life instead of moderation and, abstinence, from some things that do not help you live as you could in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?

These days, I am hearing and reading more and more people suggesting that perhaps Lent is also a time to add something or give of yourself in some way to others. Well, let me suggest one thing to gift yourself with this Lent season.

 

Slide3

 

 

 

 

 

15 minutes of silence a day!

 

Find time and MAKE time to set aside 15 minutes of silence a day. Use your car or the bathroom and take and MAKE time for 15 minutes of pure silence.

No social media, TV, radio, internet surfing or texting. At.all.

Don’t worry about your thoughts, let them die down.

Simply quiet yourself and say, “Father God, here I am, speak to me and help me to hear You.”

Then listen…

The first sermon in our 2015 Lenten series is about small and simple. Our text for this morning features something small and simple – seeds. But yet, as we will see, there are profound spiritual implications when it comes to these seeds and a very important point Jesus makes to His audience in Matthew 13.

Our main text for this morning is from Matthew 13:24-30:

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 

The several “two kinds of” in this text which are important for us to understand.

First there are two kinds of seed – the good seed and the weeds.

The word good as used here means morally good, admirable, and genuine among other things. As we see in Jesus’ clarification to disciples a few verses later, these good seeds are morally good people who are part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The word weed used here refers to a type of weed that in that area of the world looks like wheat but is of a different color.

Kind of like this…

Slide5

 

 

 

 

 

It is counterfeit.  It has the appearance of wheat but it is not wheat! (Think about that for a moment.)

The second kind of has to do with the two main characters in the parable. The farmer who sows the good seed is one main character and His enemy who sows the weed is the other main character. One sows in daylight and the other at night.

“…while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared…”

One sows to advance what is good and the other sows to advance what is not good.

I think Jesus is making a very important point about the Kingdom of Heaven as He educates the disciples (and us today) about the nature and mission of the Kingdom of Heaven and it is a very, very simple one – sowing and being the GOOD seed everywhere.

Now in explaining the Parable of the Sower in verses 18 to 23, Jesus makes clear that the various soil conditions refer to the various varying degrees of receptivity to the good news in the hearts of people.

But when we come to our text in verse 24, He changes the focus of the seed and the earth from an individual perspective to a wider one. But we are not made aware of this change of focus until we read verses 37 through 39 where Jesus explains to the disciples what He means:

“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

But, there is another important point made in this parable that we need to understand as well. It is one that, when we understand what Jesus is REALLY saying, helps us, I think uncover one of the biggest challenges to faith we face – the reality of evil. We backtrack to verse 27:

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Do you get what Jesus is saying here through the voice of the owner of the field?

Jump forward to verse 39 and following:

The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

What the owner is saying, what Jesus is saying, is

We are not going to take care of the evil doers and the enemy right now. Their day is coming and will come but we are not going to judge them right now.

So the laborers in the field are left to deal with the presence of the weeds. We are left, to deal with the presence of evil in life today. The time has not yet come to deal with Evil and the Devil.

Pastor, are you saying that we are to not seek justice and righteousness?

No! We are to seek justice and righteousness. We are to be good AND just people. But full victory, full justice is not yet a reality.

This bothers us. We want to pull the weeds out! We would want there to be NO weeds, no sin, no injustice… at all. We want a perfect world. But Jesus makes it clear it is not going to happen until a later time – the time of judgment. There is a postponement in the pulling up, binding, and burning of the weeds. Evil still has the ability, unfortunately, to inflict damage in us and on us.

We are left with our weed infested world, filled with both the bothersome weeds of sin, evil, and injustice alongside the healthy grain of things like faith, hope, love, grace, mercy, and salvation.  They both exist in the same space, the same human heart and soul, the same imperfect world.

The late Russian political dissident and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said,

Slide6

 

 

 

 

 

Final judgment will come! The weeds will be separated and burned up. The wheat will be harvested! The Evil one, Satan, will be defeated and then final justice, God’s justice will take place.

But there is something else that Jesus knows about which is going to make a great difference in this world where good and evil co-exist. It is something that no one else in His audience knows and won’t know until later.

No one sees Jesus’ death and resurrection coming!

They don’t know that God has engaged in Plan B, a new plan of salvation, a plan of grace, of the New Covenant.

They expect a harvest that will destroy the bad guys.

And it will!

But, God through Jesus is going to offer the weeds the opportunity to change, to repent. And it is His willing sacrifice for us, which we again celebrate in a few weeks that will make this change possible.

So what does this mean for us this week?

Slide8

 

 

 

 

 

Our mission, as outlined in both of these grain based parables, is twofold:

We are to allow the seed of the Good News of Jesus Christ, to take root in our own lives.

And as we do, the second part calls for us to be good seed, people of God, amidst all the evil seed in the world.

How Pastor Jim do we do that? Everything is conspiring against us. The church is losing ground. God is being dismissed from every part of life. So how we do that? I want the weeds to be ripped out of the ground! So tell us Pastor what are we to do?

(I am glad you asked!)

Romans 12:9-21 gives a great answer!

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;     if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This sounds so foreign to our ears today. It seems to smack of a pacifism that lies down rather than stands up and fights.

Does verse 9, Hate what is evil; cling to what is good and verse 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, sound like a call to lie down?

By whose strength and power are we to hate evil, cling to what is good, and overcome evil with good?

The Lord’s!

This is how we are to be the good seed, people of the Kingdom. This is how we are to deal with the weeds among us because Jesus’ mission was to spread the good seed everywhere with the hopeful prayer that it takes root in our needy human hearts.

And Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes that possible.

Amen.

My Review of Angela Hunt’s Esther: Royal Beauty

22504506One of my favorite books of the Old Testament is the book of Esther. Her courage in the face of the tremendous evil that Esther and her people face is also a great example of faith in her God.

Angela Hunt’s new treatment of this queen of the Old Testament underscores and highlights the courage found in the Biblical narrative of Esther’s life.

Esther: Royal Beauty (Bethany House, 2015) is a powerfully written novel in which Hunt brings to life both the humanity of Esther, demonstrated in her love of her Persian home and those around her, and her faith that truly takes root and thrives as she deals with the challenges of court life and when the Jewish people are threatened with extinction by royal decree at the suggestion of Haman, key counselor to King Xerxes. Well researched as to the cultural practices and customs of ancient Persia, Hunt provides a fair, full, and intense glimpse into Xerxes’ court life and the intrigue that flows through it.

As to characterization, Hunt also brings depth to Esther in a way that does justice to the Biblical narrative. The complementing cast of characters such as Harbonah, one of the Eunuchs who would tell his side of Esther’s story (also referred to Hadassah, her Jewish name) in alternating chapters, and her description of the sinister Haman, are well developed and credible.

The result is a rich and full novel that brings to life the story of faith and courage.

I liked every thing about this novel. The characterization, the alternating first person narrative style, is rich and credible. Hunt’s attention to detail about life in Susa and Persia as well as incorporating relevant world and  Old Testament history add to the texture of this work.

Esther: Royal Beauty is historical fiction and Christian historical fiction very well done.

I rate this book an ‘Outstanding’ read.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

President’s Day Special: My Favorite Presidential Biographies and Autobiographies

Over 30 years ago, I began a journey that I finally fast-tracked after the 2008 Presidential election: reading a biography or autobiography of every American President. Note: If you choose to do this kind of reading, do it in historical order. It will make more sense and you will see connections across the years and administrations. Now my rationale for selecting the following biographies/autobiographies is this:

  1. Have made a lasting impression on me in some way regardless of political views and policies while in office.
  2. The writing is wonderful.

That’s it! Here they are, in historical order…   F18345656red Kaplan’s John Quincy Adams: American Visionary (Harper Collins, 2014) A very comprehensive look at the sixth American President who was part of the first father/son team to be elected President. Kaplan does a wonderful job of revealing the multifaceted aspect of  this man who spent many years living in foreign capitals as part of the US diplomatic delegations and then later, after his term in office a member of the US House of Representatives.   3147367 Jon Mecham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (Random House, 2008) Meacham makes a case for Jackson turning the Presidency into the political force it is today. The title of the book is very appropriate as well. Jackson was a lion in many ways!     654269Norma Lois Peterson’s The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (University Press of Kansas, 1989) When William Henry Harrison died soon after taking office, our  nation faced a crisis – who would now be the President? The 25th Amendment (that lays out the order of succession) would not be adopted until the 1960’s and so the succession issue was front and center. Peterson’s work tells the story of John Tyler’s assumption of the office and the political firestorm it set off. 2199 Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Simon and Schuster, 2006) Where do you begin to read about Lincoln? I started here. What Goodwin does is to show how Lincoln used his political genius (and rivals) to govern the nation, run and win a war, thus keeping the nation together. 9780914427674 Ulysses S Grant’s Personal Memoirs (William S Konecky and Associates, 1999) I think that Grant’s Personal Memoirs is the gold standard for any autobiography/memoirs. They were originally published in two volumes. My 1999 edition published by Konecky and Associates is one volume and totals nearly 670 pages. But, Grant wrote simply and clearly.  It covers his early life, his time with Robert E Lee in the Mexican-American War and concludes with his US Civil War experiences and observations. It is a classic. 16254208 Margaret Leech’s In the Days of McKinley (Harper and Row, 1959) A few Saturdays back I found a copy of this wonderful biography at a used book store. I bought it. It won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1960 and justly so. What I remember about this biography is how McKinley presided over an America that was becoming an international power and Leech wrote  in a way that made the President seem small in comparison to the fast moving changes in the nation and the world. 943780Francis Russell’s The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G Harding and His Times (McGraw-Hill, 1968) An interesting biography about an interesting man who did not finish his first term due to his death. What also made it interesting is that just before publication, members of the Harding family won a lawsuit against Russell to keep some of the Harding love letters out of the book. Those letters are now public… should be interesting!   174547Calvin Coolidge’s The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (first published by the Cosmopolitan Book Company, 1929) I love this autobiography. Simple and to the point. I personally think that Coolidge had a dry, very dry New England wit, but I could be wrong. The next recommendation is a 21st century assessment of Coolidge.   12345967 Amity Shales’ Coolidge (Harper, 2013) Shales’ work is a good introduction to this truly quiet President of the mid-1920’s. Her portrait of him as true fiscal conservative shines through. But, don’t let that moniker stop you from reading this well researched biography!     18728Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – The Home Front in World War 2 (Simon and Schuster, 1994) As with Lincoln, where do you start with FDR? In the late 1980’s I read the late James MacGregor Burns two volume set on FDR and would highly recommend them in a heart beat. (Volume 1 is The Lion and the Fox (1882-1940) and Volume 2 that won the Pulitzer Prize is the Soldier of Freedom (1940-1945). But Goodwin’s one volume work of both FDR and Eleanor is a valuable contribution to the study of FDR… and Eleanor. It addresses both their war time efforts and the complex dynamic of their relationship and relationships with others. 86524       208324 Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson (The Path to Power; Alfred A Knopf (NY), 1982; Means of Ascent, Knopf, 1990; Master of the Senate, Vintage, 2003) Nixon’s memoirs got me started and this series, beginning with The Path to Power, helped me keep going. I have not yet read the fourth installment and plan to do so. I think Caro does a wonderful job telling us about LBJ and Master of the Senate is one of my favorites for its opening chapter, The Desks of the Senate. 86525         19934741 Richard M. Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (Warner Books, 1979) I was a teenager during Watergate. I remember and felt the anxiety of our nation. But say what you want, Nixon was a foreign policy genius. I have no doubt that some who have read, are reading, and will read, these volumes will question Nixon’s honesty. But they are important writings.   10252574 Gerald R. Ford. A Time to Heal. (Berkley, 1980) From our only non-elected President, Ford’s autobiography, is one of the most inspirational ones I have read. Easily read, it is a good way to get to know our 38th President of the United States.     Well there you have them. I think that no matter your political stripe, reading these works will give you a very good education in American history and politics. If you read them, let me know what you think about them!

Sunday Sermon: Four Cornerstones of A Good Marriage

What makes for a good marriage?

How about learning from Clifford and Marjorie Hartland about what makes for a good marriage?

He was a World War 2 veteran in the British Army and found himself a POW after the fall of Singapore early in the war. He was presumed dead but Marjorie refused to believe it.

According the article on the Mirror’s website (a leading UK newspaper), their daughter Christine was quoted as saying,

“There were 700 men in his regiment when they went out, but only four ever came back. Dad was the last to die from his regiment. In 1942, mum got a letter from the Colonel of the Coast Regiment saying dad was missing, presumed dead. She had the papers to claim a widow’s pension. She absolutely refused to believe it. At the time, she was conscripted to work in a parachute factory in Cardiff Bay. She hated it – it was dirty and rat infested. But every day, on her way to work, mum would go into the church she passed and pray that dad would come home. She lived without him for four years, but she never believed he was dead.”

But Clifford did come home, gaunt and emaciated from life in a Japanese prison camp and they built a life together that lasted to the end.

Christine also said

“They had an incredible marriage. They never, ever argued. Dad idolised Mum, and she adored him When they’d go to a restaurant, dad would eat the same thing that mum ordered. They loved dancing together, and they loved singing, too. Dad had been a choirboy at Gloucester Cathedral.”

They were married 76 years and they died 14 hours apart on July 29, 2014. Clifford went first, he was 101 and Marjorie was 97. July 29th was their anniversary.

(Here is the link to the story http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/inseparable-couple-die-hours-apart-4035320)

What makes for a good marriage?

You ask that question today and you will get a variety of answers.

Words like commitment, love, passion, happiness, and the like will be somewhere in the statements given to you. And they are good words to hear.

But what makes for a good marriage?

The Bible has a great deal to say about marriage. And as I prepared for this message there were many, many passages which I could have used to answer this question about what makes for a good marriage. But when I found our primary text for this morning I thought, “Uh huh, that makes for a good marriage!”

It is a very simple text that we will read in a moment because it describes what I am calling this morning four cornerstones of a good marriage. And before I read it, I want to acknowledge our teens’ input into this message as well.

Several weeks ago on a Sunday night I asked them to list some topics they would like to hear a sermon on. On one of the pieces of paper I was given was this request:

Slide3

Maintaining a Godly Marriage/Faithfully sharing your life with another.

I am going to do my best to answer that request this morning.

The verse I am referring to is Psalm 85:10

Unfailing love and truth have met together.
Righteousness and peace have kissed! (NLT)

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (NASB)

Four words, actually five, are our focus this morning as we consider four cornerstones of a good marriage and what a God honoring marriage needs to have.

 

Slide4

Unfailing love

Truth (also noted in the NASB translation as faithfulness)

Righteousness

Peace

56521In his book, Sacred Marriage, interestingly subtitled (at least on my edition), “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy,” Gary Thomas says this about a good marriage:

“…the idea that a marriage can survive on romance alone, or that romantic feelings are more important than other considerations when choosing a spouse, has wrecked many a marital ship…Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind of demanded of a good marriage, must stretch, as the sinful human condition is such that all of us bear conflicting emotions.”

I am going to let Thomas’ words echo this morning as I turn to the five words from Psalm 85:10 and spend the rest of this message using them to look at what I think is the most detailed account of a marriage in the entire Bible – that of Abraham and Sarah.

 

Slide6

Their story starts in Genesis chapter 12 and ends with Abraham’s death in the first eleven verses of chapter 25. It takes around 28 percent of Genesis to tell the story of Abraham and Sarah! Joseph and Mary get far less print!

The Biblical record of Abraham and Sarah’s life together is an honest and un-varnished one. There is no spin and there are no publicists who answer questions for them and make things appear to be better than they are.

We are given a close up and personal view of these two very human followers of God. Flaws and all are part of the Biblical narrative. And yet, Abraham and Sarah stayed together for a looong time and we need to see this and be inspired by it! They illustrate that marriage matters!

Now, how do these two people of long ago demonstrate the power of unfailing love?

They stayed together in spite of the choices they made which affected their relationship, sometimes seriously. Of note is Abraham’s fear driven denial of who Sarah was in two different situations for fear of being killed and Sarah taken into the household, more like a harem, of another man – in the first case an Egyptian Pharaoh as we read in the latter half of Genesis 12 and in the second case, noted in Genesis 20, King Abimelek who is warned in a dream to “return this man’s wife.”

Now Sarah is no saint either. In Genesis 16 her impatience for her long promised son flares and so she drags one of her servants, Hagar, into the mix and Abraham impregnates her. The result is Ishmael. Eventually the relationship between the Lady of the House and her servant becomes like sandpaper and Sarah has Abraham kick her out of the household.

By the way, what might we call today this “arrangement” between Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar? Surrogate parenting, perhaps?

So we have a very human married couple. But God’s unfailing love keeps working in them and through them and they continue to love and obey God, though very imperfectly, with a very long, and I think at times, stretched to the limit obedient waiting on Him.

An unfailing love is vital to a God honoring marriage. It is a love which chooses to stick together through thick and thin, when things are going well and when they are not. If we believe that God has called marriage into being for reasons far greater than all the reasons given today, then we have to choose to ask for and cultivate an unfailing love for our spouses. It is a glue that keeps couples together moving forward when it would so easy to say, “I give up and we are done.”

I also think that part of this unfailing love is connected, as the Psalmist connects them, to truth that is vital to marriage.

A couple of situations in Abraham and Sarah’s life illustrate the need for truth but not just the kind of truth we think of when we think “telling what is right.”

The word truth in this verse also can mean:

sureness, reliability

stability, continuance

In both their cases, the issue of truth, God’s truth challenges what I call their “laughing doubt.”

For Abraham we read of this in Genesis 17:17-19

Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

For Sarah we read of it in Genesis 18:9-15

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Truth telling and truth living is part of Abraham and Sarah’s lives and lives together. The importance and place of truth telling and truth living is seen in the reactions to Abraham’s deception about Sarah and in God’s reaction to both person’s laughing doubt.

Truth telling and truth living is vital in all relationships especially a marriage. Above all, God’s truth is vital and necessary in a marriage. For Abraham and Sarah God’s truth came true – a son did come to them, one through whom God’s plan of salvation would eventually come. Remember what Matthew 1:2 says,

Abraham was the father of Isaac,

And you read down the list (all those “begats” in the King James version) and you come to verse 16 that says

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ…

Truth told and truth lived… in sickness and in health; in plenty and in want; matters in a good marriage.

Then there is the cornerstone of righteousness in Abraham and Sarah’s marriage.

But it is a righteousness declared by God in response to Abraham’s faith noted in Genesis 15:1-6

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

Slide14

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Have we who are married ever stopped to consider how powerful and important God’s truth and promises are to us? Can you recall a time in your marriage when God’s truth- in the form of a promise – was all that you hung on to?

Despite their flaws, their deceptions, their impatient actions, and their lack of faith, God’s unfailing love, His truth, and His righteousness was NOT thwarted by them. It was accomplished in spite of and through them.

There is a lesson for us here.

For in spite of our flaws, our sin, our lack of faith, God can use and does use we married people in His mission here on earth.

Married couples are not exempt from helping to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. They are just as important as single persons in God’s plans and purposes and single people are just as important as married persons in God’s plans and purposes.

Marriage is one of God’s many ways to help us become more and more like Christ. It is a vital and important relationship. God has made it so from the beginning when He made humanity male and female.

And one of the most important characteristics of a good marriage is that of a righteousness that we cannot manufacture on our own but comes as we yield to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to make us in to righteous people. And by righteous people, I do not mean morally snooty people. I mean authentic and God honoring people.

I think that Abraham and Sarah eventually got there. And so can we.

Finally there is the cornerstone of peace.

Having witnessed the birth of my two sons, especially the first one, and especially due to the fact that the possibility of biologically not being able father a child was very high, I think that I can relate to the great joy that Abraham and Sarah had when Isaac was finally born.

But there was not peace in the household quite yet because as we read in Genesis 21, there was a conflict (verses 6-10)

Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away but, as we note further down in verses 17-21, God does not turn His back on either one of them:

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Peace finally came to the Abraham and Sarah’s household but it was a relative peace. I am not just speaking of a peace with relatives I am speaking of an imperfect peace. Some of us with blended families understand this relative peace issue.

It is a peace that is fragile and one that all concerned have to work on keeping. (Even non blended families have this issue, right?)

Look what Sarah’s impatience caused…. Don’t go saying this all was God’s will… I see no proof whatsoever that this desert scene with Hagar and Ishmael was God’s will. None. at.all.

And there still is no peace today in the ancestral home of both Issac and Ishmael.

What do we do then about peace, an imperfect peace, in our marital lives? Some couples, perhaps many couples, are struggling with that these days. There is an uneasy peace because of the results of choices made in the past. Might forgiveness and mercy and grace show up here to “keep the peace,” albeit an imperfect one?

So what does this mean for us this week and this weekend, when romantic love (important as it is) is splashed in red everywhere?

One of the first things perhaps we need to do is throw out one word that is often used in holding up the ideal marriage:

Perfect

I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings this morning or burst your bubble, but when I hear that term, I wonder, “What is going on that we don’t know about?” And you why I don’t have a perfect marriage? Because I’m in it!

Great and good are good terms and goals to aim in marriage. But perfect? I don’t think so.

 

Slide19

Second, if we want to have a God-honoring marriage, these four cornerstones – unfailing love, truth, righteousness, and peace- need to be part of such a marriage. I believe that all four are rooted in God’s character because God is love, God is truth, God is righteous, and God is peace. Furthermore, God’s love, God’s truth, God’s righteousness, and God’s peace must be part of a God honoring marriage. Abraham and Sarah stayed together  because of God’s work in these four areas in their lives and marriage and their on-going choice to stay together.

I think that we expect so much out of marriage today and seem to put so little into it. It is more than a right or an institution. It is a deeply intimate, personal, and spiritual relationship that we need to again honor and respect.

To those who are single I say, “Take your time about marriage. It is too important to jump in before seriously considering the deep responsibilities that come with it. Yes, it is wonderful. It is a source of joy, love, and peace. But it is a very serious relational and spiritual commitment.”

To those who are married I say, “We are all still learning how to be married. Let us resolve to let the Holy Spirit in to our marriages and to help us be shaped into and strengthened into people of God who are married and attempt to faithfully serve Him through and in our marriages.”

Amen.

Behind the Pulpit: Pondering Lent; Practicing My One Word: Fast

Only in the past 15 to 20 years has the 40 days prior to Easter, known as Lent, entered my spiritual awareness. As a Protestant, I knew nothing of this “season” of the “Liturgical Calendar.” I heard of my Catholic friends eating fish on Fridays when Lent happened but I did not know what all of that meant.

But in the past few years, it has become a valued part of my spiritual life. I have preached several years of Lenten sermons, and will again this year. However, with my One Word for this year being fast I am looking at Lent in a different way. Not as a 40 day event, but an important stop on my journey this year in fasting from many things in various ways.

6358432One book that I now pull out as Lent approaches is Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year (Thomas Nelson, 2009) and her words about Lent both warm my heart and challenge my soul every year. This year it is this quote that has got me thinking about fast and fasting in a new way and at a deeper level.

Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world.

As it is “sitting” with me, I am going to let it “sit” with you as Lent approaches.

l Signore sia con voi!