1332) In Sickness and in Health

“I, Benjamin take thee Annie, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

     In 1876 when Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield made this vow to his bride, Annie Kinkead, he meant it with all of his being.  Warfield was born in 1851 near Lexington, Kentucky.  His father was a farmer and a published expert on raising cattle.  His mother was the daughter of Rev. Robert Jefferson Breckinridge, a theologian at the Presbyterian seminary in Danville, Kentucky.

     As a boy, Warfield made a public profession of his faith in the Lord Jesus and joined the Second Presbyterian Church of Lexington at the age of sixteen.  His mother wanted him to be a minister, but while he was a student at Princeton University, his main academic interests were mathematics and science.  He graduated with highest honors at the age of just nineteen and went off to Europe for graduate study in science.  To everyone’s surprise and his mother’s delight, he wrote home in 1872 to announce that he had decided to enter the ministry instead.

     He returned to the United States and entered Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with the class of 1876.  That summer he married Annie Kinkead, the daughter of a prominent Lexington attorney who had once represented Abraham Lincoln in a trial.

     For their honeymoon the happy couple went to Europe, where Warfield was to study at the University of Leipzig.  One day while they were hiking in the Harz Mountains of Germany, they were caught in a violent thunderstorm.  Annie suffered a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.  She remained to some degree an invalid for the rest of her life.

     Back in America, Warfield served nine years as professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  In 1887 he was called to Princeton Theological Seminary as professor of Theology.

     At Princeton, Warfield became his generation’s leading exponent of Calvinistic theology in general and the authority of Scripture in particular.  He was an outspoken critic of the liberal scholarship of his day and a prolific author.  His collected works fill ten volumes.

     In the midst of all his teaching and writing, Warfield was simultaneously caring for his beloved Annie.  At first she was able to go on walks through the town of Princeton with her husband.  When this became too difficult for her, they would walk together back and forth across the front porch of their home.  Eventually she became bedridden and was seen by few others than her husband.  By his own choice, Warfield spent nearly all of his non-teaching hours at home.  Even with a busy academic schedule, he reserved time every day for reading to Annie.  He was almost never away from his wife for more than two hours at a time.

     During the last ten years of Annie’s life, the Warfields only left Princeton once, to go on a vacation that he hoped would improve her health.  In spite of the limitations placed on his life by her condition, no one ever heard one word of complaint from Warfield.  In describing him a friend once said, “He has had only two interests in life—his work and Mrs. Warfield.”

     When Annie Warfield died on November 18, 1915, her husband had lovingly cared for her for thirty-nine years.  Warfield himself died five years later.

     In spite of all the hours spent as caregiver to his wife, no other theologian of his time is as widely read today or has had his books in print as long as those of Benjamin Warfield.  God blessed his faithfulness to his marriage vow.

The One Year Book of Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon O. Rusten, Tyndale Publishing House, 2003, pages 646-647.

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Benjamin Warfield  (1851-1921)

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Philippians 4:12-13  —   I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

I Corinthians 13:7-8a  —   Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails…

Matthew 19:5b-6  —  (Jesus said), “‘A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh;’ so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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A PRAYER FOR MARRIED COUPLES:

O God, out of all the world you let us find one another and learn together the meaning of love.  Let us never fail to hold love precious.  Let the flame of it never waver or grow dim, but burn in our hearts as an unwavering devotion, and shine through our eyes in gentleness and understanding.  Teach us to remember the little courtesies, to be swift to speak the grateful and happy word, to believe rejoicingly in each other’s best, and to face all life bravely because we face it with a united heart.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Walter Russel Bowie  (1882-1969), Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, New York City

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1294) Risky Business: A Wedding Sermon

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     Mike and Connie, the text I have chosen for your wedding is from the story of another wedding, the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24.  Isaac’s father, Abraham sent his servant on a long journey, back to Abraham’s hometown, in order to find a suitable wife for Isaac.  The servant prayed for guidance, was led to Rebekah, and brought her home to Isaac—Isaac, who did not yet know any of this, even though he was about to be married.

     Beginning a marriage this way is risky business.  The bride and groom had never laid eyes on each other until the day the servant got back with Rebekah and she asked, “Who’s that man out in the cornfield?” and Abraham’s servant replied, “Why, that’s your new husband, ma’am.”

     These days, a woman would shriek at the thought of such an arrangement.  And what young man would like the idea of some guy from his father’s office staff picking out his bride?  Yet to this day, many Chinese, African, and Indian parents talk to other parents and arrange for the marriages of their sons and daughters with partners they have never met.

     I have told my confirmation classes that I think this method of parents arranging for their children’s marriage is just as good as the way we do it, with both methods having certain advantages and disadvantages.  The kids would get all upset and say, “Are you crazy?  That’s too risky!  How can you marry someone you don’t even know!”  They would all argue that marriage is too serious a matter to enter into like that, with parents in charge.  What about shared dreams and goals, what about common interests, what about dating and getting to know each other, what about love, for Pete’s sake— what do parents know about any of that?  “You just can’t have parents making those kinds of decisions for you!” these wise 8th graders would all agree.

     Then, to give them another perspective, I would tell them about Gideon, a young man from India that I got to know several years ago.  Gideon was a college graduate, the son of professional people, and was at the University of Minnesota working on a Master’s Degree.  He was a brilliant student, good looking, well-liked, witty and funny—the life of the party type.  But Gideon never dated.  People would ask him if he had a girlfriend back in India.  “I don’t know,” he would reply cheerfully.  “Maybe I do,” he would go on to say, “My parents are taking care of finding a wife for me, and I am glad to leave it in their hands.  Shucks, I am only 24 years old, and it is too risky for me to make that choice.  What do I know about love and marriage?”

     So what about Isaac and Rebekah?  How did they turn out?  Well, after 66 verses of describing how the servant found Rebekah, one simple verse tells the whole story of their brief courtship and wedding day.  It says, “Isaac brought Rebekah to the tent and he married her; so she became his wife and he loved her.”

     “He loved her,” it says.  Abraham, with the help of his hired man, found a wife for Isaac, they got married on the day they met, learned to love each other, and lived as husband and wife until they were parted by death.  Everything went just the way it was supposed to go.  Before that, there were no evenings of romance out in the moonlight on the front porch swing, no sharing of dreams and goals, no playing on the radio “You make me so very happy,” and not even a proposal of marriage.  It was just, “Isaac, this is Rebekah; Rebekah meet Isaac.  Now someone go call the preacher.”  Yet, from that day onward they learned to love each other, and they stayed together for life.

     No matter how you get a partner and begin a life together, marriage is a risk.  Parents can make mistakes—it happens all the time in India and Africa.  And, when people are allowed to find their own partners, they too can make mistakes.  Love can be so very blind, and we’ve all seen those kinds of mistakes.

     Mike and Connie, you have spent lots of time together, met each other’s families, made plans, and probably have said sweet things to each other— but there is really very little in all of that to reduce the risk.  You do know each other better today than Isaac and Rebekah knew each other on their long ago wedding day, but there will be much more to learn, and an endless stream of adjustments to make.  You will, in the months and years to come, really get to know each other.  Ask any married person when they learned all about their spouse– it is after the marriage, and after all the head-in-the-clouds excitment has vanished in the day to day routine of a job to go to, diapers to change, meals to cook, and bills to pay.  This is where real love, deep love, can grow—or die.  You never know.  It is always a risk.

      And, we ourselves change over the years.  We are not the same at age 35, 45, or 65, that we are when we are 25 and making these huge lifelong choices and promises.  We go through a lot in a lifetime, and it all has an impact on us.  Yes, you will get to know each other better, and as you do, a far deeper love can grow.  But life and love is always a risk.  We don’t know what will happen or what feelings will come and go.

     That is why at the center of the wedding ceremony is a lifelong commitment to remain true to each other no matter what happens.  The risk cannot be avoided.  The commitment binds you together anyway, come what may.  It is love that brought you together, and love that brings you here today.  But marriage is about much more than love.  You are not here today to express your love, but to make a promise; and from now on, the vows you make today will be there to sustain your marriage in times when love will be difficult to maintain.

     As you commit your lives to each other today, remember that God has made such a commitment to you.  He took the risk of creating each of us, giving us the freedom to return his love or ignore it.  God had no guarantee that we would obey him or return his love or pay him any attention at all.  And yet He made a commitment, and He gave us life.  He took the risk.  And there have been times, says the Bible, that God has regretted ever entering such a relationship with us—just like every married man and woman on earth have, at times, entertained regrets about choosing the partner they did.  But mere feelings of regret are no match for a lifelong commitment taken seriously, and the love of God in you, that can give you the strength to make and keep that commitment.  Then, you can indeed “grow in holy love until your life’s end,” as the marriage blessing says.  Remember Christ’s commitment to you, and remember that commitment also was “even unto death.”  By keeping close to Christ, you can learn to live in Christ-like love and forgiveness.

     Mike and Connie, may God be with you and you with Him in all the days of your life together.  Amen.

(inspired by a sermon by Rev. Roy Harrisville)

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Genesis 6:6  —  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

Genesis 24:4  —  (Abraham said), “Go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

Genesis 24:67  —  Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah.  So she became his wife, and he loved her.

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TRADITIONAL WEDDING VOW:

 I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.

1282) Till Death Do We Part

Groom waiting on Bride

By Garrett Kell, posted February 27, 2015 at:

http://www.garrettkell.com/till-death-part-keeping-vow-till-end/

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A member of our church named Julie recently shared the story of her Grandparent’s love:

     My Grandparents truly had a lifetime love affair.  Their marriage was not perfect, but was marked by a consistent, devoted, and tender love for one another.

     Their love remained steady in times of plenty and in times of need.  In all the days and nights I spent at their house, I never heard an argument between them.  And while I’m certain difficult days came and went, I never witnessed one disrespect the other.

     Shortly before my Grandparent’s 54th wedding anniversary, my Grandma became gravely ill.  Watching his beloved bride suffer made those days very difficult, but Grandpa stayed by her side until she safely reached her heavenly home.

     As he grieved and planned for her funeral, he wanted to honor his wife one last time and fulfill his vow “until death do we part.”  So on the day of her funeral, he stood at the altar one last time.  As the doors opened and the pallbearers brought his bride down the aisle, he waited for her in the same spot he stood 54 years earlier when she walked down to become his bride.

     That day he fulfilled his vow and committed her into the hand of the One who had given her to him.  He was faithful, all the way to the end.

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Matthew 19:4b-6  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 5:25  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 4:1b-2  —  I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

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Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
for you have created joy and gladness,
pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship.
Pour out the abundance of your blessing
upon ___ and ___ in their new life together.
Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts
and a crown upon their heads.
Bless them in their work and in their companionship;
awake and asleep,
in joy and in sorrow,
in life and in death.
Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that banquet
where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Marriage service

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1262) The ‘Good Enough’ Marriage

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American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

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By Mark Regnerus in the December 4, 2014 issue of First Things.  Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

     I have a good marriage.  Is it a great marriage?  I don’t know.  Do we squabble?  Plenty.  Do either of us feel shortchanged?  With regularity.  Might we be happier had we married other people twenty-one years ago?  It’s certainly possible.  Should I reconsider my marriage?  Heavens no.

     Amid well-intentioned efforts to reinforce or rebuild a disappearing marriage culture, there remains a persistent hazard— that in belaboring the ‘beauty of marriage’, many people in challenging unions will feel more discouraged, not less.  Their marriages haven’t felt wonderful for a very long time.  Or the dismal follows the wonderful in a predictably cyclical fashion.  Or misunderstanding seems chronic.  Bedrooms become battlegrounds.  It’s not how marriage was intended to be, but it is how many turn and how some remain.

     A measure of relational trial is, of course, endemic to the human condition.  “Interaction breeds conflict” is as close as sociologists can come to identifying a ‘Law of the Social Universe.’  And yet conflict can be productively harnessed.  Marital difficulty and challenge can, as the recent Humanum film series illustrates, reveal a “hidden sweetness” (see link below)…

     I have documented the long-term benefits of having grown up with a married mother and father who have hung in there, in comparison to every other combination.  (Even the death of a parent proved far less consequential than a divorce.)  And I didn’t evaluate marital happiness in my surveys and analyses, only marital status.  Some stable households were no doubt more blissful than others.  But an unsightly building can still provide shelter.

     A friend of mine recently left his wife after nearly thirty years of marriage, reinforcing the dismal data on “gray divorce.”  While I don’t know the particulars, and his exit seems to have no obvious logic, I know theirs was neither a simple nor an easy marriage, and that both spouses had high expectations for it.  One observer lamented this human habit, which extends well beyond marital hopes to simpler ones about work, health, material goods, vacations, even tonight’s dinner:

That happens with so many things in life.  We inject them with poetry in our imaginations, we idealize them, and come to believe they are the epitome of happiness and beauty.  But then when we have them in front of us, and see them just as they are, our hearts sink to our boots.

     I and a few other friends of his got together in an effort to ask him to reconsider his departure.  One of us wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be better to limp to the finish line, with the help of others, than quit the race?”  After all, if marriage is a marathon, our friend was probably nearing the twenty-mile mark.  The rest of us concurred, but to no avail.

     My late colleague Norval Glenn discovered that even so-called “good” divorces are consequential.  Amicable divorces, he noted, foster disorientation in children, who feel at a loss to explain what they’ve witnessed, much less improve upon it themselves someday.  Such divorces, he concluded, are worse than maintaining a mediocre marriage.

     I maintain that my friend was wrong about his decision to exit his “good enough” marriage.  Perhaps new information would change my mind, but it’s unlikely.  There are precious few scenarios in which his children would be better off for his having left.  Perhaps my confidence seems the height of arrogance.  All I know is that his wife would like him to come home.

     What should we do?  A trio of simple commitments is a good start.

     First, be wary of taking sides.  Remember that when we offer comfort by belittling someone else’s spouse, we do damage to their marriage— an entity that we did not create, and one that exists independently of each.  The temptation to do this is very strong (and often fed by one of the spouses).  I myself am guilty.  To be sure, some marriages must end— but not so many as we’ve witnessed.

     Second, be gentle.  We harm our brothers and sisters not when we display affection, respect, and sacrifice for our own spouses— they need to see that.  We do harm when we fail to esteem others’ unions, fragile though they may be.  Praise those aspects of others’ marriages that merit it.  A bruised reed we ought not break.

     Third, be observant and courageous.  If in fact many mediocre marriages don’t deserve the death penalty, then you must speak up.  Twenty percent of married Americans report having thought about leaving their spouse in the past year.  Undisciplined children seldom turn out well; so too the marriages in our social orbits.  It is a vigil of love that we must keep.

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See HUMANUM FILM SERIES (part 4); “A Hidden Sweetness:  The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship” (12 minutes):

http://www.loveandfidelity.org/resources/a-hidden-sweetness-the-power-of-marriage-amid-hardship-part-4-of-6-of-the-humanum-series/

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Isaiah 42:3-4a  —  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged.

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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Temple Gairdner (1873-1928), before his marriage:

O Lord, Jesus Christ:  that I may come near to her, draw me nearer to Thee than to her; that I may know her, make me to know Thee more than her; that I may love her with the perfect love, cause me to love Thee more than her.  Be Thou between us, O Lord, every moment, so that nothing else may be between me and her.  Amen.

1035) Talking About Living in Sin (part three of three)

By Rev. William Willimon in Pastor, pages 257-260, Abingdon Press, 2002 (adapted).

     (…continued)  When Jesus wanted to change the world, he summoned a rather ordinary group of inexperienced, not overly talented folk to be his disciples.  This is the typical way Jesus does revolution.  Although to the world such means may seem hopelessly ineffective, unrealistic, and impossible, the church is, for better or worse, God’s answer to what is wrong in the world.  Just let the church begin telling the truth, witnessing to the fact that God rules and that Jesus Christ really is Lord, and the church will quickly find how easily threatened and inherently unstable are many of the powers of this world.  If Christians were not being persecuted in the Mideast and in China, and being ridiculed in Hollywood and at Harvard, we might think that the church was no longer proclaiming the Word of God.  That thousands still pay for this faith with their lives and their freedom is proof positive that God is still able to speak through his people.  The false principalities and powers see in the poor old church a threat to everything upon which their world is built.

     One of our recent graduates, now living in California, told me about dragging himself out of bed one Sunday morning and attending the little Episcopal church around the corner.  The service went as expected until the pastor stood up at the time of the sermon, and said, “I suppose that some of you expect me to make some statement about the sexual shenanigans of our president (Bill Clinton).  What have we to say to the moral mire in Washington?  Well, permit me just a moment to go over this again, if I must.  People, we are Christians.  We do not have sex with those to whom we are not married!  For us, there is no sex outside the promises of marriage between one man and one woman!  Must we belabor the point?  I hope not.  Now let us move on to other concerns.”

     Ephesians 4:15-16 establishes a link between truth-telling and community and maturity:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

     “Speaking the truth in love” is linked to maturity and growth.  Without truthful speech, we are left with immature Christians.  In the church, in my experience, we usually opt for love at the expense of truth.  Of course, from a gospel point of view, dishonest love is hardly love at all.  On the basis of Ephesians 4:15-16, truthful speech is an aspect of the practice of love, a necessary component of Christian unity among a people for whom there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).  Too often, in too many congregations, unity is purchased by the world’s means— suppression of information, deceitful flattery, and niceness— rather than through the Christ-appointed means of speaking the truth in love.  In order to have unity or love worthy of the designation “Christian,” we need to be more in love with truth than with either unity or love…

     A woman accosted me at the front door, at the end of service, after I had preached on forgiveness.

      “Do you mean to tell me that Jesus expects me to forgive my abusive husband who made my life hell for ten years until I got the courage to leave him?  I’m supposed to forgive him?”

     I got nervous.  Defensively I said, “Well, we only have twenty minutes for the sermon.  I can’t properly qualify and nuance everything.  But I do feel that, though I am deeply concerned about the problem of spouse abuse, Jesus does tell us to forgive our enemies, and who is a greater enemy than your ex-husband?  I do think that Jesus probably did mean for us to…”

     “Good!” she said.  “Just checking!”  With that she left, going forth, I think, with a burden placed upon her back, a burden not of her own devising, to walk a narrow way quite different from the ways of the world.  Who told me as a preacher to attempt to lessen that gap, that life-giving gospel gap, between her and the gospel?  Who told me that she was unable to respond to the command of Jesus?

     Sometimes we do not have to say anything to be a powerful witness…  

     A young man called me early one Monday morning to tell me that he needed to talk.  He was in terrible shape, having wandered about the university campus all night, crying most of the time.

     “I had the worst night of my life,” he explained.  “Last night, after the fraternity meeting, as usual we had a time when we just sit around and talk about what we did over the weekend.  This weekend, during a party we had on Saturday, I went upstairs to get something from a brother’s room and walked in on a couple who were, well, ‘in the act.’

     “I immediately closed the door and went back downstairs, saying nothing.  Well, when we came to the time for sharing at the end of the meeting, after a couple of the brothers shared what they did over the weekend, one of the group said, ‘I understand that Mr. Christian got a real eyeful last night.’

     “With that, they all began to laugh.  Not a good, friendly laugh; it was cold, cruel, mean laughter.  They were all laughing, all saying things like, ‘You won’t see nothin’ like that in church!’ and ‘Better go confess to the priest,’ and stuff like that.

     “I tried to recover, tried to say something light, but I couldn’t.  They hate me!  They were serious.  I walked out of the meeting and stood outside and wept.  I’ve never been treated like that in my life.”

     I told him, “That’s amazing.  You are not the greatest Christian in the world, are you?  You don’t know the Bible that well.  You don’t know much theology.”

     “You know me, I don’t know anything,” he said.

     “And yet, even a Christian like you, in the right environment, can be recognized as a threat and can be persecuted,” I said.  “You are young.  You don’t know that much about church history.  There was a time when to be a martyr, a witness, you had to be good at preaching, or had to be some sort of a saint.  These days, even a guy like you can be a witness for Jesus.”

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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O God of all power, comfort and defend your flock which you have redeemed through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Increase the number of true preachers; enlighten the hearts of the ignorant; relieve the pain of the afflicted, especially those who suffer for their testimony to the truth; by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–John Knox, Chaplain to Edward VI in England, main compiler of the Scottish Prayer Book (1514-1572)

1034) Talking About Living in Sin (part two of three)

By Randy Alcorn; February 1, 2016 blog at:

http://www.epm.org/

     (…continued)  Many years ago my wife and I were in a home Bible study in our church.  The group had been meeting three months when someone mentioned in passing that one of the couples wasn’t married.  I called the group leader and asked if this was true.  He said yes.  I asked if he had told the young man— who’d come to Christ at least two years earlier— that this wasn’t honoring to the Lord.  He said he hadn’t mentioned it because he didn’t want to hurt them.  He hoped eventually they would figure it out, but it was the group’s job to love them, not judge them.  I said I agreed we should love them.  And when you love someone, you don’t want them to sin, because sin is never in their best interests.  Sin brings judgment, and we do not want those we love to fall under the judgment of God, but rather to embrace the forgiving grace He went to the cross to offer them.

     I explained that now that I knew about this, I would need to go to the young man and share with him the truth.  The leader and another guy from the group came with me that night.  We called the young man and invited ourselves over, and while his girlfriend and the baby were with one of the ladies in the group, we sat down with him in his living room.  He was nervous.  It wasn’t comfortable for any of us.  What’s right often isn’t.

     I asked him if he knew how much we loved him and his girlfriend.  He said, “Sure.”  Our group had helped them out in various ways.  He knew.

     I told him I wanted to share some Scripture with him.  Then he looked at me and said, “Are you going to tell us we should get married?”

     I said, “Yes.”

     The words poured out from him.  He said, “We really want to.  We feel so bad we haven’t.  We’re trying to read the Bible and we feel like we’re just a couple of losers.  When we go to church, we feel like hypocrites.  But we don’t have the money to have a decent wedding, and I can’t afford a ring.  She’s so ashamed that we’re not married.  It’s awkward because of our baby.  And to be honest, I wondered if anyone was ever going to talk to us about it.”

     We put our arms around this brother and challenged him to be a real man, God’s man, and honor Jesus and lead his girlfriend, and make this right.  He prayed and asked God’s forgiveness for having sex outside of marriage.  A burden was lifted from him.  Together, we developed a plan for how they could move out from each other just for a few weeks until we could get them married.  We laughed and hugged and this brother felt loved and incredibly relieved.  Instead of being shamed, which was the leader’s fear, he had his shame removed.

     Our small group immediately set up a wedding at our church.  On short notice, the women in the group got the girlfriend a dress and everything else, and we found people at church to volunteer food and a cake.  Their parents flew in from other parts of the country and everyone cried and celebrated.  I had the honor of marrying this couple, and holding their precious baby in the ceremony.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been part of.  I cannot tell you how honored and special this couple felt.  God’s people had loved them by helping deliver them from the sin and guilt that entangled them, and bring them to purity and peace.

     The sheer joy of that young couple floods my mind when I hear people talk as if they are taking the spiritual high ground by “not laying a guilt trip on Christians who are living together.”  We can gently point out sin to each other without using a flame-thrower.  God tells us to speak the truth in love, and if we are withholding the truth instead of speaking it, we are not being obedient or loving.

     If you love someone who says they want to follow Jesus, you don’t ignore sin that is destroying their lives.  You go to them humbly and prayerfully, and represent Jesus and help them fulfill their stated goal of honoring Christ as Lord.  God calls us to bring love and grace and liberation to those whose sin is destroying them.  

     Of course, exactly the same applies to other sins, including gossip and gluttony and slander and envy and sowing discord among brothers.

     (continued…)

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Ephesians 4:15  —  Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4:25  —  Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

Matthew 19:4b-6  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

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Open my eyes that I may see,

Incline my heart that I may desire,

Order my steps that I may follow

The way of your commandments.

–Lancelot Andrewes, Anglican Bishop and Bible translator  (1555-1626)

1033) Talking About Living in Sin (part one of three)

By Randy Alcorn; February 1, 2016 blog at:

http://www.epm.org/

     The most commonly quoted (and often misunderstood) verse in churches is no longer John 3:16 but Matthew 7:1, “Judge not.”  Ironically, people who routinely violate what the verse is really saying quote the verse to justify their own failure to assist other people in following Jesus.  Hence, they interpret “Judge not” as if it were “Care not” and “Help not.”

     All too often, as believers we don’t realize that the greatest kindness we can offer each other is the truth.  Our job is not just to help each other feel good but to help each other be good.  We often seem to think that our only options are to: 1) speak the truth hurtfully; or 2) say nothing in the name of grace.

     But Jesus came full of grace AND truth.  We should not choose between them, but do both.  We are told that we should be “speaking the truth in love” to each other (Ephesians 4:15).  We should share the truth with humility, as an act of grace, reminding ourselves and each other that we desperately need God’s grace every bit as much as do those we’re offering it to.

     Let’s say, for example, that you meet and befriend a young couple who are fairly new at your church.  They are living together and say they want to follow Christ.  You face a choice.  Do you tell them what God says about sex outside of marriage, or do you assume it’s none of your business and say nothing?

     I believe that when people who are living together visit our churches or small groups or homes, it’s not our first job to try to correct their behavior, but instead to demonstrate the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.  I don’t believe we should expect Christian behavior among nonbelievers or even nominal believers.  Where we should expect Christian behavior is among those who declare they are Christ’s followers and identify themselves with the church, the body of Christ.  In such cases, if we fail to graciously tell them God’s truth about sex and marriage, and fail to assist them in making right choices, then we fail to help them fulfill their own stated goal of following Christ.

     So when someone says “I want to follow Jesus” but is living in sin, then you face a choice.  Do you tell them what God says about sex outside of marriage, or do you assume it’s none of your business and say nothing?  I think we should point to what Christ commands of us, and remind them that He gives the power and strength to obey Him.  God’s grace is not only for forgiveness of sin, but empowerment to live in holiness.

     I was teaching the book of 1 Corinthians at a Bible college.  We got into sexual purity in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.  A couple in their thirties came up after this session and said, “We’ve never heard this before; we’ve been living together for eight years. We just came to Christ two years ago, and we’re very involved in our church.  Are you really saying sex outside of marriage is something Jesus doesn’t want us to do?”

     I commended them for wanting to follow Christ wholeheartedly.  When we opened Scripture it was clear to them they needed to get married right away, and no longer live together until they did.  But they felt confused and even betrayed that no one in their church had talked to them about this.  (continued…)

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I Corinthians 7:2  —  Since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.

I Corinthians 6:18-20  —  Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.  Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Titus 2:11-12  —  For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

Galatians 6:1-2  —  My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way.  And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.

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O Lord, teach us to despise all vanities, to fight the battles of the Lord against the flesh, the world, and the devil, to spend our time usefully, to speak gracious words, to walk always in your presence, and to preserve our souls and bodies in holiness, fit for the habitation of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

–John Cosin, Bishop of Durham  (1594-1672)

1019) The Lincolns’ Unhappy Marriage

“The Slow Fires of Misery:  Enduring the Pain of a Flawed Marriage”

By John Piper, A Godward Life, pages 33-35, Multnomah, 1997.  Quotes are from “The Struggle for Lincoln’s Soul,” by Mark Noll, in Books and Culture, September/October 1995 issue.

     Abraham Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.  

   I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations.  They do not need to.  There is much to gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

     Our culture has made divorce acceptable and therefore easier to justify on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction for divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability— with or without emotional pain— was valued above emotional tranquility for the sake of the children, the stability of society, and in the case of Christians, for the glory of Christ.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriages, through pain and heartache, are rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

     “Your husband is your Maker… For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,’ says your God.  ‘For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

     Abraham Lincoln brought debilities to his marriage with Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion. She said that he “was not a demonstrative man…. When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  For years before his presidency, he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

     Mary often flew into rages.

She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House; she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side); she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes); she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield; and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.  A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs Lincoln that “she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.

     It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not (or would not) remove it.

     What was the gain?  God will give the final answer, but here are two historical assessments.  (1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.”  (2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked (under heavy pressure) deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.”  America can be glad that Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage.  There were resources for healing he did not know, and short of healing, embracing the fire is better than escape.

     Increasingly, contemporary culture assumes the opposite.  Pain-free relationships are assumed as a right.  But God promises his people something better.  “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

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Matthew 19:5-6  —  (Jesus said), “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 5:25…33  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…  Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Prayer following the marriage vows, 1662 Book of Common Prayer ‘Solemnization of Matrimony’ service:

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebekah lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof these rings given and received as a token and pledge;) and may ever remain in love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

874) Life is Short; So…?

By Ed Stezter, in a August 25, 2015 Blog, “Life is Eternal; Don’t Have an Affair” at: http://www.Christianitytoday.com

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This week, we’ve found that it’s not as simple as the Ashley Madison site would like its (former) users to think.  “Life is short.  Have an affair.”  So they say.

Get caught.  Lose your reputation.  Lose your spouse.  So they omit.

I’ve been told that pastors I know, people in my neighborhood, members of my extended family, and prominent Christian leaders have found out they have been found out.

At the very moment I am writing this, I sit in a group of pastors who have ALL received news that someone they know is on the list.

For many, today, their secret sins are now public information.

Ashley Madison

The Ashley Madison website was launched in 2001 as a place for people in ostensibly committed relationships to go if they wanted to cheat on their spouse or significant other.  Ashley’s allure was secrecy.  For millions, their greatest fear was realized in July when ‘The Impact Team,’ a hacker group, cracked the Ashley Madison database.  The group held the personal data of 30+ million users ransom, demanding the owners shut down the operation.

Two weeks ago, the data was released on the Dark Web, and millions of users have since been exposed of cheating, or at least trying to cheat.  Without a doubt, millions of people are reaping what they’ve sown.  Light has revealed the darkness.  Spouses who may not have had any idea of a fractured marital foundation now find themselves floundering in emotional quicksand.  Others will not be surprised when their spouse or significant other confesses.

The prominence of this hack does raise the question:  What do Americans think about adultery?  Do Americans accept it?  Is it some do, some don’t, but no one really cares?  Or, is it something more?

In our increasingly sexualized culture, one may be surprised to find many are still appalled at the thought of cheating on a partner— at least when they answer a survey questions.  In recent polling, around 90 percent of Americans said having an affair is immoral.

It’s a Cultural Issue

Many are reaping what they have sown individually, but we are also reaping what we have sown culturally.

Though what was in the dark is now in the light, and though those who share our faith face utter embarrassment, our place is not to gloat.  Perhaps, rather, we should grieve at what sexuality has become in our culture.

As the Ashley Madison leak moves from a big data file, to the headlines, to strained conversations or screaming matches around the kitchen table, maybe it’s worthwhile asking, “Is this really what we wanted as a society?”

During the same week the Ashley Madison hack was revealed, an Old Dominion University fraternity made national news by hanging out banners for fathers, pointing out a “freshmen daughter drop off,” adding “hope you baby girl is ready for a good time;” and then also the suggestion to “drop off mom, too.” (If you think the attitudes expressed here are abnormal, read Kimbery Thornbury’s article on the hook-up culture.)

I could list many more examples, but perhaps at some point, we must ask, “Is this what we really wanted when culture turned against traditional sexual morality?”

We could pretend this is not mainstream, but a trip to a local theater, a look the history of a typical browser, or a conversation with a college student might tell us otherwise.

Now, freshman girls (and their mothers) are sport, affairs are encouraged and for fun, and modern entertainment affirms this harmful view of sex and sexuality.

Revolution

The only problem is that the sexual revolution is, by definition, a war against something— in this case against the previous sexual mores.  And wars, whether we admit it or not, always have victims.  Few walk away unscathed.

In revolutions, attacks are launched, bombs are dropped, and victims are made.  So it is in the sexual revolution.

We kid ourselves if we think what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Or with Ashley Madison.

That’s the way of our culture today.  (As C. S. Lewis said, “We laugh at honor, and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”)

Ashley Madison was right.  Life is short.  But the proper response to the brevity of this life is to focus on those things that will last beyond it.

Life is short, so have perspective.

Repentance

The news this week reminds us that Christians don’t always live the way we are called, but perhaps today can be another reminder that there is a better way.  We are called to another way.

That way is the way of Jesus, who spoke of a man and a woman becoming one flesh— one marriage, one sexual relationship, for one lifetime.

But for those who have failed to follow that way, the cross of Christ reminds us that a way has still been made.

So, if you are on the list, or know someone who is, a key word is repentance and there is a word that is comes after that— forgiveness.

That will not free us from consequences, but it does point us to Jesus.  He is able to lead us past the pain and lies of Ashley Madison and into the grace and truth He provides.

The other way— the way of the sexual revolution— is on display this week.  It’s how our culture has decided to go.  But, Jesus shows a better way.

Life is eternal.  Don’t have an affair.

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Galatians 6:7-8  —  Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

Hebrews 13:4  —  Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

James 1:12-16  —  Blessed is anyone who endures temptation.  Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.  But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved.

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Prayer by Martin Luther on the 6th commandment; You Shall Not Commit Adultery:

Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.

853) Living Happily Ever After

C. S. Lewis's Joy in Marriage

C. S. Lewis and his wife Joy, approx. 1958

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     If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were.  Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years?  What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?  But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense— love as distinct from ‘being in love’— is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.  They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.  They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else.  ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.  It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run:  ‘being in love’ was the explosion that started it.   –C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952

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Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Proverbs 3:3  —  Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

Galatians 5:22-23  —  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

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Prayers from “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony” in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life:  Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that they may faithfully live together, and may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

O GOD of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, bless these thy servants, and sow the seed of eternal life in their hearts; that whatsoever in thy holy Word they shall profitably learn, they may in deed fulfill the same.  Look, O Lord, mercifully upon them from heaven, and bless them.  And as thou didst send thy blessing upon Abraham and Sarah, to their great comfort, so vouchsafe to send thy blessing upon these thy servants; that they obeying thy Will, and always being in safety under thy protection, may abide in thy love unto their lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.