Re-post: Common Sense in “Choosing” a Mate

Last week I wrote about marital love that lasts a lifetime. This begins, I hinted, with the exercise of good judgment in choosing. That, coupled with genuine romance, increases the likelihood that a happy, durable marriage will be launched.

I believe in romance. I know what it is to fall in love. But, this week I share with you what I mean by good judgment, an easily overlooked element, in searching for a life’s mate.

When I was 20, I traveled with a youth evangelist five years older than I named Doug Russell. He preached and I sang. In our spare moments we had serious conversations about “finding the right one.” We were both single.

Back then he had worked up a list of qualities he was looking for in a life’s mate. I recall that list from 65 years ago, and it ran as follows:

A genuine Christian faith.

Good family background.

Dependable character.

A pleasant disposition.

Talents and resources (He was committed to ministry).

Today’s seekers may not be inclined to form such a list. In our overstimulated age, we may expect romance alone to determine outcomes. Lists may seem unimaginative, even stifling.

Back then, good character was regarded as a value to be noted. So we might have asked: is this a person of good character? It was this more settled view of personality that gave Doug ground for the following list.

A genuine faith in Christ. As a committed Christian, he thought he should marry someone who would share that faith fully. In his life, Christ was foremost. How could matrimony thrive if two were not together on this central commitment of life?

Good family background. He seemed to understand that, in a sense, when you marry you not only marry a person, you marry that person’s family. This idea may seem a bit fussy, even judgmental. But isn’t it true that even if, for example, one were choosing, a business partner one would reflect on that partner’s closest connections?

Business partners go home at night. Marriage partners do not. Marriage is not part-time. In seeking a mate, it seemed to Doug wise to consider family connections as important.

Solid character. The word character stands for fixed traits – like honesty, dependability, compassion, empathy, etc. My friend Doug said he wanted to see signs of these qualities before he would give his heart permission to advance.

Disposition. He hoped to find someone who was generally cheerful, forgiving, resilient, steady under pressure, not easily angered, etc. It is easier to paddle the romance canoe through both smooth and troubled waters of life with someone who tends to be pleasant in disposition.

Talents. Because he was looking toward ministry as a life calling he was searching for a mate who would bring gifts of head, heart, and hand to the relationship. But anyone, not only ministers, in seeking a life’s partner should consider what life resources the prospective mate would likely bring to a marriage.

For example, when a man and woman marry, at least one should have good homemaker impulses. A home, however humble, is the operational base for all of life’s activities. A strong work ethic is also a good resource to bring to a marriage. Skilled money management is a gift that will enhance a relationship for a whole lifetime.

At the same time as I point out these idealistic qualities, I offer three cautions.

First, as the saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Persons drawing up lists must first measure themselves against their list. The list must be a mirror before it can be a window.

Second, Nobody is perfect. There is no perfect mate of either sex. Therefore no prospect will get an A at every point. This, however, does not excuse the seeker from knowing what issues the list brings to the fore. The purpose is to keep the seeker’s mind engaged even while the heart is aflutter, and thus to increase the likelihood that a wise choice will be made.

Third, such a list should be kept in the background. No gallant suitor or hopeful lady would go to a date, for example, checklist in hand. Dating is for fun, for getting acquainted. The list should function more as a mindset, the warp-and-woof of one’s life-values. Call it the exercise of wisdom.

Sixty-four years ago I fell in love with Kathleen. Our love is still fresh, life-enhancing, and durable, having carried us through more than six decades. In my search, Doug’s list helped me. You, your children, or even grandchildren, may find value in his idea too.

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Photo credit: hermanturnip (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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Motherhood and Relationships

Motherhood_7150163611_1ca4e668ce_nWith the approach of Mother’s Day, May 12, family relationships come up for reflection too. It’s good for a Christian congregation to isolate this noble theme, motherhood, and to set aside a special day to honor lavishly all mothers. But it is inescapably family day too.

In a sense the day will not focus only on the honorees–mothers–but also on others in relationship with them. Motherhood is a family-based title. How can we celebrate motherhood without reflecting on family?

On Mother’s Day, mothers all over this continent will be showered with beautiful cards of love. It will be the telephone company’s busiest day of the year for long distance phone calls. In our culture, mothers are super important.

And so it should be. Mothers are the bearers of the race. They suffer the not insignificant strain of carrying a baby to term. Then long before that infant can show the slightest hint of gratitude for the night time feedings, the ever-and-anon diaper changes, the soothing of fevers and healing of rashes, mother carries on with a commitment that is nothing short of heroic. She labors through sometimes sleepless nights and wearying days. She deserves more than a card or phone call; she deserves a public celebration and a big shiny medal.

But sometimes in the long process of bearing, birthing and raising a child, things go wrong. Misunderstandings crop up. Rifts form in relationships. The very children so cared for sometimes sail into their maturity feeling they have good reason to withhold notes of appreciation. On Mother’s Day mothers aplenty nurse the wounds of unrequited love.

Mother’s Day could well be the best day of the year for the healing of such wounds. It’s a family issue. An unexpected phone call, might do it, a card that counts the blessings of motherhood and forgets the long held grievances. Let the relationships long torn and left with ragged edges be healed with forgiveness.

It is the wonder of Christianity that when we ask him, God in Christ forgives us for our sins of ingratitude, our broken relationships, our real or imagined grievances. He does so by bearing those sins into oblivion on a thankless cross.

Mother’s Day would be a good day to pray for healing all across our lands. Where mothers and daughters or mothers and sons have lost precious months or years through misunderstandings may they come home to one another by means of a mighty surge of forgiveness.

So this Mother’s Day, as the phone calls flow and bouquets arrive, may Christians and non-Christians alike make it a day to pray privately for reconciliations, wherever they are needed. We dare not forget that in this situation, as in all others, the Lord Jesus Christ is the great reconciler.

It’s been said that when rifts, misunderstandings, or blunders stress an important relationship, “The first to apologize is the bravest, the first to forgive is the strongest, the first to move forward is the happiest.”

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Common Sense in “Choosing” a Mate

Last week I wrote about marital love that lasts a lifetime. This begins, I hinted, with the exercise of good judgment in choosing. That, coupled with genuine romance, increases the likelihood that a happy, durable marriage will be launched.

I believe in romance. I know what it is to fall in love. But, this week I share with you what I mean by good judgment, an easily overlooked element, in searching for a life’s mate.

When I was 20, I traveled with a youth evangelist five years older than I named Doug Russell. He preached and I sang. In our spare moments we had serious conversations about “finding the right one.” We were both single.

Back then he had worked up a list of qualities he was looking for in a life’s mate. I recall that list from 65 years ago, and it ran as follows:

A genuine Christian faith.

Good family background.

Dependable character.

A pleasant disposition.

Talents and resources (He was committed to ministry).

Today’s seekers may not be inclined to form such a list. In our overstimulated age, we may expect romance alone to determine outcomes. Lists may seem unimaginative, even stifling.

Back then, good character was regarded as a value to be noted. So we might have asked: is this a person of good character? It was this more settled view of personality that gave Doug ground for the following list.

A genuine faith in Christ. As a committed Christian, he thought he should marry someone who would share that faith fully. In his life, Christ was foremost. How could matrimony thrive if two were not together on this central commitment of life?

Good family background. He seemed to understand that, in a sense, when you marry you not only marry a person, you marry that person’s family. This idea may seem a bit fussy, even judgmental. But isn’t it true that even if, for example, one were choosing, a business partner one would reflect on that partner’s closest connections?

Business partners go home at night. Marriage partners do not. Marriage is not part-time. In seeking a mate, it seemed to Doug wise to consider family connections as important.

Solid character. The word character stands for fixed traits – like honesty, dependability, compassion, empathy, etc. My friend Doug said he wanted to see signs of these qualities before he would give his heart permission to advance.

Disposition. He hoped to find someone who was generally cheerful, forgiving, resilient, steady under pressure, not easily angered, etc. It is easier to paddle the romance canoe through both smooth and troubled waters of life with someone who tends to be pleasant in disposition.

Talents. Because he was looking toward ministry as a life calling he was searching for a mate who would bring gifts of head, heart, and hand to the relationship. But anyone, not only ministers, in seeking a life’s partner should consider what life resources the prospective mate would likely bring to a marriage.

For example, when a man and woman marry, at least one should have good homemaker impulses. A home, however humble, is the operational base for all of life’s activities. A strong work ethic is also a good resource to bring to a marriage. Skilled money management is a gift that will enhance a relationship for a whole lifetime.

At the same time as I point out these idealistic qualities, I offer three cautions.

First, as the saying goes, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Persons drawing up lists must first measure themselves against their list. The list must be a mirror before it can be a window.

Second, Nobody is perfect. There is no perfect mate of either sex. Therefore no prospect will get an A at every point. This, however, does not excuse the seeker from knowing what issues the list brings to the fore. The purpose is to keep the seeker’s mind engaged even while the heart is aflutter, and thus to increase the likelihood that a wise choice will be made.

Third, such a list should be kept in the background. No gallant suitor or hopeful lady would go to a date, for example, checklist in hand. Dating is for fun, for getting acquainted. The list should function more as a mindset, the warp-and-woof of one’s life-values. Call it the exercise of wisdom.

Sixty-four years ago I fell in love with Kathleen. Our love is still fresh, life-enhancing, and durable, having carried us through more than six decades. In my search, Doug’s list helped me. You, your children, or even grandchildren, may find value in his idea too.

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About Companionship in Marriage

He’s nearly a hundred years old and he has a girlfriend. They don’t go on trips together; they don’t smooch; but they meet regularly to enjoy each other’s company. It’s definitely a mellowed version of the male/female attraction God has built into all of us.

And it’s not uncommon. I recall seeing this attraction in another elderly couple several years ago. Each had earlier lost a life’s mate. They were both frail, but they held hands as they walked together, and they smiled easily at one another. No marriage was in the offing, but the charm of it all warmed the hearts of their friends.

It’s an amazing magnetism. The deepest bond between the sexes, the bond that can sustain a relationship through all of life’s seasons, lasting a lifetime, is a companionship bond. It is deeper and even more enduring than the sexual bond that seals the union — as binding as that bond is.

This companionship aspect isn’t always fully perceived by us when we are young. We are keenly aware of the sexual energies with which God has endowed us, and these are a compelling reality. But, is there more? Genesis 2 closes the story of Adam and Eve, with this editorial word: “… a man will leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

“One flesh” in this case implies more than sexual union, even though sexual union is included. At the outset of the story God gives his reason for providing Adam a suitable helper: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). The sexual differentiation (male/female) God was promising in that moment was first for companionship. It was to be a heaven-sent antidote to Adam’s loneliness.

This provision must surely be a major reason the Scriptures forbid the marriage of believers to unbelievers. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” Paul wrote the Corinthian Christians (2 Cor. 6:14). He asks, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6:15b). The Scriptures always call us to loyalty to the Lord first. But, for those who marry, they also call us to companionship in the Lord.

Who of us has not seen a young wife sit alone in church Sunday after Sunday. Her husband is off fishing or riding his motorcycle or at home reading his sports magazines. Romance may have drawn them together, a lavish wedding may have been celebrated, but the spiritual union a marriage should provide is missing.

On the other hand, who of us has not known a couple whose shared love for the Lord enhanced every other aspect of their love. I recall a young couple I sat with at their dining room table as I led the husband to faith in Jesus. Days later his wife told me, “I loved him before but now I love him so much I could hug him to pieces.” The missing strand, a union in Christ, had been added.

Christian young people anticipating marriage should often be reminded of this: One of the greatest testimonies the church can give to a secular world — a world in which too many marriages suffer from weak or defective bonds — is the presence of radiant Christian married couples. They should be couples of all ages who show by their joy in one another the riches of a companionship rooted in a shared love for Christ. Didn’t Jesus say to his disciples, “You are the light of the world”?

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Living Together Unmarried – Is there a Word from God?

It’s easy these days to gather arguments to justify the practice of living together unmarried. Consider: the practice has almost become mainstream; society no longer attaches much of a stigma to the arrangement; because of “the pill” it’s less risky than it used to be; urban life is more anonymous so people don’t care; the custom to marry later in life makes the period of waiting for full sexual gratification too long; no one should enter a lifetime relationship like marriage without a trial run.

Against all these arguments, the major Christian response is God’s inspired and authoritative word. To be sure, there are supplemental arguments that bear out the trustworthiness of the Scriptures on this matter. But at core and in the moment God’s word speaks with finality. Consider a verse written to early Christians that fits the present situation.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterers and the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4). Ponder five nuggets of truth embedded in this verse.

First, “marriage” can be defined. The word stands for a singular covenanted relationship between one man and one woman which the Scriptures assume from beginning to end to be ordained by God. Of the union of Adam and Eve they say, “The two shall be one.” (Gen. 2:24). In support, Jesus said, “Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate” (Mark 10:9).

The Bible from the start holds this to be a sacred truth, however much it was attacked throughout Bible history by bigamy, polygamy, divorce, prostitution, etc.

Second, our verse says that within this union the marriage bed should be kept pure. Here’s how Eugene Peterson paraphrases that in THE MESSAGE: “… guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.” The intimacy of which the verse speaks is to be restricted. It was not to be defiled before or during marriage by illicit relations.

Third, there are two words that label such intimacy sinful if experienced outside a covenanted marriage. The first is “adultery.” This word stands for sexual sin against a marriage by the intrusion of a third party. The damage it exacts can be seen everywhere in our broken society – it sparks distrust, recurring rages, family breakups, divorce, and violence even to the extent of murder.

Fourth, the writer adds, “sexual immorality” (fornication) as an offence. This word stands for sexual relations between unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Thus, what is blessed by God within marriage is strongly forbidden as sinful outside of that bond.

Finally, the verse looks beyond the passion of the moment. It says men and women who choose to live together unmarried with someone single or already married may escape the judgment of society but will suffer the judgment of God. It may be judgment in this life through self-acting moral laws (Gal. 6:7,8). Or it is certain to be judgment at the Great White Throne judgment at the close of history (Rev. 20: 11-15).

How seriously should we take such words from the Scriptures? In the closing words of the Bible Our Lord speaks of the Eternal City into which his righteous ones will be invited. But, he says, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).

But these sobering words are followed by a great invitation to be saved from such judgment: “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22: 17).


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One of Life’s Neglected Words

Photo credit: AlexWitherspoon (via flickr.com)My wife recently had a cataract removed from her left eye. As planned, a week after the surgery, she went back to the surgeon’s office. He examined the eye and told her that everything was as it should be. She then said to him, “It’s wonderful what you doctors can do these days. I want to thank you very much for this service.” There was a moment of awkward silence, she says, as if he didn’t quite know what to say, and then with a smile he replied, “Well, that’s what we are here to do.” He held the smile but there were no more words. My wife reported that this seemed awkward for both of them, as if he wasn’t used to handling generous words of appreciation.

When she told me about this exchange I remembered that a few weeks earlier I had had a complicated problem with my computer. It was a matter of getting the modem and router to talk to one another and relay their message to the computer. Three different companies were involved. I spent the equivalent of one whole day working with technicians by telephone. One of the technicians worked faithfully for a long period of time before admitting defeat and referring me on to another service. I acknowledged his patient effort and thanked him, which brought a reply I wasn’t expecting. He said, “I can answer a thousand calls and not hear a word like that.”

Is it possible that in our high-tech culture the wonders of modern technology that bless us in all sorts of ways, at the same time make us less thankful for these blessings?

The Bible has a great deal more to say to us about thanking God than it does about thanking our fellows. Unless, that is, the idea is subsumed in the Second Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or in Jesus’ instruction to treat others as we want to be treated. Who does not appreciate a simple word of thanks?

And who can forget St. Luke’s story of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus from a distance for healing. He sent them to the priests, ostensibly to be cleared for entrance back into society. In this case, Luke tells us, “… as they went, they were cleansed.” Luke is also quick to report Jesus’ perplexity that of the ten, only one returned and “…threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him.” And he was a foreigner to God’s chosen people (Luke 17:11-20).

Little words of thankfulness dropped here and there add color and warmth to life. When they are withheld or neglected life can be grey or even painful. Shakespeare’s King Lear laments about the ingratitude of his daughters in these words: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is / to have a thankless child.”

Which reminds me that it’s good to express thanks to a surgeon or computer technician but the best place to release long overdue words of appreciation first of all is in the home where primary family connections are either oiled by such words or left to creak painfully through the days.

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