A Love That Is Still Fresh … 73 Years and Counting

While sorting through some of my papers recently I came across this poem celebrating young love. I wrote it several years ago. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I still feel this way about Kathleen after 73 years of marriage.

Found

You found me.
Or was it I found you?
Whatever.
We are found.

It was gradual, it was instant,
Enticing, teasing, surprising.
Our finding overtook us, came upon us
Slyly, gently, with a rush.

But was it luck? freakish? odd?
Mere nature acting out?
No, more, much more.

The hand that guides us,
God’s hand, touched us,
Nudged us gently in sleep-robbed night,
Shed light on eyes deeper than sight,
And said found!

And now we stand side by side,
Hearts pounding, eyes aglow from candles near,
Hand touching hand gently,
And say with awe:
God be praised!
We have found each other!

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Photo credit: RichardBH (via flickr.com)

The Importance of Christian Weddings in Secular Times

I recently heard a news report that, in America, fewer couples are turning to the church for their wedding services; more are planning to write their own script for the whole event; and a still-growing number are moving in together without a wedding service of any kind.

These are not surprising trends as secularism continues to oppose the Judeo-Christian mores and values that have shaped our culture. Moderns may say that no religious institution should prepare rituals for others to follow; after all, every couple will have its own ideas.

But the thought lingers that traditional marriage has had a constancy through the centuries. And that it is a venture so sweeping in its possibilities that it requires some elevated acknowledgment in the form of vows or declarations — if not holy, at least metaphysical. A wedding is one of life’s few rites of passage.

Although the percentage of weddings held in churches may decrease there will always be brides and grooms who want to be married in a Christian context.

I celebrated many weddings across a lifetime of pastoral ministry. I remember with particular warmth couples such as Ken and Judy, Larry and Cheryl, Jim and Fern, David and Faith, John and Sharon.

And I have had the blessed privilege of uniting in marriage eleven couples from my own family circle including children and grandchildren. Those moments were special for me and for them. In each case, every effort was made to reflect the Christian faith in word, symbol and song.

The Christian church broadly has always treated marriage as a rite to be celebrated, one of life’s most important events. It is an adventure in hope, intended as a once-in-a-lifetime pledging.

Across the years I have held that the core of a Christian wedding is not the attire the couple wear, the music they choose or the sanctuary’s decor. All are helpful in creating a beautiful setting and all must be chosen carefully. Nevertheless, the dominant feature of a wedding is the ritual — the words that are spoken, what they affirm and require and how they are delivered.

Thus, here are questions to ask of the words spoken: (1) Are they consistent with biblical truth about marriage? (2) Do they reflect with accuracy and beauty the commitments being made? (3) Do the words  bear the influence of established and time-tested rituals of the past? (4) Are they Christ-honoring? (5) Are they linked to the ages as marriage is?

If a congregation is to be present for the service it is good to remember that there will likely be young, in the gathering, people with eager ears; perhaps an elderly man who with his now-deceased wife repeated similar vows years earlier and now sits alone; a couple in marital conflict who may be privately discussing divorce; and a young man and woman gathering ideas for their own upcoming nuptials.

For a congregation a wedding may be both a resonating chamber for Christian truth and a microcosm of human experiences.

The key to a lovely, moving wedding service is a good rehearsal. Wedding parties for this event usually arrive with a high level of excitement. It is the pastor’s task to take charge and manage the event, making sure that every participant understands his or her part. Rehearsals can be chaotic and overly long if not properly managed.

The reason for such care at the rehearsal is that there are no do-overs for weddings. If a Saturday-night youth gathering goes poorly there will always be another Saturday night. Even if a pastor’s sermon should fail, the next Sunday is only a week away. But the wedding is a singular event with no opportunities to run it through again a day or two later.

Yet, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often askew). So wrote Robert Burns, in Scottish dialect. Indeed they do. Things may happen at the best-planned weddings that excite laughter or sometimes the opposite.

On one occasion after all preparations were carefully made and the congregation was gathered I learned that the bride had forgotten her special gloves in a neighboring community and had gone after them. The congregation sweltered for an hour in a sanctuary without air conditioning. The organ played and re-played the music that had been chosen. When the bride returned the wedding proceeded. On a wedding day, guests usually take such a glitch in stride.

The hope is to plan and practice so as to keep anything from happening that distracts from the solemnity and beauty of the event. And beyond that, to provide the couple with a memory that will still be held as sacred decades later.

What serves better as a standard than the advice of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

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Photo credit: Ryan Blyth (via flickr.com)

Why Christians Should Stand for Traditional Marriage

Why do conservative Christians stand firm for traditional marriage — one man and one woman for life? Is it because they fear change, or are bigots, or simply lack imagination?

Or is it that they believe the Bible is the Christian’s authority on the subject and it speaks to the question very clearly?

The book of Genesis alone reveals the mind of God on the matter of marriage. He is Creator over all and, as Creator, he declares marriage, as you will see, to be the union of one man and one woman for life.

Genesis begins with the account of creation, concluding with these words: So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). This declaration, repeated three times, presents who may be participants in a marriage — one man and one woman.

Chapter two of Genesis then introduces us to the timeless story of Adam and Eve, teaching that God instituted marriage as a unique human union. It leaves open no other options, ending with this summary word: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). 

In chapter 3 the picture of humanity darkens. Adam and Eve are disobedient to God and the consequences are dire. They feel estranged from their Maker and at odds with one another. Their descendants must live under the shadow of their disobedience. Marriage as God intended is scarred by sin but not dissolved.

Conditions deteriorate further in chapter 4. Lamech, the descendant of Adam and Eve, married two women. This veers from God’s revealed plan, and bigamy represents a further distortion of marriage in ancient culture.

Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, had children by two women — his wife Sarah and her servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). Abraham’s union with Hagar was arranged by Sarah, according to the cultural practices of the times. But, as we see, an arrangement such as this, so contrary to God’s declaration, created great domestic stress among Sarah, Abraham and Hagar from the very start of Hagar’s pregnancy.

And in another accommodation to the culture of the times, Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, was tricked into marrying two sisters and eventually had children by them and their two maidservants (Genesis 29:31-30:23). This too was not in accordance with God’s creative declaration, and the story that follows shows the distressing consequences — family strife, jealousy and bargaining for sleeping rights.

All the while, here and there in Genesis a flag is raised in favor of “one man and one woman for life.” For example, consider Pharaoh, the pagan king of Egypt. He did not belong to the chosen people and had not been exposed to divinely revealed laws, but the account shows that he was aware how wrong it would be to invade the sanctity of Abraham’s marriage (Genesis 12:10-20).

It was so also with Abimelech, a heathen ruler in the southern regions of Philistia where Abraham and his retinue settled for a period of time (Genesis 20). Abimelech too reflects the fear of violating the union between Abraham and Sarah.

Later, in the story of Sodom, the book of Genesis speaks against homosexual practice. In Genesis 19, men in large numbers sought sexual satisfaction with men — and were violent in their pursuit. This deviation from the created order eventually brought about the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-28).

Genesis closes with the story of Joseph, a Hebrew alien in Egypt. He had no family there to support him and no faith community to guide him. His Egyptian master’s wife tried repeatedly to draw him into sexual sin. He steadfastly refused, asking his temptress, How then could I do such a thing and sin against God? (Genesis 39:6-20)

Thus, this opening book of the Bible consistently sets forth as God’s intention the vision of marital intimacy between one man and one woman. This remains clear in spite of the distorting influence of sin which brought into the general picture polygamy, adultery, incest, promiscuity and homosexuality to corrode his design.

Did the coming of Jesus many centuries later amend God’s initial design in any way? How did he speak to the issue?

We know that among the Pharisees of Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought about marriage and divorce. The liberal view said divorce was permissible for almost any cause. The other view said only adultery was grounds for divorce. These differences circulated around the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-5.

On one occasion the disputants sought to entangle Jesus in this debate. They asked him which interpretation was correct. Refusing to be trapped, he went deeper than the law of Moses, calling the disputants back to the initial teaching of the early portions of Genesis.

Haven’t you read,” he 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” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The possibility and fruitfulness of a marriage between one man and one woman are gifts flowing from creation. That should settle the question. If Jesus, the most compassionate man who ever walked on earth, would not amend the law of marriage as presented in Genesis, we must not either.

Admittedly, this understanding of God’s design for marriage is received in pain by many who have experienced the marital brokenness of our times. What can the church do? It must first sound forth the message as God has given it — to the young, to any contemplating marriage, to the newly married and the traumatized or forsaken. At the same time, God gives his people resources for bringing support and healing to the wounded.

With regard to marriage and human sexuality, in taking both responsibilities seriously — to uphold the created order, and to aid the suffering and desolate — we fulfill Jesus’ declaration: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).

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Photo credit: Nick Kenrick (via flickr.com)

The Picture on Our Dresser and the Memories It Awakens

On the dresser in our bedroom stands the only professional picture Kathleen and I have from our wedding 71 years ago this coming December 20. In this black and white photo, we stand before the photographer’s backdrop, Kathleen’s gloved hand firmly clasping my arm. Often, when I’m in the bedroom I pick the picture up and ponder it with gratitude and amazement.

Imagine: two 21-year-olds launching a lifetime enterprise on shoestring resources but strong in their love for each other and confident God would lead them. At that time, easy divorce, living together unmarried and same-sex marriage, had not yet complicated the matrimonial landscape.

Our special day was in no way lavish. If in color the picture would show Kathleen in a brown satin dress, half-calf in length, with a corsage of eight talisman roses. I wear a dark blue suit with a white boutonniere at the lapel.

The wedding was in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the home of Muriel, Kathleen’s sister. For the simple ceremony we stood under an arch that Mel, my best man, had tacked together from lathe I purchased at the lumberyard. The arch was brightened by colored streamers.

The simple ceremony was followed by a chicken dinner for the twelve who were present. Afterwards there was some merriment and teasing over the whereabouts of our suitcases. We had hidden them the day before in a locker at the railroad station. (Kathleen’s younger sister coaxed my best man to deliver up our secret and the key.) After we retrieved our sabotaged luggage from the locker we started for Toronto.

The 70 miles to Toronto was to be followed by a two-day train ride to Saskatchewan where I would introduce my bride to my parents, my younger sister and my older brother and his wife.

Unknown to us, however, additional family — two older sisters, their husbands and children — had decided to make the trip from British Columbia by car to meet the bride. This created a housefull. The number almost overwhelmed Kathleen but after a few minutes of family decorum mingled with ill-concealed curiosity, warm welcomes and affirmations were extended.

Imagine: a “honeymoon” composed of a two-day train ride there and back, plus a bride’s first introduction to a family, and this all set in a week of bone-chilling winter weather. But Kathleen and I had each other; we were together in a thrilling new bond. The Bible says, we were “one flesh,” a new unit in society. As I gaze at the photograph the whole event comes flooding back.

It was universally thought back then that marriage would mean children and of that we were aware. But in those winter days that thought was remote because we were enthralled with our union pledged to be ours for keeps. That was as it should be.

Ten days before our first anniversary we welcomed our first child, Carolyn. Then in time came Donald and Robert and John David. During John David’s first year we learned bit by bit from a gentle pediatrician that our baby had serious brain damage, likely from oxygen deficiency during a long delivery. He would need institutional care.

There followed three stressful years for the family and especially for Kathleen whose motherly commitment to be sure John David got loving care was boundless to the point of exhaustion. Even feeding him three times a day was an ordeal. By his third birthday we surrendered him to the care of an institution suited to his needs, and we grieved.

Our other three children grew up and married. Then, in time, seven of their children grew up and six of them married. And by this coming spring, the grandchildren in turn will be at different stages of raising 12 great grandchildren.

Including children gained by marriage as well as by birth the two 21-year-olds pictured alone on our dresser will have become a small branch of humanity numbering 32 — three teachers, two editors, two engineers, two doctors, a pastor, a nurse practitioner, financial researcher, advertising clerk, financial consultant, nurse, artist, computer specialist, and social worker — each adding their own tone to the mix making family events colorful and pleasant.

I put this snapshot together hoping that it will come to the attention of some young man today who feels badgered by the pervasive anti-male and anti-marriage sentiments afloat in our culture. He may feel badgered even to the point of avoiding serious female companionship with a possible future in mind and in doing so he may be limiting the enrichment of his own destiny.

Consider a Christian perspective. Masculinity is much more than a social construct. It and fatherhood are gifts from God. As the Bible says, God created them “male and female.” We believe the gift is given to be directed, nourished and mastered and — if God wills — to be invested in a marriage and family filled with imagination and hope.

Photo credit: Ted Rabbitts (via flickr.com)

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A Few Words From My Wife, Kathleen (By Invitation)

When I married Don, I knew that he was heading toward some form of ministry as a life vocation, but I didn’t know for sure the specific form it would take. I knew only that he was a ministerial student and would have several years of education to finish.

I also knew from the start that I should support him in whatever work he felt called to do. That was the way most wives felt back in the forties of the last century.

I was a primary school teacher when we were married and he was a student and staff member at Lorne Park College west of Toronto, Ontario. After we lived there three-and-a-half years, we moved on to Greenville College in Illinois with our two-year-old daughter, Carolyn, so Don could finish his final two years of college. From there, we moved to attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, for another three years of education.

By then it was clear that the focus of his ministry was to be the pastorate. In fact, for his three years of seminary he was assigned to be pastor of the Free Methodist church in Lexington, nearby, and that’s when I got my first taste of what it meant to stand with him in that sort of ministry.

Besides caring for the three little children we had by then and taking as much of the burden of the household as I could to free him to study, I made myself available to teach Sunday School and often entertained seminary students on Sundays so they could canvass the community in the afternoon with my husband.

When we went to our second church, the Free Methodist church in New Westminster, British Columbia, I discovered what standing by my pastor husband really meant. He led the church in a growth spurt that meant new prospects most every Sunday, new programs to meet the needs of a growing congregation, and lots of social entertaining in our parsonage to get to know newcomers and otherwise promote fellowship and community.

One aspect of our experience stands out in my mind. We both worked hard at our assignment and my husband did lots of evening calling to follow up on new prospects and care for other pastoral duties. This usually involved two or three nights a week. During these times, I was at home alone with our four little children.

It wasn’t that we didn’t have time together. He was home for the noon and evening meals most days. We had simple, inexpensive, but good tenting vacations together with the children. We certainly were in touch with each other in the social life of the church.

But one night when my husband was out calling and I had put the children to bed and the house was quiet, I found myself wondering, “What is this all about anyway? I don’t like being alone so much in the evenings. There’s got to be more to life than this.” Television hadn’t yet arrived at our house.

After musing about this for some time I suddenly said to myself, “When I free my husband to be out doing the Lord’s work like this, I am really a part of that call he’s making. It is my ministry too.” That set my heart at rest. I never after that had the same feeling of personal deprivation about releasing him to work in the harvest field of the Lord.

And such mutual service has enriched our nearly 71 years together. The latter of them since our retirement have been progressively less public but still committed to service as opportunities have come.

Recently, after going through a file of thank you notes gathered across the years, I felt grateful to God for the privilege of ministering in this way.

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Christmas Greetings, And a Personal Note

Christmas Greetings to my readers near and far! This is a season of both joy and hope — joy that Messiah has come and hope that through him the long term future is assured.

A shared note: This week Kathleen and I have celebrated our 70th Christmas together.  Seventy years ago, on December 20, 1947, we stood side by side under a homemade arch in a simple cottage on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  There, we exchanged marriage vows.

We were only 21, and unsophisticated by today’s standards, but the conservative religious backgrounds from which we both came, and the generally positive attitude toward marriage permeating society at the time gave us cultural as well as Christian standards to live by.

Those solemn promises we made under that arch before God and to each other — for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health — we believe made us husband and wife in the sight of both God and man.

We enter our 71st year together knowing that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ guided us faithfully through the past 70 years.  And we are confident that He will guide us in the uncharted days ahead.

On several occasions people who learn of the long span of our marriage have asked Kathleen, “What’s the secret?” Her one-word answer has always been the same: “Respect.”

That may at first sound too simple for anything so complex as the “total shared union” marriage turns out to be. The Bible calls it appropriately a “one flesh” union which must mean it involves a shared identity, family responsibilities, resources, sleeping quarters, opinions, successes, and on and on. In a sense, two become one. If respect is lacking, each of these areas of life can become a source of conflict.

We know that after a commitment to mutual respect is made, lots of details are left to be worked out as the relationship grows. Every marriage has its moments of stress, disagreement, disappointment, misunderstanding. The key to a strong, satisfying marriage is to retain respect as the umbrella under which adjustments are made, opinions reconciled, and misunderstandings corrected.

Mutual respect is a good cornerstone on which to build the day-to-day ins-and-outs of this shared life. In a strong marriage there’s much more than respect involved in the relationship, but there’s never less. Disrespect, whether occasional or constant, gradually chokes out love.

The Apostle Paul had it right when he summarized his simple instructions to what may have been a congregation of first generation Christians in the pagan city of Ephesus:  

…Each one of you (husbands) should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:13 CEB). That requires respect shown in both directions for sure.

A blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year to all!!

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Photo credit: Kenneth Lu (via flickr.com)

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)

Convictions About Marriage Spring up Where You Don’t Expect Them

253317539_aac78de442_mFor those who accept the Bible as God’s timeless Word, and who receive its message with openness and honesty, God’s design for marriage is clearly presented in many places.

There’s an example in Abraham’s and Sarah’s experience when they moved into the alien territory of the Philistine King Abimelech (Genesis 20). This land was the extreme southwest section of the Negev Desert, between Egypt and Israel.

In that era, a king usually gathered a harem of beautiful women — sometimes as trophies, sometimes for political reasons. This would be just one example of culture’s veering from the message of the Biblical account of creation — that marriage is a bonding between one man and one woman (Genesis 1,2).

After establishing God’s intention for marriage, in Genesis 1 and 2 this book of beginnings reports faithfully the state of affairs for domestic life the world drifted into — bigamy, polygamy, concubinage, incest, fornication, and adultery. Genesis reports these aberrations because they describe the broken world into which God would send our Lord Jesus for our redemption.

At the outset of their travels from Mesopotamia into Canaan and Egypt, Abraham and Sarah knew about harems. They therefore agreed between themselves that if Sarah were seized and taken into a king’s harem because of her beauty, they would present themselves as brother and sister — not a completely false claim because they shared a common father, Terah. The marriage of half-siblings is not affirmed in the Bible but simply reported here as a feature of the honesty of the Book.

Word of her beauty reached the king. She was sent for and preliminarily taken into the harem, as they had feared would happen. Abraham might now be killed to get him out of the way if it were discovered that she was his wife, not his “sister”.

But before Abimelech went near Sarah, God came to the king in a dream, revealing the fact that Sarah was more than a sister to Abraham; God said in the dream, “she is a married woman.”

Abimelech, the pagan ruler, was instantly stricken with fear at what he had done — he had invaded a marriage to take a woman who was already the wife of another man. Within the dream, Abimelech protested his innocence to God, “I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.” In spite of his harem, here is a pagan king acknowledging that marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman regardless of how far culture might have traveled or moved away from that standard.

Early the next morning, Abimelech called his officers together to report the perilous situation they were in. They, too, were stricken with the fear of divine judgment. Abraham was immediately called before the king to explain his deception and in the presence of the king’s officers he was rebuked and asked why he had done this evil deed.

Abraham defensively told the king of the fear that drove him: “There is no fear of God in this place and they will kill me because of my wife.”

To stave off divine judgment, Abimelech gave Abraham abundant gifts of sheep, cattle, and slaves while restoring Sarah to him and graciously inviting them to live anywhere in his land they might choose.

He also notified Sarah that he was giving “her brother” one thousand shekels of silver to make amends for the offense committed against her. The story ends as Abraham prays God’s blessing on Abimelech and his house.

It’s an ancient story, lodged in an ancient culture. Its setting is devoid of the full revelation eventually reported in God’s divine Word. Yet the story shows that the Eternal God has his ways of affirming his rules even among those who do not know him.

There, in the Bible itself, is a case for natural law, known by Abimelech and affirmed in a dream even long before the divine law establishing the sanctity of marriage was given on Sinai.

Photo credit: Stephen Durham (via flickr.com)

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Is This the Right Person for Me to Marry?

DiceWhen I was twenty years old I was an aspiring gospel singer, and I traveled with a preacher five years my senior. At the time, we were both single.

In spare moments the subject of qualities to look for in a lifetime partner came up. This was back when marriage meant one man and one woman in covenant for life, and when young men and women were typically more ready to marry by their early twenties.

By his repetitions the list was fixed in my mind so I believe I can reproduce it accurately, before adding my brief comments.

First, he would ask, is this person a committed Christian? According to the Scriptures, Christians are to marry only Christians (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). So one should ask: is there evidence that he/she loves the Lord and manifests that love in lifestyle, attitudes, and habits?

Christians who ignore this requirement relative to marriage go contrary to clear Scriptural teachings. In doing so they disobey the Lord and deprive themselves of a spiritual dimension to their marriage that God intends to be unifying and enriching.

Second, is this a person of good character? In the early stages of a relationship, one looks for such traits as honesty and trustworthiness; a vision for life that includes serving others; respect for parents and little children; a strong work ethic; and empathy for others. Also, do friends and family give off cues and comments of affirmation or reservation — even alarm?

Third, what about disposition? It’s true that parties in a marriage have down days for which their mates make allowance. But prominent and frequent pouting, grumpiness, anger, or me-first behaviors even in a person of great charm should be noted because such traits will dissipate a lot of the life force that could otherwise be turned to positive, outward and even Christian ministry purposes.

The Proverbs warn against a “quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife” (Proverbs 21:19). If the Proverbs were being written today for our culture they would have cautionary words against choosing a “quarrelsome and ill-tempered” husband also.

Fourth, what about family background? Marriages tend to be stronger and more fulfilling when a bond between the two families also forms. Cultural and family similarities are certainly not absolute prerequisites in our multicultural society, but they can be helpful if present. If very different, they will require extra effort to bridge.

It is family values, character traits, disposition that of course trump all else. However, and one question to shed light on this issue is: Do I want this prospective mate’s brothers and sisters to be aunts and uncles to my children?

Fifth, (a modern adaptation to my preacher friend’s fifth question): if two vocations are represented in the potential union, is the success of the marriage more important than the full achievement of either partner’s vocation? For example, one partner wants to teach in Minnesota and the other in Florida. It is possible that a relationship could even be dissolved by unyielding differences.

While it might not answer the specifics between Minnesota and Florida, the couple in which each individual values the marriage above where to live will be more likely to survive this kind of modern-day dilemma.

Some may feel the above questions are too plodding for something so enthralling as love that points toward marriage. Why should a couple care about “little issues” in the realm of such areas as faith, character, disposition, and family if they are in love?

Passion is very much a part of the love that God gives to bind a man and woman together for a lifetime. But while passion may be sufficient to get a relationship started, it is not by itself enough as a foundation for a wonderful marriage. And, generally speaking, it is better for the mind to lead with questions like those above and the heart to follow than for the emotions to take over and the rational mind to be switched off until after the wedding.

And so, for the young person wishing to follow the path of wisdom to the altar and to deep satisfaction beyond, both clear judgment and romantic passion should have their appropriate place and contribution.

Christian young people must never forget to bind all this together with a strong cord of prayer. Pay attention to the answer to the above questions (and others); seek godly counsel if perplexities arise; ask for wisdom from God; and you are likely to experience the kind of love that blesses you and your spouse, survives all vicissitudes, and lasts a lifetime.

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Photo credit: Anne-Lise Heinrichs (via flickr.com)

Re-post: About Weddings and Such

Photo credit: Oh mon héros ! [Kenya express) via flicker.comI got a note yesterday from a longstanding friend in a midwestern city to remind me that 40 years ago this month she, her groom, and I stood at the altar in the Greenville church where I administered their wedding vows. The bride’s father, an ordained minister, assisted. Her note was warm to both Kathleen and me, with other comments about that special day and our visits together that led up to it, and how much it had meant to them across four decades. Ministerial moments like that create a bond for a lifetime.

It so happened that about one month earlier Kathleen and I had shared a celebratory mail with a couple here in Ontario, for the same purpose. In a restaurant overlooking beautiful West Lake, we remembered that I had led them in exchanging their vows in New Westminster, B. C. 50 years earlier that very month. In the glow of the late afternoon sun we had reviewed our memories of the wedding and certain features attending the event. Those memories too are precious.

In a sense, each wedding was a one-of-a-kind event, never to be duplicated. Each was planned by the bride and her mother. (Grooms often show little interest in the details of the wedding itself; they just want to get through it.) In another sense, both weddings were the same in that, from a Christian perspective, all weddings are the same. That is, they all celebrate the wedding couple’s entrance into the “institution of marriage.” We Christians believe that God himself set the standards for marriage when he brought Eve to Adam with the intent that “they too shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24b). That truth is declared at every Christian wedding.

Across our 67 years of ministry there have been many weddings, some private, some public, some joyful, some vaguely sad, some lavish some simple but beautiful. There was the wedding of the bride who had been abandoned by her father in her early childhood, and whom she had never seen again — until he turned up unexpectedly on the morning of her wedding. This brought on a paroxysm of tears, a panic, and, for her, it took the bloom from the day. Once, a couple came to my study to tell me that they had divorced four years earlier prompted by a foolish fight that got out of hand. Over time and with the cooling of their pride they had realized what a mistake they had made. A week later I took them into the Luzader Chapel along with their children to be the first couple married in that facility. It was a tender moment of reconciliation.

Kathleen served as the wedding hostess at our weddings, coaching the bride and bridle party, and thus relieving their stress, and endearing herself again and again to the brides’ mothers. This was one of the most pleasant of pastoral duties for which we teamed together. Her services certainly made my part of the task easier. And by our generous services we signalled to the families that this event was very important to us – not just something ministers do on Saturdays.

I could not have foreseen all this as a challenging and enjoyable part of the work when as a 16-year-old boy I made my first affirmative responses to a call to the ministry. Nor could I have grasped the broad assignment of Christian ministry and the breadth of its challenges. Kathleen couldn’t have either when she consented to marry me. But recalling it now reminds us of what some young people will miss if they disregard or resist the call God places on their hearts to enter pastoral life in the service of the Master. It’s not just wedding and such, it’s entering deeply into people’s lives at their big transitional moments in life. What a rich blessing. Recalling it fills us with thankfulness to the Lord for the trust.

See my piece on how to conduct a wedding here: http://pclm.freemethodistchurch.org/

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