The ministry of deacons is a visible reminder of the biblical portrait of a godly, spiritual man to which all Christian men should aspire.
One of my great joys as a pastor is getting to share in the excitement and happiness of a couple preparing for marriage. I never tire of listening to couples talk about one another, how they met, how perfect they are for each another, and how everything is so much brighter when they are together. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic, and even though I try to hide it and play the part of the macho man, I want to see those sappy romantic comedies as much as my wife does.
One of my great sorrows as a pastor is witnessing a couple who has been swallowed up by the dark side of the vulnerability of love. The twinkle in the eye is gone, the idealism has eroded, and all that is left are broken memories of what was and what could have been.
I have yet to meet a couple who steps into my office or my home with the intent of giving marriage a try for five years or so and then deciding whether they would like to move on to other endeavors or not. When we get married we want it to last for life and we want the happily ever after. The problem is that the happily ever after takes work. It may be a tired cliché but it is true that the shine of love fades when you have to pick up the dirty socks and underwear that somehow ‘missed’ the laundry basket and ended up in an entirely different zip code or when the pounds begin to pile up around the midsection. It was a real eye opener for my wife on that first morning after we got married when she turned to kiss her ‘perfect man’ and was engulfed in a cloud of simple chronic halitosis. I knew it was true love when she fought through it and kissed me anyway.
It would be wonderful if kissing your spouse even when they have a serious case of bad breath were the only thing required for a good marriage, but we all know there is more to it than that. So what is the secret to a good marriage? What is it that keeps a couple together for ten, twenty-five, fifty years, or ‘til death do us part. What is it that allows them to go on sharing an ever-deepening love with one another?
The trouble is that this question is very easy to answer, but it takes a lifetime of hard work and commitment to carry out. No matter who we are, there is a need to be constantly reminded of the foundation upon which happy and healthy marriages are built. So at the risk of appearing trite, shortsighted, or completely out of touch with reality, I’m going to attempt to share two ‘simple’ principles that help build that happy, healthy, hopelessly romantic marriage we all dream of.
I learned a long time ago that in order to give something we have to have it or have experienced ourselves. One of my favorite ancient writers applied this to love when he said, “we love because [God] first loved us.” Some of us have enjoyed the luxury of growing up in the shadow of a marriage in which our parents modeled love for each other and love for us, but sadly many of us did not enjoy this luxury, and don’t desire to journey down the same path as our parents when it comes to love. Regardless of your personal experience with love, or what has been modeled for you, your surest source of receiving love and experiencing love in the purest sense is through knowing God. That same ancient writer not only said that love is from God, but that God is love. He perfected love because love is who He is. Marriages can and do survive apart from acknowledging God and His love, but only by both partners being in a place of regularly receiving the lavish love of God can a marriage soar. The only way to position ourselves to regularly receive God’s love is to receive the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Once again the ancient writer, John, sums this up beautifully, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son in the world, so that we might live (and love) through him.”
It’s not enough to just know love. Sadly, many who profess to know perfect love through a relationship with Jesus Christ end up with a shipwrecked marriage too. In many of these cases it is the result of forgetting a second fundamental principle; love is a giving thing. Our experience of love is richest and most satisfying when we are giving love away. It is paradoxical but undeniable. Think about what makes a great love story. It doesn’t take a PhD. to recognize the love found in sacrificing everything for someone else. It could be financial security, lofty dreams of fame, or even life itself, and though we may call it foolish, from a practical perspective, we can’t deny that the point has been made that love superseded anything else in life in these cases.
Lucky for us, living out the principle that love is a giving thing doesn’t require regularly making these kinds of momentous sacrifices. In reality, the healthiest marriages are the ones in which both partners have learned to make it a daily practice of giving love in the small things. It never ceases to amaze me how a little can go a long way. Time and again I have watched marriages in danger of caving, begin the healing process by simply committing to daily saying “I love you” in creative ways. From writing I love you on the bathroom mirror so it shows up when the steam from the shower collects, to a chocolate on a pillow, a random phone call, voicemail or text message, there is power in the realization that your spouse is thinking about you. And the truth is, most of us think about doing these things but just don’t take a few moments to carry them out. We did when we were dating, so what has changed? I am not saying that this will solve all your problems, but another ancient writer wisely observed that love covers a multitude of sins. When we know someone loves us there is a lot more we are willing to overlook, even endure. So find a fresh way to express your love every day.
Any seasoned marriage veteran will tell you there is so much more to a happy and healthy marriage than just these two principles. But without these there is not much of a foundation to build upon. Those who overlook these may enjoy marriage for a season, they may even stay together for a lifetime, but in order to experience that ever-deepening, satisfying love relationship with another human being that is the stuff fairy tales and romantic comedies are made of we must commit to these two principles. Allow God’s love, given to us through Jesus Christ, to be your deep flowing well from which your love gives selflessly and regularly to your spouse in little and big ways.
Preacher Billy Sunday had just finished a message on anger when a woman approached him seeking to justify her angry outbursts. She said to him, “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” To which Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun, and look at the damage it leaves behind!”
Angry outbursts and their devastating effects are everywhere. From road rage to domestic violence to irate customers at the grocer to children’s temper tantrums we know anger when we see it.
Anger and its effects are not something new to our modern world. We have accounts of anger included as far back as recorded history goes, many times including evidence of the destruction it leaves in its wake. I was reading the story of Cain and Abel this week from the book of Genesis and was struck by how easily this ancient story could be transplanted into our local newspaper without batting an eyelash.
The account in Genesis chronicles that through a series of events Cain becomes very angry, so angry that the author of the book describes Cain’s situation as being hot for him. Have you ever witnessed someone in the midst of a situation that was causing his temperature to rise? Old Looney Tunes cartoons did a great job depicting this. Good old Daffy Duck would get all bent out of shape with Bugs Bunny. Slowly but steadily he would tense up every muscle in his body like a board, clench his hands, pierce his lips (yes, ducks have lips), squint his eyes, sweat would bead on his forehead, and then he would turn red from toe to head. When he was completely red a train whistle would pop out the top of his head and let out its shrill shriek while Daffy shook all over. He was hot. He was angry, Cain kind of angry. It may be funny when its cartoon Daffy, but its not funny in real life.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed this transformation in someone. Maybe you’ve experienced this transformation yourself, and as a result, everyone knows not to mess with you. What’s going on inside shows itself on the outside as your anger boils over and into the lives of others. We may feel justified in our anger because of that reckless driver who cut us off or that insensitive customer who won’t get off the cell phone but when we begin to burn with anger we head down a devastating path.
Anger weakens us. It dulls our ability to reason. When Sinbad and his sailors landed on one of their tropical islands, they saw thirst quenching hunger satisfying coconuts high up in the trees. The coconuts were far beyond the reach of Sinbad and the sailors. But they noticed that in the branches of the trees were chattering apes. Sinbad and his men began to throw stones and sticks and shells up at the apes. This enraged the monkeys and they began to seize the coconuts and hurl them down at the men on the ground, just as they had wanted. The angry apes ended up collecting food for the sailors without even realizing it. Their anger played right into the hands of their foes, and so does ours.
In the story of Cain God comes to Cain and warns him not to continue down the path of anger because if he does there is a great danger he will no longer master the anger but the anger will end up mastering him. Sadly, that is exactly what happens and Cain ends up coldly taking the life of his own brother in the middle of a field. The anger gains such domination in Cain’s life that after he has killed his brother and is confronted about it he callously answers as though he could care less. Without even realizing it Cain allowed his anger to play right into the hands of his greatest foe, Satan and taken the life of his own brother. Cain gave in to sin and found himself neck deep in the devastating consequences of his anger run amock.
Has anger taken over in your life? Maybe you haven’t literally murdered but have you verbally murdered someone with harsh words. Perhaps you have emotionally murdered someone by withholding your love and affection. Do you find yourself relationally crippling others by spreading lies about them or avoiding them completely unless its to give them a disapproving cold shoulder? You may believe you have been wronged in some way and deserve to be aggressively hostile. Unfortunately, the longer you journey down the path of decision making driven by anger the greater the depths of bitterness, resentment, and misery that will take up residence within – leaving you neck deep in devastating consequences like Cain.
Daffy Duck and monkeys in palm trees may be cute expressions of anger but there is little that is cute about unrestrained anger in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Heed the lesson of Cain, if anger is crouching at your doorstep desiring to take over rule over it before it rules over you (Genesis 4:7).
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. James 1:19-20 ESV