Thursday, July 20, 2017

Marriage: An Unnecessarily Endangered Species

Today is a special day. It marks 43 years that my wife, Sally, and I have been married. I know this puts us in a minority group – couples that have been married for 30, 40 or more years. It’s sad in a way, because years ago such longevity was more the rule than the exception. Today, long-married couples are just as likely to receive an incredulous, “Really?!” as a “Congratulations!”

Who could have guessed one woman
could put up with me all these years?
An old hit tune repeated the words, “Love and marriage, love and marriage – go together like a horse and carriage.” It seems just as the horse and carriage have been consigned to history books and old movies, in the minds of some, marriage should as well.

When was the last time you saw a loving, thriving marriage depicted on one of your favorite TV shows? (Except maybe on the Hallmark Channel.) Among the shows I regularly watch, hardly anyone is married; if they are, the spouse is either invisible, or a thorn in the side.

Movies, for the most part, are worse. Wholesome, healthy marriages are virtually unheard-of, treated as vestiges of some prehistoric age. Entertainment news applauds twosomes that have been “together” for years without the burden of a marriage license or having exchanged wedding vows. Years ago, such relationships were scandalous. As for celebrity couples that do marry, gossip piranhas eagerly devour the gory details if – and when – they decide marriage is too difficult, too demanding, and decide divorce is a far better option.  

Thankfully, there still are those who believe in the institution of marriage, and don’t believe people who stay married should be institutionalized. I have friends, Ted and Tudi, who just celebrated 50 years of marriage. A whole half-century together! And one of my former bosses and his wife were married for more than 70 years before she passed away last year.

Of course, even for the best and strongest of marriages, “easy” isn’t part of the vocabulary. The notion of “perpetual wedded bliss” happens only in fairy tales and at the end of some Disney cartoons. You can’t have marriage without struggles, challenges, hardships and disagreements galore. Despite the tough times, there are those of us who have discovered that love and marriage do go together – like, uh, well, a car and GPS.

What does it take to build a lasting marriage? Despite more than four decades of being married to the same woman, I’m hardly an authority. But I do know it calls for large quantities of perseverance, patience, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. (In our particular case, my wife has needed to use each of these more than me!)

Love’s a big part of it, but not just the emotional kind. In the Greek, there are multiple words for “love,” including: eros (sexual love); phileo (friendship love); and apage (selfless, sacrificial love). A successful marriage requires all three, but selfless, sacrificial love is especially important. Because that’s where the tread of the words, “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer,” meets the road.

To find a guideline for a lasting marriage, God has provided a concise formula in a passage often incorporated into wedding ceremonies: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). If we want to create a recipe for a failing marriage, simply leave out several of these ingredients.

Patience, kindness, humility, respect, forgiveness, being focused on one another and slow to anger, truthfulness, trust, belief in one another, and refusing to quit. These are Christ-empowered, Christ-like hallmarks of a marriage that will not only endure the inevitable storms and rigors of daily living, but also serve as a beacon of hope for others embarking on the adventure we know as “marriage.” Not one of us possesses or demonstrates any of these qualities 100% of the time. But they’re worth striving for!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting Lost to Get Found?

Caught up in the beauty of our surroundings, it's easy
to get lost without knowing it.
If you’re the adventurous type – and even if you’re not – imagine exploring an unfamiliar forest. You’re enthralled by the natural panorama: Your eyes feast on brightly colored flowers and elegant trees, as well as animal life that scampers by. You hear birds singing, crickets chirping, other little noises as busy creatures go about their work. Fresh fragrances greet you, and you’re caught up in the pastoral beauty.

Then you realize you’re not sure where you are, or how to get out of the forest. Using instinct, you set off in the way that seems right. You hike along for a while, still enjoying the sights, sounds and smells, but a nagging thought starts to emerge: “Am I lost?” “Nah,” you decide. “I’m sure I just need to go that way. I’ll be back to the car in no time.”

An hour passes, then another, until you must admit, bruising your self-sufficient pride, “I’m lost!” At first you dispute the obvious, trying to believe that’s not the case. But after continuing to trudge along without any light at the end of this forested tunnel, you resign to reality. “Yup, I’m lost.” Next you wonder where to find help. What you need is someone who knows the way out. Unfortunately, that person seems nowhere nearby, your cellphone’s out of range, and you prepare for an unplanned overnight in the wilderness.

In the morning, after a very unrestful night, you hear leaves crunching and twigs snapping. Fearful at first it might be a dangerous animal, you’re relieved to discover it’s a group of hikers very familiar with the area. Before you know it, you’re exiting the forest back to safety and security.

The thing is, you were lost long before you realized it. You’d been happily strolling about, feasting your senses on flora and fauna, unaware you’d ventured far off the path that would take you home. Your need to be saved occurred hours before you recognized it.

This scenario serves as a metaphor for many people today. They’re happily enjoying this journey we call life, oblivious to the fact they’re venturing deeper into the “forest,” slowly becoming disoriented by their surroundings and ultimately, lost. Some are quick to call for help; others determinedly press on, unwilling to acknowledge their lost-ness. “I’ve got this” becomes a daily mantra, never admitting they don’t have a clue where they’re heading. But at least they’re making great time!

One day Jesus was invited into the home of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector. His encounter with Jesus led to humbling himself and repenting of his misdeeds, even to making restitution for any money he had gained through deceitful practices, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

When short in stature Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore-fig tree in Jericho to get a glimpse of Jesus as He passed by, he probably had no idea how lost he was. He’d created a lucrative livelihood, even though he was despised by most Jews for his dishonesty. This guy Jesus sounded interesting, though, so he wanted to at least get a look at Him. What Zacchaeus got was much, much more. To his surprise, the reformed tax man realized, “Once I was lost, but now I am found.”

The late Ted DeMoss, longtime president of CBMC, a ministry to the marketplace, saw many people give their hearts to Jesus Christ, but understood the challenge facing everyone willing to share their faith in Christ. He often said, “Sometimes you have to get people lost before they can get saved.”

From time to time I’ve had conversations – or tried having conversations – with people quite smug and comfortable in their non-belief. Even though Jesus declares emphatically, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), they proudly, even arrogantly hold to their conviction that their “way” is right. This saddens me, because having held that view myself at one time, I now know what they’re missing, both for this life and the one to come.

The Scriptures tell us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). I respect everyone’s right to hold to their beliefs – or lack of them. But as someone has said, “Once you see the truth, you can’t un-see the truth.”

So, for our family members, friends and acquaintances, perhaps the biggest favor we could do for them is fervently pray that they will come to the realization they truly are lost, spiritually, and that they need help in finding the right way. Wouldn’t it be great if God were to allow us to serve as their “guide”?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The True, the Good, and the Useful

A story is told about the time someone approached Greek philosopher, Socrates, to tell him something about his friend. Before letting the person proceed, Socrates decided to ask three questions.

The first was, “Is it true? Are you absolutely sure it’s true?” The individual wanting to share the information wasn’t certain it was true, but presumed it was. Socrates’s second question was, “Is what you’re going to tell me good?” He elaborated, “If not, are you wanting to tell me something that isn’t good, and you’re not certain it’s true?”

Socrates proceeded with the third question. “Even if you don’t know whether what you’re about to say is true, and it’s not good, can you tell me this: Is it useful? Because if what you’re intending to say isn’t good, might not be true, and is not useful, then why say it at all?”

Jay Shetty, described as a motivational and lifestyle blogger, and a former monk, told this story in one of his video posts. He closed with this observation: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.”

It would be good to start learning 
early in life to speak only what is 
true, good and helpful.
Does this describe anyone you know? We hear an incredible lot of talk about people – famous, not so famous, and infamous – but how often do the speakers (including ourselves) pause first to ask if what we’re about to say is true, good, or useful?

Apparently, this is hardly a new phenomenon. It dates to the beginning of time, probably. In fact, we have proof. After Adam and Eve defied God by eating from the one tree He had declared off limits for them, Adam not only invented the fine art of passing the buck, but also failed miserably in the true, good, and useful test.

When the Lord (fully knowing the answer) asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you to eat from?” redhanded Adam immediately replied, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:11-12). Way to go, Adam! If you’re going to sin, might as well do it big time, right? He even indirectly blamed God for his wrongdoing.

It’s clear that harmful speech has been a perpetual problem afflicting humankind. The book of Proverbs is filled with admonitions against misusing the tongue and its power. For instance, “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips” (Proverbs 4:24). It also offers this contrast: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

In all, I counted more than 50 verses in Proverbs that address speech in its uses, misuses and abuses. But in case we overlooked that book, God included exhortations in other parts of the Bible. The apostle James wrote about the dilemma of trying to tame the tongue, noting it “is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:6). Later he concluded, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:9-10).

Getting back to Socrates’s true, good, and useful criteria for talking about others, the same standard is presented in Ephesians 4:29, which says, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

I don’t know about you, but the next time I start to say something about someone else – a family member, friend, acquaintance, celebrity or politician – I’m going to do my best to first ask, “Is it true? Is it good? Is it useful?”