Saturday, February 14, 2015

HeartSmart: Making Love Last a Lifetime

HeartSmart: “Making Love Last a Lifetime”
(Ecc 4:9-12; Col 3:12-17) (2/8/15)

Many years ago, Rosemary and I made a special trip to Orlando to be part of the Golden Anniversary celebration for my Uncle Carroll, my Dad’s oldest brother and his wonderful wife, Leatha.  Uncle Carroll was the father of my cousin Charlie that visited here from Indiana a year or so ago.
Anyway, they renewed their vows in a formal church ceremony well attended by family, friends, children and grandchildren.  Really, nicely done.
Following the reception, remarks were made.  At the end, it was Uncle Carroll’s turn.  He said, “Many have asked me what the secret was to 50 years of marriage?”  He said, “I’ll tell you.  We decided that we would go to church, and we would do it together.”  We would go to church and we would do it together.
Making love last a lifetime.  We would go to church and do it together.  I could end the sermon there. Some of you would applaud, I know, but many of you would feel cheated, I hope.   And besides, I have more to say.
So, here goes.  Last week we introduced our Scripture Reading, Colossians 3:12-17, and I told you it was my Wedding Scripture.  It is the Scripture reading I use in every wedding. It sums up the most important relational imperatives in all of Scripture. 
Last week we dealt with just the first three verses, 12-14.  And maybe, just maybe, we laid out two or three of the most important guidelines in all of our series on relationships.
Since last week was a snow day, and there were only nine here, and of that just two couples, and of that Rick and Rosemary, I thought I’d give the rest of you a shot at what was said.  I’ve printed out a dozen copies of last week’s sermon so we have enough for each family.  A reminder too that all of the sermons are available in print form in the back.
So last week the first three verses
“Clothe yourselves,” that means put on, put on compassion, kindness.  Kindness was the first trait we talked of last week that can make a marriage or make any relationship. Kindness is the glue that holds a relationship together.  It is the number one predictor of satisfaction and happiness in a marriage.  It is the counter to contempt, contempt that can tear a relationship apart.  Clothe yourselves, put on kindness.
Then, “Bear with one another, and if any has a complaint against the other, forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you, you must also forgive.”  Forgive each other.  Forgiveness, we said that forgiveness was a pillar of marriage.  In this case it tells us we have no choice.  We must forgive.  “As the Lord has forgiven you, you must also forgive”. 
The next trait we emphasized last week, we called “Turning toward one another” (rather than away).  We find this in verse 14, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love (not a feeling, not an emotion, but an act of giving of self), put on an attitude of love which binds together everything is perfect harmony.”  We said last week that some of the translations say “in unity, in oneness.”  “Put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony, in unity, in oneness.”
John Gottman, marriage expert had studied marriage for over four decades and he found two primary traits that made love last a lifetime.  The first was kindness.  The second he called “turning toward one another.”
He found that wives or husbands “bid” for the other’s attention in a 100 different ways, penny-sized ways, “Come see this,” or “how do you like my new haircut?” (You better like it.).  When they respond to one another’s bids, they do it in ways that lift up the other, that affirms the other, that shows that they value the other, that their spouse is important to them.  They put on love, agape, giving love, if only momentary!  “Come see this.” “Sure, what do you need? Or “How do you like my new haircut?” “Wow, that looks great!  How about a date?”  These little, penny-sized bids and responses add up.  They fill up the emotional love bank.
They have a profound impact on the well-being of the marriage.  Gottman found that in healthy marriages, the ones he called the Marriage Masters, that the Marriage Masters responded  the bids of their mates 87 percent of the time, while the “marriage disasters,” those who divorced or were broken, responded only 33 percent of the time.
Kindness, put on kindness, the glue that holds relationships together.  And put on love, respond if even momentarily to your beloved’s bids.  Turn toward one another.  Put on love.
Today, we continue with the verses that follow to help us understand how to make love last a lifetime.
Let me say first that God and Christ are the foundation of all relationships.  We have a special covenant in marriage, yes; but kindness, forgiveness, giving are the basis of all relationships.  Those are things we first learn from God because he first loved us.  Hear now verses 15 to 17:
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[c] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Verse 15. 
Peace let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.  “Jesus said, my peace I give you.  Not as the world gives.”  The peace of Jesus.  The word here for peace can mean “joining together.”  Joining together.  When we are at peace with one another, we are capable of joining together, uniting with one another.  That’s the peace that Jesus calls us to.  The joining, uniting peace of Jesus Christ.
Rule.  Interesting that the Greek word used here is an athletic term.  It really means referee or umpire.  “Let the peace of Christ be your umpire, let it be the way you make decisions between you and among you.”
It calls us to be joined together in unity, in harmony.
It calls us to become one body, the body of Christ.
In marriage, it calls us to become one flesh.
Jesus is the rule, the means, the guide, the basis of our decisions.  “Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts.”
And be thankful.  Gratitude for the calling, for the covenant, for the oneness, for one another.  Gratitude must always be central to our relationships.
Verse 16. 
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”  Word of Christ.  Let it dwell in you so much so that it changes you and the way you live.
With teaching and admonition.  Coming together, growing together in Christ. 
And in gratitude, singing.  Singing, worshiping together.
Verse 17.
“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Christ.
That’s another way of saying discipleship, being followers of Jesus.
Did I tell you that marriage is a ministry?  Marriage is not just an arrangement, it is something we do in the name of Christ.  It is an act of discipleship, faithfulness, service and obedience.
Do everything in ministry to and for one another, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Making love last a lifetime.  We began this sermon series five weeks ago asking how we become the person we want, wants.  Yet we know we change.  We change each year, each decade, each season of life.  We are not the same.  How is it we will always be the person we want, wants?  How is it that we will always become the person we want, wants to be in love with?  In other words, how do we make love last a lifetime?
As seasons change, will we have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations?  Or will we drift apart?
We know that our hopes and dreams and aspirations change too, don’t we?  They don't last.  The Bible tells us that “The grass withers, the flowers fade.  It is only the word of God that lasts forever.”
And if our hopes and dreams and aspirations are worldly, they too will fade.
There is only one goal that will last through all of our seasons, and that is to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  “We will go to church and we will do it together.”  Making love last a lifetime.
I better pause here and make a comment because I see at least one or two of you who are here alone.  Paul commented on that.  In Corinth, there was a lot of that, people were worshiping alone, without their mates; and he had good advice (1 Cor 7:12-16).  He said, “For the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband, and the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife… for all you know, you might save your husband, you might save your wife.” 
I’m not sure what Paul had in mind, but I’m sure it was that we should not judge them.  “Judge not that you might be judged.”  Adam Hamilton advises, you cannot focus on what your mate is not.  When you focus on the negative, that will only create a wedge between you.  Instead, look at them through the eyes of Christ.  Look at them with grace.  I read of one man who was an agnostic most of his married life until one day he had to come to grips with the beauty of his wife’s faith, (did you hear that? The beauty of her faith) and in so doing, came to believe.  “for all you know, you might save your husband, you might save your wife.”
At some appropriate time there might be an opportunity to make invitation whether the partner believes or no.  Two weeks ago, we talked about some of the things a partner does to make them feel closer to us, and the women said, “When he worships with me.”  It may well be that at the appropriate invitation a spouse attend worship, maybe a special worship, maybe a special occasion just because it’s important, and because it will make him feel closer to him or her.
So, for the person who is here without their spouse, how do you make love last a lifetime?  Look at your spouse through the eyes of Christ.  And be the spouse that Christ is calling you to be.  Marriage is ministry.  It is not just an act of love but of discipleship, of living our lives as Christ would have us live in faithfulness, service, and devotion.  And I would say, “in beauty.”
And how do we do that?  For all of us?  We let the words of Christ dwell in us richly.  What words?
As Christians, we begin with the Great Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  God is love.  We love, we have the capacity to love, because he first loved us.  He is worthy of our love.  And then our neighbor.  Maybe the first neighbor is the one lying in bed next to you at night, the one across the breakfast table from you in the morning.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Next, from our Scripture, put on kindness: The glue that holds relationships together.
Then “bear with one another…forgive one another as the Lord as forgiven you so you also must forgive.  Forgiveness.
Put on an attitude of love.  Not emotion, but giving love, agape.  We do that when we give of ourselves to turn toward one another.
We let Christ rule our hearts.  We make our decisions with Christ in mind.
And be thankful.  Gratitude.  Your first prayer in the morning ought to be a prayer of thanksgiving for your mate, and it ought to be the last prayer you say at night.  Give thanks.
Words to dwell in you richly.  I would then paraphrase Jesus in Matthew 7, the closing chapter of the sermon on the mount because it’s all about relationships:
Do not judge.  Let that dwell in you richly.
Do not say unkind things.  (You know it as don’t cast your pearls before swine.)
Pray for one another.  Pray with one another.  It is very difficult to be mad at a person you are praying for, one you are asking God to bless, asking for the very best for them.  Pray.
And then Jesus ends the discussion about relationships by saying, “In everything, therefore, do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Let the Golden Rule dwell in you richly.
How do we make our marriage not just an act of love, but an act of discipleship?  We begin by letting the words of Christ dwell in us richly.  Verse 16.
Then we grow with one another.   
We teach and admonish one another.  We strive to do better, to become a little better each and every day.
We think of marriage as a calling, a covenant relationship.  In so doing, we think not what we can get by with, but how we can fulfill it, live into it.
Then we worship together with gratitude in our hearts we sing hymns and psalms and praise. 
Then finally, verse 17.  “And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Marriage is an act. We say words, we do deeds.  Say everything, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.  That makes marriage a ministry; and we give thanks.
If that seems like a lot, today’s Scripture is on the back of the card we gave out the first week. Read through it making it a checklist. Put it on your prayer table this week. When you pray for your spouse, pray using these verses. Pray that God will use you in ministry. Pray.
I’d like to close by wrapping in our first Scripture for today from Ecclesiastes.  My Bible entitles this paragraph, “The Value of a Friend.”  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Friendship is essential in love and in marriage:
Who will lift the other up?
Who will keep the other warm?
Who will stand for, who will defend?
But here is the kicker.  It is a three-fold cord.  It is Christ who is the third strand.  It is Christ who intertwines and strengthens all the rest.
It is the threefold cord, the one with Christ, that is not broken.
It is the friendship in which the peace of Christ rules that survives.
It is the partnership that “does everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him” that lasts a lifetime.
In our 54 plus years of marriage, there have been seasons of life where I have left Christ out of it, but thankfully, he is very much a part of my life and our marriage as I stand here today.
And I can personally tell you, I’m a better husband, I’m a better father, I’m a better grandfather, I’m a better friend because Jesus is the third strand in our marriage cord.
Life is profoundly better.  It is fuller, it is more joyful, it is filled with much more hope and it could have possibly ever been without him.
How do you make love last a lifetime, an eternal lifetime?  You make Jesus Christ the third strand in the cords of your relationship.  So may it be with all of you.  Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Two Traits that Make a Marriage
(Col 3:12-17) (2/1/15)

We’re in the fifth week of a sermon series on relationships.  Jesus said that one of the two rules of Christian living was to love your neighbor as yourself, to love one another.  We strive to do that in marriage, but somehow just too many of us just don’t like one another very well and 40 percent of marriages dissolve.  Puff!  I wish it was just a “puff,” but people, men, women, children get hurt in the process.  We need to do better.
Last week we talked about the ministry of marriage, those things we do to minister to one another, to lift up each, to bless each other, to become better and better friends and companions.  We introduced three concepts:
First was the love bank.  The concept that in our relationships we make deposits in this emotional joint account we have with one another and hopefully we will always have a positive balance.
There’s a card in your bulletin that lists some things that we can do to bring ourselves closer to the other.
On one side are the things women do that men say make them feel closer to them.  And on the other side is what women say men do to make them feel closer to them. 
When we do these things we make deposits in our emotional love banks.
The second concept we talked about last week was that what we were really doing when we drew one another closer was weaving the various types of love together through our relationships.  That’s on the bottom of the blue side of the card.
And on the bottom back of the card are three simple rules, Wesley's rules of discipleship applied to relationships, that we closed with last week:
First, do no harm.  No zingers, no negativity.  Do none of those things that create an instantaneous overdraft to our love bank.
Then two, do good.  Live into the covenant you have between one another.  Fill the love bank to the brim.
Lastly, stay in love with one another.  Intentionally weave the five loves into your relationship.  Romance, giving of one’s self, friendship, especially friendship, love of family, and then give color and charm to them all with affection.
Today, we’re going to talk about two traits that can make or break a marriage.  They are not innate, they can be learned. Think of them as muscles that can be strengthened, that can become stronger. Two things you are going want to do regardless of age or length of marriage.  Next week we’ll close the series with “Making Love Last a Lifetime,” something we all want, right?
Well, why the series?  When I first began preaching in little country churches, I thought all of the marriages were like Bob and Rosemary’s, lifelong and rock solid.
One of the first gatherings we had with the church was a 60th wedding anniversary.  Later, we had a couple marry in their 70s.  Isn’t love grand?
After we left, we found that one widower had gotten married rather quickly and had gotten a divorced just as quickly, within a year.  So much for love at first sight.
Then a couple in their 30s, the couple we thought were the future of the church with two delightful little girls, split apart.  So much for happily ever after.
But there’s one more, and this is not a very big church and very much like our own.  A couple in their 60s decided they could speak to one another so she’s moved out and in with her daughter and her husband in another town.  (And I have a hunch she’s putting stress on her daughter’s marriage.)
And all this in small church, smaller than this.  We need to hear what God has to say about relationships.  We need to learn how to live into the covenant that we have made with God and between ourselves.
The fact is, and these are shocking statistic: We know that about 40 percent of marriages end in divorce.  But the shocking thing is that only about half of those that survive are in happy relationships.  That means that only 3 of 10 of those who stand together and pledge to love and to cherish really do!  3 of 10!  There has to be a better way!
Marriage expert John Gottman (See footnote) has studied marriage up close for forty years.  He categorizes marriages in two: The “Masters,” those who have mastered the art of marriage and relationships, and the “Disasters,” disasters, you get the picture. 
What Gottman wanted to know how the “Masters” created love and intimacy that lasted through thick and thin; and secondly, why the “Disasters” squashed it all.
What are the traits that make marriage like God intended it to be?
Hear the word of God: 12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The Bible has much to say about marriage.  Marriage was an important metaphor.  So much so, it is described as the relationship between Christ and his Church.  Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride. 
Marriage is part of the Bible narrative from the Garden of Eden in Genesis, to the restoration of the Garden in Revelation. 
In Genesis God creates marriage as a covenant between a man and women.
In Revelation the New Jerusalem is seen as a coming down out of heaven from God as a bride adorned for her husband.
Marriage is special to God.
And I think our passage today contains the very best instructions for marriage.  It is my Wedding Scripture.
It begins, “Holy and beloved, clothe yourselves.”  In other words, put on.  Put on an attitude of.  “Put on an attitude of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”
“Bear with one another… forgive each other, as Christ has forgiven you.  You must also forgive.”  Remember, we said that forgiveness was a pillar of marriage.  Here, we’re not given a choice: “You must also forgive.”
And then, put on love, agape-love, God’s example of sacrificial giving of self.  Love binds everything together in perfect harmony.   One of the translations says it “binds everything together in unity, and oneness .”
So, based on God’s instruction, let’s put a whole bunch of pennies in the love bank.  And I say pennies, because that’s what Gottman observed from the marriage “Masters.”  It wasn’t the big things, it was the little things they observed happening between the “Masters” each and every day.  He calls it “Turning toward each other” (rather than away). 
Gottman saw that “Masters” of love engage in chitchat, pennies worth, in which they are connecting quite frequently.  They are turning toward each other.  They are putting pennies in the love bank.
What Gottman observed is that the man or the woman frequently may make a simple “bid” for the other’s attention.  The woman might say, looking out the kitchen window, “Look, the cardinals are back.  I see one in the tree.”  Her spouse has the opportunity to say or do nothing, turning away, or responding, “You saw the first ones last year, too.  Spring, and baseball won’t be far behind.” 
Now, in this case the woman is not just making a comment about a bird, but she is making a bid for the attention of her husband.  She is hoping, consciously or unconsciously, for a response, a sign of interest from the other.
With each turning towards, what they are saying to each other is that we value you.  You are a person of worth.  You are important to me.  Gottman believes that this little actions are more important than a candle light dinner in keeping love and romance alive.
It may sound silly, but each time one of them turns toward the other, they are putting a penny in the love bank.  And my thought is that every time they fail to do so, that is they turn away, they withdraw a dime!
By the way, if you can't figure out what silly little things to say to bid for one another’s attention, you need to have a dog in the house.  Sometimes I say we wouldn't know what to talk about if we didn't have our dog Gracie. She's a topic we use to turn toward one another.
Bidding relationships throughout the day had a profound effect on marital wellbeing.  Gottman followed the couples for six years, and those still together after that time had turned toward one another, had responded to one another, 87 percent of the time.  The “Disasters,” those divorced in that six year period, had only turned toward the other 33 percent of the time.
I would suggest to you that turning toward one another, both the bidding and responding, is giving of yourselves, it is agape, it is the love, as we read in Colossians, “it is the love that binds everything together in harmony, in unity, as one.”
Trait number one that the Masters of Love possess is that they “Turn toward one another.”  They bid, simple things, a penny at a time.  And they respond, turn toward one another, a penny at a time.  But before you know it, the love bank is filled to the brim.
The second trait that “Masters” of love exhibit is kindness.  An attitude of kindness.  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness..” Colossians says.  “Put on an attitude of kindness.”
While contempt, criticizing, blaming, belittling, contempt is the primary factor that tears couples apart.  It is kindness, kindness, that is the glue that holds couples together.
Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, validated, understood—loved. 
And it seems to work both ways, it builds upon itself.  The more one receives or witnesses kindness, the kinder they become.  It leads to an upward spirals of love and generosity in the relationship.  There is a spirit of generosity in the relationship that involves kindness.
And you can be kind even when you are angry.  Putting on kindness doesn’t mean that we can’t express our anger or dissatisfaction, but it does mean that we make a choice, we choose kindness in expressing our anger.  We can throw contemptuous spears, or we can take a kinder path.
We have the ability to choose, to choose before we speak.  We have the ability to say, “What words can I choose so that what I express is not perceived as critical or blaming?  What words can I use to express myself that are kind?”
Hear this: Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. 
The second of the two traits that “Masters” of love exhibit is kindness.
Two traits, Turning toward each other; and Kindness.  But even then marriages fail.  They are assailed by outside influences.  They are attacked.  They need protection. 
We don’t stay down on the farm anymore.  Even rural areas are suburban.  On most farms these days, one or the other of the partners are in the workplace.
       We encounter the opposite sex.  Hormones surge. 
We think it’s love when it’s really lust.  We say to ourselves foolishly, “That’s the right person.  This is the one I should have met first. We were made for each other.  We were made for one another.”   Do we remember the first sermon?  The myth if the right person?  They don't; and they destroy their marriage.
Years ago, I heard a radio program describe protecting your marriage.  The called it putting hedges around your marriage.  It could be walls or fences or motes, but they called it hedges.  You don’t let anything inside the wall that can attack your marriage unless you bring guards along with it.
And of course what they were saying is that you never let a person of the opposite sex inside those walls without protection.  You never meet alone, eat alone, drink alone, travel alone with a person of the opposite sex.  Period.
Of course that may be impractical in today’s environment.  But if you find yourself in such a situation that is unavoidable, you need to establish a virtual hedge, you create a virtual guard.  You need to recognize that you are in a danger zone.  Hedges.
A few weeks ago, I read an article about Billy Graham.  He was going to have a private meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 
When they arrived, Billy asked Hillary’s assistant if his, Billy’s, assistant could sit in.  Hillary’s assistant objected saying that when Hillary wanted a private meeting, that’s what she meant, private.
Billy said, “Since I got married in my 20s, I swore to myself that I would never be alone with someone of the opposite sex other than my wife, and until this time, I have never made an exception.”  Billy had put hedges around his marriage.
I would suggest that if it was good enough for Billy, if Billy thought it was necessary for himself, that we ought to heed his words.
You remember Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baaker?  What if Jim Baaker had said the same?  What if Jimmy Swaggart had said the same?  What if, and every one of you can fill in the blank of someone whose lives would be remarkably different had they heeded Billy Graham’s advice.  What if they had done the same?
Hedges.  Protect your marriage with hedges.
Clothe yourselves with an attitude of kindness.  It is the glue that holds relationships together.  It is the number one predictor of satisfaction and happiness in a marriage.
Set aside criticism, contempt, negativity, and blame, for contempt is the number one factor that tears relationships apart.
But it is kindness that counters contempt.
Put on an attitude of kindness.  Clothe yourselves in compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness.
And two, turn toward one another.  Bid for one another’s attention in a hundred different ways, a penny at a time. (Our graphic, our two coffee cups, have been waiting five weeks to show you what it means to turn toward one another.)  In little ways, bid for the other’s attention,
Then, receiving a bid, turn toward one another in a way that shows that you value the other, that you affirm the other, that the other is important to you in the grind of everyday life.
When we turn toward the other, we give of ourselves even if it is momentary.  Even then in that momentary response, we put on love, agape, giving of ourselves which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Put on kindness; turn toward one another in love. So may it be with you all.  Amen.
1) Footnotes: Frequent references to John Gottman's research presented in "Masters of Love," "The Atlantic," June 12, 2014.