The Wedding Day: Letting Go of the Magical to See the Sacred

I wanted a strapless, A-line, sweetheart neckline wedding dress, so I wasn’t sure why the fitting room attendant brought me an ornate 3/4-sleeve trumpet gown. But when I stepped out of the fitting room and saw myself in all the mirrors, it happened just like they say it’s supposed to: my eyes spontaneously filled up with tears as I started laughing with pure delight. I felt like a bride, in a way I hadn’t in the other dresses. This was the dress…my dress. It fit me perfectly and wouldn’t even need any alterations, so I figured it was okay to spend a little more than I was planning on.

When my dress came in three weeks later, I reverently lifted it from the box and my mama helped me into it. We sighed happily and dreamily as she buttoned up the back, and – OH. Something was terribly wrong – the top of the dress was standing out about 3 inches from my bust. Like it was 2 sizes too big. My heart sank. “My dress is an impostor!” I wailed. I had been so ready to love it, and now I…didn’t. This wasn’t my dress. This wasn’t The One.

We asked if we could exchange it for the floor model, since we knew that it fit perfectly. They assured us they would clean and repair any damage and ship it to my parents’ house. When it came in, Mama and I took a look at it together. What we saw was a gray-ish train, torn beading, and a spot of pink makeup right on the front. We took it back, and the manager told us it was beyond fixing. It must have been a fluke that the first one we ordered didn’t fit, she assured me. So we ordered another one.

When I got that one, I was hardly even excited anymore. My mindset was more like, “Hmm, I wonder if this one fits. Maybe third time’s the charm?” No. It wasn’t. This one was too big as well. I had the alterations specialists assess the fit, and they quoted me a price of $160 to fix it. I asked the store manager if they could do the alterations for free, since it had been such an ordeal. She said no, because there was no guarantee that dresses would be manufactured the same. I whined and said nobody told me that when I ordered it either time, so she said she would see what she could do.

“It all just feels stupid!” I wailed into JP’s lap as he patted my head patiently and, I’m sure, wearily. “Like I don’t even want to wear it if they get away with this, it’s like the Dress of Deceit and Evil Corporate America! I don’t want to be thinking as I walk down the aisle, ‘I can’t believe they soaked me for $160.’ They’ve completely ruined the magic of the whole experience!”

In the in between days, while waiting for the manager to call me back, I had to do a lot of thinking. I really couldn’t – and didn’t want to – pay for their inconsistency, so what could I do if they said ‘no’ once and for all? The whole negative experience had already made the dress less special. I had been so sure it was The One, but I’d gotten three impostors now. Maybe The One didn’t even exist. With the wedding just six weeks away, I didn’t even have time to order a new dress. I toyed with the idea of exchanging the dress – just walking into the store and saying, “Okay, pull all the size 4 dresses off the rack, and I’ll get whatever actually fits.” Hey, if I could save $500, why not? Maybe I would bond with an Honest, Friendly, Down-to-Earth Dress in a way that I never did with the (as I now thought of it) Untrustworthy, Arrogant Impostor Dress.

For me, the whole process of planning the wedding has been letting go of one “important” thing after another. A lot of little girls grow up thinking their wedding day will be perfect and magical, and when we actually start planning, that translates into obsessing over every single detail. I wasn’t super controlling about everything, but there were a few things that I was set on. A white church in Nashville, for one thing. Gray suits. Save-the-dates. Wedding favors.  The Perfect Dress. One by one, I had to compromise, to let these things go. What had once seemed so important, I learned to shrug off. The Dress was the last thing I was holding onto for dear life – and now the magic of The Dress had been disillusioned too. I felt like sad Cinderella, standing in the middle of the road staring at a giant pumpkin.

My friends were kind enough to mourn with me, but the kindest thing they did was to remind me of the sacredness of the wedding event.

“If you go a little over-budget for food, don’t stress over it,” Samantha reminded me. “It’s not like you’re spending thousands on decorations to impress everyone or make your friends jealous – you’re feeding people, inviting them to the table. It’s Eucharistic. Think of your reception as your first act of hospitality as a married couple.”

Mama found a book at the thrift store called A Wedding with Spirit and sent it to me in a care package. It couldn’t have come at a better time; it was all about remembering the sacredness and the symbolism of a wedding rather than following the hype of the wedding industry.

And I came to understand something. I had wanted my wedding to be magical, forgetting that to be sacred is a higher transcendence. Magic is…well, shallow, really. The magic is gone in an instant when something goes wrong – as it always does. The flower girl will refuse to walk down the aisle, or someone will make an awkward toast, or maybe your Perfect Dress will tear or catch on fire or fall in the toilet (yes, I’ve heard all three from friends!). The reality is, we cannot make anything perfect or magical, because as humans we are limited by our finitude and imperfection.

The sacredness of an event, however, does not depend upon us but upon the work of the Spirit in that moment, sanctifying us and making us new, infusing us with the beautiful mystery of grace. I realized that whatever dress I happened to wear on the day of our wedding – whether second-hand, second-choice, A-line, trumpet, or one that cost me extra for the company’s mistakes – would become a sacred symbol of love and covenant and our new life together. No dress inherently possessed the qualities that made it The One – rather, whatever dress I chose would become The One. There would be nothing magical about it – but in years to come, when I lovingly pack up the memories for our next adventure together, or one day give my dress to a daughter or granddaughter to wear – it will have been steeped in love and excitement and joy and thanksgiving, christened with the blessings of a God-ordained marriage. Because of what it represents, the dress will be sacred just as the sacrament of marriage is sacred.

It is common advice for brides to live in the magic of the moment – this is your big day, your time to shine, your time to feel pampered and beautiful and be the center of attention. But to my fellow brides-to-be, let me urge you to live instead in the sacredness of the moment, orienting yourself not to the material details or the extravagance or the attention, but rather to the presence of the Divine, those thin places where you can see God crafting something beautiful. Your guests are not there to be entertained or impressed – they are there to witness a holy union. Receive the sacredness of their gifts and attention with humility and grace, rather than taking advantage of this magical “once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine.” Don’t look for ways to get the most out of your wedding day; look for opportunities to give, even as you receive the undeserved, unconditional blessings of God. Embrace the moments where you can say “thank you,” not presumptuously or hastily or with obligation, but with complete wonder and disbelief. Those are the sacred moments.

In case you’re wondering, I got a call yesterday saying that because of the inconvenience of multiple transactions, the company had decided to refund 20% of the original purchase price of the dress – which more than covers the cost of alterations. As I mentioned, I had become okay with – even excited about – the thought of starting over with a different dress. But as I sat on my bed, looking with wonder at the humble cardboard box on my closet shelf, I knew that this would be my dress after all. And suddenly, for the first time since trying it on, I loved it again – simply because this dress will be the one to usher me into a new name, a new family, a new life.

Published in: on April 24, 2015 at 1:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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Young Love: The Backstory

When I first published my observations of enduring and sacrificial love from an elderly couple (which you can read here), I had little idea that it would be shared and re-posted enough that it would eventually get back to the man about whom I wrote it. 

I came in the door after a tiring 2-day surf trip with the youth group this summer and had a letter waiting for me. I dropped my suitcase, keys, and sunglasses in the floor and opened it eagerly. And with tears rolling down my cheeks, I read a carefully typed 2-page account of their love story. Jim later told me, “I’ve never written anything like that before.” And he gave me permission to share it with you. So here are the main excerpts from his letter:

Lauren,

That you would observe and write such a beautiful article about us is humbling. I am especially grateful that you see our situation in a positive light, since I do not wish that our ‘nonconventional’ appearance be a negative factor… I don’t wish to bore you, but I would like to make a couple of comments related to the subjects about which you wrote:

…I don’t consider my efforts to be anything outside of normal behavior… I do not [consider it an] obligation…I don’t do what I do ‘because I have to.’ To understand, I need to take you through a little history.

We started dating in high school in 1942 when we were both 15; she was a sophomore and I was a junior. We did all the ‘school things’ and Saturday night movies with hamburgers and cokes (I was a real big spender). We dated as much as we could after my graduation while I worked for a year…then I was in the Navy for 17 months. After the Navy I started my freshman year at [college]…. At the end of my freshman year (August 1947) we married. I will not bore you with a lot of subsequent history; although it is pertinent, it is not necessary to make the point that I am trying to make.

Take a look at our situation when we got married. We were almost 21, she had a steady job… and things were going pretty well for her. To marry me she would have to move away from her family, change jobs, live she-didn’t-know-where, and work for 3 more years so we wouldn’t starve. I, on the other hand, had just finished one year of college, had spent what savings I had on that, and didn’t even have a bicycle for transportation. Even more, with my background of having graduated from only a small 100-student county school in Tennessee, having worked as a mechanic, spent time in the Navy and one year in a junior college, why would she even think I had what it takes to graduate from a prestigious engineering college like Georgia Tech? You would think that such a smart, pretty, employed girl who had so much going for her would have had far better offers than I could make. However, she did agree and we hitched our wagons to my star of becoming an engineer.

During college, money was pretty tight, and I remember once we had a serious discussion about whether we could afford for her to have a 5 cent coke with her sack lunch each day. [We agreed] that when I got out of college, she would keep the home and care for any children we might have, and I would be responsible for providing the income. That would mean we would adjust our standard of living to my salary. That was not to say that everything was easy or always one way. We made most decisions together, and a number were made differently than if I had been single; she could say the same.

So what is the point I am trying to make? In addition to all the above-mentioned reasons for my desire to care for her, there is the matter that she very early-on gave up her independence and put her faith and trust in me to see that she, and a family, were taken care of. I made a covenant with her before God and a few people to do that, ‘in sickness and in health.’ So, am I now obligated to meet her needs for 24/7 care, and do I do it for that reason?…No — I do it because I want to, and even though she does not know it, I want to express my appreciation for the love and confidence that she, as a smart, beautiful, rosy-cheeked, auburn-haired young lady expressed in me 67 years ago, and has continued to do so ever since! I suspect the time will come when I will not be physically able to personally meet her needs and other arrangement will be necessary. Until such time, I will continue to care for her and nothing else will even be considered.

I hope that you will meet and marry a Christian with whom you can have the same love and commitment that [we] had/have, to jointly ‘hitch your wagons to a common star,’ with God’s Word guiding you along the path. You may find that while someone may have to temporarily give up that 5 cent daily coke, it will not matter since 67 years later, despite the circumstances, you can say, “I would do it again.”

Published in: on August 26, 2014 at 11:28 pm  Comments (2)  
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Sex is Not About Sex

holiday“Sex makes everything complicated,” said Cameron Diaz to Jude Law in a 2006 romantic comedy called The Holiday. “Even if you don’t have it, the not having it makes things complicated.”

She’s right. Sex is complicated. This may be because sex is one of the most misinterpreted and misrepresented things in our culture…and I include church culture in that statement. As such, this post is going to look at sex not from a typical evangelical Christian standpoint, but from a Jesus standpoint.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Throughout His ministry, in every word He preached and every parable He told, Jesus was concerned with matters of the heart. This has never been as abundantly clear to me as it has been these past few weeks as I’ve studied the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus seeks to reframe a legalistic understanding of the law by showing us that we tend to focus more on the action than on the intent. As the Pharisees demonstrated, it is often easier to regulate and micromanage our actions than it is to undergo a radical change of heart. The former requires control; the latter, surrender. It is more difficult to navigate the ambiguity of the heart than it is to impose fixed outward regulations.

The church’s teaching on sex has become a vicious cycle. Most teenagers growing up in Christian homes are admonished to save sex for marriage. However, for some, this has created a stigma that makes it impossible to have guilt-free sex even within the context of marriage. How can something that has been bad, bad, bad, suddenly become okay? This deeply rooted mindset cannot be overcome in a 15-minute exchange of vows when our minds have been shaped our whole lives by a warped understanding of sex.

And so as it became more acceptable to talk openly about sex, churches began talking about it. A lot. To combat the shame associated with sex, Christians began teaching their children how great sex is, explaining that it’s a special gift from God that we don’t want to “open too early.” Obviously this approach is hardly better, as it dangles sex like a carrot that they can’t have for another 8 years or so. The pendulum has swung too far — now we focus on sex more than we probably should.

With this new understanding came another misconstrued notion about sex, which claims either explicitly or implicitly that if you save sex for marriage, your sex life will be far more gratifying than it would otherwise be. Youth pastors become statistical machines teaching us that monogamous couples have more sex, pure couples have better sex, and it’s all about sex, sex, SEX.

But I’m going to be so bold as to say that Jesus, and the Bible as a whole, teaches that sex is not really about sex at all. And searching “sex” in your concordance to figure out what God thinks about it won’t get you very far, because a well-developed theology of sex is found in:

1) A true understanding of creation. “In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Our humanity is uniquely defined by its status of being “in the image of God.” When we truly understand this, not just with our minds but with our hearts, it changes the way we see the rest of humanity. Each person is incredibly valuable regardless of gender, age, race, or social class, and we must treat with reverence whatever God’s holy hands have touched.

We must also understand that God’s creation is what it is; it is neither more, nor less. Pornography is damaging to relationships because it presents an unrealistic expectation of women and of sexuality. It not only causes men to see women as sex objects, but as inferior to the porn stars that feed their addiction. This is a horribly distorted view of creation — a woman’s body is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Her beauty should be loved and appreciated for what it is, and should not forced to compete with unrealistic fantasies. God created each woman, and each woman is a good creation. Respect her, because she is the image of God and the work of His hands.

And to the women — we tend to be pretty hard on the men because they struggle more with the physical side of this, and sex is a physical act. But if Jesus is right, and lust is a matter of the heart, where does that leave us concerning emotional affairs? When we dreamily indulge in steamy romantic movies and fantasies of Prince Charming, this is also a distortion of reality that the good, honest men in our lives can never live up to. Don’t spend your time wishing that the perfect man exists, because there is no such thing. God created each man, and each man is a good creation. Respect him, because he is the image of God and the work of his hands.

2) A true understanding of surrender. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1st Corinthians 6:20).

A theme that I see running through each teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is this unspoken phrase, “It doesn’t belong to you.” You don’t have a right to be angry (Matthew 5:21-24); you can’t just dismiss your wife because she isn’t your property to dismiss (Matthew 5:31-32); don’t resist the one who takes your tunic, because it’s not really yours in the first place (Matthew 5:38-42). If even you are not your own and therefore must honor God with your body, then it must surely be true that because she is not yours, you must honor God by the way you treat her body. To use someone in any way (not just sexually), is to objectify them and demean their created status. Lust and pornography are so damaging because they declare that God’s creation exists solely to satisfy our appetites and is not worthy of our respect. We must understand that whatever we desire is not ours for the taking. The creation belongs to the Creator.

3) A true understanding of relationship. “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).

The Bible speaks of equality, of mutual submission, and of sincere love far more than it speaks about sex — but I think that every one of these relational qualities is inseparable from a true understanding of sex. Sex is only one of the many ways that we can choose to selfishly gratify ourselves at the expense of another, but it so easily reflects an imbalance of power and further contributes to chaos and brokenness within the creation. If we were to outdo one another in showing honor, women would not seduce and men would not solicit. There would be no “If you love me, you’ll show me.” Instead, valuing each other as equals, we would seek the highest good of the other.

Marriage doesn’t automatically make sex right. If it’s still a power play within the context of marriage, it’s just as wrong as adultery, because it devalues your partner in the exact same way. If your marriage fails because you’re “sexually incompatible,” you’ve missed the entire point of covenant faithfulness. If your demands cause your partner to feel inferior or ashamed, you have failed to honor him or her. This is what I mean by the phrase I used earlier, “the ambiguity of the heart.” Because there’s not one straightforward rule that divides appropriate sex from inappropriate sex, we have to critically examine the motives of our hearts. And sometimes that can be more difficult and painful than following a set of rules.

How does this change the way we teach about sex?

1) These foundational principles apply to far more than sex. 

If you reread the first two, you’ll find that a theology of environmentalism flows just as easily as a theology of sex. If you understand the second two, you’ll learn that leadership in any capacity is a matter of servanthood, not of coercive power.

If we teach our children these fundamental truths of Kingdom living as a framework for their lives, rather than rules about sex that have little or no context to support them, it will make far more sense in light of the big picture.

2) It shifts the focus from sex to purity.

Creating rules about sex is like treating the symptoms of an illness rather than the cause. When we constantly teach abstinence, the focus is still on sex, when sex is clearly not the main point of sex at all. When we teach relational (not just sexual) purity, questions like “How far is too far” become irrelevant. These principles shift the question from “How selfish can I be?” to “How unselfish can I be?” They don’t just tell us why sex outside of marriage is wrong; they teach us why purity outside of marriage is right.

3) It reframes the whole biblical discussion of sex.

Why is the Song of Solomon in the Bible? It represents a loving, egalitarian sexual relationship.

Under the law of Moses, why would a man who raped a woman have to marry her? Because he had dishonored her, and now he was bound to care for her.

Why did Jesus say that divorce is tantamount to adultery? Because both treat your spouse as disposable, rather than caring for him or her as a precious creation of God.

When we seek to understand the Word of God, proof texting misses the mark. All of Scripture is bound up together in a beautiful mosaic of Kingdom values, and until we see the big picture, we won’t understand where each piece fits in. If Scriptures about sex aren’t about sex, they must be about far more.

So take a moment and examine your heart. Do you view your brothers and sisters in Christ with reverence, or with objectifying lust? Does your sexual relationship honor and validate your spouse, or does it just satisfy your desires? Is sex about sex for you? Or is it an expression of something far deeper?

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for one another, love one another deeply, from the heart. –1st Peter 1:22.

For further reading that has recently helped to shape and refine my understanding of sex and relationship, you can click on the following links:

The Porn Myth — Naomi Wolf

My Virginity Mistake — Jessica Henriquez

Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex — Rachel Pietka

A Guy You Can Brag About

Heads up: this is not a bait-and-switch, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend post.  When I say “a guy you can brag about,” I’m talking about an actual, physical, human guy in the 21st century that you can hold hands with.  Girls, this is practical advice on how to lead your heart when looking for the kind of guy you want to be with.

The kind of guy everybody else is jealous of.

The kind of guy you can be proud of and want to scream to the world at the top of your lungs that HE’S THE BEST.

But it still might look a little different than you’re expecting.  It came as a surprise to me when the realization hit me like a bucket of ice water, because it can be a little disconcerting, but it’s a vital concept to hold onto as you mature and begin to see the beauty in it.

In middle school and high school, sometimes in college, and for some misguided women, their entire lives, girls tend to be drawn to the “bad boys.”  I know this is a concept heavily debated between bitter nice guys in the “friend zone” and girls who insist that they don’t like the bad boys.  But, for the most part, the guys are right.  We like the bad boys.

If you think about the popular guys in your school — the ones everyone wants to be with — what makes them so amazingly cool?  If you were dating one of them, what kinds of things would you want to brag to your friends about?  Take a moment and write down some reasons.  Then see if any of these are among them:

Everybody’s after him.

He doesn’t care what anybody thinks.

He’s tough and strong.

He does whatever he wants, and his parents let him.

He’s like an unattainable god.

He’s so mysterious.

He drives 120 mph with the sunroof open and it’s AWESOME.

He’s the life of the party and can handle more alcohol than anyone else.

He manages to sneak out at night while your parents are lame and make it impossible to escape the prison of your room.

He’s proud, spirited, passionate, spontaneous, and an attractive dose of just plain cocky.  Don’t say it’s not attractive, because it totally is.

5939227-portrait-of-a-beautiful-brunette-woman-shouting-through-megaphoneWe’re drawn to these people, and we can’t help it.  The heart wants what the heart wants, right?  There’s this undeniable attraction that we can hardly describe or define.  We just know that he’s the one we dream about, the one who makes our hearts pound in our chest, the one we would do anything to be with because he’s so exciting.  We want to tell everyone about him, because he’s what everyone wants.  And if by some miracle he can be ours, we’ll be shouting it with a megaphone to crowds of bitter rivals.

But here’s the thing: it’s a temporary, immature attraction, and the heart can be deceived.  They tell you to live for today, but if you do, you won’t be prepared when tomorrow comes.

While you’re attracted to these guys now, it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want in a guy long-term.  What do you want out of a marriage?  What do you want your family to look like?

Pause for just a minute and think of one of those guys.  Got one in your head?  Can you picture him?  Now I want you to briefly sketch out your life.

Picture yourself walking down the aisle.  How do you feel?  What emotion is on his face?

Think about your honeymoon.  Will he make you feel loved, treasured, and adored as his bride?  Or will he act like a typical guy?

How will you spend your evenings together?

Imagine having your first child.  Is he ready for that responsibility?

What if there’s a dream you want to pursue?  Will he support you, or leave you high and dry to pursue his own?

The bad boy thinks only of himself, and for some reason, that’s sexy.  But when you have goals of your own and you need your partner’s support, only to have him do his own thing and never care about your ambitions — that’s a little less sexy.

When the bad boys sneaks out at night during high school to go party, it’s so wild and rebellious and attractive.  But when you’re alone in bed at night because the same boy has expertly snuck out to be with another woman — well, it’s not attractive anymore.

When he’s tough and doesn’t care about anything, the thrill of the chase makes you want him desperately.  But when there comes a day that your world is falling apart and you’re in tears, sensitivity and comfort are what you’ll want desperately.  It won’t be so attractive then for him to shrug you off.

When he disrespects his parents, it’s oh so bold and independent.  But one day when you need him to man up and take responsibility and he says “to heck with you” — suddenly it means something very different.

All these girls that you know now — your friends with whom you dream and flirt and live life and brag that the popular boy talked to you in the hall — statistically speaking, most of them will live through heartbreak and divorce and miserable marriages, all because they followed their heart.  They lived for today, but when tomorrow came, it found them brokenhearted and alone, hoping their three small children couldn’t hear them crying themselves to sleep.

And if you’re with a gentle, patient, steady man who loves you faithfully and unconditionally, you’ll be the one with a megaphone.  You’ll be bragging to everyone that he loves you and only you.  You’ll be boasting that he works hard at a job that he hates so that you can feel secure, and then comes home and changes the lightbulbs you can’t reach.  You’ll tell everyone that he understands you and holds you and talks with you.  You’ll shout from the rooftops that you never feel ashamed, afraid, or inadequate because even though he’s too good for you, he never makes you feel that way.

And by then you’ll be the one everyone envies.  You’ll have the man every other woman wants — a man you can brag about.  Do yourself a favor.  Wait for him.

A word to the nice guys: I know how frustrating it is that girls are drawn to the bad boys.  I’m truly sorry that that’s the way it is.  But please, please, don’t change.  The same principle applies to you: don’t just live for today.  Look at the future.  Be the man who treats your girl with respect and makes her feel safe and honored and special.  Set your goal to have a marriage that not only lasts, but is absolutely amazing.  There will be a girl out there who desperately wants what you have to offer, who wants to brag to her friends about you, who wants to be the kind of woman worthy of your love.  Do yourself a favor.  Wait for her.

As Long as We Both Shall Live: A Wedding Liturgy

Here’s another fun fact about my youth ministry professor Dr. Surdacki: he loves liturgy.  Like, a lot.  Having been raised in the Catholic church and now a member of the church of Christ at the opposite end of the spectrum, he embodies some of the best things from both traditions.  So for my Introduction to Ministry class, we got to do a liturgy project, which included writing a liturgy of our own.  Hopeless romantic that I am, of course I chose to do a wedding liturgy.  Unfortunately, I had to turn it in as kind of a rough draft since I’m going to SCOTLAND in 4 days.  But here it is.

depositphotos_4138729-Love-is-Patient-Bible-Verse-with-RingsBride and groom join hands at the altar before the pastor. Congregation is seated.

 Pastor: Friends, family, and witnesses, we come together today as a community to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as a testament to the unconditional love of God for His church.  In committing to spend the rest of their lives together in love and faithfulness, N and N are pledging their relationship as a living testimony to what Christ has done in their lives.

As we witness their vows, we are called into covenant with them to help them uphold their commitment, to live in community with them, to teach them to love and care for one another, and to learn from what their unique relationship has to offer.

N and N, you are entering into a covenant relationship with one another, but also with these witnesses here and with the larger body of Christ.  As you vow to love one another faithfully, you are taking on the responsibility of representing Christ’s love together as one flesh.

Reading from Ephesians 5:21-33.

 Pastor: Lord, we praise you for the gift of marriage and all that it represents. May you bless N and N as they begin their journey together, and may everyone here be blessed by their example of love and faithfulness.  Bless their lives with joy, their family with love, and their home with your abiding peace as they make you the center of their lives. Amen.

 Pastor: I invite you to join me in the reading of 1st Corinthians 13.

Pastor: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Congregation: Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Pastor: As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

Congregation: But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Pastor: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. For now we see in a mirror dimly;

Congregation: but then face to face.

Pastor: Now I know in part;

Congregation: Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Pastor: So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three:

Congregation: But the greatest of these is love.

 Pastor: N, as you take N to be your wife, committing to be faithful to her, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and her above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor: N, as you take N to be your husband, committing to be faithful to him, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and him above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor to Congregation: Will you uphold N and N in their declaration of love and faithfulness, holding them accountable to their vows and encouraging them in their desire to live in holy union together?

Congregation: We will.

To the man:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To love you as Christ loved the church

And gave Himself for her

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

To the woman:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To submit to you as to the Lord

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

Exchanging of the Rings

Pastor: The wedding ring is an outward sign of an inward commitment to love and honor one another in a marriage covenant. The circle represents endless love; the gold, both the purity of their love and the refinement that will take place in this covenant relationship. N, you may place a ring on the finger of your bride.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: By the same token, N, you may place a ring on the finger of your groom.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: Now that N and N have exchanged these vows and rings and thus made a covenant to one another before God, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.

Pastor: It is my honor to introduce to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. N. 

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage

Couple-Yelling

My friend Kenny Stole just posted a status on facebook about a conversation he overheard in Starbucks in which a man said to his wife, “Seven months ago I made an oath to love, honor, and cherish you, and you have completely lost all my trust.  So now, I’m going to do whatever I want to do and you’re just going to take it.”  Whoa…what?!  Did he not hear what he was saying? “I promised to love you, so now I’m going to make your life miserable”?

“Protecting the sanctity of marriage” is a phrase that we hear a lot in conjunction with protesting gay rights.  But as much as Christian heterosexuals stand for traditional marriage, they seem to be pretty apathetic about their own.  When the reputation of the Christian community has been saddled with heavy divorce rate statistics, it’s almost as if they’re trying to take a speck out of someone’s eye when they have a plank in their own.  Many Christians militantly argue for “one man, one woman,” but in the midst of focusing on the man/woman aspect of the Biblical example, many people miss the part about ONE man and ONE woman.  Just like with everything else in our individualistic, consumerist society, when people get tired of the old model, they trash it for a newer and better version.  “I dropped my iPhone 4 and cracked the screen…time for the iPhone 5! I neglected my marriage and it fell apart…time to start dating again!”

Many marriages that don’t end in divorce still end in misery.  I once heard a woman at a church brag that her grandparents hated each others’ guts and lived at opposite ends of the house for years, but they “respected marriage enough to stay married.”  That is anything but respect; that is legalistic contempt for the sanctity of marriage.  Her grandparents kept their contract, perhaps, but the covenant that they made before God was long broken.

Marriage in itself is meaningless without love.  It’s four empty walls without a foundation.  It’s like God grudgingly offering salvation and saying, “I hate you, you sinful scum of the earth, but because I’m God and I have to, I guess you can come live with me in eternity.  Just keep your distance and please don’t bother me with your problems.”  Am I being too harsh?

Ephesians 5:25 — “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Marriage is supposed to be a safe place.  But society, and even Christians, have trivialized and ridiculed it into shameful jokes about the “ball and chain,” coexisted in loveless tension, and divorced and remarried and fought over their kids so much that they hardly have a leg to stand on when arguing for a traditional family.  No wonder the gay community sees their opponents as hypocrites: a lot of them are.  Many committed gay couples see the utter disregard for marriage that many heterosexual couples have and think to themselves, “Aaaand…we’re the problem?”  Those who have no standards of their own can hardly impose standards on others; Christians can’t fight to keep the “sanctity of marriage” until they’ve fought to keep their own.

But what if spouses truly loved each other as sacrificially as Christ loved the church?  What if they weren’t content to settle at “I do”, but instead continued to explore the beautiful, endless journey of love?  What if, today, you made the choice to make your marriage one that people would talk about long after you’re gone?

Unless you read this and decide to actively make your marriage more loving, more sacred, and more sacrificial than yesterday — unless you get on your knees and beg God to rekindle cold love in the hearts of His people and in so doing truly protect the sanctity of marriage — unless you set an example for other couples and teach and encourage them to love well instead of gossiping about their discontent — this blog post is nothing more than a rant.  It can’t change the divorce rate statistics.  It can’t protect the sanctity of marriage.  Only the above-and-beyond kind of love can do that.

Also, I would request that no one leave argumentative comments on whether they are for or against gay marriage.  That’s not what this post is about; if you think it is, please reread it carefully.  It’s not about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality so much as it is about checking your own heart.  I didn’t state my views, so please don’t state yours.  Use the time you would have spent commenting to buy your wife flowers or make your husband dinner.

a 31 relationship

In my last post, a job 31 man, I wrote about the guys’ equivalent of the Proverbs 31 woman. These two chapters in the Bible put forth some of the highest ideals to which a man or woman can be held: integrity, character, strength, a God-honoring lifestyle.

If a man strives for the Job 31 ideal and a woman strives for the Proverbs 31 ideal…

When boy meets girl, think of what they could accomplish for God together!

They could be Aquila and Priscilla.

They could be Keith and Melody Green.

They could be Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.

They could be you and your (future) spouse.

[Side note: if you feel you’re called to be single, I’m not hating. Don’t worry, the “1st Corinthians 7 man/woman” will show up in a blog post here pretty soon.]

Attraction is important and pda is fun, but Christian marriage at its core is a sort of alliance that should only be entered into if two people can work more effectively as a team to accomplish more for God’s kingdom than each of them could alone (a principle backed up by Gary Chapman).  Our life goals include going to college, building a career, and getting married, but too often it ends there — past that, there is no objective.  Marriage, however, is not an end in itself but the means to an end, a valuable tool that enables you to serve God in a more efficient and productive way. (Again, don’t assume from my robotic language that I don’t believe in romantic love. I’m trying to be concise here.)

I’ll share with you two examples of such vision (and I can only pray for a relationship as focused as these!)

The first is some lyrics penned by my idol Keith Green, referenced above: “I pledge my wife to heaven for the gospel, though our love each passing day just seems to grow.  As I told her when we wed, I’d surely rather be found dead, than to love her more than the one who saved my soul.  I pledge my son to heaven for the gospel, though he’s kicked and beaten, ridiculed and scorned.  I will teach him to rejoice and lift a thankful, praising voice, to be like Him who bore the nails and crown of thorns.  I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven for the gospel.” WOW. Well, what does that look like in action?

That brings me to example #2: When communists in Romania urged pastors to declare their allegiance to the government, Richard Wurmbrand’s wife Sabina whispered to him, “Are you going to stand up and wipe the spit from Jesus’ face?”  Wurmbrand explained, “If I do, you will no longer have a husband.”  Sabina replied, “I would rather have a dead husband than a cowardly one.”  Again, all I can say is WOW.  Sound harsh? Well, look at these two couples, Keith & Melody Green and Richard & Sabina Wurmbrand, and I think you’ll find that they were just as much in love, just as devoted to each other, as the inwardly-focused couples you see all around you. . . and they accomplished far more.

The Job 31 man and the Proverbs 31 woman are an ideal couple because, if you’ll notice, they are both self-sufficient. Their character is stable and they know their worth. So first, be proactive and make yourself a 31 man or woman suitable for your 31 counterpart. Don’t chase after temporary relationships when your own character isn’t fully developed.

Second, don’t look for someone who completes you, because then you’ll never be able to stand on your own. Sometimes, for couples like Richard and Sabina, surrendering your partner to God is necessary to fulfill your ultimate purpose as a couple. Instead, look for someone who complements you. Someone you can work with. Strive for a relationship that accomplishes something. One that makes a difference. One that leaves an impact.

A relationship that, ultimately, honors God.

Published in: on February 9, 2012 at 1:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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An Unconditional Relationship

Written December 26, 2010.

Relationships are becoming increasingly wishy-washy. In a society where nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and many more turn into apathy or unhappiness, there is hardly any sort of standard left. As our culture becomes progressively more absorbed with “me, myself, and I”, we have adopted a mentality of selfishness. If your partner doesn’t give you those warm fuzzy feelings anymore, if you’re not constantly high on romance, then you’ve fallen out of love and it’s time to move on. But here’s the reality of it: that high you feel when you’re with a new person is not love. It’s infatuation. We have cheapened something real, something deep, something pure, and used it to describe a fleeting feeling. Obviously this is a serious thing for marriages and families. We all know that. Perhaps not quite as evident, though, is the subtle way this mentality affects our relationship with God.

Throughout the Bible, there is a metaphor used to describe God’s relationship with his people as comparable to that of a bridegroom and his bride. In this day and age, we romanticize this comparison almost to the point of creepiness (straight guys feel a little uncomfortable thinking about “falling in love” with Jesus), and it becomes stripped of its meaning. We portray God almost as an ideal boyfriend, trying to fit Him to the expectations that go along with the stereotype. Then when hard times hit and the high becomes a low, what’s left? Only frustration and disappointment remain, and it’s due to our society’s relationship paradigm shift. We need to stop reading the Bible through the eyes of the 21st century.

You see, Jesus’ audience understood the metaphor he used about the bride and bridegroom. They understood that love was not an unreliable emotion. They understood that love, at its rock-solid core, was faithfulness – unconditional, unwavering, unending faithfulness. Love meant knowing that someone would always be there for you, that someone would take care of you no matter what. Love meant security. Love was a choice.

Why in the world would we want to trade in something so powerful for a shallow imitation? We’re all about the feelings, but love is proved to be legit when feelings are overridden by actions. We’re disillusioned and disappointed when God doesn’t make us feel safe, but He’s a step ahead of our emotions; we are safe, and that’s all that matters. God has promised never to leave or forsake us, and that is the foundation of the bride metaphor.

Now for the flip side: a skewed perception of our relationship with God colors the way we approach our faith, and the outcome has not been entirely favorable. Unconditional? Hardly. We let our emotions dictate our actions. If the feeling isn’t there, we use that as an excuse to back off. We can’t play our part because our heart’s not in it; we don’t feel like praying if we don’t feel God’s presence. Our friends in this society nod sympathetically, but in a culture of arranged marriages, such statements would necessitate a headdesk. The 1st century listeners who understood the bride/bridegroom comparison also understood that actions not only characterize unconditional love regardless of feelings, but in many cases, actions produce feelings as well. It’s a simple matter of the Law of Equivalent Exchange – you can’t get something from nothing. A relationship doesn’t magically happen without effort on your part.

Your relationship with God is based on a foundation that you create; the strength and stability of that foundation depend on the material with which you build it. Proactively lead your heart, and see your relationship withstand time and trials. Sit idly by, and watch it crumble.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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