Today we begin a month long series on marriage. Not everyone is called to be married: Jesus was not married, Paul was not married, they had a gift… I say: you can live a full life without ever going to Disneyland, a full life without owning a computer, a full life with an X-Box, (and at least for some people), you can live a full life without getting married. Most people do get married at some point… Today we’ll consider those Crazy and Amazing vows.
In the next few weeks I may make statements you question. You may think I am picking on you. I’m not. I have had many conversations about marriage, wedding vows, living together, divorce, remarriage. If I say something and you think I am looking directly at you, I’m NOT… You have to let me state the convictions of my heart and more importantly the best of my understanding of what the Bible says… If you disagree with me, dig into scripture to show me where I am wrong.
Reality is that there is no perfect marriage, because we are imperfect promise keepers. I love the title of a little book on my shelf: “Real Life Marriage.” I want to talk about real life marriage, real life families. Even the first marriage between Adam and Eve was dysfunctional ~ one son killed another son.
Years ago when I was in SF my friend Brad was the Pastor of the Santa Cruz AC Church. Brad told me about a prayer request that made him laugh. A woman from one of the Caribbean Islands, a loving and sweet lady, raises her hand during the prayer time and says in her Caribbean accent, “Pastor Brad, pleeze pray that I don’t keel my keeds” (kill my kids). Maybe that’s closer to the goal some of you have for your own marriage. “God, please pray that I don’t kill my husband, he drives me nuts.” Real life marriage. Those crazy and amazing vows are foundational…
The Bible is full of commitments God makes to us, commitments we make to God, commitments we make to others. I’ve seen it 100 times. A crowd gathers for a wedding, sometimes as a wedding starts I feel like the Charlie Brown adults as I see people with glazed over eyes listening politely… suddenly, as soon as I say to the Bride and Groom, “please turn and face each other to exchange your vows,” I can see people shift in their seats for a better view. The vows are rightly the main event. The vows are the same vows everyone has heard hundreds of times, but never before between these two people who are making a life long commitment. People fly from all over the country just to hear the ancient words, “I Carl, take you Sally…” Our world is starved for vows…This is God’s way!
I’ve heard my brother Jim tell Pastor’s up and down the west coast that if you are not committed to the place where you serve, nothing of substance is going to happen… isn’t that the same principle for all relationships, including marriage! Commitment in marriage guides me, maybe I’m a simple guy but my vows make life easier by narrowing options ~ I often am motivated for the sake of Sally, because I said I would, God’s will for you and me is first and foremost to be faithful to our promises!… I often remind Sally of our vows, especially the unspoken ones. When we were married we included the better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, but we also had some unspoken Vows. Christmas, birthdays, valenties Day, no present from Carl! So I remind Sally, you knew when you married me I was the world’s worst present giver! Same with flowers. Same with dancing. All part of our unspoken marriage vows!
Those crazy and amazing vows. We need to know what we expect from each other. It is a problem when people break their promises ~ but that does not undermine the longing and need we have for the stability that comes from making commitments. Food can rot and make you sick, but you gotta keep eating! Just because there are schmucks in this world does not mean we should back off from making and keeping our commitments. God knows we keep our promises imperfectly, yet our commitments form the foundation of relationships. Here’s an interesting verse from Malachi 1:14: “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord.” God knows we are imperfect, yet he still uses commitments as the foundational way of forming strong relationships.
Some of you are in marriages where you want more from your spouse, assuming what you want is reasonable, keep praying, keep your own vows, keep being faithful, keep believing, keep hope alive…The Bible says in 1 Cor. 7, if a spouse is not a believer, stay married and bring holiness into the marriage. In real life marriage, there are times when one spouse is better at the commitment keeping than the other… so influence. Only divorce in extreme circumstances the Bible says, sexual immorality is what is stated in one place.
Let me say this ~ maybe this is one of those offensive things…. what I think is wrong with living together instead of being married? ~ it has everything to do with our need for making commitments. We humans don’t do well with ambiguity. We need stability. Living together means you are committed but not committed. Which is it? In John 4 Jesus meets a Woman at a Well drawing water, and he has a conversation: “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’, for you have had five husbands, and the one you have is not your husband. What you have said is true. Do you hear the ambiguity? The uncertainty. The unstableness. Jesus wants better for people. I’m not saying all is lost for those who live together. I want stability, commitment, marriage for people. God ordains marriage, Christian or not, living together or not, marriage is a blessing from God! Marriage is good.
I have asked at least 50 couples that were living together prior to their marriage why they are getting married. Most cannot come up with profound words to describe the feelings, but they all say there is something deeper, a greater commitment with marriage.
I love the simplicity of what Jesus says when it comes to keeping our commitments: Simply let your yes be yes and your no no (Mat. 5:37). Do what you say you are going to do. I love this commitment Ruth makes to Naomi (READ Ruth 1:16-17). It is not a marriage vow, but all the principles are involved. Ruth is specific, deliberate, it gives her guidance on what she commits to do…. She does not know the future but she commits herself to completely change her life. And Naomi now has confidence. No ambiguity about the relationship. A vow is a game changer.
These are what the marriage vows are all about. A specific pledge. A commitment to love and to cherish another person, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. I’m a fan of the traditional wedding vows. The vows are so important. I have a book that has a ton of optional vows. A few I’ve crossed out because they are so absurd. How about this one: “Sally, in one movie, the character played by Tom Cruise discovers whom he really loves. He tells her, “You complete me.” As he continues pouring out his love to her, begging her to join him, the object of his love interrupts him and says, “Stop, you had me when you say hello.” I’m no Tom Cruise, but Sally, you complete me. I like the traditional vows because it is incredibly important what you promise to each other. I know one man who bragged that he married wife #2 with the words, “We’ll stay married as long as we are good for each other.” Surprise, surprise, the marriage did not last. Yet he was faithful to his vows. Deep vows are for no matter what…
Do you know how much freedom I have to know Sally will love me no matter what? Her love for me is about as close as humanly I can experience of unconditional love, outside of God’s great love for me through Christ Jesus. I am free because somebody loves me. And do you know how important it is that I made a commitment to Sally ~ I know what you are thinking, I got the better end of the deal. Why Sally married me I’ll never know, but she did. And I tell her all the time, “It’s too late!” I kinda agree with this description of the difference between men and women:
WOMEN are honest, loyal, and forgiving. They are smart, knowing that knowledge is power. But they still know how to use their softer side to make a point.
- Women want to be the best for their family, their friends, and themselves.
- Their hearts break when a friend dies. They have sorrow at the loss of a family member, yet
they are strong when they think there is no strength left.
- A woman can make a romantic evening unforgettable.
- Women come in all sizes, in all colors and shapes. They live in homes, apartments and cabins.
They drive, fly, walk, run or e-mail you to show how much they care about you.
- The heart of a woman is what makes the world spin! Women do more than just give birth. They
bring joy and hope. They give compassion and ideals.
- They give moral support to their family and friends. And all they want back is a hug, a smile
and for you to do the same to people you come in contact with.
And MEN? ~~~ They are good at lifting heavy stuff and sometimes killing spiders.
Marriage is about keeping the promise of a commitment, devotion, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. Why people choose whom they choose in marriage is part of the divine mystery. Those crazy and amazing vows. Vows are the bedrock for stability, confidence, assurance, meaning and purpose. They give direction, guidance, much needed limitations. All relationships depend on the commitments we make to each other and how well we can be depended on to keep those promises! For those who are struggling in a relationship or in a marriage, I want to give you hope to keep on being faithful with everything you have. If things happen beyond your control, or if there is sin in the camp, hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll be able to say a few encouraging (even insightful) things, but keep on keeping on… you remain faithful. Pray for strong marriages in our community and society. Pray for deep commitments. Pray for God’s glory to be present. God revealing himself through Christian marriages and families has the power to change the world!
A marriage is only as strong as the giving and keeping of those crazy and amazing vows. Commitments are God’s way of giving us incredibly deep and nurturing lives. May those of you who are married find incredible blessings, and may our community also be blessed by the strong and stable marriages that are so powerful. Amen.