Monday, September 8, 2008

THANK YOU FOR GIVING TO THE LORD

SepTEMBER 7, 2008

Ruth 4:13-17; Psalm 71:9; Titus 2:2-3

A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own,
so she likes other people's little girls. A grandfather is a
man grandmother. He goes for walks with the boys and
they talk about fishing and tractors and like that.
Grandmas don't have to do anything except be there.
They're old, so they shouldn't play hard or run. It is
enough if they drive us to the market where the pretend
horse is and have lots of dimes ready. Or if they take us
for walks, they should slow down past things like pretty
leaves or caterpillars. They should never ever say 'hurry
up.'

Usually they are fat, but not too fat to tie kids’ shoes.
They wear glasses and funny underwear. They can take
their teeth out and gums off.

It is better if they don't typewrite or play cards except
with us. They don't have to be smart, only answer questions
like why dogs hate cats and how come God isn't married.
They don't talk baby talk like visitors do, because it is hard
to understand. When they read to us they don't skip, or
mind if it is the same story again.

Everybody should try to have one, especially if you don't
have television, because grandmas are the only grown ups
who have got time.


Happy Grandparents Day! And on this day we take time to thank God for the heritage of grandparents that all of us are blessed with. Only Grandma would let me eat cookies when I shouldn’t. Only Grandma could make cornbread without a recipe. Only Grandma could tell scary stories that would keep me awake at night.

Your kids, my kids, our kids need grandparents. The children of our church need those of us older to step in at times and grandparent them. The kids in our community need the wisdom and influence of the older folks- I suppose those in their golden years- people like a lot of you.

The American Indians always highly valued the elders of the tribe. The elders were the ones who were to dispense wisdom and knowledge that was the result of their years of experiences both good and bad. In fact, the core values of our Tribe are referred to as the “Seven Grandfather Teachings” of Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Humility and Honesty. For Tribal people God is referred to as “Grandfather”- a name of endearment and respect. The role of the elders to set an example for the younger tribal citizens is lauded over and over. They have something to give to our young people.

How important it is that the grandparents here today do the same in sharing their life of learning, not from some formal education, but from the school of hard knocks. And how valuable that kind of teaching is to the young people of today!

Margaret Mead, the noted anthropologist, has said a lot of controversial things, but you will find no authorities debating her statement in her article “Grandparents and Educators.” In it she said, "Somehow we have to get the older people, grandparents, widows and widowers, spinsters and bachelors, back close to children if we are to restore a sense of community, a sense of knowledge of the past, and a sense of future to today's children."

I couldn’t agree more! Today we need grandmas and grandpas to take up the slack where parents are floundering or downright failing our kids. I thank God for the grandparents in my children’s lives. Sure, they weren’t perfect grandparents but in my mind they were perfect enough.

In our scripture text we read of the closing years of an old woman named Naomi. Naomi has returned to her native land of Israel but has no means to care for herself. She needs a man to redeem her possessions and the only way that happens is when her foreign daughter-in-law, Ruth, follows her to a strange land, meets up with Boaz and marries him. She then conceives a child and gives birth to a son, Obed, the grandfather of the future King David. And we see a strapping baby boy sitting on the lap Naomi. The people all around celebrate for and with Naomi that she has gained not merely a grandson but a son who is her kinsmen redeemer.

There are three very important aspects of this circumstance of the Grandmother, Naomi, and how her life not only was changed but how God came through and used her to change the future. I want to use this framework to remind you as grandparents how important your role is and your place in society.

Let me begin by reminding us that through grandparents…

1. Our Ancestral Roots are Remembered.

Not everybody is a grandparent but everybody is a grandchild. And as grandchildren, we need those connections to our ancestral roots that somehow does something for our self-worth and self-esteem. How does that work?

a. Without grandparents we would forget our past.

Without the memories of the long lost years of the 30’s I would have very little clue about the Great Depression. But my Grandmother and Dad lived as the poorest of the poor in Versailles, Kentucky. I also learned of family members and their idiosyncracies of which some I wished I didn’t know.

Many of you have heard me speak of my mom dying young at the age of 51 and my grandmother dying at the age of 39- a few years before I was born. One of our tribal elders knew my mom and my grandmother. He tells stories of my grandmother, especially, that does something for my inner being and my sense of connection to the past.

b. Without grandparents we would lose our future.

In fact, if I didn’t have grandparents then I don’t exist. We often think of our young people as our future. Well, the fact is without godly and wise grandparents there would be no future. Most of us don’t realize that what we enjoy today was built on the backs of many of you and your generations. The future would be lost if you had not made sacrifices in the past.

I think of this church and the buildings and facilities we have; however, they weren’t built by me or paid for by our younger people. You and your grandparents sacrificed and sweated and cried over putting together what God called you to do.

c. Without grandparents we would miss the present.

You in our older generation remind us of the present joys of life. One day, my body is going to begin to falter. No longer will I be able to shoot a lay-up or climb a tree and shoot my bow and arrow. I and those around my age need to enjoy the present but also look with expectation to the future.

Not only are your roots remembered but through grandparents…

2. Our Current Reality is Renewed.

Not everyone is a godly grandparent. And this may be where the message begins to turn for some. The reality is that true grandparenting comes by the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians. I am convinced that God calls every grandparent to a life of love, holiness and sacrifice. Sadly, not enough grandparents or even enough Christian grandparents fit this description.

But there is something about godly grandparents that help me in this day and age.

a. Godly Grandparents authenticate this present life.
Life gets hard at times. And life is tough. But I have seen the lives of enough of you to know that there is a certain faithfulness that is needed in these days. You have followed God in the workplaces as well as the church fellowship. You live out your days in prayer. You authenticate this present life for the rest of us by the daily actions of your faithfulness to God. Thank you.

b. Godly Grandparents teach us the wisdom of life.

I have learned so many things from many of you but the one thing that continually disturbs my thinking is that I don’t have all the answers. However, by listening to your stories and hearing your perspectives I have learned a certain wisdom that only comes with the years of serving God. Thank you.

c. Godly Grandparents model for us the practicality of life.

You have patterned for young people like me what it is to live by faith, to live within your means and to do the right things no matter what. As younger people we need your models of sensibility and no-nonsense living. Thank you.

Through godly grandparenting you are renewing the Church’s sense of reality and understanding that these are no normal times.

I also see…

3. Old Relationships are Reborn.

Some of the great lessons in life are learned best when we get older. So often the things we think are so important and so critical seems to fade as we get older. Many of us need only look back a few years and find that perhaps we stood too hard for some things and hurt the relations we had with people and even family members that we dearly love.

As we get older we can use the wisdom of our years as we allow the Holy Spirit to work through our life to see old relationships reborn. Let’s not wait for the next funeral to wish that we had made up with old acquaintances. I have three suggestions on this issue.

a. Break the Bonds that Divide You from Others.

Sometimes it seems to me that there is a particular bond of divisiveness between parents and children. What I mean is that the only means of communication between some parents and adult children is disagreement. This bond of disagreement is not good nor is it healthy for the grandchildren.

First, don’t speak ill or evil about your grandchildren’s parents. Always speak positively.

Second, respect your children’s expectations for the grandchildren. Don’t do things that undermine their authority.

For you to be all that God calls you to be as a grandparent find a way to reach back into the lives of your children and grandchildren. It may mean apologizing and making things right. But do the right thing.

b. Build a Bridge Over the Troubled Waters.

Our adult children and their children need help at times. When you see them struggling in the troubled waters don’t just shout swimming lessons. Help them out and then teach them to swim.

c. Broaden Your Awareness of the Needs of Others.

I stepped into the home a grandparent one time who proudly displayed pictures of their grandchildren except one. The grandfather refused to display his eldest grandson because he wore a nose-ring and had funny colored hair. I was shocked and not sure what to say in that moment.

As a grandparent is impendent upon you to accept your grandchildren and strive to understand the difficulties that they face in a world that is increasingly calling them to do things differently. I wonder how much different this young, lost man might respond to the gospel if his grandfather would love him half as much as Jesus loves him. I’ll say this, it will be very difficult for that boy to believe that Jesus loves him if his grandfather- who claims to be a Christian- acts as thought he does not.

Learn to love each one of your grandchildren. So what if they talk weird, dress funny or listen to goofy music. Just remember, someday they will have grandchildren who will talk weird to them, look funnier and listen to crazier music.

The last observation about grandparenting that I believe is critical to your walk of faith is to experience a…

4. Personal Religion that is Redeemed.

So often are so many Christians diagnosed with such a bad case of the hardening of the categories that we lose personal sight of our own relationship with God. I want to be a grandparent who loves God in such a way that I will continually experience a renewal of my own faith.

How can you experience a personal religion that is redemptive in your old age?

a. Let God work again in your life.

Take time out for some real prayer and fasting in your life. Take time in the Word and take time to listen. You may be retired and you may be tired but commit your ways to the Lord and see him rise again in your heart.

b. Seek God daily through prayer and the Word.

You are never too old to seek God and seek God’s will.

I think of Daniel who in his old age received yet another vision. He struggled in prayer until he was exhausted and still did not receive an answer.

c. Expect God to do something great.

As a younger person, sometimes my greatest disappointment is when I see people who are older and wiser than I see the world as worst off than it was. True, it probably is but people in my generation and younger need to see your faith rise to the occasion. We need to see you expect God to great things.

We need to see your faith in God grow.

We need to see your trust in us grow.

We need to see your hopes of a better future grow.

We need to see you expect God to great things.

Conclusion: Thank you for giving to the Lord.

Thank you for giving your self for others. Thank you for living your life for God’s purposes. Thank you for taking time out for young people like me who were trying to find their way in life. Thank you for allowing young preachers like me to learn on the job. Thank you for passing the reigns of leadership on to newer people and trusting God for the increase.

Thank you for being a godly grandparent. Truly, may all come behind you find you faithful. May the fire of your devotion light our way.

LOVE AND MARRIAGE- GOD'S WAY

August 24, 2008

Proverbs 18:22; Ephesians 5:21-33

[This was a two part sermon- partly because I digressed more than I anticipated.]

Introduction:

I was bagging groceries, minding my own business when this cute, dark haired girl frolicked through the check-out lane I was working. I put on my best muscle show for her as I crowded four packs of Charmin into rectangle paper bags. And in that moment all of history was about change- in my life, her life, your lives and countless others. That seventeen year old boy fell in love and was changed forever.

If there ever was an argument against evolution and if there ever was an argument against the concept of atheism, love would be the very thing to raise. How can conscious creatures like us human beings fall in love with another? How can we explain love in real terminology?

Love is truly a many splendored thing. And the love between a man and woman- the kind of love that changes lives- can only come from God.

What do you know about your marriage and what happened on that wedding day?

A few weeks ago I performed an Indian Wedding ceremony. I stood before the bride and groom and the whole company of witnesses to lead them into vows that I pray will carry them and their love for the rest of their days. I wore a traditional tribal shirt that represented the Woodlands Indians- of which the Ottawas are considered. An elder in the tribe gifted me with a bone and beaded collar- he jokingly called a “choker.” With these I stood with the marriage manual- the Bible- and led them into the riches of God’s grace called marital bliss.

But what happens so often after the ceremony is what makes or breaks a marriage. Today, I want to break down this concept of love and marriage for us so that we can come away with a greater understanding and appreciation for this wonderful gift of God in our lives.

1. Marriage Commended.

God loves to see love blossom in the life of his creation. Unlike animals that have only a primal concept of love, we as human beings long to love and be loved. And despite the problems that marriages experience, marriage is commended by the scripture.

Proverbs 18:22- “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Proverbs 19:14- “Houses and riches are an inheritance from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.”

A person receives an inheritance that is tangible and legally passed on to the next generation. But to receive a godly wife is truly God’s gift to the husband. I would hope that as men we appreciate the beautiful wife that we have been given.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy concerning the various family issues that this young pastor was facing. Concerning the young women whose husbands may have died in war he says this:

Hebrews 13:4- “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

In Ephesians the Apostle Paul reiterates the concept of marriage that God instituted in Genesis.

Jeremiah 29:6- “Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they may have sons and daughters. Increase in numbers there; do not decrease.”

The greatest influence a person can have is to be married, raise children and send them out. When Jim Eliott was being urged by his parents to stay in the States and minister, he responded by pointing out “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full.” What is a quiver full of? Arrows. What are arrows meant for? Not remaining in the quiver but to be shot out. My calling as a parent is to send out my children to have families and influence the world.

And the Bible teaches that the proper way to have a full quiver is to be married first.

2. Marriage is an Obligation.

Genesis 2:24- “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Mark 10:8b-9- “So they are no longer two but one. Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate.”

The simplicity of the message cannot be overlooked: they will become one flesh.

a. One in body.

The sexual intimacy in a marriage brings the two to a physical one-ness.

b. One in soul.

There is an emotional binding over time as the married couple learns the idiosyncrasies of each other. They begin to think more in tune with the other, their wills become more conducive to each other’s, and their emotions become more influential with the other.

c. One in spirit.

As the couple matures spiritually, their marriage becomes more spiritual. What used to take excessive discipline now becomes regular habit. They are more spiritually in tune with each other’s needs.

This is why divorce is hell. Divorce is the shredding of a binding that was meant for eternity. The Bible speaks very strongly against divorce for this reason.

Jesus speaks these words:

Matthew 5:32- “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). The marriage is supposed to be an example of Christ and the Church. When divorce occurs it must only be a last resort issue that is compelled by “unfaithfulness” circumstances. What those “unfaithfulness” circumstances are depends on the parties involved. Certainly, sexual infidelity is one that is highly ranked by scripture.

I would also personally add that if a woman is in a relationship where she is at high risk of physical and emotional danger, she maintains the right to leave that situation. There is no way that I would counsel someone to stay in a dangerous relationship of that kind.

Conclusion:

The week we spent an entire day at Six Flags Great America. Now, I am not into spinning rides. My wife is. She is not into roller coasters; I am. Because of her recent surgery she was to ride her favorite rides. I didn’t say, “Tough luck” and run off to the nearest coaster. Instead, we worked together to spend time together. We rode the train, we watched a movie about dolphins and we walked the park.

However, there were times when I did get to ride the roller coasters. And I was reminded once again that marriage has its ups and downs. Marriage has it difficult turns and twists. There are times of laughter and times of difficulty.

PART TWO

3. Marriage is an Exchange.

The success of a marriage is dependent on the exchange rate that we give it. How does a marriage work in the exchange factor? Through sacrifice. We give up something to gain something or someone greater.

If there is anything that I have learned about marriage, love and ministry its these three important concepts:

First, you get what you pay for. Whatever you want out of a marriage is what you invest into it. No question here. Those who put their marriage and family first will generally reap blessings and rewards for their sacrifices.

However, there is something else that I have learned…

Second, what you pay for is not always what you get. There are times that the parents’ sacrifices and best efforts are not enough. They pay the price to raise their children the right way and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Kids make choices because they have free wills. And sometimes as parents we just simply have leave them in God’s care.

Third, sometimes you get what you didn’t pay for. Sometimes and even many times there are those who have discovered that in their family circle there are benefits they receive- not because they have been so good or done so well- but “just because.” God in some extra-ordinary way blesses the mom or dad, the husband or wife, with relationship miracles. I can’t explain how seemingly dysfunctional parenting reaps positive results with the children.

Put that same thought into the marital realm. I have been the beneficiary of a wonderful wife- far more than I have paid for. But let’s not be na├»ve either: To make our marriage work we have made our share of sacrifices, worked through our share of frustrations together and have stayed faithful to the other.

Like a well-kept garden, you need to cultivate the soil of the marriage to reap the joys of Biblical love. And this is not an easy thing.

Genesis 29:20- “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.”

Hard work is never an issue if it’s worth the hard work. Jacob was so enamored with Rachel that his labor seemed easy. He never lost sight of his goal of wedding his true love Rachel. And even after being deceived by his father-in-law he willfully worked an additional seven years.

The great tragedy in our times is that people forget that there is a cost to marriage. You have to work to make a marriage work. A solid marriage doesn’t simply occur by fiat.

Song of Solomon 8:7- “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”

What do we learn from this particular verse?

a. Love is invincible and unquenchable even when flooded by difficulty.

Every marriage becomes challenged by a variety of issues. Look at some of the wedding vows for a moment:

 For better, for worse:

Believe me, after twenty-five years Naomi and I have see the better days and the worse days. We know what it is to scrimp and scrape to get by. And perhaps we will see better better days and maybe we’ll have to face worse worse days. But these things are in our Lord’s hands.

 For richer, for poorer:

We know the poorer part far better than the richer part. Yet, how many marriages are dictated by money? How many base their love on what material benefits that they are receiving in the marriage? A marriage based on money is void of true love. This richer and poorer stuff is not merely about money but things, materials and status.

When I have failed my wife is by my side. When she has been rejected I’ve been by her side. This is what it’s about- being there for the other.

 In sickness and in health:

Yep, we know that one too. Need I say more? You’ve seen her health issues. And believe me in sickness and in health eventually will knock at the door of your marriage.

b. Love is so priceless that it cannot be bought- only given away.

You cannot bribe someone to love you. Love is something that is only given away. The exchange of love is an exchange of each one- the husband and the wife- giving to each other with no strings attached.

You can’t buy me lu-uv! However, neglect of love undermines the whole deal!

How do we as men give away our love for our wives? How do you as wives give away your love for your husband?

Compliments. Husbands: When was the last time your told your woman that she is beautiful and the only woman for you? Wives: When was the last time you told your man that he is handsome and the only man for you?

Let them know they are wonderful and beautiful. Be your spouse’s number one cheerleader even if they don’t give you too much to cheer about!

Thanksgiving. Learn to thank your spouse for doing something for you. My wife is the best at this. Whenever I get something for her- the remote, a glass of Diet Squirt, the groceries out of the van- she always thanks me. Me? I’m batting about .200. But I’ve been taking batting lessons to get better.

Support. Be that strong arm to lean on when your spouse is in need. Who knows when that may suddenly happen in a huge way. Start now. Be there to wipe away their tears (not only women but men as well). Be there to encourage them when they have failed. Support each other through thick and thin.

Attention. Give your spouse the attention he or she deserves. I realize budgets are tight and getting tighter. But consider having the occasional “date night.” Even if it’s McDonald’s or Wesco pizza, do something that adds a little pizzaz. (Of course, if Wesco pizza adds pizzaz to your marriage you might need to see me.)

Apologize. Learning to say "I'm sorry" is of the utmost importance. Without recognizing our own failings in our marital and family relationships we will hinder true growth and spirituality in the home. My kids, my wife need to not only hear but see my humility when I am wrong. Likewise, they need to do the same. I would much rather die admitting I was wrong about something than living a life of denial.

These things and many others strengthen your relationship with each other. And you just might begin to experience the awesome joys that a marriage should experience.

Allow me, now, to delve into a wee bit of theology for a moment about marriage and what it represents:

4. Marriage is a Reflection.

The reality of a marriage is that it is supposed to be a reflection the love of God in the hearts of two mere human people. This love for each other tells the bigger story of Christ’s love for his church.

Consider the passage in Ephesians 5.

 Christ loves the Church.

When husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, this speaks of an agape love. There are times when we may feel hurt or scorned- but we still love our wife. There may be times where we may feel ignored or disrespected- but we still love our wife.

Look at how Jesus loved the Church: How? He gave up everything for the Church. In the same sense, as husbands we give up everything for our wife.

 Christ died for the Church.

By giving up everything, he did not consider the humility of being a human being something of an embarrassment. If there is ever a character trait that we need in the lives of a lot of husbands and that is humility.

We need men to die to themselves and humble themselves. Are you ready to do that, husband? Are you ready to become less so that your wife becomes greater? Then wash the dishes after dinner. Make her go watch her favorite show while you do the dishes.

That is Biblical because…

 Christ washed the Church.

Continually, the life of Christ cleanses us. In a similar sense, as husbands we are to bath our wives in prayer and the word of God. We are to pray over her and speak kindly to her. There should never be any pride in a man who speaks down to his wife or speaks unkindly to her or about her.

But what about the wife?

Wives, respect your husband and the fearful role that he has been placed into. Pray for us. Most of us don’t have a clue and we’re learning on the job about your feelings, your likes and dislikes, and your ever-changing moods. Show your husband the same respect you would show Christ if he was here in a bodily presence. Allow him to be your spiritual leader. And if he doesn’t seem to be doing the job, let him know that you need him to be you spiritual leader. And then see what God does.

There is one other aspect about marriage that I feel needs to be addressed:

5. Marriage is Exclusive

Marriage is not for everyone. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:8- “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.”

Some people in the early church considered celibacy to be holier than marriage. Marriage is not intended for everyone. God calls some to not be married.

I uphold the Roman Catholic Church’s stance against the world’s way of thinking about the marriage of priests. They believe that their spiritual leaders should be free of the marital commitments of this earth and serve God and the Church only. I support this fully.

In our tradition, we don’t believe this for our pastors. That’s alright.

The Apostle Paul expresses to the Corinthian Church that he wishes everyone would be as he. However, he then tells them in the next verse: “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

This speaks of those who fall in love. They can get married.

A few years ago I was blessed to perform the marriage for a 71 year old man who never had been married and never had a serious relationship all of his life.

What we know throughout church history is that there have been those who have accepted the role of celibacy as the high calling of their life in order to minister exclusively for the Church and for God.

However, this is not for everyone.

Conclusion:

But what matters most in all of this? God’s faithfulness to us and our faithfulness to each other. How else can you measure success in life but by the closest relationships we keep.


54 State St.
(corner of State/Oceana Dr. and Ferry St.)
Shelby, MI 49455

Contact information:
231-861-5375
robnaomi@charter.net