This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 31st of December 2017.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis describes the ship sailing into an unearthly, inky blackness and rescuing a sailor who had been lost in the darkness for years. Taking the man onboard, the crew begins to fear that they too, will be unable to find their way out.
Then Lucy breathes a prayer to Aslan that leads to this:
“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
In a few moments the darkness turned into a greyness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been. They blinked their eyes and looked about them. The brightness of the ship herself astonished them: they had half expected to find that the darkness would cling to the white and the green and the gold in the form of some grime or scum. And then first one, and then another, began laughing.
There are times when our lives are filled with personal darkness.
It may be the darkness of a marriage breakup. It could be the darkness of depression or an unexpected diagnosis that has left you feeling as if you are groping around blindly, looking for hope and finding none.
Perhaps you are struggling with your personal failures.
Or it could be that feeling that has dogged you for years, that sense that no matter how hard you try, you just never quite measure up – “I will never be good enough” you conclude.
And our personal world of darkness often feels particularly pronounced at Christmas time.
“Everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves. If only I could too !”
Centuries ago Isaiah made a wonderful promise concerning what God would do about our personal darkness:
“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… there will be a time in the future when…the people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
He described what God did on that first Christmas – He sent His Son Jesus to shine the light of His love and grace into the world’s – and our – darkness.
No matter how dark your world is right now, God wants you to know how much He loves you. So why not open the door of your heart and let the light of His love shine in?
Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare? Aesop’s fable concerns a tortoise who was fed up with being ridiculed for his slowness by a hare and challenged him to a race!
Convinced he would win easily, the hare took time out for a nap halfway through but awoke with a start to discover the tortoise had both passed him and crossed the finish line first.
At first glance, before the race is run, it is obvious that the hare has a distinct advantage over the tortoise – it would be a brave person to bet against the hare!
As the hare’s coach what advice would you give him pre-race?
“It’s in the bag!” or “Win, but don’t overdo it. Save your energy for the bigger race.”
Perhaps you might be more circumspect and advise him, “Don’t underestimate this guy, this a long race!”
What advice would you give the tortoise?
“I admire your courage, but you have way too much baggage holding you down, hindering you from winning this race.”
But who really had the most baggage?
He was lazy and arrogant. He had poor follow through and lacked stickability.
The tortoise’s baggage was obvious but it also brought out his best. It produced endurance, tenacity, perseverance and courage.
And I don’t think losing would have bothered him. His goal was to finish the race!
The tortoise recognized and dealt with his baggage and he kept moving forward.
The same principle operates in marriage as a couple grows in this oneness.
If a couple is to grow closer over the years then it means that they both will have developed ways of identifying their personal baggage and dealing with it.
Every one of us comes to marriage with “baggage”, but so many are unaware of it.
And we quickly discover that living under the same roof with another person creates all sorts of issues and conflicts!
However, rather than deal with our baggage we often retreat into blaming the other person and demanding that they “sort themselves out!”
Of course, there is truth to that. We all carry personal baggage and need to work it through in order to become whole people.
But unawareness of or refusal to acknowledge our own baggage, makes us extremely unsafe and heading for personal and relational disaster.
I can remember when recognizing and dealing with some of my own baggage became deeply personal for me.
I had a bad habit of reading too much into comments made by others to me, perceiving them as personal criticisms of me or my performance.
This was particularly pronounced in my relationship with Karen. She might make an observation about something I had done or said and if it did not agree completely with how I saw it then I would take it personally and feel quite wounded.
But when I began to recognize and own my behavior, I also began to identify the faulty thinking process that was at the root of it all.
I would hear the comment, interpret it incorrectly (instead of clarifying what was said), which then led to a whole range of negative thoughts and responses.
Things began to change when I deliberately grabbed the negative thought early in this negative cycle and replaced it with positive and truthful statements.
As I went through this process of dealing with some of my baggage, we grew closer as a couple; we grew in our oneness.
I wish I could say that I have perfected this but I can’t. But I can say that my marriage is richer because I am married to a woman who is committed to journeying with me because she knows that I want to be a better man.
And I am just as committed to her as she deals with her own baggage.
So what are you? A tortoise or hare?
In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll describes a conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty on the topic of words and their meaning. It goes like this:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master—that’s all.”
One of the points being made by Humpty Dumpty is that the person who controls what words mean is also the person who controls the conversation.
I have been thinking a lot about “marriage” lately and what the word means.
Marriage has been defined as, “The social institution under which a man and woman live as husband and wife by legal or religious commitments.”
Dig a little deeper and you discover that our English word comes down to us via Latin and French and it has given rise to a number of humorous quotes on marriage such as marry in haste and repent at leisure and never marry for money, but marry where money is!
Based on the above, it would be easy to conclude that marriage is simply a contract, with possibly a few religious rites thrown in and depending on the person you marry, it could be a glad or sad experience!
God describes marriage as something far grander!
First, He paints us a picture of marriage being grounded in friendship and companionship.
“It is not good for man to be alone!” He declares, and so He creates Eve as the perfect counterpart for man in their journey through life together.
What is clear here is that it is God Who brings men and women together – It is He Who provides Eve for Adam.
I am deeply thankful for the hand of God in my life as He led me to my wife Karen. As a young man I remember well a church leader praying for God’s provision for me of the woman He had prepared to be my wife. Less than two months later Karen walked into my life, a brand new Christian and I have never doubted that she was God’s answer to my prayer.
Marriage has a different meaning altogether when God is in it!
God also gives us an inspiring portrait of marriage as the foundational pillar of any successful society.
Through Moses, God speaks of the importance of Dad and Mum raising their children in His ways and the direct flow on this has for society – the community that is built around God’s principles “will live long and be successful.”
It is a portrait that specifically highlights the crucial role that fathers play in raising their children.
I read recently of a study that has found that there is a direct connection between a child’s physiological development and the absence of a father.
In other words, remove Dad from the scene and a child’s physical development is negatively affected.
So when I reflect on God’s vision for marriage I discover that the word means so much more than a mere “social institution” between “a man and a woman”, consisting of legal and religious requirements.
God’s vision for marriage is that it both undergirds and transforms our society and it is a vision that I think we need to re-capture.
It is a divinely inspired vision that lifts marriage out of the mire of what we think it is and instead, is grounded in a conversation which God began in the first place.