This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 10th of June 2018.
The Philosopher, Plato, once quoted a story from Greek mythology that said human beings “were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces.”
The king of the gods, Zeus, afraid of the power that humans might wield, decided to limit them, splitting them into two different people which resulted in them spending the rest of their lives seeking their other half.
From this myth arose the idea of the soul mate, that special person who is said to complete you and with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
Some of you may cringe at the idea of your partner being your soul mate – I agree it can be overstated at times – but I think that at the heart of the concept is the idea of friendship.
And what could be better than being married to someone who is also your best friend?
It must be said, however, that the idea of friendship/the soul mate is not something that just happens in a relationship. Like everything else in life that is worthwhile, a growing and fulfilling friendship with your spouse is the result of intentionality.
One of my favourite books my mum read to me as a child began like this: “A friend is someone who likes you…”
All friendships begin at this point – you like the other person – but how does the friendship grow?
It grows as you spend quality time together, discovering you share a number of interests with each other.
To quote the Greeks again, the word for this “friendship love” is “philia.”
Philia meant that you had genuine, warm feelings toward the other person and that you shared a number of common interests and activities.
This is how friendship in marriage develops as well.
You obviously like each other – you are married – but what do you enjoy doing together?
Over the course of my marriage with Karen we have developed a great number of interests and activities in common and one of the things I have learned is that for an interest to be shared, you do not have to both “be into it” it from the outset.
This is what I mean.
When I met Karen, she could not tell you the difference between a googly or an out swinger, so in the early stages of our friendship and marriage, I introduced her to the joys of watching that greatest of all sports, cricket!
On the other hand, I could not dance to save my life but Karen loves dancing. Thanks to her tutelage and encouragement, I have regularly braved the dance floor with her over the years and now instead of looking like I have three left feet, it only looks like I have two!
The point here is that we both chose to show an interest in what each other liked and discovered the joy of not only learning something new but also spending fun time together.
Some years ago James Dobson quoted research that demonstrated that one of the key elements that predicted longevity in marriage was that the couple had various “interests in common and genuinely liked doing things together.”
Sadly, this factor is often missing in marriage.
A husband returns home at the end of the day and after exchanging a few pleasantries with his wife, quickly retreats to his shed or garage.
Or a wife chooses the company of her friends more regularly than the opportunity of being out with her husband.
A growing friendship with each other is an important aspect of a healthy marriage.
If you are struggling with doing something together as a couple, why not start by talking about the things you enjoyed doing together when you were dating?
Who knows, a night out at a bowling alley could end up being the best fun you have had together in years!
It’s February and this is the month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day!
Sadly, what was once a time for lovers to declare and affirm their love for each other has simply become another exercise for retailers to encourage people to spend, spend, spend!
How easily our society is hoodwinked into thinking that spending money on exorbitant and highly priced gifts is the way in which you show the depth of your love for another!
Too often, when the gifts have lost their lustre and the initial *flush of romance has cooled, couples find themselves in the following situation described poetically by Adrian Plass:
Sunday is a funny day,
It starts with lots of noise.
Mummy rushes round with socks,
And Daddy shouts, ‘You boys!’
Then Mummy says, ‘Now don’t blame them,
You know you’re just as bad,
You’ve only just got out of bed,
It really makes me mad!’
My mummy is a Christian,
My daddy is as well,
My mummy says ‘Oh, heavens!’
My daddy says ‘Oh, hell!’
And when we get to church at last,
It’s really very strange,
Cos Mum and Dad stop arguing,
And suddenly they change.
At church my mum and dad are friends,
They get on very well,
But no one knows they’ve had a row,
And I’m not gonna tell.
People often come to them,
Because they seem so nice,
And Mum and Dad are very pleased
To give them some advice.
They tell them Christian freedom
Is worth an awful lot,
But I don’t know what freedom means,
If freedom’s what they’ve got.
Daddy loves the meetings,
He’s always at them all,
He’s learning how to understand
The letters of St Paul.
But Mummy says, ‘I’m stuck at home
To lead my Christian life,
It’s just as well for blinkin’ Paul
He didn’t have a wife.’
I once heard my mummy say
She’d walk out of his life,
I once heard Daddy say to her
He’d picked a rotten wife.
They really love each other,
I really think they do.
I think the people in the church
Would help them – if they knew.
Growing a love that lasts a lifetime is not the result of expensive gifts or grand declarations of extravagance.
Love that lasts a lifetime is forged in the fires of adversity.
It is the fruit of a couple who honestly face the truth about themselves as individuals and are prepared to work for positive change and growth.
Love that lasts a lifetime grows in the seedbed of honest communication.
It is born out by travelling the hard road of dealing with one’s junk.
It is recognising that the person you are married to or in love with is not perfect…and neither are you.
It is learning to accept those imperfections in each other and realising that they can actually work in your favour.
There is enough fakery and pretend love in the world already, so why continue to go along with it.
We have become so enamoured with the version of “love” portrayed on our TV and computer screens that we have forgotten what the real thing looks like!
So do something radical this Valentines’ Day.
Instead of an expensive gift why not invest yourself into your relationship?
Ask yourself what it is that you truly love about your partner.
Write them down. (In a card or a letter – not an email – remember what writing is?!)
And then give it to your loved one.
Spend time together talking about the things that you love about each other.
And then plan and dream about how you can build on that in the coming year.
Don’t settle for what our culture says is true love – discover it’s wonder and beauty for yourselves!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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?
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.