I don’t know who was more excited about yesterday’s service, but there are good odds that it was the Pastor himself, who happens to be me. It was the first time in six weeks that I’ve been in the pulpit since having surgery on my right ankle for osteomyelitis. This might account for some “pre-game jitters.” Like a golfer’s swing, getting my preaching voice back was an issue. By the grace of God, to use baseball terminology, I was able to “preach a complete game!”
My first official service back just happened to also be a wedding: Tim Fay Georgia Smith (Pastor Smith & Renee’s oldest daughter). Whenever there is a wedding ceremony as part of our regular worship service, it does change some of the normal dynamics and parameters. There are time considerations, family and numerous guests along with the Body, but it still creates an important time to preach and teach the Word of God; especially to fulfill the Bible’s admonition to “Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband.” (Heb.13:4) In this case, the message was from (Prov.22:28) “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” Landmarks refer to boundary lines, especially having to do with property and inheritance. There is a reminder here that LIFE HAS BOUNDARIES: just trying driving your car while ignoring the “boundaries” of the white or yellow lines...you will hurt yourself or others too. Well, love and marriage also have boundaries established by God. That’s why all the talk about “free love” simply doesn’t exist. Years ago there was a book titled, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” That, my friend, is not love, but is completely ludicrous. Since this particular verse is mentioned on a number of occasions, I think it means that God knows us as individuals. It indicates that there’s a tendency in human nature (context is usually for personal gain) and a complicit that is always trying to move God’s boundaries! This is why the battle to re-define marriage is not a light one which we can’t ignore. We should never, never give up because simply put: it matters!
The United States’ credit rating is not the only thing that has been downgraded. There’s what I call a “commitment downgrade” affecting marriage that’s been going on and escalating over the last few decades. This is why a recent headline caught my attention, “Living Together Too Much Commitment For Today’s Couples.” We’ve been battling the increase and deception of cohabitation for a good while. It seems that even that commitment is too much today?! The new relationship agreement that is gaining popularity is called “stayover relationships”. The article went on to say, “Instead of following a clear path from courtship to marriage, individuals are choosing to engage in romantic ties on their own terms without the guidance of social norms.” Most particularly, it is not society’s norms that matters, it is God’s Word and guidance for marriage that is under assault today. Jim Daly (President of Focus on the Family) said, “From television to movies to music, the bonds of matrimony are often lampooned as chains that bind and confine as opposed to the great anchor of stability God intended them to be.” A number of years back I was at Bally’s gym and a guy out of the clear blue said to me, “I see that you’re doing your time.” I had no idea at first what he was talking about, but then I realized he had seen my wedding ring and he viewed it more as a life sentence then the huge dividends that loyalty and faithfulness bring in a committed marriage relationship.
It was the author and radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, who wrote some thought-provoking thoughts in a piece, “If You’re Thinking of Marrying.” While acknowledging the difficulty of finding the right person to marry he did bring up a number of critical questions to ask/answer before you think of marrying that special someone. I will resist the temptation of commenting on all of them, but at least think with me about them.
Is the person your best friend or at least becoming so? It’s easy to find a lover, or get excited about a new person, but one of the single most overlooked questions among couples, especially young ones is this, because over time, friendship is the greatest bond between a couple.
Aside from sex, do you enjoy each other. Again this sounds trite, but enjoying each other may actually be the single most important characteristic of a happy marriage.
Does the person have a number of good friends and at least one very close friend of the same sex? It is a very good sign if the person you are thinking of marrying does not have good friends of long duration. This alone should rule out the person from consideration.
How does the person treat others? Notice the emphasis here on “others.” Of course in dating and courtship, they’re always going to try and put their best foot forward toward you. So, see how he or she treats waitresses, employees, workmates, family members, and people who can do nothing for them.
What problems do the two of you have now, and are trying to suppress? Here’s a real secret: marrying will not solve any problem you have with the person.
How often do you fight? No two people are going to experience a conflict-free relationship. But, if you’re constantly fighting, and conflict-resolution is not part of your maturing experience, then things will escalate and not go away.
Do you share values? Opposites may attract in the beginning, but like stay together for the long term. The values that are the most important are those grounded in God’s unshakable Word. Your mutual commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is part of the “glue” of a happy and lasting marriage.
Is the person unhappy? Try and marry a person who is an essentially happy person, because you will need it. A happy person doesn't always lift up an unhappy person, but an unhappy person tends to bring down a happy person.
What do people you respect think of the person you’re considering marrying? Yes, I know you think you’re the only person in the world who knows what’s best for you but, the input of people you respect and have experience is something you should listen to.
So what about a little girl’s dream? I’ve known Georgia Smith (Fay) sinceshe was born, and from her time with her parents in Sierra Leone. We even had then our special handshake, which I was glad to use as part of their wedding ceremony yesterday! Earlier in the month I asked her about her upcoming marriage and my role and this is what she wrote me. Much of it was very humbling and undeserving, but it was from her heart.
“My whole life you have been a 2nd dad. I’ve gone through a lot in my family and learned to depend on God at a young age. It’s the only thing that is stable and true, the only thing that kept me sane. If I didn’t have God, my father, and you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Strong men have shaped my life and having you marry me is a dream come true because it sets a standard for me. I’ve reached a huge mark in my life. I kept myself pure, funny story: when I went to the Doctor he was flabbergasted when he found out that Tim and myself were virgins. He said, ‘Who told you this?’ and I replied, ‘God did,’ but it’s a choice you make on your own. The Doctor just looked stunned and asked to shake my hand because he considered it to be very ‘abnormal.’ I love it! When I came back to think about you Pastor Warner I think of the fact that you’re not just my pastor but my second daddy. In Africa we came up with our own hand shake and we always had a good relationship. Ever since I was younger I said I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL THE DAY PASTOR WARNER MARRIES ME. It was my dream and now my dream came true!”