We had the privilege yesterday of attending our grandson’s confirmation at his church. Confirmation is that time when a young person has the opportunity to affirm the vows his parents took for him when he was baptized as an infant. It is a serious time, and for those in attendance it is an important reminder of the seriousness of our own confession of the Christian faith. These young people had been instructed by their pastor for several years, and are then asked to stand before the congregation to confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. After being asked a series of questions about their belief they are asked one final question. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” That becomes a question posed to all of us who profess faith in our Lord. It is especially true in an era where there have been more Christian martyrs than all previous centuries of the Church, and where even in our own country people have been asked to compromise their faith in order to continue their business. So confirmation is not just a service our young people go through. It is a challenge for all of us to rethink the depth and commitment to our own faith. Our relationship with the Lord Jesus is truly worth what ever the cost.
Events in the news are volatile. One group persecutes and tries to destroy another. People protest and are willing to die for their cause. I am saddened by such violence, but it confronts me with a question. For what am I willing to put my life in jeopardy? If my family were threatened I would do it. But how about my faith? Christians throughout history, and especially today, are choosing death rather than deny their faith. We have seen Muslims sacrifice themselves for what we believe is an evil motive. Nonetheless, they gave their lives for what they believed. Are we willing to do so for Jesus? We may never be confronted with this choice, but the events we see around us in this fallen and evil world lay this question before us. What is worth the sacrifice of life? When we answer that, then we have a clear direction for how we live all of our life.
I have written often about our salvation in Christ being completely free. It is purely an act of God’s grace that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no ladder system to climb, no amount of good works to make ourselves worthy of God. However, there is a cost to our relationship with Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) The cost is yielding the whole of our will in complete trust of our Lord. This is why marriage is used as a symbol of Christ and His church, the bridegroom and the bride. Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, but a 100/100 relationship, each one giving themselves 100% to make this marriage work, to make one new person out of the two. Jesus has given Himself 100% to us. That is the depth of His love. He is not asking us to do a few good works. He is asking that we commit our life completely to Him in love. As in marriage, that is pretty costly, but it leads to the greatest joy.
There is a section in our local paper called REAL LIFE highlighting things of note in the Frederick County area. An article in yesterday’s paper told of a couple celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. The last paragraph of the article read, “Their lives together have modeled love and devotion, among many other strengths, have seen them through the challenges of life. The vows they took on their wedding day ‘for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer’ have been witnessed through the prism of their lives together and serve as a testimony for their family and friends.” This couple stood before the altar of God and took seriously the vows they made to each other. I know there are tragic situation where vows must be broken, but that should not be the norm. We live in a day where sex before marriage is standard, where personal feelings rule, and commitments are disdained. It is time we stepped back and considered the lessons of couples such as this. We might also consider the truth in the kind of self-sacrificing love our Lord has for us. It also is a model for life.
When I pray I would love to feel the spiritual closeness of Jesus. Occasionally I do, but most times I don’t feel anything special. Does that mean I stop praying? Of course not. When I am with my wife I would like to always feel the emotions of early courtship. Sometime I do, but most times that’s not the way it is. Does that mean that I don’t love my wife? Of course not. We have based so much in our world upon personal good feelings, and the reward we get out of what we do, rather than the commitment to do what is right regardless of feelings. Yes, I do get many blessings from my wife, but I am committed to her through all of the ups and downs of life no matter what I feel. I am committed to my Lord, and His truth whether I ever feel His presence near me or not. The world needs to think more about its commitments to truth, and less about personal feelings and rewards. Only then do we find the right direction for all life.
In a day when divorce is easy and many marriages dissolve, where many couples disdain marriage altogether, and society is redefining it according to sexual preference, there is a report out of Connecticut of the longest married couple. Mr. and Mrs. Betar are celebrating 81 years of marriage. When a young couple gets married they are “in love”. Most likely they’ve already had sexual relations. The hormones are surging. They are convinced this is what marriage is all about, and it will last forever. Then comes reality, finances, children, personality traits intentionally ignored during courtship that are now irritating. This is not what it’s supposed to be! but it is. What makes an 81 year long marriage? Not the bells and whistles. Oh, they remain, but in different forms. What lasts is the covenant made before God, “to love and to cherish till death they do part.” And, yes, the “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” – oh, and “forsaking all others” – is all a part of that covenant. We learn to cherish our mate, not for what we can get from them, but what we have the privilege of giving to them. Congratulations and thank you to the Betar’s for showing us again that it is possible.
When I pray I would love to feel the spiritual closeness of Jesus. Occasionally I do, but most times I don’t feel anything special. Does that mean I stop praying? Of course not. When I am with my wife I would like to always feel the emotions of early courtship. Sometime I do, but most times that’s not the way it is. Does that mean that I don’t love my wife? Of course not. We have based so much in our world upon personal good feelings, and the reward we get out of what we do, rather than the commitment to do what is right regardless of feelings. Yes, I do get many blessings from my wife, but I am committed to her for better, for worse, through all of the ups and downs of life no matter what I feel. I am committed to my Lord, and His truth whether I ever feel His presence near me or not. The world needs to think more about its commitments to truth, and less about personal feelings and rewards. Only then do we find the right direction for all life.
Many a plaque has been carved with the words of Joshua 24:15 “Choose this day whom you will serve,… but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” However, this should be more than a great saying hung on the wall. It is to be our commitment in life. It is easy to decry the wrong conditions that do exist in our world, but it is quite another to quietly and resolutely determine that we will live by our Lord’s standards, no matter what the cost. It’s difficult, and sometimes the cost is, in fact, very high. Joshua accepted that cost, and found the Lord’s approval. We are called to do the same. Then that plaque is not just a pretty carving, but the truth of our life.
It is interesting how certain things I learned in high school come back to me now as useful tid-bits of information. One of our teachers would put a quote on the board, asking us to explain what it meant. One that has stuck with me was from Shakespeare. “Love is not love that altars when it altercation finds.” We struggled with it at the time, but it is an important concept. We have made love so conditional upon our feelings, and the fulfilling of our personal needs that, when we don’t find these, we give up and break relationships. The love Shakespeare was speaking about was the love God desires in all of us, a love that washed wayward disciples dirty feet. A love that accepted nails through the hands and still asked the Father to forgive the ones driving them. That is an impossible love for us to display, apart from having the Original Lover deeply within us. Nothing is impossible with our God. This is the love He molds within us the closer we come to Him.
In premarriage counseling I will always touch on the scripture in I Corinthians 13:4-7. Chapter 13 is the love chapter and these verses say that “love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way….” All of these are the actions of love. In our day that is marked by so much confusion about this word, it is important to remind ourselves of these actions. We do not always feel good toward another person in a relationship. Feeling good is certainly nice, but it is not what holds a relationship together. It is the willingness to give of one’s self to another person even when one doesn’t feel good, and everything is not going well. This is why marriage is based upon a commitment, and not upon good feelings. Jesus certainly does not always feel good towards us, but He never stops loving us, and working for what is best for our lives. Paul concludes these verses saying, “Love never fails.” To the best of the grace God give us, this is the love we seek to show to all others.