Monday, August 25, 2014

August 24, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: From This Day Forward - Growing Through the Seasons of Life

Genesis 29:10-20

How many of you have a special song with your spouse or someone you dated?  If your era was the 40’s your song was probably by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby or Tony Bennett.  If it was the 50’s it might be someone like Pat Boone or Elvis.  If the 60’s, perhaps the Beatles.  In the 70’s – the golden age of music, there were so many artists from which to choose.  If your era was the 80’s, I feel for you.  The 80’s had Men Without Hats and Flock of Seagulls, but perhaps it was something by Bon Jovi, like Living On A Prayer. 

Who will tell us your song?  Do you want to know the song Tanya and I had as our special song?  I wasn’t a disco person but it came from a very popular soundtrack to the disco age – can anybody guess?  Saturday Night Fever, and the song was How Deep Is Your Love, by – The Bee Gees.  You’re the light in my deepest, darkest night.  I should have kept my white disco suit!

This morning, we continue our series on marriage, and today we come to this phrase of the wedding vows – from this day forward.  This morning we will study the topic of Growing Through the Seasons of Life.  Just as we live through various seasons historically, we live through season of marriage as well.  I want to speak this morning about some qualities that should be a part of your marriage that will enable you and your spouse to grow together through each stage of life.

Those of you who have been married a while know at least some, or perhaps all, of the seasons of a married life.  There are the early years, of learning one another’s expectations and adapting to sharing your life with another person; there are the years of babies and young children, and the stresses that come from trying to balance time and work and the demands of a growing family; there are the teenage years, when your children are beginning to establish some independence from you and believe you to be the most clueless person on the face of the earth; there is the empty nest time, when the children are gone and in some ways you reestablish your relationship as just the two of you; there are the years of enjoying grandchildren and adjusting to retirement; there is the stage of caring for a spouse who may be in declining health; and finally, there is the stage of learning to adjust to life after your spouse is gone.

At every one of those stages it is of critical importance to have a foundation to your marriage that will carry you through the unique challenges that arrive at each stage.  And I should mention that I am assuming in each of these messages that the spiritual foundation to marriage will be present.  I see that as an essential foundation to a healthy marriage and family life.

I’ve had the blessing to know couples who were married for over 70 years.  Seventy years!  For a marriage to survive over seventy years requires the understanding of some important qualities.

We are looking to the marriage – or marriages I should say – of Jacob to learn our lessons this morning.  There are a number of issues and questions that arise from this passage. We could talk about Jacob as the deceiver, who stole his brother’s birthright; Jacob the deceiver who was deceived by Laban, his father-in-law; we could talk about the practice of polygamy that is common in the Old Testament; we could talk about Laban trading away his daughter’s in order to secure Jacob’s services as a worker.  These are some of the questions and issues that arise out of this passage, questions and issues that highlight that this story takes place in a very different culture, but those are for another time, today, we are going to examine some of those that are more directly related to the qualities that are necessary for a healthy marriage to exist throughout all the stages of married life. 

There are some very important qualities demonstrated in this passage that teach us about how we can assure that our love for our spouse will grow through all of the stages and seasons of life.

1.  Patience.
When Tanya and I had been dating a while, some of our friends who had dated for a shorter time were getting married.  They asked us why we were waiting and told us we should get married and how great it was.  I couldn’t help but notice that some of them stopped talking about how great it was after some months had passed.  We dated for six years and three months before we married, and I think that was a big factor in providing a solid foundation for our marriage.  After that amount of time, we knew each other very well and it made the first year a very easy adjustment.  I would not say that every couple should wait that long to get married; in fact, I have known some who waited a long time and the marriage was not strengthened or even successful, and I have known couples who dated a very short time and enjoy very strong, happy marriages.

But patience is so important because marriage should never be rushed.  I believe patience will increase the duration of a marriage.  I try to communicate to younger couples who are planning their marriages to be patient, and I tell them the rest of your life is a long time, hopefully, and there is no need to be in a rush.  Patience now may save a lot of heartache later.  But, interestingly, almost no one seeks counseling before marriage, because we know everything before we get married, don’t we? 

This is an opportune moment for me to tell you how I determine what marriages I will perform.  In past years, I used to officiate many, many weddings, accepting almost every request I received.  Some years ago I decided to change my policy, and it has reduced the number of weddings I officiate.  If I know one or both of the couple, I do not require pre-marital counseling, but I am happy to provide it.  If, however, I do not know either of the couple I will schedule a time when we can talk about what expect not just in terms of terms of their wedding, but of marriage.  I want to hear about the type of wedding they want, and how they view marriage, and then I tell them what I consider to be important in a wedding.  If we are in agreement about the wedding itself, I require them to meet with me for several sessions so we can talk about marriage.  Most couples decline to do so, which limits the number of weddings I officiate.

Let’s turn now to Jacob.  He agrees to work for Laban for seven years if Laban will allow him to marry his daughter Rachel.  After the seven years have passed Laban deceives Jacob by giving him his older daughter, Leah (which is an interesting story in and of itself as to what it says about marriage in the Old Testament), but Jacob agrees to work another seven years to be able to marry Rachel.  He does not have to wait another seven years before he can marry her; he actually marries her a week after he marries Leah, but he does agree to stay and work for Laban seven more years, being patient about his own independence from Laban.

Patience is born out of love; it’s the first descriptive word Paul uses in I Corinthians 13 as he defines love’s qualities.  Patience includes understanding that God created your spouse a unique individual that may need a few changes, but they don’t always need a complete makeover as a person.  Sometimes, people desire to create such a sameness in personality and how they think that it squeezes the uniqueness out of their relationship.  It’s not a sin to be different.  Be patient with your spouse; they may not be all you want them to be, and that’s all right.  Celebrate the uniqueness that God has created in your spouse.

2.  Healthy Family Relationships.
Tanya, Nick, Tyler and I have no relatives near us; the closest relatives are 350 miles away.  I often tell people there is a disadvantage and advantage to living away from your families.  The disadvantage is, you are away from your family.  Do you know the advantage?  You are away from your family.

If you live near parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended family, understand what a blessing this is, especially when you are raising children.  To be able to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and call a parent, grandparent, or sibling and ask for help is a great blessing.  Don’t take that blessing for granted.

But I will say again this week, when you marry someone, you also marry their family, and that brings not only a blessing, but some difficulties as well, as different perspectives and attitudes are blending together, and not always successfully.

Jacob does not step into the best of situations as his future father-in-law deceives him from the very beginning.  He fails to tell Jacob something very important – that it was the custom for the older child marry first.  It’s not as though Laban didn’t have the opportunity to tell Jacob this important fact; Jacob had already agreed to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel, the younger daughter.  Someone should have seen this situation coming and mentioned it, but no one did, and Jacob marries the wrong woman.  How do you marry that wrong person? (that’s a discussion that is better in a setting other than morning worship, as it’s a PG-13 story.  You can read it for yourself).  Jacob continues to have a very conflicted family situation, and if you want all the details, read chapter 30 and you’ll find a soap opera of tangled relationships.

In chapter 31 of Genesis we see the relationships in Jacob’s extended family deteriorating to the point that one night he slips out of town to head off for Canaan.  Part of the reason Jacob left was because he was building his flocks at Laban’s expense through some treachery and Laban’s sons were not very happy when they discovered what Jacob was doing.  God eventually gets involved and even warns Jacob that it’s time to leave, so Jacob slips off one night.  The situation is a very complicated web of deceit and suspicion and jealousy – you need to read these chapters, they will make you feel better about your family.

I have listened to too many heartbreaking stories of broken family relationships, and this brokenness can place a tremendous strain on a marriage.  And so I would offer this advice – parents, when your children are married they have established their own family.  Be careful how you step into that family; they are still your children but they are now responsible for their family, which at times may be very hard for you; love and support them even when you disagree with them.  For those of you who are married and your parents are still surviving, understand that your parents are acting out of love, and listen to their advice, even if you don’t always take it; they are the voice of experience that can be very valuable.

3.  You Must Have A Deep and Abiding Love.
Laban asks Jacob an interesting question in verse 15, Tell me, what shall your wages be?  What a great question!  I wish my Dad would have asked me how much I wanted to be paid before sending me out into the hay field, but I don’t remember any pay actually being discussed.  Imagine being allowed to name your wages!  And Jacob doesn’t begin his negotiation in a manner that works to his advantage.  Jacob doesn’t think of money, or flocks or herds; he makes the offer to give seven years of his life to be able to marry Rachel.  It’s a touching scene of Jacob’s love.

But there’s more to the story.  There’s Leah, Jacob’s other wife.  Leah is the person in this story who really has my sympathies.  Listen to how Rachel is described in verse 17 – Rachel was beautiful of form and face.  Now listen to the description of Leah – and Leah’s eyes were weak.  That’s the Biblical equivalent of saying she has a nice personality.  This description will last for all of recorded history, so it’s hard not to feel for Leah.  It’s obvious from that moment what is going to happen – Leah will never compare to Rachel in the eyes of Jacob, and perhaps that’s what he gets for having two wives.

It seems so obvious to say that marriage must be based on a deep and abiding love, but there are people who go into marriage with less than that level of love.  Jacob had no real love for Leah, and immediately the problems began in his life as he found himself married to a person he did not really love.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be married and not feel the depth of love that makes you want to stay with that person for a lifetime.  It is absolutely essential to enter a marriage believing that you cannot imagine living without that other person, because if you don’t, when the challenges come and the years roll on, you’re going to have regrets and that is not healthy for any marriage.

After thirty years, I am still happy to see Tanya at the end of a day; I enjoy being with her now more than I did when we first married.

Love has to come before money, it has to come before career, and it has to come before other people – love for our spouse must be at the very foundation of our lives.  Only when a deep and abiding love exists will a marriage last a lifetime.

10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.
11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.
12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah.  So she ran and told her father.
13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”  After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month,
15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.
17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.
18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.”
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.

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