Monday, September 29, 2014

September 28, 2014: The Unspoken Struggle - Battling Addictions

September 28, 2014
John 8:36

This morning we continue our series of messages based upon the responses you provided to the three questions I asked throughout the summer.  Today’s message is one that touches on a topic rarely discussed in church – addiction.

How often do you hear the word addiction in church?  Very rarely, I imagine.  Addiction is something church people have often claimed exists out there – outside of the church.  Surely addiction doesn’t exist inside the church!

But it does.

The people who struggle with addiction are not only your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, and your family members; they are also your fellow church members, elders and deacons, Sunday School teachers and, yes, even ministers. Several years ago, one of my former ministers made national news when he announced he was entering rehab, seeking treatment for an addiction to alcohol.  The reaction of many people was shock – that’s not supposed to happen to people like that! 

But it does.  Addiction can happen to anyone.

People struggling with addictions are everywhere because the numbers are staggeringly high.  Some estimates place the number of Americans who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction as high as 100 million – almost 1 of every 3 Americans.  If we translate that to our congregation, based on last week’s attendance of about 200 people, 66 of us would have addictions.  Or, to make it more visible, one of our three sections of seating would be filled with people struggling with an addiction.  That’s a lot of people.

But a lot of people struggle with addiction.  You might be surprised to learn that in Shelbyville, in an average week, four people overdose on heroin.  Heroin was almost nonexistent in our community until recently, and now heroin use has risen to alarming proportions.

This is a difficult message, because it deals with a difficult topic.  It is a difficult topic because it has wreaked so much havoc in families, as addiction has damaged and destroyed lives and relationships.

I came of age in the late 60s and the 70s, when drug use rapidly escalated.  Alcohol has been around for millennia, and drugs in some forms, but in our culture drug use really took off with my generation, and when drugs came into widespread use in the 60s and 70s they were viewed very differently.  Most people, at that time, were not aware of the dangers, which is not a defense in any way of drug use. 

And I’ll be up front with you, just in case you are wondering – I was not a drug user in my younger years.  Drugs were all around me during that era.  My friends used drugs at least occasionally, and many of them regularly, and I watched as some of them developed addictions and as we also lost some of them. 

Drugs never appealed to me.  I didn’t then – and I still don’t – like the idea of ingesting any substance that would take control of my thoughts and actions.  I’ll also be honest and admit another fear – I was afraid I might like them and would develop a dependency.  There has been enough addictive behavior in my extended family that I knew dependency could become a problem.

I took my first drink of alcohol in junior high.  Some friends and I took an empty peanut butter jar and got into a neighboring parent’s liquor cabinet.  I thought it was the worst stuff I ever tasted.  So allow me to add this warning – if you are worried about your children or grandchildren using drugs and alcohol take a close look around your home, because in many homes both are easily accessible. 

Addiction is, I should add, something that is on a continuum.  All of us, undoubtedly, have some form of compulsive behavior, but not all compulsive behaviors becomes addictive or damaging.  I’m a “checker,” for instance.  A checker is someone who must continually “check” to make sure something has been done.  Some of you, for instance, may check multiple times each evening to be sure your doors are locked.  I do that with my car, particularly when I travel.  When I stay at a hotel I check to be sure all the doors on my car are locked.  While attending the Regional Assembly in Hopkinsville last week I went through my usual routine of checking my car doors.  The problem, though, is that when I had to get another car early this year, after someone hit and totaled mine, I purchased one in a hurry and didn’t check out all the options.  One of the options on my care – meant to be a convenience, I’m sure – is a feature that automatically unlocks the doors when you reach for the handle, as long as the key is in your pocket.  This is difficult when I’m checking to make sure the doors are locked.  The first night at the hotel I pushed the button on the key to lock the doors, but when I reached out to check the door to be sure it was locked, it automatically unlocked.  I pushed the button again and locked the door, and when I reached out to check the door, it unlocked again.  I thought I might be there all evening!  Being a checker is slightly annoying at times, but it is not on the level of drug addiction.  So, some addictions can be relatively mild, but others can be life-threatening.

I am not an in any way an expert on addictions, but I want to share several points with you today that I believe are very important.

1.  Addiction has to do with far more than just drugs or alcohol.
So far this morning I have only spoken about addiction in relation to drugs and alcohol, but addiction stretches far beyond drugs and alcohol.  Addiction can come in many different forms.  It is most commonly known through drugs and alcohol, but addiction can also be about many kinds of behaviors, such as compulsive shopping or spending, particular kinds of patterns in relationships, activity, phones (researchers have found that when you check your phone and have a text or email your brain releases a small amount of dopamine, which trains you to check your phone often because of the physiological reward that you receive.  Sounds like an addiction to me), and how we deal with food – which may be the largest addiction in our society.  In fact, listen to some of these shocking statistics about eating disorders, that remind us of the terrible burden of expectations that we place upon women, especially young women, in our society –

—Eating disorders, which affect women disproportionally to men, because we place terribly onerous expectations upon women, affect 1 in 5 women, and 90% of those are between the ages of 12 and 25.
—Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.
—Only 10% of people with eating disorders receive treatment.
—91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting.
— Among adolescents, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness.
—Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
—The mortality rate associated with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

2. Addiction is a physical disease and is aggravated by other factors, especially stress.
Drugs and alcohol are not addictive simply because people want to use drugs or alcohol – addiction almost always comes for reasons deeper than a simple desire to use alcohol or drugs.

Beginning down the path to addiction begins with some kind of trigger, such as stress.  We live in incredibly stressful times.  There are so many things of which we are very rightfully concerned and that concern manifests itself in stress.  We are concerned about our world, the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.  It is a world torn asunder by war, it is a world degraded environmentally to the point of disaster, it is a world that has incredible financial challenges.  We feel the stress that emanates from insecurity over our family, health, and financial challenges, and all these factors can bring us to a point of despair that makes us vulnerable to self-medication.

3.  Addiction has physical, psychological, and spiritual causes. 
Addiction is, first of all, a very real physical illness.  It’s not a weakness that people need to simply “get over,” but represents the reality that some people have a physiological makeup that causes them to be especially vulnerable to drug or alcohol dependency.  There is always a “trigger” that brings a person to some type of substance, but once they turn to that substance there is a physical reaction that keeps them tied to that substance.

Addiction occurs, then, when a person’s biological make-up is given a substance, and the body responds to that substance in a way that makes it almost impossible to function without that substance.  Addiction helps a person to function, ironically, in a way they believe they cannot function when they are sober.  But the difficulty is that with addiction there is what we might call the law of diminishing return, which means it takes an increasing amount of a substance to produce the desired effect.

There are psychological causes as well, and those causes are often what cause a person to turn to a substance in the first place.  Many people turn to drugs, alcohol, eating, or some other behavior in order to deal with trauma that has taken place in their lives.

The most common reason people begin the path down the road to addiction is because they want to self-medicate themselves; they want to numb themselves to a problem with which they cannot cope; they want to do something that will take away some pain, some fear, some sense of failure, or deal with some trauma.

Most of us develop patterns in life – patterns of repetition, for instance – that provide us with some measure of comfort, as long as we repeat those patterns.  People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, for instance, repeat patterns or behaviors as a way of bringing comfort or a sense of order to their lives.
Addiction has spiritual causes as well, such as the emptiness or lack of purpose that many people feel about their lives.  Those feelings can come at different stages of life and can come in early adulthood as a person has a crisis about what to do with their lives, or in middle age as a person looks back at their life and wonders if it has had any meaning.

4.  Addiction thrives on secrecy, silence, and shame.
We live in a society where so many people will share the most intimate details of their lives, but we continue to hide our struggles with addiction.  There is a great sense of shame involved with addiction, and that shame causes people to go to great lengths to hide their addictions.

But it is important to remember that you are not alone.  Addiction tends to be an isolating condition, and when people feel isolated they believe that no one else can relate to their circumstances, but there are many, many people who know exactly what you are going through.

There are certain steps necessary to take in order to overcome addictions –

1.  Admit that you are powerless over the addiction and cannot overcome it on your own.
One of the great falsehoods of addiction is this – I can do this.  I can beat this addiction.  And I’ll start tomorrow.  Tomorrow never comes, but as long as a person says they are going to change, beginning tomorrow, they will remain in the throes of their addiction.

There are the very rare few who are able to overcome their addictions on their own, but those people are very rare.  The far majority of people cannot do so on their own, which means it is counterproductive to tell an addict they just need to get over it.

2.  You must ask for help.
It is never a sign of weakness to ask for help.  I think many people believe it is a sign of weakness, and I don’t know where that comes from but it is a lie that too many people believe.

Never be afraid to ask for help.  Never hesitate to ask for help.  Let me repeat that.  Never be afraid to ask for help.  Never hesitate to ask for help.  Do not allow the shame that is so often present with addiction keep you from admitting that you need help.  Don’t allow pride to keep you from seeking help.  Asking for help is preferable to where addiction leads, which is to broken relationships and, very likely, eventual death.

3.  Your family is affected by your addiction.
Back in the 80s I received a little bit of training related to adult children of alcoholics.  There are patterns that are so common to people who grow up in a home with an alcoholic that it can be relatively easy to spot the people who grow up in a home where alcoholism was present.

It is not just the addict who is affected by addiction; it is the entire family.  The entire family lives in damage control and containment control and in order to manage the dysfunction that comes because of addiction.

And the most dangerous way in which a family can deal with addiction is through codependency, which can take a couple of forms.  It can take the form of enabling, which actually helps the person to continue in their addiction because of a failure to confront the addiction but also through providing money, excuses, or other things that maintain the addiction.  Codependency can also lead to a complete restructuring of the manner in which other family members operate, such as taking over the managing of all the family needs, and when an addict gets sober the codependent person loses their sense of identity and struggles to rebuild and restructure their life.

4.  Addiction is a lie.
I love the ironic moments of life.  When I arrived in Hopkinsville I needed to print something and get it in the mail, but I didn’t have any envelopes so I went to a local office supply store.  Outside of the store, in the sidewalk, was a big sign that said Slow computer?  We fix slow computers?  This was a sign that was one that wasn’t hanging in the window, but was a folding sign that someone had to carry out and put in that particular place.  I walk into the store to get a box of envelopes and walk to the checkout counter, where there is only one person in line, and it is taking a long time.  The customer and employee are just standing there, and I don’t wait well, so I’m getting very impatient.  When it’s finally my turn the person working the counter says to me, with no recognition of the irony, I apologize for the wait, but our computers are running really slow.  I couldn’t help but chuckle, and I mumbled something about irony, and as I walked out of the store I thought about taking the sign down and shouting that’s a lie!  It doesn’t work!

You can’t pretend that something works when it obviously does not work.  But pretending does not make it work.  I say to any addict that what you are doing does not work.  I don’t care how much a person thinks it’s working, it does not work, and you absolutely have to come to that realization in order to move forward and get help.

That sign said something that was obviously not true.  Addiction does as well.  Addiction will feed you the lie that if you just take this drink or take this pill life will be better.  And if it’s not better, take some more, and continuing taking it.  Addiction is a lie.  It will not improve your life.  It will not make your life better.  It will destroy your life, and destroy you.

And so my final word today is – get help.  If you are struggling with an addiction or are a family member of someone who is, get help.

FCC Shelbyville | September 21st, 2014 Sermon

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 21, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: In Sickness and In Health; 'Til Death Do Us Part - Building Permanence In Marriage

For a number of years I have puzzled over something related to weddings.  The question first struck me as I waited to begin a processional many years ago.  As I waited to enter the sanctuary with the men, one of them asked a question about returning the tuxes they had rented.  It was at that moment that a question popped into my mind and has caused me to wonder since then – why is it that women buy their wedding dresses but men rent their tuxes?  Does that speak to a much deeper, more philosophical question about the manner in which men and women think about marriage, or is it just a silly question?

This morning I want to add a note before I begin my message.  We’ve spent a number of weeks talking about marriage and I’ve said a couple of times that I hoped there was information helpful to everyone, married or not.  I will also add that marriage is not a necessity in order to become a whole person.  Sometimes, people are made to feel as though they are lacking something in their lives if they are not married.  That is not true. 

Why is it that our culture is so obsessed with gossip about marriages?  Would any of the tabloid magazines sell as many copies if they printed articles about healthy marriages?  And can people be obsessed with the marriages of others while ignoring the health and well-being of their own marriages?
This morning, as we combine the final two vows, in sickness and in health and until death do us part, we will focus on the idea of Building Permanence In Marriage.  What I want to do this morning in our concluding message is to provide a list of suggestions that I believe will help to build permanence in marriage.

But first, our Scripture passage tells us of the passing of Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  As we have moved through this series, we’ve read a couple of stories from the life of Abraham and Sarah, and I thought it fitting that we read this story, one that tells us of the end of the long marriage of Sarah and Abraham.

Genesis 23:1-19
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old.
She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites.  He said,
“I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
The Hittites replied to Abraham,
“Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites.
He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”
10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city.
11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”
12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”
14 Ephron answered Abraham,
15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded
18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city.
19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan.

1.  The Importance Of Friendship. 
There are two types of friendship important in marriage.  Number one, it is certainly important for husbands and wives to build upon a foundation of friendship.  Your spouse should be your best friend, they should be the person you want to be with and talk to.

Secondly, maintain friendships with other people.  Don’t isolate yourself from friendships with other people.  Encourage your spouse to spend time with their friends, as your marriage will benefit.  This is especially important for men, as we are more inclined to isolate ourselves from friendships. 

2.  Beware Of The Dangers Of Other Relationships.
I remember puzzling over a series presented some years ago by a news program about why men cheat.  I wondered why it was not about why men and women cheat.

We must beware of the dangers of infidelity.  Infidelity is a process that can begin very innocently and can ensnare a person before they even realize they are on dangerous ground.  At the beginning of this series I said that people are almost always surprised to find themselves in a situation such as infidelity; most of the time the response is how did this happen to me?  The answer is that it happened because they either ignored or didn’t see the signs, and that allowed them to move very gradually into infidelity, one small step at a time.

There are some warning signs, and we need to be aware of these –

When you find yourself discussing problems in your marriage, or your disappointment with your spouse with another person.
When that person begins to talk to you about the problems in their marriage or their disappointment with their spouse.
When you look forward to seeing someone.
When you start making up reasons to see that person.
When you make adjustments in your schedule in order to be with that person.
When you avoid telling your spouse that you have been with that person.
When you begin to feel an emotional attachment with that person.
If you find yourself experiencing any of these signs – run!  When any of these warning signs are in your life you may have already taken the first steps down a road that will only lead to heartache.

3. Think before you speak, and then think again. 
I think men have a built-in capacity to say the wrong thing; and then, as if to add insult to injury, we have a built-in capacity for not knowing we have said the wrong thing, which leads us to say more wrong things like Did I say something wrong?  Many times, when your wife asks you a question she is not looking for information; she is testing you to see if you either agree with her or if you will give the right answer.  Because, really, do they really need to get information from us?  We’re clueless – if they really need to know something, who are they going to ask?  Not us.  We men get questions such as Did you notice my new haircut?  You can’t answer that, because if you stumble around and say yes, then why didn’t you say something already?  She is merely pointing out that you didn’t notice.  Or it may be a question such as I don’t think I’m at all like my mother, do you?  And you say No, your mother is a great cook.   But even if you have more sense than me and just say no, then she’ll ask what’s wrong with my mother?

Be careful what you say; think before you speak, and then think again; as I obviously have not done.  The power of words, especially hurtful words, can leave a residue of damage for days, weeks, months and even years.  In the heat of the moment when we are upset we can say things we regret but there is no opportunity to take back those words.

I once heard someone illustrate the danger of careless words in this way – imagine going outside on a windy day with a feather pillow.  Cut open the pillow and allow the feathers to blow along the wind.  Then imagine trying to capture every one of those feathers and put them back in the pillow.  It would be impossible to do so, and illustrates what happens with our words – once they are spoken it is impossible to gather them up and take them back.  Once they are spoken, they are spoken.  In the moment, we say words that we know we shouldn’t, so we must think before we speak.  We must think before we speak careless words, words we know can hurt, and we words we sometimes want to cause hurt.

Think before you speak, and then think again.

4.  Avoid problems by not making assumptions. 
Most conflict, I believe, arises from mistaken assumptions that people make.

Being aware of our assumptions is so important when two people enter a marriage; they need to address issues about money, about children, about careers, about faith, but so often nothing is said and assumptions are made and if those assumptions clash there is going to be conflict and heartache.

Avoiding problems that come from making assumptions means we must work to build good communication.

5.  Think long term.
I have noticed in recent years that people preparing for marriage often go into it with the idea that it will not be permanent.  Our culture struggles with the idea of permanence; it seems everything has become temporary and relationships are affected by this type of thinking. 

Think long term about your marriage.  Think of spending the rest of your life with your spouse.  If we fail to think long term, we may fail to make our marriages last for the long term.

6.  Encourage Independence.
I think it’s important for people who are married to maintain a certain level of independence.  I don’t mean that you neglect your relationship but I believe being able to have a life apart from your spouse enriches a marriage and enriches life in general.  The danger is that some people have a sense of insecurity that can drive their spouse away.  Some people have a great need for constant reassurance, but the more they try to gain reassurance, the less they receive.

I believe it is healthy for spouses to have not only some similar interests, but different interests as well.  Tanya and I have many shared interests but also some that are unique to each of us.  She will often spend time reading a British murder mystery or watching Downton Abbey.  I am not interested in either of those.  I go to the basement, where I keep my music equipment, and I pursue my own interests in British culture – Pink Floyd. 

7.  Build The Spiritual Foundation To Your Marriage.
At the beginning of this series I said that I believe a spiritual foundation is an absolute necessity to maintain a healthy marriage, and I want to end by reaffirming that belief.

When I talk to couples preparing for marriage, I try to talk about their spiritual lives as well, but very often they are so wrapped up in the preparations that they can’t hear what I try to say.

Please hear me on this point – a spiritual foundation will provide a foundation that will allow your marriage to prosper and grow for all of your years together.

I have mentioned in the past my absolute failure at math.  When I began high school my goal was to be a civil engineer.  Failing Algebra scuttled that career decision, but I had another shortcoming that disqualified me from becoming an engineer – I don’t really care how things work.  I was never that inquisitive kid who took apart his toys to figure out how they worked.  I absolutely don’t care how things work; I just want them to work.  When I take out my phone I don’t ever question how it works; I just want it to work.  When I get in my care I don’t ever wonder about the engineering that makes it run; I just want it to run.    

Although I don’t care how things work, I better care – and understand – how a marriage works.  If I do not seek to understand what makes for a strong and healthy marriage it is unlikely that I will enjoy a marriage that is strong and healthy.

I hope that you have enjoyed, and found meaningful, these messages about marriage, but mostly, I hope and pray that you will enjoy a happy and healthy marriage.

FCC Shelbyville | September 14, 2014 Sermon

Monday, September 15, 2014

September 14, 2014 The Gift of Marriage: To Love and To Cherish - The Greatest Commans

I’ve seen some interesting wedding cakes over the years, but none quite like the one in a recent story.  The bride to be asked the caterer to inscribe I John 4:18 on the cake, which says there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  The caterer misread the verse as John 4:18 and inscribed that verse on the cake, which reads for you have had five husbands; and the one whom you now have is not truly your husband.

Next week we conclude our series on marriage with the final phrase of the wedding vows, which will combine two of the vows, in sickness and in health, and until death do us part.  From those vows we will examine the topic of Building Permanence In Marriage.

I want to begin this morning by asking you a simple question that serves as a litmus test about marriage, a wake up call of sorts – would you be happy if your child ended up in a marriage like yours?  Would you be pleased or troubled?  Let that sink in for a moment.  If you are troubled by that question, here are several other questions to consider – what is wrong with your marriage that you would not want your child in such a marriage?  How bad is your marriage?  Is your marriage salvageable?  Do you want to save it?  What will it take to save it?  What will you do to save it?

Today we come to the vow to love and to cherish.  This vow is really a summation of everything the other vows are saying.  To love and to cherish is a way of saying that if there’s anything else not covered by the other vows, it’s covered under this one.  All these messages are really just variations on the theme of love.

1.  Love Is Fragile.
How many of you have ever baby-proofed a home?  When you have very young children you have to take some precautions to prevent injuries to your children and to protect precious items from being broken.  Tanya has a very delicate statue, a Lladro, of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, which her brother brought to her from Italy some years ago.  It’s a beautiful piece, but very delicate and very fragile.  It sat on a small table in our foyer, which was a rather dangerous location for it.  When our kids were very young we put it away to protect it, and then took it out some years later, thinking it would be safe.  It wasn’t, but unfortunately, I was the problem.  I knocked that statue over and broke it about five times.  Poor Joseph has had his head super-glued back on his body so many times that he doesn’t have much of a neck left.

The damage came from an unexpected source – me.  It can be a surprise to find that the damage that comes to a marriage stems from an unexpected source – from ourselves.  

There is a great fragility to marriage.  Marriage is fragile, because love is fragile.  Love is susceptible to an ill-spoken word, a careless act, and so many other occurrences that can shatter a relationship, and once it is shattered it is very difficult to repair because of the residue of hurt.

That is why we must remember that love will not maintain itself; it takes time and care and effort, and some of the greatest damage that can come to marriage is not from the outside, but from the inside, because of our actions and our attitudes.  In one of my previous churches there was a young lady who burned up the engine in her car because she never checked the oil and never had the oil changed.  When her father asked about the last time she had the oil in her car changed she had no idea what he was talking about.  There’s oil in an engine?  And you have to change it?

Don’t place yourself in the position where you realize one day that the problem with your marriage resides in you, because you did not protect love.

2.  Love is tough.
I’ve observed some married couples with an amazing talent for conflict.  I say talent because they manage to take the smallest matters and turn them into World War III.  Maybe it’s that one person seems unable – or unwilling – to pick up after one’s self.  They are just being themselves by leaving things all over the house.  And their spouse gets tired of it, but doesn’t like stuff all over the floor and hanging from chairs, so they pick it up, day after day.  One person digs in their heels and says I have a right to be who I am, and if leaving stuff all over the floor is who I am then that’s just tough, and the other person quietly grinds their teeth, and gets mad, and gets bitter and resentful?  Is being one’s self worth damaging a marriage?

Is that a tough situation to fix?  It is if you’re focused on yourself.  We can be remarkably egocentric, self-centered, and self-absorbed people who want to do what we want to do and act they way we want to act.  That’s why love is tough, because love is not egocentric, or self-centered, or self-absorbed.

Anyone who says love is not tough really doesn’t understand love.  Love is tough because it takes you out of yourself and your own interests and wanting your own way and working for the best of another person, and that’s not easy.  Love asks us to sacrifice and to set aside what we want for the greater interest of a marriage and family, and that can is tough.

Everyone comes into marriage with a set of expectations, and many of those expectations relate to what we want from the other person.  Some people expect that they are getting a cook, a housekeeper, a mechanic, a yard care expert, an accountant, or an ATM.

But love does not concern itself with what it receives but what it gives.  There is an aspect of servanthood to love, and you cannot love someone you do not serve, not in the Biblical sense of love. 
You cannot express love when you are demanding things from your spouse, you cannot express love when you desire them to serve you; you express love when you serve them.

3.  Love is an act of the will.
The title of this message is To Love and To Cherish:  The Greatest Command.  I use the phrase the greatest command because that is what Jesus said of love – it was his greatest command.  But let me ask you a question – can you command love?  Is it really love if it has to be commanded?

You can’t command love, and I think what Jesus is talking about creating the conditions under which love can thrive.  When we talk about love in the context of a marriage, we have to move beyond romantic love and emotion.  Those are wonderful elements of a marriage, but love is far deeper than just romance and emotion.  In the context of a marriage, love is very often an act of the will.  It is an act of the will because it is a different kind of bond from that of parent and child, sibling – those relationships that are bond together by blood relations.  A marriage is a relationship entered into by a decision and it is maintained by a continual decision – an act of the will.

So what will you do?  I preached about marriage some years ago, and often, what happens after you preach about marriage, is that people come and talk to you more about their marriages.  One couple talked to me, and I was surprised to learn of how deeply they were struggling.  I told them they needed to get some help and pointed them to a good counselor, and they did great.  I wish it were always that easy.

One of the most difficult and nerve-wracking moments in life is when you tell someone for the first time I love you.  I remember very well the first time I said the words I love you to Tanya.  We had been dating a while and I knew I was in love with her.  I thought about how to tell her, and, of course, I had some anxiety about doing so.  When Tanya and I first went on a date she told me she never dated anyone longer then about six weeks.  I had somehow managed to continue on longer than six weeks and I had also come to the point of believing we had a great future together.  But to say those words – I love you – was a big step.  I came up with a plan, when and where I would tell her.  All during that day my stomach was in knots.  That evening, as I walked her back to her dorm, and as we stood in the courtyard of Hart Hall, I somehow managed to work up the courage to say I love you.  Thankfully, she said I love you in return!

It is a great gift to tell someone I love you; it is an even greater gift to hear someone say to us. I love you.

But love is not always smooth sailing, and there are many challenges that come to love.  We are programmed in our society to concentrate so much upon the emotions of love, and what happens in marriage if you don’t always feel the emotion?  It is absolutely essential to the health of a marriage to love and cherish your spouse, and to be sure they know this every day of your life together.

6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
 It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.
 If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7