Thursday, September 7, 2017

Like a Good Marriage

     Glenn and I recently celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary.  It seems like only yesterday that we exchanged our vows and made our covenant to live together under the headship of Jesus Christ.  I will admit that it takes daily effort to keep the wheels of relationship running smoothly.  Contrary to the media, no one just falls in love and lives happily ever after.  Life is full of heartache and challenges.  That is why it requires effort to make a marriage successful.  However, this is not the only important relationship that needs regular attention.
August 21, 1971
     As I reflected on our many years together, I also thought about being a part of a church.  There are many occasions in scripture where the body of Christ is referred to as the bride and our Savior as the bridegroom.  Like marriage, our relationship to the church is similar.   When we join a church, we agree to support it financially, with our efforts and in prayer.  Too often, I think, people tend to take their church membership in a very casual manner.  Some hop from place to place seeking to find what  in their mind is the "perfect" church.  I hate to say this...but....there is no such place.  Being part of a church is very much like marriage.  It requires effort.
     One of the key reasons why we have to work at both relationships is that it involves imperfect people.  A pastor friend of mine says, "The church would be perfect if it weren't for all those sinners who belong to it."  Indeed, we see this even in the early church where Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement over John Mark who deserted their missionary efforts at one point.  Barnabas
was willing to give him another chance but Paul was not ready.  We know later in Paul's epistles that John Mark was a comfort to him.  Just from this example alone, we can see that even at the beginning of the church nothing was ever perfect.  This is where forgiveness and growth can take place if we pray and allow the Holy Spirit to resolve conflict.  Let me share another example.
     Early in our marriage, our differences were very clear.  Glenn was highly organized, and skillful at keeping things in order.  I, on the other hand, am a spontaneous person who does things on the fly.  When it comes to packing a car trunk, I would put anything in wherever I could while my dear husband neatly places things with care.  Now I am certain that my spontaneity has many times irritated my husband and his organization has at times done the same for me.  However, together we have learned from each other and the blend has been to God's glory and our benefit.  The same is true in the church.  How many times do people get upset over the color of the carpet or other things in the church and leave as a result?  It takes God's work in the heart to overcome the imperfections we see in one another.  We are all a work in progress.
     Secondly, communication is another area of importance in both the church and marriage.  If you do not tell someone how you feel, how will they ever know it?  I remember being upset one time because I expected some flowers from my dear husband for a certain occasion.  He did not give me any.  I stewed about it and let him know I was upset.  However, he said something that helped me understand him.  He said I should tell him if I wanted flowers because he could not read my mind.  He never meant to disappoint me...he just did not know.  The same is true in church relationships.  Are you hurt over something someone said to you?  Go talk to that person and tell them.  Is there something about the church that needs to be addressed?  Do not keep it to yourself.  Go speak to your pastor, elder, deacon or leader so that they are aware.  Too many people leave a good fellowship because they feel left out.  This does not need to happen if we communicate clearly, and this leads to another important point.
      We must not approach marriage or church with unrealistic expectations.  Even if we communicate clearly our point of view on issues and accept that we are imperfect people, we will not always have things go our way.  So do we abandon our marriage or our church just because of this?  No!  We must remember in both relationships that Christ is our head.  He is sovereign and will direct us in all things.  We often fail to talk to God first about the issues that trouble us.  He is Lord...we are not.  We have to look beyond ourselves to the overall welfare of not only our spouse but also our congregation as a whole.  If there is a lack of a ministry in the church and it troubles us, then, we might want to step out and meet the need that we see.  Today, there are many people who walk away from their marriage or their church over unrealistic expectations instead of trying to keep the commitment they made to God.
     With all these things in mind, we might wonder when is it ever right to look for another church body?  If the teaching in the church ever departs from the foundation of God's Word and begins to embrace error, then, we should go to the leaders and express our concerns.  We need to pray, and if they do not turn away from serious error, we should seek another place to worship God.  This does not include things like carpet color, building programs etc.  We are talking about heretical teaching.
God has planted us where we are in order to grow us into the likeness of Jesus Christ day by day for His glory.  It is not about us, and we need to look with greater perspective at God's overall plan.
     Forty-six years is a long time, but we have stayed together because we made Jesus Christ the center of our marriage.  We have been through difficulties, joys and sorrows together.  It has taken perseverance, work and effort to sustain our relationship day by day, but it is more than worth it.  Four children and ten grandchildren are the reward of a good marriage.  Likewise, the fruit of church membership is seeing others come to Christ, watching fellow pilgrims overcome difficulties and standing by those who sorrow or are sick.  We are meant to bring glory to God through our faithful witness within the Body of believers.  Pray for the church, the leaders, the pastors and fellow believers.  As a community, we are all on our pilgrim's journey, and we need one another.  Keep in mind that it is Christ who is our head.  He will do what is necessary.  Remember these words in Ephesians 5:25-27:  "25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."  He will complete what He has begun in us.  We can depend on that!  Selah!

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