Faithful Promises

Stephen_HIemstra_20210809

 

Wedding of Rui Ma and Stephen Kane, Boyds, MD

Jeremiah 29:11; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Have you ever thought about how our lives are shaped by the good promises we make and keep?

On the way to work one day I wondered who promised me that when I arrived at work that morning they would let me in the building. It was no small deal because the checks I received each month put food on the table and made sure that the mortgage got paid on time—I depended on that promise. I am not sure what I would do if that promise were not kept. I remember how unsettling it was to see one of my co-workers walked to the door because he lied on his employment application about being a college graduate. While management was totally justified in firing him, the experience of seeing him fired was unsettling because it reminded me of how fragile our lives can be. We depend on people keeping their promises.

Marriage is one of the most important promises that we will ever make.

It is no accident that the Bible starts with the story of Adam and Eve. Marriage is a reminder that we worship a God who is known for keeping his promises, good promises. Our reading in Jeremiah 29:11 makes this point:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

The Bible promises us that the future is in Christ, we need worry about absolutely anything because we know the end of the story. We can take comfort in this knowledge. Imagine trying to study if you thought that the building you were in would collapse at any moment like the condominium in Miami—who could concentrate on anything? Our lives are shaped by the promises we receive and the promises that we make to one another.

This biblical promise is especially meaningful because it comes from the Prophet Jeremiah who witnessed the burning of Jerusalem and the carrying off of the people to Babylon—hence Jeremiah’s nickname, the Weeping Prophet. Interestingly, Jeremiah was the only Old Testament prophet to speak directly of the new covenant in Christ.

Marriage is one of the most important promises that we will ever make.

People love to read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings. This chapter is the second of three chapters in 1 Corinthians that focuses on the nature of spiritual gifts. The key in interpreting this guidance on spiritual gifts is found in chapter 12: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:4 ESV) The Holy Spirit is the giver of these spiritual gifts that are not so much dropped on us from heaven as sought after in an active prayer discipline and an obedient life.

As I read 1 Corinthians 13 again, think about love as a spiritual discipline:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

What makes this description of love as a spiritual discipline so distinctive is that Corinth was a city famous for its temple prostitutes. The first verse in chapter 13 gives this context away: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1 ESV) Imagine attending a church where the prostitutes paraded by on the streets banging gongs and clanging cymbals—that was the problem in Corinth.

It is interesting that Corinth’s problem has become our problem. Our society has less and less respect for marriage as time passes, between the open promiscuity and attempts to redefine marriage itself. Think of the expression from the Mother Goose rhymes: rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she makes music wherever she goes.[1] Such music can be heard on our own streets. Given the Corinthian context and our own, it is important to think of love as a spiritual discipline.

Marriage is one of the most important promises that we will ever make. Let’s covenant together with God’s help to keep this promise. Amen.

Faithful Promises

Also see:

Believer’s Prayer

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

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Living into the Image

Doug_and_Christine_08272016bLiving into the Image

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Service for Recommitment of Vows for Christine Nousheen Hiemstra and Douglas Warren Ferrer,

Centreville, Virginia, September 4, 2016

A quiet little secret in this postmodern age is often overlooked by those of us who seldom read our Bibles: marriage is God’s idea, not ours. Marriage was not enacted by an act of Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court; marriage was not invented by some church committee way or some really popular saint way back when. Marriage was God’s idea which we know because the Bible begins and ends with a wedding.[1]

How do we know? (2X)

The short answer comes in verse 27 of the first chapter of Genesis:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 ESV)

In other words, God created us together in his image and, in case there is any misunderstanding, this image couple was given a mission-statement in the next verse:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 ESV).

The vows are then repeated in chapter 2 where we read:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:23-24 ESV)

So after the wedding ceremony is over, Adam and Eve are a couple on their own, not living with mom and dad in stark contrast with the custom in pagan societies of the ancient world.[2]

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? (2X)

The answer to this question is found in our second reading from the Book of Exodus. The context for this verse is that after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (and after Moses broke the first set of tablets), he says to him directly:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)

Much like Congress after passing legislation will publish a “conference report” explaining how to interpret the new law, God reveals his character in five key words as a tool for interpreting the Ten Commandments. These five character traits are repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments in different forms, which is the Bible’s way of saying stop and pay attention here. Let’s take a moment to reflect on each of these five traits, as they give insight into God’s prescription for marriage.

The first of these traits is: mercy. Mercy is what you ask the judge for right after you have just admitted that you are guilty. Mercy is unwarranted and undeserved forgiveness.

Christine, offer mercy to Doug when he screws up; Doug, extend mercy to Christine when she has just done it again. When you offer mercy to one another, you honor God and make love possible.

The second of these traits is: compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin expression, with passion, in the sense of having passion out of understanding for someone else. A great example of compassion was going around on social media earlier this year—a policeman was called to grocery store to arrest a woman for shoplifting. She explained that she stole food to give her kids a meal and, instead of arresting her, the policeman bought her a cart load of groceries and drove her home.

Doug, take time to understand Christine when she screws up. Christine, walk alongside Doug when he does not seem to be himself. Understand each other before you criticize each other. Remember the policeman’s heart.

The third of these traits is: patience—be slow to anger. The Hebrew used here literally says:  be long nostrilled!  In other words, take a deep breath; listen; and count to ten before responding when something is not quite what you were expecting. Patience is so under-practiced in our “I WANT IT NOW” generation.  Be a rebel: practice patience!

The fourth trait is two Hebrew words, rav hesed (‎רַב־חֶ֥סֶד), which does not translate well into English. It literally means “great love”, but the context suggests something other than “abounding in steadfast love”. God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments—kind of like a superpower promising a military alliance to a small country in a dangerous neck of the woods. Love here means that you keep your promises—especially when it hurts. I call this “covenantal love”.

In my case, I told Maryam when we were married that I did not believe in divorce. I told myself that I would not let anything come between us in our marriage—not our friends, not our families, not even my own ego. Keeping our marriage vows was the priority over everything, short of my faith in God. For me, that is covenantal love.

The final trait is translated faithfulness. The Hebrew word, emeth (אֱמֶֽת), also means truth.  When the Apostle John says that: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV), he is making an allusion to this very same verse in Exodus and, by inference, is making a divinity claim in reference to Jesus.

Faithfulness and truth go hand-in-hand, yet truth should only (2X) be told in a context of grace, otherwise it will simply not be heard.

Doug, Christine—be truthful with one another, but speak truth only out of love.

In closing, bear the image of God in your life with one another. Practice mercy and compassion, be patient with one another, honor your vows, and speak truth only in the context of love. Bear God’s image and draw closer to God and to one another as you do so. Amen and Amen.

[1] Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. (New York: Dutton, 2011), page 13.

[2] The Bible ends after the Second Coming with the wedding feast of the people of God. (Rev 21:2, 9; Rev 22:17)

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Gibson: Preach God’s Word in Season and Out

Gibson_review_08232016Scott M. Gibson. 2001. Preaching for Special Services. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the more perplexing challenges that pastors face is always being on call. Recently, the pastor on duty at a luncheon I attend got caught up in traffic; I found myself presented with an unexpected mic. For a plodder, someone who always works from a 5-year plan, these special occasions can be especially challenging.

In his book, Preaching for Special Services, Scott Gibson writes:

“A pastor must be able to step with ease into a number of different speaking venues. In addition to a regular preaching schedule, you as a pastor face an endless parade of special occasions at which you are asked to speak.” (Back cover)

He goes on to cite the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV) The purpose of such preaching, he says, “is to give a clear, listener-sensitive, biblically based word to men and women who are sometimes eager and often desperate to hear it.” (18)

In this short book, Gibson focuses on 4 special occasions that make up the core of his  6 chapters:

  1. Preaching for Special Services
  2. Wedding Services
  3. Funeral Services
  4. Baptism and Infant Presentation Sermons
  5. Preaching at the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
  6. Speaking on Other Occasions

The foreword was written by Haddon W. Robinson who taught preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for many years and is famous for “big idea” preaching.

The idea in “big idea” preaching is to identify the subject of a particular passage of scripture, usually a pericope,[1] and its complement. The subject is what the author is talking about and the complement is what is said about the subject (19). In special occasion preaching, Gibson emphasizes the need for brevity and clarity where the preacher must be clear about the biblical text, clear about the audience, clear about the occasion, and clear in what they say (21). Tall order on occasions where the circumstances may limit the time available for preparation.

Why preach on special occasions? Outside of the obvious response—because you are asked—Gibson offers this response:

“Preaching at these times allows the preacher to speak the word of God to those gathered, to round out the worship, to bring focus to the occasion.” (17)

When I am asked, I refer to these special occasions as difficult transitions in life where God is especially present to those who call on him. Of course, preaching helps us reflect on God’s presence and his special presence.

If you are like me, this is the sort of book that gets bought and remains on the bookshelf until a special occasion arises when a good reference comes in handy. In my case, I am working on a wedding so let me review Gibson’s comments about weddings.

In each of his presentations on special occasions, he reviews the history of the church’s customs with respect the particular occasion. Gibson notes that in pre-Christian Rome and Greece, weddings were celebrated with an epithalamium, which is a poem celebrating the wedding—kind of like Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Gibson’s comments about weddings in medieval Europe are interesting:

“Preaching took place at the synagogue or at the wedding feast.  The preacher was the groom, the father of the groom, or the father of the bride.” (27)

In my case, I am both a volunteer pastor and father of the bride.

Gibson sees the wedding sermon as: “a window to understanding God’s design for marriage.” (30). In particular, the marriage is not simply a covenant,[2] but a covenant before God, having both his oversight and blessing. Gibson furthermore sees the wedding service having both theological and practical objectives, celebrating the mystery of marriage (32). The wedding sermon should use concrete language, be brief, clear, personal, and have central idea (35-37).

Scott M. Gibson’s Preaching for Special Services is a helpful reference for pastors and aspiring pastors. Others who speak occasionally may also find it interesting. Although I had a wedding in mind in reading, other chapters helped me prepare sermon notes in advance of writing.

References

Robinson, Haddon W. 2001. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

[1] A periscope is a unit of scripture with one unified thought, usually a story or parable, which is often no more than 10-20 verses.

[2] Here a covenant is more than a business partnership, but, taking the business analogy, it is more of a merger where compatible corporate cultures often determine the long-term viability of the merger.

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