Mission Devotional - December 7, 2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Opening Prayer: O God, how you long for intimacy with us - as well as for us and from us. And you designed marriage to be a beautiful expression of that. Thank you that the best marriages can give us a little taste of eternity. Amen.

Scripture: Ephesians 5:22-33

Journal: How are your deepest desires for intimacy being met in your life right now? How might God be drawing you to that? How might marriage be a picture of that? If you are married, what does God long for (both from you and for you) in your marriage? What about these verses help give you direction on getting there?

Reflection: Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor - since they're already "one" in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That's how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, The Message)

A few of days ago my wife and I had the incredible privilege of attending a ten-year anniversary ceremony for a couple of dear friends. They got married when they were really young and at the time were unable to afford the wedding they had always dreamt about, so they decided to have it on their tenth anniversary. And it was delightful! It was delightful because of the setting and the intentionality and the friends and family who had gathered. It was delightful because of the wonderful weather and the beautiful decorations and the great food. But mostly, it was delightful because of this extraordinary couple. Her friends and family describe her as a great daughter, a great sister, and a great friend. Her husband describes her as his rock - an incredible wife and mother. Her life revolves around investing herself in the lives of those she loves, especially her husband and their four beautiful children. He is a professional athlete. His friends and family describe him as an enormous man with an enormous heart - kind-hearted, loving, and generous (both with his time and his resources). He is known in his profession as a great teammate who is willing to do the dirty work; willing to do all of the difficult, unglamorous things that no one else really wants to do. In a word, both of these dear friends could be described as selfless.

And because this ceremony took place ten years after they had originally gotten married, I think it led everyone there to reflect upon marriage in general, an upon our own marriages in particular. I know it did me. What makes a great marriage? What makes a marriage that lasts? And, even more, what makes a marriage that flourishes? All of these questions, I believe, are addressed in the words above from the book of Ephesians. The secret to a great marriage can be summed up in two words: strength and beauty. Let me explain what I mean by that.

A wise man once said that the deepest question of every man's heart is, "Do I have what it takes?" while the greatest question of every woman's heart is, "Am I beautiful enough to be pursued?" Now I am not completely sure about what resides in the heart of a woman, but as far as I'm concerned, the deepest question of every man's heart is spot on. Deep in the heart of every man is the desire to be capable, adequate, and strong. Oh, not strong in a brutish, bullying sort of way, but strong in a way that allows those dearest to us to feel safe and protected and cared for. It is a strength filled with lovingkindness and tender care. And deep in the heart of every woman lies the desire to be considered beautiful. Not just beautiful in the physical sense, but beautiful deep down to the core of who she really is. A beauty that draws people to want to know her and be in deep relationship with her.

I think that's why Paul uses the word "honor" when speaking to the wives and "cherish" when speaking to the husbands. Somehow when wives honor their husbands, they hold them in high regard. They make something come alive in them that God breathed into them when he dreamt them into being. They draw out their godly strength. And somehow when a husband cherishes his wife, he makes something come to life in her that makes her the very best, God-breathed, version of herself. When she is cherished, her true beauty is evoked from her.

The bottom line is that marriage was intended to be a place where husband and wife make each other the very best version of themselves. And somehow the oneness from which, and for which, marriage was designed, means that the two together are more than they could ever be on their own. That is not meant to diminish or demean singleness in any way. In fact, I believe singleness is a unique and beautiful calling (or season) as well. For those who are single it is almost as if God were saying, "I want to be that for you right now. I want to be that intimate one in your life." But the whole idea behind marriage is that two separate people would become one in some wonderfully mysterious way. That the sum of the whole (in Christ) would somehow be greater than the sum of the parts. I know that I have found this to be true in my own marriage. I am a much, much better man with Carol in my life than I could ever hope to be without her. Her presence in my life makes me more and more who God intended for me to be.

The question is, how is this oneness in marriage achieved? How do we live in union as husband and wife, rather than simply settling for living parallel lives? I think the answer goes back to the weekend celebration we just had the pleasure of witnessing. Oneness is achieved through selflessness. Just ask the Trinity. They live in joyful, loving union with one another, each honoring and cherishing and pointing toward and delighting in the other. It is a Great Round Dance of Love that we are invited to take part in. Oneness happens when we follow their lead. Thus, oneness begins to take shape when we become more committed to the cares and needs and wants and desires of our spouse than we are to our own plans, demands, and agendas. When both spouses are committed to giving themselves fully and completely to each other--no holding back--oneness is the byproduct. Just ask Jesus, the part of the Trinity who came to show us what the heart of God is really like, and what it means to really love someone. His love is our guide. Each one of us is to love our spouse the way that Jesus has loved us. When we do that we become, both corporately and individually, all that God designed us to be.

Prayer for the church, for others, for myself

John and Kathy Lesondak are church planters who work across denominational lines in Slovakia to encourage and enable pastors in their work. The Lesondaks utilize various opportunities to engage with local residents, including classes in pottery and sewing. They are in the U.S. now on home assignment until Spring 2018, but ask that you pray for an opportunity to purchase a house that can be used for the Roma community Church in Vitkovce. Getting this house would allow the community to have a place of their own for the first time.

The Hope Center provides caring support and assistance to all individuals and families living with HIV. Pray today for the "Hope for the Holidays" celebration that will be hosted at Cedar Springs today! If you filled a Hope Bucket, it will be given to someone at the party today. Thank you for caring for these patients and their families.

Closing Prayer: O God, how you long for us with the passion and purity of a bridegroom for his bride. Draw us into deeper and deeper intimacy with you, that we might be drawn to deeper levels of intimacy with each other. Amen.