John W. Smith tells a story of a couple who goes to marriage counseling. The husband, of course, does not want to go, but the wife does, and finally she gets him to go with her. And for four hours, the wife pours out her heart to the counselor saying how he never notices her, he never thanks her, he never compliments her. She feels lonely and unloved and wonders if she has any self-worth at all.
At this, the counselor gets out from around his desk, walks over to the woman, gets down on his knees, grips the chair, and tells her--"You listen to me. You are one of the most kind, caring, compassionate and beautiful woman I've ever met. You have incredible self-worth."
The counselor then turns to the man, who is a bit dumbfounded, watching this, and he says, "Do you see this? Do you think that you can do this? She needs this EVERY week, three times a week. Can you make sure this happens for her?"
The guy says, "Man, I don't know. I can drop her off for you on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Fridays are tough. I play golf."
This is a funny story--except it so unfortunately describes the reality of marital relationships in so many cases.
Guys--if we do not value and compliment our wives, someone else will. And vice versa. That need for "admiration" and words that build up are one of the top 5 needs in "His Needs, Her Needs." Song of Songs is filled with beautiful compliments and words from one spouse to another (even if some of these compliments don't translate well today:).
Paul says, "29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (4:29).
How can we better build up our spouses in our marriages with kind words? What is the danger if we do not do this?
RISK MANAGEMENT - What a Boring Way to Live; We Are Called to take Risks for God! (Esther 4:12-16; sharing our faith)
RISK MANAGEMENT - Sermon Illustration
In this slide, you can see a definition of "risk management," and some of the things that go into this practice and mindset - Identify, Analyze, Action, Monitor, and Control. Some approach their lives and their faith as a type of risk management--seeking to not even do or say anything that puts them at risk for God.
But is this how God calls us to live? In the book of Esther in the Bible, Esther is a queen and--unbeknowst to her husband--a Jew, married to the king of Persia (modern day Iran). There is an evil plot that has taken hold, whereby all of the Jews could legally be killed by their enemies and all of their belongings confiscated. And Queen Esther's cousin, Mordecai, calls upon her to seek to save her people.
She at first responds cautiously, indicating why she cannot do this. Note the response from her cousin:
"12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?'” --Esther 4:12-14
What would Esther do? Would she risk her position and her life to save her people? Note what Esther says:
"15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” --Esther 4:15-16
Esther was willing to take risks to save people and please God. In fact, the very reason that she had the position that she did was so that she would be in position to TAKE this kind of risk to save others. What are we willing to risk to save others and please God? Our jobs? Our lives? An awkward conversation? Are we willing to risk ANYTHING? Or will we just keep quiet...and let our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our children, our parents all risk losing their salvation?
It is risky, to not risk for God. (Or it is risky, to not risk saving others for God.) Think about what we risk missing out on by keeping silent . . . and what we and others have to gain by speaking out.
What other passages and/or illustrations about risk can you share? How else could this illustration be applied?
Nic Vujivic was born without limbs. And yet, he lives an incredible life. He is a motivational speaker, a preacher, and is married--all things which at one time he never would have dreamed of. I have used this clip a couple of times to illustrate having joy during times of trial (ex. James 1, depressed Elijah in 1 Kings 19, after he is fleeing Jezebel).
This video always gets a very good response. How else do you see that this video could be used? What others sermon illustrations do you have like this?
HUMOR--Steve Harvey Show - A funny clip about a woman who asks Steve to help her tell a lie at church
This is a hilarious clip that speaks for itself. Here is the link: I'm not helping you go to hell!
One of the arguments of legalism and a legalistic approach to Scripture is that of it being "safer to do nothing" if we are uncertain of anything. This mindset, of course, results in much good being left undone, as people are too scared to even try.
This "it is safer" argument is of questionable nature as a hermeneutical practice. And Jesus confronts this mindset directly in the "Parable of the Talents" (or the "Parable of the Bags of Gold," as the updated NIV calls it.) In this parable, the master gives out talents of 1, 2, and 5 to three different servants, respectively. The 5 talent man doubles his talent. The two talent man doubles his talent. The master is well pleased with them.
But note what the one talent man/person with a bag of gold does with his gift when his master returned. Matthew 25 says,
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
In this parable, the one talent man hid his talent rather than invest it because is was "safer." Why did he believe that it was safer to do this? Because of his view of his master as being a mean, harsh master, ready to punish him.
Is that not the mindset of the "it's safer" argument? Why is it safer not to do something that might not be 100 percent clear? Because there is the view that God is just waiting to strike down those who fail him in some way, with examples given like Nadab and Abihu, time and time again.
My friends, that is not a grace-filled view of God. And it is not safe to not act in creative ways to reach out to our world today. It is not safe because it risks continuing to losing souls at a high rate.
This parable shows that God wants us to take risks for him and in reaching others, and that he rewards this, rather than punishing this. Taking risks to save others is pleasing to God. As with children, we have to believe that God is a loving father who will continue to bless us if we are genuinely seeking God, and forgive us of our (un)intentional wrongs.
What do you think of the "safe" argument and use of the Parable of the Talents in this article?
SOCIAL MEDIA/SELF- Research shows that 60 percent of conversations and 80 percent of posts on social media are about ourselves. For most people, this is a way to share with others and/or to serve as a type of online journal. Research also shows that this causes the motivation and reward part of the brain to light up.
The Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is another piece of Wisdom literature in the Bible. It describes in stark and explicit--though poetic terms--the physical and sexual relationship between a man and a woman, as well as intense emotional longing and romance. Viewed through the rest of Scripture, there is something about this relationship that also is intensely spiritual in nature.
More on all of this later. What I wanted to point out in this post is how much the man and woman, husband and wife, really lay on the compliments. I have outlined some of these below. Now, guys, I would not try most of these lines at home--especially the highlighted ones. Telling your wife that she is like a "mare," that her hair is like a "flock of goats" might get you lying on the coach for a night, rather than its intended effect!
But what does this show us about a marriage relationship? Well, one thing it shows is the importance of building up your mate with words of love and admiration! And notice how both the man and the woman do this.
Here is a top ten list of compliments from Song of Songs that may not translate very well today!
Which of these ten do you like best? What would be good modern day alternatives?
Here is an inspiring story from Guideposts called "Faith Reunited Them" about a divorced couple who, after years of separation and discovering God, reunited and married again.
Here is the ending of the story (see link above):
"I'll start," I said. I scrunched my feet up under me. "Dear Michael," I began. But I didn't have to read the letter; I'd already memorized it. "I'm so thankful for you. You're doing an excellent job raising our sons. I don't know how long I have on this earth. But however long, I want to spend it with you."
Michael read me his letter. "Dear Michelle," it started. "You're the only woman I've ever loved…" It went on from there, but honestly it didn't have to. Afterward, he took my hands. First time in seven years. Michael's grip was firm and true. "Lord, we want to do what you want us to," he prayed. "Just help us understand what that is."
Right then I felt two more pairs of hands on top of ours. I opened my eyes and there were Johnny and Cameron, who had a bit of peanut butter on his hand. To this day, the smell of peanut butter reminds me of that moment.
"Michelle, will you marry me? Again?" Michael asked.
"Yes," I said. "Yes." But this time I knew what I was getting into. Whatever I needed wasn't out there somewhere in the night waiting for me to find it. No, it had been here all along, with Michael and our sons. It just took time for God to change me into the woman—and wife—I was meant to be.
Do you know of other stories of couples that have reunited like this?
Here is an inspiring story of paying it forward from this site.
A Labor of Love - Ulfilas, Missionary, Spent 30 Years CREATING the Gothic Alphabet and Translating the Bible for the Gothic People
Before Jesus went to the cross, John's gospel tells us that Jesus washed his disciples' feet. While his disciples initially objected to this, Jesus did this to teach them about service. He said, "14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 1:1, 14-15).
While it is implied in the passage, the opening verse of John 14 makes it clear why Jesus washes his disciples; feet--because of his love for them. In setting the scene for the foot washing, john says, "1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end . . . . " His washing of the disciples' feet was an act of love--that pointed to the larger act of love that he would show through through his death on the cross--which he was calling them to imitate.
Love and service go together. Without love, we are unlikely to serve very long or with a very good attitude. And love without service is hollow sentimentalism at best, or at worse, simply non-existent. Jacob served 7 years for Rachel--was fulled into marrying Leah instead--and served another 7 years to be able to marry Rachel. And yet, the time passed for him as if it was nothing.
One of the great stories of love and service in Christian history is found in the story of Ulfilas. Ulfilas' parents were apparently captured by the Goths--East Germans--and he was raised among the Goths. After moving away once he had grown up, Ulfilas was appointed as a missionary bishop to the barbarian and warlike Goths. And in his missionary efforts, Ulfilas spent SEVEN YEARS creating an alphabet for the Goths (a previously illiterate people) and translating most all of the Bible into that language so that he might share Christ with them. It was said that he translated the whole Bible from Greek into the Gothic language that he had created except the book of Kings, due to its violent narratives which he did not want to encourage in the warlike Goths.
What could motivate someone to serve a people by actually sitting down and INVENTING an alphabet and translating nearly the whole Bible for a people who once apparently captured/enslaved his parents? Only love. The kind of love that Christ showed for us. As Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28).
And if we are to reach people for Christ, we too must have love in our hearts for them. True love. If it is not a labor of love, then we likely will not last seven years. Probably not seven months. Maybe not even seven minutes! But if we love those we are reaching out to? Well, like Jacob and Ulfilas and Christ--the time will pass quickly!
What do you think of Ulfilas' love and sacrifice? What other stories like this do you know?
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Dr. James Nored is a minister and Executive Director of Next Generation for Christ.