Fostering Fidelity- patterns of faithfulness

How do we build fidelity? It is easy to quote the “thou shall nots”. It is harder to exemplify “the quality of being faithful”! This sermon offers seven specific practices that foster fidelity!  We will explore questions! What does it mean to “forsake all others”? Does our vow entail forsaking possessions, playthings, and power for our partner? What does it mean to not covet? How can we become more faithful to God and each other? Can we overcome coveting?

 

The sun slipped away, lingering to dance in pink and purple swirls on the once-white crests of the breaking waves. Surfers caught the last rides before dark – their silhouettes defying the growing grayness, and mesmerizing we who watched their water ballet. The sunless sea breeze broke the oppressive mugginess of our day’s labor spent cleaning up hurricane damage. The fading light revealed the power of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse’s beam that now shone out to sea, in regular rotation. The crush of the big waves drowned out the noise of the 20 teens who sat all around us – almost silently drinking in the grandeur of a holy moment.

 

Finally the darkness, the once welcomed chill, and the promise of snacks led us up the beach and back to the church vans. A wide-eyed sophomore having only seen the Atlantic three days before spilled her heart about the transcendent beauty of that moment. A more seasoned traveler chortled “that is nothing compared to the sunset in Hawaii” indeed. The mainland did keep us from seeing the sun set over the ocean! The sophomore’s smile dimmed, temporally tarnished by Mr. Hawaii’s breaking faith with a holy moment. I pulled a now sheepish Mr. Hawaii aside and said “Son, appreciate the sunset you are watching – don’t live your life somewhere else.

 

An inability to enjoy where we are is perhaps the fuel behind infidelity and coveting. Our marketplaces preach coveting; promising an ever-elusive “more”. That living somewhere else – that desire for something that is not ours may be behind God’s “Thou Shall Not’s” today. Let us consider Commandments Seven and Ten.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, house or land, family, or stuff.

 

I could preach about the thou shall not, the high costs of infidelity and our idolatrous materialism, but during my Thursday morning prayers, with a sermon almost done, I felt the pull to go another way and preach about remaining faithful. Our infidelities and coveting sew much hurt into the world. I know some of you bear invisible wounds. I do not want to add pious platitudes to those.

 

Fidelity is “the quality of being faithful.” In audio, fidelity represents the accuracy or quality of a recording. Fidelity in marriage might be measured by how closely we reproduce our marriage vows. “Will you love, comfort, honor, keep, and forsake all others (people- positions- possessions), be faithful to them”. What does “forsaking all others” mean?

 

I know an executive who came home from work to tell his wife he had accepted a position with another firm in Palm Beach. He never consulted with his wife, a partner in a small non-portable business. He failed to forsake all others, choosing work over his wife.   There are others who forsake their spouses for hobbies, games, being right, and even other friends.   Failing to forsake all others is a kind of infidelity.

 

Jesus gives an expansive definition of adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27)

 

The prophet’s speak poetically of Israel as “an adulterous wife” (Ezekiel 16) who has forsaken the Lord for idols made of the Creator’s scraps of gold and silver. Yet The Lord speaks “I will remember my covenant with you… when I forgive you all that you have done.”

 

The rabbis assert that we can commit adultery by indifference or abuse or neglect. When we pour our passions into other projects, places, possessions; when we fail to attend the home fires, some rabbis say that is adultery. We can forsake our spouse with more than another person.

 

The seventh commandment calls for fidelity in our homes, The Tenth commandment warns us not to covet/focus/desire other people, possessions or positions. Both infidelity and covet-ness conceal an inner Spiritual unease that seeks to possess what is not rightly ours. Restless eyes blind us to present joy. A wandering heart loses its home.   It is hard to lovingly tend your garden when you are always coveting the neighbor’s fields.

 

How can we avoid infidelity with another person, possession, plaything or position? How can we avoid forsaking those we pledged to deeply love, honor, comfort and cherish?    

 

Years ago, Connie and I met her college roommate in West Virginia. Too poor for hotel rooms, we decided to camp! It was cold! How cold was it? It was so cold we were the only ones camping, the salsa from the tacos froze on our plates, at 8pm the grandfatherly ranger offered to let us sleep on his living room floor, our two liters and eggs froze solid overnight, and the Ranger came back by at 10pm to tell us the back door of the Ranger Station would be unlocked all night if we changed our minds about camping.

 

Now there was not too much wind, so we built a huge camp fire and our coffee pot churned out hot chocolate. So as long as we were around the fire it was warm. When we retreated into sleeping bags we decided to only spread the coals in the fire circle, just in case the back door of the Ranger Station was locked. The next morning we awoke surprised that our sleeping bags had done the job of keeping us warm. The two girls voted fire starting as a manly pursuit so winning the election I went out into the single digit morning air and tended to the fire. The once roaring fire was now a pile of grey cast about ashes…not even smoke. You must feed a fire to keep it burning. This was not a fire, but if you held your hand just above the grey ashes you could feel a little heat.   So with some stirring, poking, prodding, strategically placed kindling, and some exhaled hot air, what looked like nothing came to life. Within a few minutes, we had a fire. The girls not incapable of stoking a fire, but perhaps wiser, waited until the camp stove coffee was rolling and the bacon was popping in the frying pan, and the campfire again roaring, before they emerged draped in sleeping bags to gather around the roaring fire.

 

You must tend a fire- adding new fuel. However, sometimes what looks like a pile of ashes can again flame back to life with some effort and added fuel! You must feed a relationship. I am preaching today about fostering fidelity.

 

Fostering fidelity – tending the home fires.

  • Stop looking and enjoy the spot God gave you.
  • Name out loud the qualities you thank God for in your spouse.
  • Take an undivided 15 – minutes to share prayer or conversation each day.
  • Actions activate affections.
  • Name and frame disrupting factors.
  • Cool It.
  • Forgive and grow. 

Stop searching and enjoy the spot God gave you. Don’t covet another campsite or camp-mate. My teenage friend Mr. Hawaii was not present in the moment- he was looking off and comparing a richer experience. He missed enjoying that sunset! 10) You shall not covet your neighbors house; you shall not covet your neighbors wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17). If I spend all my time thinking about my neighbor’s fruit trees, I will likely never grow my garden. If I worry that I did not get the solo, I come to hate the song. If I want my son to be a third baseman like me, I may miss the joy of his piano recitals. If I spend my energy longing for the attractive corner restaurant, I may never learn to cook at home. Back in my youth ministry days, I used to begin our discussions about human sexuality by telling the teens that “you do not need another person to make you whole- only God can do that”. I think that word might be appropriate for anyone who reads this sermon and find themselves single, widowed or divorced. Only God can complete us. Indeed, the Apostle Paul urged singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:7 “I wish you all were as I am”. Please read the rest of this sermon thinking about how you can be found faithful to the network of friends and family that surrounds you!

Name out loud the qualities you thank God for in your partner. It is amazing what happened when we take to heart Paul’s call “whatever is pleasing, whatever is good, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things(Philippians 4:8). A few months ago, Connie and I had a pretty deep disagreement – giving us both opportunities to confess our sins before God and one another. The fight ended when I stopped and said aloud to her, “I am so deeply grateful to you for being so good to my mother and for being such a great mom to my boys.” My soul needed to hear me say that out loud to her. When did you last tell aloud what you deeply appreciate about a significant person in your life? Often after a while we stop naming aloud the qualities we deeply appreciate in our loved ones. We focus on potential improvements and take the parts we love for granted. Ingratitude feeds infidelity! Stop and name what is good in the other person. Even if a lot of cold water has been poured over the ashes- there was a reason you got married- go back, find it and name it. Honoring others makes you more honorable no matter what they do in return!

Take an undivided 15- give your undivided attention in prayer or conversation every day. Be together. Look each other in the eye. Forsake other things. You have 15 minutes time if you turn off all media. Forsake all others for 15 minutes!   There is no substitute for time. “Encourage one another and build up each other.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Actions activate affections. If we wait until we feel like loving, then love will escape. Do right and the feelings may follow. One of the sins of our generation is that we do what we feel instead of doing what is right. “But love your _____, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). Love is about doing the right things. Who feels like changing a baby?   Who enjoys cleaning the dishes? Who enjoys paying the bills? Feelings do matter, but when we are mad or resentful or have some other pent-up emotion, our bad attitude prevents us from dropping our guard or giving them the break that allows a relationship to rekindle the emotional connection. If we sit around waiting for our feelings to spark change, the fire may go out. I had a buddy whose marriage was in trouble. They had 3 children under 6 and he traveled a lot. She taught school. One weekend, she had to fly home for a funeral, leaving the three kids in the hands of their father all weekend long. She arrived home on Tuesday, expecting the worst. The house was immaculate- every toy put up, the kitchen sparkled as if the cleaning fairy came during the night. She did not even know that her husband of 9 years knew where the mop was. She walked into the formal dining room and there was this huge arrangement of roses with a note, “How do you do all this? I called a cleaning service – you can cancel the contract if you don’t approve. I am sorry for not being the husband you deserve!” His five days of solo parenting changed his feelings for his wife and likely saved their marriage. The Bible teaches that love is not an impulse but an act, not affections but actions, not intoxication but integrity, not emotion but ethics, not feeling good but doing good, not passions but principles.

Name and Frame disruptive factors inside and outside of your relationship that negatively impact your life together. You need to name the problems inside and outside. Often outside forces like bills, unemployment, workplace stress, family of origin issues, legal trouble, health issues, children in trouble, being a crime victim, our parents’ health, our siblings’ mess, school, all sorts of things outside of our relationships can intrude into our martial or family bliss. We come home and bring with us the unnamed outside stress: It infects the family. Perhaps you can’t tell your boss that he is a jerk, so you come home and unconsciously treat your spouse like a jerk! Name it and maybe you can frame a solution or at least help each other carry the burden! Stuff swept under the rug starts to stink. There was this couple and the guy just hated his job. It was slowly suffocating him. He never named it – it just festered and infected his attitude.   One night they got into this huge fight. She hollered “You’re walking around here like a dead man, grumbling, fussing and then online until midnight. In heavens name, what is going on?” Finally the pent-up volcano exploded with an eight minute stream beginning: “I hate my job, I hate my boss, I hate…”   She let the lava flow,. When he stopped blowing ash she said “I hate your job too!” The mountain blew again- “I can’t quit” and she spoke from on high “Why not?” The mountain embraced his wife. Together over the next year they framed a very different life. “Bear one anothers burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2. Bearing the others burden might be a lot of work, but work done together often grows love. I might add, do not be afraid to get outside help.

Cool it! Watch your words. It is hard to put the emotional toothpaste back into the tube. Talk about stress and problems when things are not blowing up. Patch the roof when the sun is shining. It is harder to fix deep problems when everyone is mad, stressed, and edgy. Sometimes a hug and a honest pledge to address the stress tomorrow can start the healing today. “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce Gods righteousness” (James 1:19-20).   “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” Proverbs 15:1.

Forgive and grow and accept one another as God accepts you. Every relationship a journey. Every time we pray “Lord be my God and guide” we open our lives to change. Life is changing all the time- we are changing all the time. Connie was a Methodist, became a Baptist, then we both became Methodists. We thought we might never have children, settling in different regions and taking great vacations, then we got pregnant, then we had trouble having children, then we knew we wanted children, then we had children, and now we wonder what life will look like without kids at home. You can’t drive very well looking in the rear-view mirror- life unfolds in front of us. God and life are always moving onward. Paul writes “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is being made new. God has given us the ministry of reconciliation… not counting our willful sins against us and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation! So we are ambassadors for Christ” 2 Corinthians 5:17. Every confession of sin offers a chance for a newness of life. The deepest forgiveness offers another sinner the promise of a new life. It can be hard to forgive those nearest to us who therefore have the capacity to hurt us the deepest. Love releases people to become the people God calls them to be. It is a great blessing to share the unknown journey with God and each other as did Abraham and Sarah or Mary and Joseph. Will we rejoice to see God make us anew? Will we be open to God’s unfolding road? As we accept others as forgiven children of God, we slowly accept ourselves. As we forgive others, we begin to feel your own forgiveness. Forgiveness unlocks the potential for growth in us and our relationships.  At times others will forsake us- our Lord will never. Wherever we find ourselves- we can be new creations. God may call us to move on- especially if a spouse continues to forsake us. When we are forsaken by others, let us not stop living- let us arise as new creations and enter into the ministry of reconciliation. Let seek forgiveness, forgive and arise to walk in newness of Life. Amen

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