Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Feast of The Nativity of St. Mary

Volume 4 No. 236 September 5, 2014

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St. Mary's Cathedral, Manarcadu, Kerala, India - Display during the Nativity Lent, Sep 1-8, 2014

Lighting and Display at the St. Mary's Cathedral, Global Marian Pilgrimage Center, Manarcadu, Kottayam, Kerala. All set for the Nativity Feast for St. Mary.

Photo by Chev. Shibu Mathew Pullolickal

TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Bible Readings for This Sunday (September 7)

2. Sermons for This Sunday (September 7)

Sermons for the 4th Sunday After Shunoyo

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_4th-sunday-after-Shunoyo.htm

3. Feast of the Birth of Virgin Mary, Mother of God

In celebrating the nativity of Mary, Christians anticipate the Incarnation and birth of her Divine Son, and give honor to the mother of Our Lord and Savior. ...

4. Featured: The Holy Virgin Mary in the Syrian Orthodox Church by LL Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

Our LL Zakka Bava has written a great discourse on St. Mary that is easy to read and, at the same time, very informative. The full book can be read in Malankara World. The following chapters are especially relevant to learn about the early days of Mother Mary. ...

5. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Unto us a little girl is born; unto us a daughter is given. "The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her" (Cf. Lk 1:35). The Word will take flesh in her virginal womb and suckle at her breast. And her name shall be called Full of Grace, Glory of Jerusalem, Joy of Israel, and Mother of God. ...

6. The Problem With Mary

Aside from her humble bearing Mary had gained great wisdom from Sacred Scripture taught – we can assume, by her saintly parents, Joachim and Anne. Mary understood well the lessons and trials of her forebears such as Hanna's who, although infertile, prayed to God that God grant her a son whom she would dedicate to his service. She miraculously bore a son named Samuel, the prophet and counselor to the young King David from whom Jesus descended. In gratitude to God for his favor Mary adopted Hanna's prayer when she praised God before her cousin, Elizabeth. ...

7. St. Mary - A Woman Wrapped in Silence

Yes this is the Mary, the mother that I know. A woman of faith, but a woman like you and me. And, as the Pope suggests, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith, not necessarily knowing how everything would work out. Not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel said, but it seems clear she did not know how it would all come to pass. She like us, walked with faith, not with earthly sight. ...

8. Family Special: How to Stay Married for Fifty Years

In this second decade of the third millennium, marriage is becoming increasingly unpopular. People need a good reason for getting married, otherwise, they see they can have the benefits of a legal union without any of the obligations. That said, for those considering it, we offer our list of marriage values that will take you and your husband/wife through to the end and leave you rejoicing that you hung in there.

To make your marriage last a full half-century (and beyond), we recommend the following....

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (September 7)

Sermons for This Sunday (September 7)
This Week's Features

Feast of the Birth of Virgin Mary, Mother of God
The Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been celebrated in the Church at least since the 8th Century. The Church's calendar observes the birthdays of only two saints: Saint John the Baptist (June 24), and Mary, Mother of Jesus.

John the Baptist is considered especially sanctified even before his birth. His birth to Elizabeth and Zachariah is foretold in the first chapter of Luke, and it is also recorded (Lk 1:41) that Elizabeth felt the infant John "leap in her womb" when Mary approached her soon after the Annunciation.

There is nothing contained in Scripture about the birth of Mary or her parentage, though Joseph's lineage is given in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. The names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, appear in the apocryphal "Gospel of James", a book dating from the 2nd Century AD, not part of the authentic canon of Scripture. According to this account, Joachim and Anna were also beyond the years of child-bearing, but prayed and fasted that God would grant their desire for a child.

According to one tradition, the house in which Mary was born in Nazareth is the same one in which the Annunciation took place. By another tradition, the Annunciation site is beneath the Crusader church of Saint Anna in Jerusalem, under a 3rd Century oratory known as the "Gate of Mary".

In celebrating the nativity of Mary, Christians anticipate the Incarnation and birth of her Divine Son, and give honor to the mother of Our Lord and Savior.

Featured: The Holy Virgin Mary in the Syrian Orthodox Church
by LL Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

How greatly appealing the discourse about the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary is! Our Holy Church fathers had had extensive scrutinizing studies of her biography; inspired ecclesiastical poets wrote beautiful poems in glorification of her; celebrated artists sculpted the most beautiful statues of her and skillful painters filled the world with her splendid portraits. The Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of the most magnificent Cathedrals the faithful have erected for her worldwide.

Our LL Zakka Bava has written a great discourse on St. Mary that is easy to read and, at the same time, very informative. The full book can be read in Malankara World. The following chapters are especially relevant to learn about the early days of Mother Mary:

The Virgin Mary in the Prophecies of The Holy Scripture

The Genealogy of The Virgin Mary

Joachim and Hanna, The Virgin Mary's Barren Parents

Conception and Birth of Mary

The Virgin in the Temple

The Virgin Mary's Betrothal to Joseph, the Righteous

Annunciation

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

by Fr. Dom Mark, Ireland

Unto us a little girl is born; unto us a daughter is given. "The Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the power of the Most High will overshadow her" (Cf. Lk 1:35). The Word will take flesh in her virginal womb and suckle at her breast. And her name shall be called Full of Grace, Glory of Jerusalem, Joy of Israel, and Mother of God. In Italy she has another name, one that the people love to give her; she is their Maria Bambina, the little Infant Mary.

The Story of an Image


Maria Bambina

It was in Rome, many years ago, that I encountered the image of Maria Bambina for the first time. I didn’t know quite what to make of it. She looked rather like a doll, all dressed up in lace and satin, resting on her pillow. I knew only that all sorts of people, and especially children, came to pray before her. I saw that that Maria Bambina had stolen their hearts. She attracted the most extraordinary outpouring of tender devotion, and does to this day.

The image of Maria Bambina originated in Milan where the cathedral is dedicated to the Infant Mary. A Poor Clare nun fashioned the image out of wax in 1735. Maria Bambina suffered the vicissitudes of the times under Napoleon. The convent that kept the image was suppressed. Maria Bambina was passed from one "foster home" to another until, in 1885, she found a permanent home in the motherhouse of Milan’s Sisters of Charity. Beginning in 1884 various miracles were attributed to the image of the Infant Mary. She was dressed in new clothes and placed in a new crib in the chapel of the Sisters. Devotion to Maria Bambina spread throughout Italy and then elsewhere in the world.

A Child for Children

The learned and the clever, the theologically sophisticated and those who think that holiness has no need of warmth and no time for tenderness, are baffled by Maria Bambina. But children understand her. Raďssa Maritain understood the Child Mary perfectly; "The Blessed Virgin is the spoiled child of the Blessed Trinity," she wrote. "She knows no law. Everything yields to her in heaven and on earth. The whole of heaven gazes on her with delight. She plays before the ravished eyes of God himself."

God With Us

The birth to Joachim and Anna of a little girl "full of grace" (Lk 1:28) set in motion great rolling waves of grace that reach even to us, for she was born to be the Mother of Christ. "And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace" (Jn 1:16). All the joy of today’s festival is summed up in the last three words of the Gospel: "God with us" (Mt 1:23).

In the birth of the Child Mary, "those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk 1:79) see the first glimmers of the long-awaited Dayspring from on high (cf. Lk 1:78). Joachim and Anna rejoice! Abraham and Sarah rejoice! The ancestors of Jesus Christ rejoice!

Rejoicing Ahead of Time

Today, with good reason, Mother Church gives us the Genealogy of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew. The long list of patriarchs and of prophets, of kings and of warriors, of saints and of sinners is transformed by the birth of Mary. We see all the ancestors of Christ standing on tiptoe to see the joy that comes to them from afar. With the birth of Mary they begin to rejoice ahead of time.

A Virgin Shall Conceive

This is the little girl who will give her consent to the Angel - "Be it done unto me according to thy word" (Lk 1:38) - "therefore the child to be born of her will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:35). The Mother of the Messiah has arrived. Isaiah’s prophecy is about to be fulfilled: "Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

Her Voice and Her Face

The cries of little Mary announce the arrival of the Bridegroom in the night of history. "I hear my Beloved! Behold He comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills (Ct 2:8). In the daughter of Joachim and Anna we can already see the human features of the Word made flesh. Her face announces His. Speaking at the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Manoppello on September 1, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI called her, "Our Lady in whose face - more than in any other creature - we can recognize the features of the Incarnate Word." The face of Maria Bambina already reveals the Human Face of God.

The Voice of the Word

The sound of little Mary’s voice is jubilation to our ears because it means that the voice of the Word is very close! Soon the Beloved will lift up His voice: at Bethlehem in the cries of an infant; at Nazareth as a little boy learning His Hebrew alphabet and beginning to read the Scriptures in the synagogue; at Jerusalem in dialogue with the elders in the Temple; on the Mount of the Beatitudes; in Galilee and in Judea; in the Cenacle and in Gethsemane; on the Cross, saying: "Behold your mother" (Jn 19:27); "I thirst" (Jn 19:28); "Father forgive them" (Lk 23:34); "Father, into thy hands" (Lk 23:46); "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). In the splendour of His resurrection, He will call another Mary by name, and He will ask Peter, "Do you love me?" (Jn 21:17).

The inarticulate cries of the newborn baby Myriam, daughter of Joachim and of Anna, announce all of this. And so we bend over the cradle of Maria Bambina, the Mother of God, and say to her in the words of the Canticle: "O my dove, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely (Ct 2:14).

The Heart of the Mother and the Heart of the Son

In your face, O little Mary, we already see that of Jesus; in your voice, we already hear His. Your voice, O little Mary, is sweet to our ears; your face is lovely to our eyes, for He whom the whole universe cannot contain will be enclosed in your womb. He will grow for nine months beneath your Immaculate Heart. Out of your flesh and blood the Holy Spirit will form a human Heart for the Son of God, the very Heart that, together with yours, will be pierced on Calvary.

Cause of Our Joy

You, O little Mary, Maria Bambina, are the Cause of our Joy! Your appearance in the arms of your mother announces that the Word of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, will soon appear in your arms. And you have but one desire, one joy: to give us your Son, to draw us to Him, that your joy might be ours and that our joy might be fulfilled.

As we celebrate this Holy Sacrifice, we ask Maria Bambina, the little Child Mary, to chase all sadness, all coldness, and all fear from our hearts, that we, like little children, may worthily welcome her Son, her very Flesh and Blood in the holy and life-giving Mysteries.

Source: Vultus Christi
© 2013-2014 The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. All Rights Reserved.

The Problem With Mary

By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

Jesus was the only person born in the fullness of God's grace not affected by original sin. All other human beings were and are conceived and affected by the original sin of our first parents. Mary's birth fulfilled a promise made by God to the old Eve and Adam in Paradise Lost. God had promised the first Eve: "I will put enmity between you ( read Satan) and the woman (read Mary) and between your seed and her seed (read Jesus) and he (Satan) will bruise your head, and you (Mary) shall crush his (read Satan's) head. (Genesis 3: 15).

In a decision made outside of time God sent the archangel Gabriel into time to say, "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you . . . . And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus," Savior. (Luke 1: 28). Mary was then told by the archangel that her "kinswoman Elizabeth . . . has also conceived a son . . . and Mary said, "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word."

Mary, we are told, then "left in haste" to assist Elizabeth who on hearing Mary's greeting said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (1 Luke 36-43). Mary and Jesus were the only ones exempt from the "wages of sin" whose payment the Apostle Paul said is "death." (Romans 6: 23). Both Mary and Jesus chose, however, to free themselves from this world when Jesus dying on a cross paid the wages of our sins and Mary's assumption into heaven.

The problem with Mary was, she was out of place in this world. I don't think we are capable of fully appreciating Mary's dilemma "full of grace" with all its attendant personal blessings, having chosen a life of virginity for the sake of the kingdom of God then to be thrust into the public life of her Son. She had chosen a life comparable to the lives of a religious women who take the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. Mary also prized the gift of silence. We hear little from her in Scripture, and I am sure the gospel writers would have recorded more of her thoughts had she expressed them. We are told, "she pondered" over the meaning of her becoming the Mother of God. She pondered over what her lost twelve year old son was discussing with the teachers in the temple and Jesus' reply to her questions, "Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business? After some time had passed and considering the angel's revelation Mary answered Elizabeth's question, "Why . . . the mother of my Lord should come to me?":

My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
(Luke 2: 41-51).

In her humility she credited her holiness to God, and then specifically enumerated God's "greatness" and "mercy" for those who are fearful of offending Him, for "the lowly" and for "the hungry" and his rejection of the "proud, the conceited, the mighty and the rich." She understood her place in the history of salvation as God's "lowly servant . . . [in] the promise [God] had made to our fathers in faith," to Abraham and passed on to his progeny and the nation God established in the name of Abraham's grandson, Israel, for "Abraham's . . . children for ever." ( Luke 1: 46-55).

Mary's "Magnificat" summed up perfectly the ongoing work of God's salvation – in her humility and abiding grace of the Holy Spirit which "overshadowed her" in a soul unlike any other since the creation of the world. Thirty years later before the beginning of Jesus' public ministry Mary maintained her quiet demeanor with her son when they both attended a wedding in Cana and the groom had run out of wine. Mary simply told Jesus, "They have no wine," letting him decide what he would or would not do while she quietly advised the wedding servers, "Do whatever he asks." (John 2: 1-4).

On another occasion when Jesus was teaching he was told his Mother and other relations were asking for him and Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, father and brother?" (Mark 3: 31–35). Mary understood that she was Jesus' disciple first and his mother second.

Finally, under the cross Mary and the Apostle John listened to Jesus say, "Woman, here is your Son. Son, here is your Mother." Mary understood, accepted and stood in silence. She had long before come to understand her relationship to Jesus' and Jesus' relationship to his other disciples. (John 19: 26-27).

Aside from her humble bearing Mary had gained great wisdom from Sacred Scripture taught – we can assume, by her saintly parents, Joachim and Anne. Mary understood well the lessons and trials of her forebears such as Hanna's who, although infertile, prayed to God that God grant her a son whom she would dedicate to his service. She miraculously bore a son named Samuel, the prophet and counselor to the young King David from whom Jesus descended. In gratitude to God for his favor Mary adopted Hanna's prayer when she praised God before her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the "greatest of the prophets," John the Baptist, whom Jesus recognized and called to his service. "My heart exults in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord." Mary repeated Hanna's prayer.

Perhaps, Mary recognized that her Son, Jesus, would be called the "Son of David" promised by the prophets she had read as a child.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

St. Mary - A Woman Wrapped in Silence

by Msgr. Charles Pope, Catholic Archdiocese of Washington

I had been reading Pope Benedict's book, volume 3 of 'Jesus of Nazareth', on the infancy narratives. I was very moved at a very brief reflection that he made on Mary, as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider on her faith in a very touching manner. I must say that I have always been moved by the faith of the Blessed Mother and intrigued too, for she is a woman wrapped in silence. The Pope's words capture both her faith and the mystery of her.

Here is what the Pope says:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke's Annunciation narrative: "And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary's encounter with God's messenger - in which her whole life is changed - comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments - from Joseph's dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God's angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: "Rejoice, full of grace!" And the consoling words: "Do not be afraid!" The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch.
(Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Kindle edition (loc 488-501))

I am moved by this picture of Mary there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold, and if what she just heard was real and an accurate memory. The angel depart, and there she is, all alone (yet never alone).

I would like to say by background, that I have at times read accounts of Mary's life that placed her in such rarefied air that I could no longer relate to her. I vaguely remember reading some accounts of various visionaries, a few of whom said that Mary did not even have to do housework, for the angels swept the house but, did dishes and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed knowledge of everything that would take place in her life and in that of Jesus. I even recall one purported visionary as writing that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus, even while he was still an infant.

I do not remember who all these alleged visionaries were, by name or even if any of them were approved visionaries. And yet it was common in the early 1980s for quite a large number of books to be published containing the utterances of various visionaries.

Such utterances often left me cold and made me feel distant from our Blessed Mother. They also did not seem to comport with the Scriptures which present mother Mary is a woman of great faith, but a woman who, like all of us, had to walk by faith, not by perfect site. She wonders at Gabriel's greeting, is troubled and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the Hill country, now rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but though not knowing what the future holds, she is content to know the One who hold the future. It is enough for now.

Years later when she finds Jesus in the Temple after agonized days of searching for the "missing" Jesus, she does not fully understand his explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but must, and does ponder these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke his mother. And though the text leaves many of the personal details out, there must have been something of the look only a mother can give her son. By now, her understanding of her son had surely deepened. She had known him, and pondered and reflected in her hearts of him for over 30 years now. She simply looks at him, he looks at her, as a look only the two would have known. But something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, none of our business, something only she and her Son could know. But what ever it was, she turns, and with confidence, knowing it will be well handled, she simply says to the stewards, "Do whatever he tells you." (Jn 2:5)

Of the three years to follow, we know very little. We know she is not far off. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying "He is beside himself!"

And we find her gently, and supportively present at the foot of the cross. Now, at length, the sword which Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) was thrust through her heart. Some thirty years before, she could only marvel, and wonder what Simeon's words meant that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her own heart (Luke 2:33). But in the years that followed her faith had surely deepened, and now, here she was, at the foot of the cross. It was her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart now sustained her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective, quiet, saying little, silently standing by, silently supportive in Jesus publicly ministry, and now, again silently, at the foot of the cross.

Yes this is the Mary, the mother that I know. A woman of faith, but a woman like you and me. And, as the Pope suggests, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith, not necessarily knowing how everything would work out. Not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel said, but it seems clear she did not know how it would all come to pass. She like us, walked with faith, not with earthly sight.

She is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not know all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

Family Special: How to Stay Married for Fifty Years

by Dr. Joe McKeever

Well, someone has to say it.

No one who is married qualifies as an authority on marriage.

It's no doubt true that some writers on the subject and professors who deal with this in academia may be considered such. But all the people I know married for any length of time have one overwhelming sense about them: Staying married and getting it right is hard work and cannot be done perfectly.

Taking two individuals who are sinners, needy, flawed, and still becoming whoever they will eventually be, and locking them into the most intimate of all relationships--then telling them it's for the rest of their lives!--can be scary.

Marriage is tough.

Staying married takes everything two people have to offer. Only the truly determined or the terminally timid stick with it for decade after decade.

Marriage is a relationship designed to reduce its participants to a state of eternal perplexity, complete inadequacy, and thus a daily dependence on God.

No wonder many are opting out on the institution these days.

In this second decade of the third millennium, marriage is becoming increasingly unpopular. People need a good reason for getting married, otherwise, they see they can have the benefits of a legal union without any of the obligations.

That said, for those considering it, we offer our list of marriage values that will take you and your husband/wife through to the end and leave you rejoicing that you hung in there.

To make your marriage last a full half-century (and beyond), we recommend the following....

1. Get to be friends before anything else.

Warning: if it is love at first sight for the two of you, beware. Plan to do nothing permanent until the blush of excitement has cooled to a livable temperature. No decisions should ever be made when one is running a fever, has lost his appetite, talks for hours with his lover on the phone about nothing, and goes around in a daze.

Get past that ("the stupids") before deciding anything.

Get to be friends. Join groups, play games, work on projects.

Find out if you really like each other enough to want the friendship to last forever.

Many a person has fallen in love with someone they don't really like. From the moment the bloom fades from the relationship, the news is all bad.

2. Insist on lots of pre- and post-marital counseling.

You knew about premarital counseling? Good. Go for all of that you can get. But don't stop there.

Two months after the wedding, schedule a tune-up visit with whoever gave the premarital counsel. Give him/her in advance of your session a list of things you and your spouse want to discuss.

Many a pastor feels the time they devoted to premarital counseling was a waste of time. As one told me, "They don't appreciate the counsel until they've been married a while. Then, they really need it."

Few pastors/churches offer follow-up counseling to newlyweds.

I used to tell couples, "I want you to come back a few months into this marriage. Let's talk about what you have found out about yourself and each other."

No one ever did. Perhaps it was my failure to initiate the session, but the few times we tried to schedule follow-ups, we got no takers.

3. Live out your faith with each other.

Talk about your faith. Worship together. After church, go to lunch and discuss the service you just attended--the hymns, the prayers, the sermon, everything. And pray together.

Try this while you're still dating. Open the Bible, read a few verses, then each of you say what you hear that scripture say. Discuss it. Whether you agree is unimportant. The main thing is you are discussing matters of the spirit. Then, pray together. Even if it's only a sentence or two, so long as you are each addressing the Lord on behalf of your relationship, a sentence is as good as a paragraph.

Keep up this practice, and when the time comes that you are doing it at your breakfast table, you will find it easier, more natural, and far more beneficial.

If you wait until you are married to start reading the Scriptures and praying together, the chances are you'll never do it.

Some suggestions about praying together...

--Do not pray against the other. You know, something like: "And Lord, help Elsie to remember to do what I asked her to do." "Lord, I pray that you will forgive Ellis for what he said to me today." Prayer is not for manipulation of the other.

--Do not overload your prayer. If one of you offers a sentence prayer and the other calls on God for a full 10 minutes, this is not good. If the first one praying offers a short prayer, the second should not be overly long. If the first is lengthy, the second is free to pray as short or as long as desired.

--Genuinely and graciously, ask for Heaven's blessings on each other. Tell God something about the other that blessed you today. Thank the Father for the privilege of being married to this son/daughter of His.

I remind myself regularly that my wife is the authority on Joe's Christianity. She who knows me best and sees me at my worst needs no speeches from me about my faith. Someone once asked Dwight L. Moody if a certain man were a Christian. "I don't know," he said. "I haven't talked to his wife."

Husband, make your wife believe in your loyalty to Jesus Christ.

4. Aggressively seek out some great friends for your marriage.

I once performed a remarriage for a couple. "May I ask why you divorced in the first place?" I asked them. "Pastor," they said, "all our friends were getting divorced. So when we started having problems, it seemed to be the thing to do."

Later they realized the divorce had been a mistake, and corrected it.

Church is a great place to find friends in your age group, with children the ages of your children, people with interests you have in common. A Sunday School class is ideal for this purpose.

5. Make married life (family life) fun.

When our children were small, family trips in the car were song times. We sang every chorus--children's, church, serious or silly--we could think of. We laughed and told stories and played games. On long trips, I would buy a sackful of small candy items at a store and to help pass the time, would award one item to the winners of our games.

One game we developed was shamelessly manipulative on my part, but I was trying to keep the older boys occupied on days we were trying to travel 500 miles or more. "Tell me when we have traveled 5 miles. The one who comes the closest wins." (These days, mile markers are everywhere, so that no longer works. But it worked then!)

We made up jokes and played riddles. We bought joke books. One person would read the first part of the joke, then stop while everyone else in the car tried to finish the joke.

From time to time, I meet young people growing up in homes with no laughter. It's as sad as anything I know.

6. Be quick to forgive. You'll have plenty of practice.

I have a theory--or maybe it's a full-blown conviction--that anyone married 3 years has grounds for divorce. That is, if each party were to keep a record of every slight, every putdown or neglect or hurt, every harsh word and misunderstanding, they could convince a judge this marriage was a mistake from the beginning.

Marriage is a union of two flawed people. Two sinners. Two people seriously in need of grace and mercy and constant forgiveness.

No married person gets it right every time. Everyone gets tired and irritable sometimes. Everyone needs space to himself sometimes. Everyone will forget something they should have remembered, will say something wrong, will be angry at this most important one in their lives. It's how we are.

One couple who asked me to marry them did not want to use the words "til death do us part." They explained, "So many say it and end up divorcing. We want to be honest." I said, "What do you want to say?" They said, "We want to commit ourselves to each other 'so long as love shall last.'"

I said, "That'll be about Tuesday." I quickly explained that in the best of marriages, there will be days when you despise the other, when you will feel this marriage was a mistake, when you will want to walk away. I added, "Your marriage has to be based on something stronger than how you are feeling at a given time."

Asked what I recommended, I said, "Til death do us part."

This requires us to learn the art of dealing with conflicts and learning how to reconcile. Which means we'll be doing a lot of forgiving and apologizing.

You will be needing a great deal of grace; you will want to extend a great deal of grace.

7. Protect your family. Give it a high priority.

When our grandson Grant was a preschooler, we were out spending the day together doing our usual activities (the zoo, feeding the ducks in the park, visiting McDonald's Playplace). I said, "Grant, would you like to spend the night with grandpa and grandma sometime?" That seemed like an obvious thing to me since we live one mile apart. He was quiet, then said, "Grandpa, I just like to be with my family."

I love that. What can possibly be finer than for a child to love his family so much as to want to be with them above all.

I'm happy to report that his mom and dad and his sisters all feel the same way.

When our bunch was young, on our vacations at the beach dad was not much fun. I was constantly tired and just wanted to sleep. That did not sit well with Margaret and the kids. One day, she looked up from a magazine she was reading. "Now I know why you're no fun on vacations," she said.

The article said it takes the average person 3 days to relax on a vacation and they begin gearing back up 3 days before the vacation ends. "In a weeklong vacation," Margaret said, "that means you are relaxed exactly one day."

Thereafter, we took two and three-week long vacations whenever possible. My wife will tell you it was one of the smartest things we ever did for our family.

Dads whose jobs take them out of town a great deal must work hard at giving the family the priority it deserves when he returns. Mothers must not get too heavily involved in clubs, hobbies, even church activities, that take them away from the family too much.

8. Turn loose of old hurts and slights and pains.

Here's a scenario for you. In the counseling room, the wife says, "Well, when we got married, Tom spent the first two weeks going by his mom's house every day after he got off work."

The counselor: "And how many years have you been married?"

Wife: "Thirty-six."

Counselor: "And you are still fretting about that? Turn it loose, lady!"

Okay, the counselor is probably not going to be that direct, but she needs to turn that loose. The husband can probably match her tit-for-tat if they want to bring up ancient grievances.

But who wants to? I for one do not.

Learn to forgive, then forget. Scripture says, Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:13).

Notice the three steps in that verse: Forbear, forgive, and forget! Forget? It's implied, my friend, by that line: "as Christ forgave you." (See Hebrews 10:17)

Someone says, "I can forgive it, but I can't forget it." My answer is, "Sure you can. But you may have to consciously determine to put it out of your mind again and again until it leaves." It will not automatically vanish the first time you say you forgive.

9. Keep a healthy fear of God in your heart of hearts.

A pastor's wife said of her husband once, "I don't have to worry about Frank committing adultery. He fears God too much." Her man, sitting at her side, laughed and said, "You've got that right."

A healthy fear of God is a righteous thing.

This is not the place for a lengthy discussion as to what the fear of God means, but one strong element in our relationship to the Heavenly Father must always be the knowledge that we shall one day stand before Him and give account of all we have done in this life (Romans 14:12). Our accountability to Him is what Andrew Murray once called the most awesome fact he knew about our earthly existence.

This unconcern about God--of what He thinks about our behavior, whether what we are doing is incurring His wrath and scheduling us for judgement--leads me to conclude that a great portion of those who trouble the Lord's churches are practicing atheists. They will tell you of their conversion and swear up and down they believe all the Bible. What they do not do, however, is fear God. And that's as serious as anything I know.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). We must not try to explain this away as some kind of awe and respect. To fear God means to bear in mind that God is the Almighty God, that He is Lord of all, and that we shall one day stand before Him and give account. That is a scary thought, and well it ought to be.

10. Keep your family growing and bearing fruit.

Kansas City Pastor Paul Brooks told me once, "I took up golf so I would have something to do with my sons when they became teenagers."

One smart man.

No family is static. Every child grows and therefore every family lives in a constant state of flux. This puts a burden on the parents; this gives a great opportunity to the parents.

Dads and moms should stay up with books and magazine articles that deal with their children at whatever stage they're in or entering. Southern Baptists' "Home Life" is as good as there is for this purpose. In my travels to various churches, I'm always glad to see so many keeping a supply of these in the church foyers for families to pick up at no cost to them. It's an investment with a great payoff.

Focus on the Family has incredible resources in this regard.

The payoff is that one day, you will look back and realize that you have (basically) completed the job of raising your children. They're out of the house, they're married and have families of their own. They will still need you from time to time, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

They'll all come home from time to time. Our three children and their families were here this past weekend to help Margaret and me celebrate our fiftieth. The laughter and happiness will reverberate in my heart for many years to come. It was truly one of the great weekends of my life.

Remember the old poem that includes the line: Grow old with me; the best is yet to come. It's true.

What we call the "golden years" do not happen automatically, young marrieds. Work at it now, stay with it through the difficult times, get help when you must, and one day, you will realize you have come through the storms and the sun is shining. There will still be challenges and problems in this fallen world populated by flawed people. But you will be so glad you stayed in this marriage and worked to make it happen.

Take my word for it.  

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