Serial vs Self-Encapsulated Story

I enjoy binge watching shows through Amazon or Netflix. I bounce between liking shows that have a long story arc that the screenwriters spread across  several episodes and shows that self-encaspsulate a story into each episode. Recently I started watching a show that started as a spy show with each episode being self-contained. Slowly this show introduced a story line that ended up taking them four seasons of episodes to complete. I did not want to pay attention that long to figure out what sinister conspiracy was behind everything. I gave up watching the show. I read the episode recaps on wikipedia to find my desire for resolution satisfied.

I want television shows to find a way to wrap up their storylines after a couple of episodes or one season. Stretching across several seasons to solve the purpose for the show wears me down. I think the television show “Lost” is a great example of a show that started off with a good balance between long story arcs and individual storylines that could be finished up each episode. Unfortunately the show “Lost” became lost in its own story after a while and ended up being a self-indulgent mess.

So I have been thinking about my disappointment in shows that can’t figure out how to tell a story with conclusions and then reflecting on what this means for my preaching. I know as a person in the pew listening to another preacher that I am not very patient with the preacher that has several false endings. I watched a person preach online, and behind the preacher I saw the band shuffling towards their instruments. The band thought the sermon was wrapping up. They knew the cadence of the preacher, or at least they thought they did. The preacher went on for several more minutes. I wonder if that preacher went on with his sermon as punishment to the band that assumed they knew where the sermon was headed.

Humbly, I notice that when I preach I have had this problem. I look at the people shuffling and moving in the pew. I want to tell them, “Oh no, you think my sermon is almost over but I have two more pages of notes. Buckle up and get ready.”

In my own life, I wish each day had a neat conclusion. Days blend into months. Years slide into decades. I still have not found too many neat conclusions in my life. Some stories just seem to disappear because sadly friendships slide away. I wish I was better at nurturing friendships. Other stories in my life keep showing up, even though I want to move on. Satan is amazingly adept at repeatedly turning up in my life.

Some days do develop as self-encapsulated plots. I am glad my marriage has been a long arc in my life that has no end in view. I think my marriage will not become like a show that has gotten lost in its own story because we have made a commitment to each other to remain faithful to the covenant of love. Each story in our marriage has its roots in our promises of love. The stages in our love to each other remain fresh and exciting because we are also connected to the great story that is developing between us.

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I trust that the long story arc of my relationship with God will remain fresh and exciting. I know the end. God is my eternal salvation. I know some days I don’t see the plot, and I get worried that my life is going nowhere special. But during these aimless wandering moments, I have found tremendous strength in rooting myself to God’s promises. The Spirit of God strengthens my soul in dark moments by keeping in my view the light of God’s love. I live in the light of the resurrection, but some days the shadows of betrayal on Holy Thursday seem to hang heavy.

My story with God is different than the television shows I binge. I don’t know how the shows will end, and when I do anticipate the ending the show loses my interest. I know how my story with God will end, but amazingly my interest in God does not get exhausted. I love God revealing the adventure of every day. I think God has figured out how to balance revealing the long story arc and the self-encapsulated story.

Do you see the story that God writes in your days? I hope you see that God fills the story of your days with His love.

Cohabitation on the rise for couples

Our local newspaper the Livingston Press & Argus today printed an article that discussed the increase of cohabitation. Cohabiting together before marriage or in place of marriage may be increasing and becoming more accepted in our society but this does not mean it is good or pleasing to God. I know people are sinful and broken in sin and divorces do happen, but I do not want our idea of marriage to become defined by our brokenness.

I want marriage to be defined by God and His creative intent. In Genesis 1 we can read that God has created men and women to be different individuals, created in the image of God. We read in Genesis 2:24-25 that God intended one man and one woman to be joined together. I know that there are many stories in the Old Testament that how marriages can be distorted and destroyed by sin. Look back to the beginning in Genesis 1 and 2 and see God does have a design for what is very good. Men and women are both created by God in His image to become one flesh.

Pre-marital sex and cohabitation are not helpful for the success of a marriage. Cohabitation gives the impression of temporary or conditional commitment that can be easily escaped. Marriage has the expectation of a lifelong commitment. The lifelong commitment of marriage is not impossible. The union of husband and wife is practical and possible. We do not need to concede to our sinful selves and give up on marriage. As forgiven sinners we rely on Jesus Christ as the source and strength to be able to love another.

There is so much more I want to write about the blessedness of marriage as the design of God for the procreation of children, lifelong companionship, and opportunity to share with another person the love of Jesus. But for now I recommend a couple of resources.

Second Thoughts about Living Together by the Reverend Matthew Harrison is a good, brief booklet in a question and answer format. This booklet can help parents understand the struggles young people have today when they try to understand what the Bible has to say about living together.

Another good resource to start talking about why marriage is good and not just a parallel truth to living together is the book The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, by Timothy and Kathy Keller.

Sharing Some Pastoral Thoughts on the Issue of Same-Sex Marriage from Travis Guse

I share with you some thoughts that Pastor Travis Guse has shared on his Facebook page. Pastor Guse was a classmate of mine at Concordia Seminary. He is currently the pastor at St. Philip Lutheran Church in Dublin, California.

Some Pastoral Thoughts On The Issue Of Same-Sex Marriage: (These thoughts are offered in a spirit of love and respect to both sides of this debate in order to create understanding on the issues that are dividing us as a nation)

1) Sex does not equal love – while sex may at times be an expression of love, true love is sacrificial, not thinking of it’s own needs, but the needs of others. This is the love that God showed us in Jesus. Sadly we live in a culture today that has elevated sex as the ultimate expression of love.

2) Our identity is more than our sexuality – there is so much more to our identity than simply that.

3) When Christians advocate for a traditional definition of marriage it’s not because they are hateful or homophobic, it’s because our faith informs us that God’s design for marriage is that between one man and one woman as a blessing to the human family and for the raising of children in a secure, loving home. To view it otherwise is a compromising of what our faith teaches us.

4) Christians view themselves just as much sinners as anyone else, desperately in need of God’s saving grace in Christ. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s purposes and will for humanity.

5) As Christians we are called to love all people, no matter their faith or their actions, because God is love. While as Christians we may not agree with another’s actions or lifestyle choices, we are still called to love unconditionally with the unconditional love we have received from God in Christ. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. To do otherwise is a violation of the heart of God and our faith. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

6) True tolerance is to be able to love someone in spite of differences in opinion, not to hate or reject them simply because they don’t agree with our point of view or lifestyle choices. Tolerance has got to cut both ways to truly be tolerance. Sadly our culture of “tolerance” has bread as spirit of intolerance among many today. What we need is love rather than mere tolerance, for love cares for the individual and honors human dignity despite differences of opinions.

7) To force Christians to compromise their convictions is the antithesis of tolerance. There is no way many Christians are going to be able to bless gay marriage because of their faith convictions, even if the State decides in favor of same-sex marriage. Again, it’s not that they are hateful or homophobic, but they simply see the world and God’s design for marriage through the eyes of our faith as revealed in holy Scripture. Yet, this difference of world-view does not mean that respect and love should not be shown for all.

8) It would seem that there could be the granting of all the same legal rights that married couples enjoy by the State to same-sex couples without changing the fundamental institution of marriage so that equal protection under the law is upheld.

9) The reality is that we now live in a post-Church and post-Christian culture. The society is going to do what it’s going to do and there is little influence we have as the Church because we are no longer the majority voice in our democratic system. This does not mean that Christians should not vote according to their convictions and values, for this is a democratic society and the same rights are afforded all no matter their views on the subject. Yet ultimately public opinion and the fundamental protection of all under the law are going to be the deciding factors of this debate in our nation.

10) Christians have got to realize that in trying to win the battle on preserving a traditional understanding of marriage through laws and the political system we are going to lose the war in the long run. We come off to the larger public as hateful and intolerant, often known for what we are against rather than what we are for as the Church. Perhaps rather than focusing so much on protecting or changing the laws of our nation as the Church, we should instead focus on changing hearts with the Gospel of Jesus and His love for humanity.