Love Song - Week One: "Sunburn Brings Out Those Cute Little Freckles"

This week I am starting a new sermon series--a two-parter, entitled "Love Song."  This is a series that is inspired and informed by a series of sermons I heard from Craig Groeschel, a preacher I admire.  I've given this series my own twist, of course, but I wanted to give credit where credit is due.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going to be using some passages of Scripture that are very seldom read on Sunday mornings in the context of worship, and even more seldom as the source of a sermon.  You'll see why in a moment.

I think that one of the many ways that our Enemy, Satan--the Accuser--seeks to bring down the people of God is by destroying marriages.  I shared in a sermon last year that the divorce rate among evangelical Christians is higher than almost every other demographic in America.  Something is definitely wrong in the Church.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons why church going couples in America are struggling in their marriages is because pastors are typically afraid to talk plainly about what it takes to have a strong, solid marriage, and to be very frank about the things that tear marriage apart.  Pastors and church leaders tend to speak in platitudes or place too much blame on either husbands or wives, depending on the kind of church or the pastor's particular theological bent.

The fact of the matter is that things are changing rapidly in our culture.  I've been married for twenty-three years and in that amount of time the world has completely transformed, and our culture's views on marriage have been transformed, too, and not entirely for the better.

Right then there were probably a whole bunch of people who wanted to shout "Amen, Preacher! Get after it!" Lots of Christians have clear ideas about marriage--what constitutes marriage, who should get married, who shouldn't get married... but there's that pesky statistic to deal with.  Christians seem to be failing in their marriages at a faster rate than everyone else.

I met my wife Merideth when we were thirteen years old.  We met on Walker Field in Winter Garden at a football jamboree.  I was a new kid in the school and thought I was fairly awesome in my football attire.  I actually weighed 130 pounds soaking wet and looked like a stick figure in shoulder pads.  Merideth was a cheerleader and she walked up to me on that field in her cute little cheerleading outfit, stuck out her hand and said, "Hi! I'm Merideth."

Ten years later we found ourselves standing at the doorway to the Orange County Courthouse in Ocoee Florida waiting for it to open.  We had decided to elope--to "run off and get married."  There had been a lot of water under the bridge that connected our lives, and there were lots of people who thought that we would never really make it.  But there we were.

Our song for many years--and I suppose even now--is "Still the One" by Shania Twain.  The lyrics go something like this: "Looks like we made it, look how far we've come my baby.  We might have took the long way, but we knew we'd get there someday.  They said, I bet they'll never make it, but look at us holding on, we're still together, still going strong..."  

We've had our ups and downs, our trials and triumphs.  It's not always been easy, but it's always been an adventure.  We have had richer and poorer, sickness and health, better and worse.  Merideth and I constantly work on our marriage--constantly.  It is our number one priority--even over our own kids.   Some people might get a charge off that last statement.  "Over your kids?  Are you serious?"   Because if our marriage ain't right--then everything else ain't going to be right.

But unfortunately, not many people in our culture have the same idea about their marriage.  Like I said earlier, things in our culture are changing.

It's crazy how social media has influenced the way that people connect with one another--particularly when it comes to romance and marriage.  There are a ton of dating websites that try to connect people for the purposes of finding a right match.

But the way people describe themselves on these sites can often be misleading, which starts everything off on the wrong foot.  For example, when a woman describes herself as "40ish" what tha means is that she's actually 49.  When a guy describes himself as "40ish" it means he's 52.  If a guy says that he's "huggable" it means that he's a hundred pounds overweight.  If a woman says she's "romantic" that means that she looks better by candlelight.  If a guy says that "he's laid back and is close with his family," that means that he's unemployed and still lives at home with his parents.  If a woman says that she's "bubbly and fun," it means that she has an annoying laugh and never shuts up. If a guy says that he's "average looking," that means that he fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Some of you were totally taking notes then.  I'm glad I could help you out.  It's difficult in this day and age to know for sure how to find the right person to spend your life with, and even more challenging to have a marriage that will stand the test of time.

So here's something that I want you to hear, so I need everyone to pay attention and listen well.  You might want to write down what I am about to say.

When it comes to relationships... when it comes to romance... when it comes to marriage that lasts...
If you want to be with the "right one," you have to be the "right one."  If you want to be the right one, you have to be the right one.

In other words, if you aren't married yet and you are thinking about one day tying the knot then you need to hear this wisdom from Andy Stanley.  "You need to be the person that the person you are looking for is looking for."  Think about that for a moment.  

And if you are married then you need to hear this bit of wisdom that relates to what I just said.  When it comes to marriage and relationships, if you don't like what you are getting, look at what your giving.  If all of this sounds like there is work you have to do in order to find and build a life with the person of your dreams--you are totally tracking with me right now.

The passage of Scripture that we are going to be using as our inspiration today is from Song of Solomon chapters one and two.  Song of Solomon was written in 965 BC and was attributed to Solomon, who reputedly was the wisest person who ever lived.  I need to call bushwah on that to be honest.  Solomon had like 700 wives and 900 concubines in his harem.  And many of them had different religious beliefs than Solomon.  So not only did the dude have like over a thousand women to handle, they all went to different churches.  That doesn't sound like the wisest man who ever lived to me.  Just saying.

Still, he was pretty wise in a lot of other things.  And apparently, according to the work we have here in Song of Solomon, the dude had some serious game when it came to his beloved.  The book of Song of Solomon has been called an allegory of Christ's love for the Church by many Christian scholars.  Jewish scholars see it as an allegory of God's love for Israel.  And still others see it simply as it is:  a poem about pursuit, passion, romance, true love and lasting commitment.

For the record, I tend to think its more the last thing than the other two, but I can see where people would find connections to all of them.

I believe that in the first couple of chapters of Song of Solomon we can find some help as we seek to navigate the complicated waters of marriage and relationships in our current culture.  In fact, I believe that there are four qualities that we need to not only look for in a potential spouse, but that we also need to develop in ourselves both before and after we are in a relationship.

First, you need to both look for and develop Godly Character.  

The first few verses of Song of Solomon go like this:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore the young women love you. 

The woman who is speaking here starts off well, doesn't she?  Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your live is better than wine...  Yeah baby!  There is not a single dude in here that doesn't want to hear that from his lady.  Can I get a witness, my brothers?

But then she says something profound.  She says, "your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out."  The word that she uses here for oil is a word that means "expensive perfume or cologne."

In a world where baths are rare, she's making a statement but not just about the way they guy looks, how he kisses or how he smells.  She says that your name is oil poured out.  The reason why all the chicks like this guy is because of his good name.  He's not just a hottie with a body, he has a good name, a good reputation.  The thing that matters the most to her is character.

Character matters.  Reputation matters.  Here's the thing, if the person you married didn't have a good reputation or godly character before you married them--don't be surprised when they don't have it after you marry them.  And if you want to attract the kind of person who has godly character, than chances are you need to make sure that you have it yourself.

This is also the kind of thing that goes on well after marriage.  If you want to have a godly marriage then you need to work at maintaining your reputation, your good name, your godly character all of the time.

Andy Stanley once said that Marriage is not so much about finding the right person as it is about becoming the right person.

It means not putting yourself in compromising positions with the opposite sex.  It means that you save up your flirtations for one another and not for co-workers, friends or your trainer at the gym.  It means being open with your social media, your online use, your emails and texts.  It means that you care about going to church with one another, praying with one another, building up one another in the Lord.

Second, you need to work on Growing Trust.  

In Song of Solomon 1:5-6 the woman reveals something personal to the man.  She says:

I am very dark, but lovely,
    O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
    like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
    because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother's sons were angry with me;
    they made me keeper of the vineyards,
    but my own vineyard I have not kept!

In the ancient Hebrew culture if your skin was darkened by the sun it meant that you were low bred--of a lesser class of person.  She reveals to her beloved that she had to work out in the sun and she is now tan, dark, and unlovely.  She reveals her insecurities, and he loves them away.

Guys, I am going to speak to you for a moment here.  In our culture, women have so many mixed messages that they receive all of the time about what is attractive and what isn't.  And although guys have some of the same kinds of messages, it affects us much differently than women.  So when a woman opens up and shares with you that she doesn't like the way her hair hangs, her pants fit, her butt looks, her ankles show...  She's revealing to you some very real, very scary, very vulnerable feelings.

Which is why the question, "Does this make me look fat?" so important and so dangerous.  It would seem there is no good answer to that question, right?

But you can do this.  You can take her in your arms and you can tell her that she is the most beautiful girl in the freaking world and that her hair is gorgeous, her pants are unbelievably hot, her butt won't quit, her ankles are banging and that if the kids weren't watching right that second, things would get absolutely out of hand.

And ladies, guys aren't immune from this kind of thing either.  For my entire life I've been blind in one eye.  This means that the eye that doesn't work tends to look at things that my other eye isn't looking at, which is otherwise known as being "cross-eyed."  I've always been self-conscious of my errant eye.  Early in our marriage when I revealed how much it bothered me, Merideth covered me in grace and love.  She told me how she never really noticed it, and she thought I was the sexiest man alive.  I don't know if she said that exactly, but that's how I remember it.

No matter what the insecurities, the vulnerabilities that you both have--when you love away one another's insecurities, it builds trust that can't be shaken.

This brings us to the third quality:  You need to have Higher Standards.  

The woman says:

7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
    where you pasture your flock,
    where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
    beside the flocks of your companions?

The phrase "one who veils herself" is a strange phrase that doesn't have any meaning for us, but in the ancient world it referred to women who were prostitutes.  They would go where men were gathered and would sort of be in the background, faces veiled as a sign that they were available for hire.

The woman is basically saying, "You need to treat me like a lady.  Tell me where you are going to be, where I can find you.  Don't make me pursue you like a prostitute."  What she is saying to her beloved is, "There are some things that I won't do, that I won't become in this relationship."  I won't lose myself, my self-worth, my reputation in order to be with you.

I have conversations all of the time with people who find themselves in relationships with someone who makes them feel less than--with people who make them feel dirty and used.  I have counseled both men and women who have regretted the things they've done in order to maintain a relationship with someone who is consumed with themselves and no one else.

If you want to have a strong, godly marriage you need to have high standards for both the person you are with and for yourself.  The woman in Song of Solomon makes it clear that she has boundaries, that there is a line she will not cross.  The man responds by saying to her:

If you do not know,
    O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
    and pasture your young goats
    beside the shepherds' tents.

He give her plain directions, honoring her by calling her "most beautiful among women," and assuring her that he will not take advantage of her, he will never let her be made to feel less than, she will be highly esteemed and cherished.

Finally, you need to practice Consistent Encouragement.  

In Song of Solomon 1:9, the man says to the woman:

I compare you, my love,
    to a mare among Pharaoh's chariots.
Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
    your neck with strings of jewels.

I know, I know.  It doesn't sound that awesome that he is comparing her to a horse.  In our culture that would be a no-no.  "I just want to share with you how I feel... I feel like I am not that attractive..."  "YOU LOOK LIKE A HORSE!"  Yeah.  Bad idea.

But in the ancient Hebrew world, the man is giving her an unbelievable compliment.  His metaphor here is of a horse that would pull the Pharaoh's chariot--the chariot of a king who was believed to be a god.  The chariot of Pharaoh would only be pulled by a white horse, a horse that was thought to be as divine as the Pharaoh himself.

I am going to give you all some very important advice.  If you want to have a solid marriage with an amazing romantic life... then practice consistent encouragement.

In Song of Solomon 1:12-16 we get this exchange that happens after all of the encouragement that the man gives to the woman.

The woman responds:
While the king was on his couch,
    my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
    that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
    in the vineyards of Engedi.

The the dude responds:
15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
    behold, you are beautiful;
    your eyes are doves.

She fires back:
16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar;
    our rafters are pine.

While all of this makes little sense to us, what we are seeing here is a couple who have been encouraging one another, and now they are about to reap the benefits of that mutual encouragement.  In other words, they are about to do it.  Get down.  Make whoopee.  The couch is green my friend, the beams are cedar and the rafters are pine and Barry White is playing in the background.

Let me let you in on a little secret.  The better you treat one another, the hotter you get.  I am an average looking dude.  No comments.  But when I practice consistent encouragement with my wife, she finds me irresistible.  I look to her like one of those dudes on he cover of a romance novel with long flowing locks and muscles like Fabio used to have.

Encourage one another consistently. You will not regret it friends.

So what is the result of all of pursuing these four qualities--godly character, growing trust, higher standards and consistent encouragement?

To begin with, you feel special.  

In Song of Solomon 2:2 the man says, "As a lily among brambles,
    so is my love among the young women."  He wants her to know that she is cherished, treasured and valued.  There is no feeling in the world quite like the one that comes over you when you realize that the person you are spending your life with, or the one who you want to spend your life with, thinks you are the bomb.  And you need your beloved to know that there is no one like them.  That they are a lily and every other girl, every other guy is like a thorny weed.

You also feel secure.  

In Song of Solomon 2:3 the woman tells the man: 3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.

What she means is that she feels safe, protected and free from harm.  She knows he is not going to cheat on her, leave her, betray her, or mistreat her.  She can trust her feelings with him.  And because of this she is free to truly live.  You see, when your marriage is solid, you feel like you can handle anything.  You know that you can count on your beloved, and because of this you have courage and strength to be who you need to be, say what you need to say, go where you need to go.

Listen to me.  If one person in the relationship gets all the glory, the attention, the benefits, the payoff, the affirmation and the power... that is the exact opposite of security and protection.

Lastly, you feel desired. 

In Song of Solomon 2:5-6 the woman says this: He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!

There's a subtlety to this passage that we don't get, but the ancient people who read this would have been grinning ear to hear when they heard it.  You see, in the ancient world raisins were believed to be aphrodisiacs.  Yeah buddy.  In other words, the woman is saying to the man--because of who you are, what you do, how you love me...  I would like a bunch of raisins big boy.  Then she illuminates the portrait even more by describing where his left and right hands happen to be.  Hubbadahubbada.

If there's a run on raisins at Publix today---don't blame me.

I don't want you to think that because I am up here telling you these things that I have figured it all out.  I am still working on this every single day of my life.  Merideth and I have to hold each other accountable all of the time.  And every single day I have to ask myself, "If I don't like what I am getting, than I need to look at what I am giving."

Because this isn't as much about Merideth as it is about me.  If I am not being the right person, than how could I ever expect her to be the right person?

Make godly character, growing trust, higher standards and consistent encouragement a part of your life as a couple.  Whether you are wanting to be married, already married or used to be married and want to be married again----or if you have kids or grandkids who are any or all of the above... Remember what you heard today.

When it comes to marriage if you don't like what you are getting, look at what you are giving.  If you want to be with the right one, you have to be the right one.


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