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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Those who risked responding to my blog on same-sex marriage with differing viewpoints did us all a favor by kindly but clearly raising cogent arguments supporting same-sex marriage.  Neither Christians nor non-Christians should fear open and honest conversation; rather, I hope that we can all “speak the truth in love.”

In John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind, Jesus’ disciples did not really see the blind man as Jesus did. They saw a theological problem: who sinned, this man or his parents?  They might have continued their conversation while walking right by the man himself.

Jesus, however, saw a person in need of healing, both physical and spiritual, for the glory of God.  I try to remind myself that in all of these difficult conversations, we are talking about our neighbors, our family, our church members, about classmates, co-workers, about people whom God loves!  That helps me with my tone of voice when responding.

But the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:13-15) to speak and to say what God would say because “Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” I believe; therefore, I speak out.

So let me extend the conversation in response to those comments:

Argument:  Christians should not force Christian views on non-Christians.

Response:  I agree completely.  God doesn’t force people to believe, Jesus did not force people to follow him, and those who follow Him should not either.  However, my counter-question is how should it work in a democracy or representative government as we have when the political question involves what Christians believe to be a God-revealed truth?  Can only non-religious people have a seat at the table? Can only non-Christians campaign and vote on these issues?  Why are Christians who speak out and vote according to their faith “forcing” their views on non-Christians? And should any majority OR minority group, simply because they believe their cause to be moral and right, be silenced,  be segregated, be harassed, or be hated?

Argument: Marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one; therefore, the definition of marriage can and should be determined by the State.

Response:  I agree and disagree with this argument.  There is certainly a civil aspect to marriage. The State (and I am not using that term pejoratively) regulates the societal aspects of marriage in many ways, such as:

  • Who can get married?  Not 10-year-olds, not siblings, not people currently married, etc.
  • When can people get married? Some states have waiting periods; some require blood tests, etc.
  • Who can legally perform weddings? Some states allow anyone; others require ordained ministers and/or particular government officials.
  • Which marriages are recognized?  If you marry in a foreign country, the U.S. may not recognize your marriage. This is regulated by federal law.

In my opinion, everyone—including Christians—should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” We all should submit to the legal authorities in every way with one exception, and that is, if required by law to violate the higher laws of God.

But I also disagree that marriage is only a civil institution. Marriage precedes the existence of civil states.  Marriage exists outside of political states.  For example, I was just watching “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who discussed the fact that prior to the Civil War in the United States free African-Americans could marry legally, but slaves could not.  He continued to say, however, that, of course, slaves did marry, but that it was not recognized by the State.

Marriage, according to Jesus (Matthew 19:6) is God joining people together.  The earliest biblical revelation states that the reason for marriage was that “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Adam was meant for Eve and Eve for Adam.  No legal ceremony occurred, only God joined them.  And the writer goes on to explain that because of God’s actions in the beginning, future men who marry will “leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18,24)

I also believe all of the references describing Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as His bride made repeatedly from Matthew to Revelation are witnesses to the holy nature of marriage. And the metaphor is consistent with the Genesis passages and the words of Jesus in that only God joins people to Christ. We are born again, not by human will but by the will of God (John 1:13).

This is the “holy” side of marriage that Christians want to preserve.  Of course, they carry those convictions into the political discussion—and don’t they have the right to? They are just one voice, not the only voice, in the political debate.

Next we will talk about the argument that opposing same-sex marriage is bigotry—a very serious charge.

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The President’s choice to come out for same-sex marriage disappoints me greatly, not really because of the politics, but rather because of what it says about the moral predicament in our country.  I am strongly in favor of equal civil rights for all Americans, regardless of their immorality, unless, of course they cross the line into criminal behavior—and even then, they should have equal access to the processes of law.

The poll numbers show an American public divided almost 50-50 on the issue. What really disturbs me even more than what the president did is that polls also show that 71% of 18-29 year-olds support gay marriage. I was pretty shocked one day in the LST office to hear a wonderful Christian young woman say, “I wish God hadn’t come down so hard on homosexuality!”   I suspect what these numbers show for young Christians (who certainly have to be in the 71% mix) is their sensitivity to social justice issues in conflict with what might appear to be the more restrictive biblical imperatives.

Before I write another paragraph, let me state that God so loved the world that He gave His Son!  God’s love is all-inclusive, me with my sin and you with yours.  And the Creator God who defines the essence of reality (Truth) by His Word has set homosexuality outside of that which is pronounced “Good!”  The question is not about choice, nor about love, nor about equal rights, but rather about submission.  The question for all of us is whether we live out “not my will, but Thine be done!”

I’m also disappointed in us for making the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy the best-seller on everyone’s list. Romance novels have always sold well, so that’s nothing new, but this particular trilogy seems to be a hit because of its kinky eroticism—especially aimed toward women’s fantasies apparently. I haven’t read it, but here just before Mother’s Day to have all the best-seller lists led by what the reviewers often refer to as “mommy porn” is a sad commentary on us!

Both of these phenomena are possible partly because we Christians have separated our physical bodies—including our sexuality—from our understanding of the image of God, the incarnation (God in us), and the indwelling of God’s Spirit¸ which makes our bodies a temple!

This skewed thinking probably starts as teenagers, when we are taught which sexual activity is right and wrong, but never hear anyone say that sex is for anything other than fun! And adults/church are always trying to keep kids from fun things, so how is sex any different.

I also firmly believe that we Christians have also completely removed the “holy” from holy matrimony.  Although held in church buildings, most of our marriages are secular services, sometimes with an occasional nod toward God who is sitting in the back of the auditorium.

Three things I would like to see:

  1. I’d like for our children to be taught that their bodies are the temple of God. I think once that is our predominant message, we will learn how to help them understand the implications for their life.
  2. Secondly, I would like to see us appear before the throne of God in our wedding ceremonies and not just come to the marriage altar and sign a legal document.
  3. And, lastly, I would like to see us re-mystify our sexuality, acknowledging it as a God-breathed gift, not only for our personal benefit, but because creating and loving is a reflection of God in us!  The oneness of sex is the same mystery as the oneness of God. The joy and pleasure of that oneness should be transcendent, not sado-masochistic.

I pray for the president; I pray for us.

Read Full Post »

Those who risked responding to my blog on same-sex marriage with differing viewpoints did us all a favor by kindly but clearly raising cogent arguments supporting same-sex marriage.  Neither Christians nor non-Christians should fear open and honest conversation; rather, I hope that we can all “speak the truth in love.”

In John 9 when Jesus heals the man born blind, Jesus’ disciples did not really see the blind man as Jesus did. They saw a theological problem: who sinned, this man or his parents?  They might have continued their conversation while walking right by the man himself.

Jesus, however, saw a person in need of healing, both physical and spiritual, for the glory of God.  I try to remind myself that in all of these difficult conversations, we are talking about our neighbors, our family, our church members, about classmates, co-workers, about people whom God loves!  That helps me with my tone of voice when responding.

But the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:13-15) to speak and to say what God would say because “Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.” I believe; therefore, I speak out.

So let me extend the conversation in response to those comments:

Argument:  Christians should not force Christian views on non-Christians.

Response:  I agree completely.  God doesn’t force people to believe, Jesus did not force people to follow him, and those who follow Him should not either.  However, my counter-question is how should it work in a democracy or representative government as we have when the political question involves what Christians believe to be a God-revealed truth?  Can only non-religious people have a seat at the table? Can only non-Christians campaign and vote on these issues?  Why are Christians who speak out and vote according to their faith “forcing” their views on non-Christians? And should any majority OR minority group, simply because they believe their cause to be moral and right, be silenced,  be segregated, be harassed, or be hated?

Argument: Marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one; therefore, the definition of marriage can and should be determined by the State.

Response:  I agree and disagree with this argument.  There is certainly a civil aspect to marriage. The State (and I am not using that term pejoratively) regulates the societal aspects of marriage in many ways, such as:

  • Who can get married?  Not 10-year-olds, not siblings, not people currently married, etc.
  • When can people get married? Some states have waiting periods; some require blood tests, etc.
  • Who can legally perform weddings? Some states allow anyone; others require ordained ministers and/or particular government officials.
  • Which marriages are recognized?  If you marry in a foreign country, the U.S. may not recognize your marriage. This is regulated by federal law.

In my opinion, everyone—including Christians—should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” We all should submit to the legal authorities in every way with one exception, and that is, if required by law to violate the higher laws of God.

But I also disagree that marriage is only a civil institution. Marriage precedes the existence of civil states.  Marriage exists outside of political states.  For example, I was just watching “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who discussed the fact that prior to the Civil War in the United States free African-Americans could marry legally, but slaves could not.  He continued to say, however, that, of course, slaves did marry, but that it was not recognized by the State.

Marriage, according to Jesus (Matthew 19:6) is God joining people together.  The earliest biblical revelation states that the reason for marriage was that “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Adam was meant for Eve and Eve for Adam.  No legal ceremony occurred, only God joined them.  And the writer goes on to explain that because of God’s actions in the beginning, future men who marry will “leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18,24)

I also believe all of the references describing Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as His bride made repeatedly from Matthew to Revelation are witnesses to the holy nature of marriage. And the metaphor is consistent with the Genesis passages and the words of Jesus in that only God joins people to Christ. We are born again, not by human will but by the will of God (John 1:13).

This is the “holy” side of marriage that Christians want to preserve.  Of course, they carry those convictions into the political discussion—and don’t they have the right to? They are just one voice, not the only voice, in the political debate.

Next we will talk about the argument that opposing same-sex marriage is bigotry—a very serious charge.

Read Full Post »

The President’s choice to come out for same-sex marriage disappoints me greatly, not really because of the politics, but rather because of what it says about the moral predicament in our country.  I am strongly in favor of equal civil rights for all Americans, regardless of their immorality, unless, of course they cross the line into criminal behavior—and even then, they should have equal access to the processes of law.

The poll numbers show an American public divided almost 50-50 on the issue. What really disturbs me even more than what the president did is that polls also show that 71% of 18-29 year-olds support gay marriage. I was pretty shocked one day in the LST office to hear a wonderful Christian young woman say, “I wish God hadn’t come down so hard on homosexuality!”   I suspect what these numbers show for young Christians (who certainly have to be in the 71% mix) is their sensitivity to social justice issues in conflict with what might appear to be the more restrictive biblical imperatives.

Before I write another paragraph, let me state that God so loved the world that He gave His Son!  God’s love is all-inclusive, me with my sin and you with yours.  And the Creator God who defines the essence of reality (Truth) by His Word has set homosexuality outside of that which is pronounced “Good!”  The question is not about choice, nor about love, nor about equal rights, but rather about submission.  The question for all of us is whether we live out “not my will, but Thine be done!”

I’m also disappointed in us for making the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy the best-seller on everyone’s list. Romance novels have always sold well, so that’s nothing new, but this particular trilogy seems to be a hit because of its kinky eroticism—especially aimed toward women’s fantasies apparently. I haven’t read it, but here just before Mother’s Day to have all the best-seller lists led by what the reviewers often refer to as “mommy porn” is a sad commentary on us!

Both of these phenomena are possible partly because we Christians have separated our physical bodies—including our sexuality—from our understanding of the image of God, the incarnation (God in us), and the indwelling of God’s Spirit¸ which makes our bodies a temple!

This skewed thinking probably starts as teenagers, when we are taught which sexual activity is right and wrong, but never hear anyone say that sex is for anything other than fun! And adults/church are always trying to keep kids from fun things, so how is sex any different.

I also firmly believe that we Christians have also completely removed the “holy” from holy matrimony.  Although held in church buildings, most of our marriages are secular services, sometimes with an occasional nod toward God who is sitting in the back of the auditorium.

Three things I would like to see:

  1. I’d like for our children to be taught that their bodies are the temple of God. I think once that is our predominant message, we will learn how to help them understand the implications for their life.
  2. Secondly, I would like to see us appear before the throne of God in our wedding ceremonies and not just come to the marriage altar and sign a legal document.
  3. And, lastly, I would like to see us re-mystify our sexuality, acknowledging it as a God-breathed gift, not only for our personal benefit, but because creating and loving is a reflection of God in us!  The oneness of sex is the same mystery as the oneness of God. The joy and pleasure of that oneness should be transcendent, not sado-masochistic.

I pray for the president; I pray for us.

Read Full Post »

He and his wife had been close family friends.  He was a well-respected preacher for one of the better congregations in town.  Then he became one of my heroes when he and his family moved to a foreign country and became missionaries.  His reports were what helped kindle the fire for missions in my own heart.

It’s an all too familiar story.  I don’t know the details, but he was caught up in adultery, his wife and children left him, he lost his support, returned to the States pretty broken–a minister who had lost his way, his family, his work, his life.  You’ve seen this too.

Years later, I was visiting with him and his second wife.  He had found a humanitarian organization that would support him to work in a small village in a third world country, so he, now late in years, was leaving the States, having sold insurance to make a living for a couple of decades, finally able to use his marvelous gifts in a special way for God again. He will work anonymously there and probably die there—he and his second wife.  I’m thankful for his redemption—and mine.

The one time that we visited just before he left, he made a special point to say, “Mark, I want you to know that although we love each other, both of us realize that our sins against God and our mates were terrible. The cost of what we lost and the damage to others which we inflicted can only be forgiven, never repaid. “

It’s not law that we need to stop the tidal wave of divorce; it’s not judgment!  It’s Truth!  Speaking the truth in love is what will set us free!

If you are divorced, please do not hear my plea as judgment; rather, join me in saying that Sin causes divorce.  And God hates Sin! And the consequences of Sin are pain, destruction, even death without the Grace of God.

If you were sinned against, then you know better than anyone why God hates Divorce.

If you sinned against your spouse, then you know better than anyone how destructive guilt and shame are and why God hates Divorce.

Tell the truth in love, if you want to teach your children and mine to hate Divorce.

Tell your friends who are thinking about divorce the honest truth. Talk to them about Sin, not happiness. Unmask the lies they are telling themselves. Describe the loss and destruction—the collateral damage to their children, their friends, their church.

No matter what we do, there will be spouses who must escape from abusive relationships, dangerous relationships, who are abandoned or betrayed.  Divorce is part of our broken world that we all are enduring until the Lord comes again and makes everything right.

But I do believe we Christians can be a part of that redemptive process now by teaching our children and teens and young singles and young couples and marrieds and parents and classics that God hates divorce!

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I suspect that most of our young people who are still in church think that the only reason to get married is to have sex without sinning. Otherwise, why do you need to bother getting married? It’s just a piece of paper.

Certainly this is the message of the culture we live in. Listen to what the Huffington Post said on July 5, 2011:

Shocking new statistics released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that Americans may no longer need marriage. For the first time ever, fewer than half of the households in the United States are married couples. In the past decade, the number of unmarried couples increased 25 percent as more people chose to cohabitate. A Pew Research Center study last year put it more succinctly, finding an increasing number of Americans now believes marriage is “becoming obsolete”.

Christians will not win this battle for Christian marriage—even with our own children and grandchildren—unless we teach our children a much more biblical view of why people should marry.I’m not talking about just advantages, but rather God-ordained purposes for marriage, His design for marriage.

Here’s my brief list. You may want to add to it—but if you do, be sure and ground your reason in the Word.

  1. Genesis 2 & 3.   People were created to live in pairs. It was not good for people to be alone, so God made spouses.  Marriage is a state of completeness that God intends for most people! Yes, there are exceptions—including Jesus himself—but most people were intended to be completed by another, not to be alone.
  2. I Corinthians 7:2-6           People should marry to enjoy sex, which will help them avoid sexual immorality, which includes promiscuity, adultery, pornography—any sexual sin.
  3. I Corinthians 7:2               People who marry should be confident and secure with faithfulness from their spouse.
  4. I Corinthians 7:5               People should marry to support each other’s relationship to God. It’s not good physically to be alone; it is perhaps worse spiritually to be alone.
  5. I Corinthians 7:33,34       People who marry learn to better please each other. They learn to put someone else’s needs above their own.
  6. Ephesians 5:21ff               Both husbands and wives learn submission in marriage, a virtue that is essential for pleasing God.
  7. I Timothy 5:14                Marriage is for the purpose of having and raising children.
  8. I Corinthians 7:15             Marriage should provide a haven of peace!
  9. Ephesians 5:22ff               Marriage is for enjoying every benefit of love and respect
  10. Deuteronomy 24:5          Marriage should be a place of real happiness.

I’m trembling even as I write this because I can hear so many of you screaming, “That’s not how my marriage is!”

“That’s not a description of anybody’s marriage!”

“Faithfulness, hah! Submission—sure or get hit! Peace? With that mean drunk!

“My marriage is hell!”

The abandonment of God’s purposes for marriage is so widespread that the corruption seems both inherent in the institution and unavoidable!  So why get married?

So why follow Jesus at all? Most people don’t, and most of those who do follow Him do so quite imperfectly—many even blatantly hypocritically!  Lots of Christians do terrible things. In spite of this, Jesus says, “Follow me” and we believe there is no other way!

I have to argue that the same is true for marriage. In spite of the corrupted marriages all around, marriage as God intended, as He purposed, is still designed to fulfill all of the wonderful purposes listed above.

Yes, marriages can be hell if the will and purposes of God are not foremost!  Where God is not present is the very definition of hell.  But do you not believe also that where God is, there is heaven! Can marriage be anything but heaven when God is there?

To those in bad marriages: search your heart honestly and repent of your own sinfulness, then pray that God will be present in your marriage, and raise it from the dead. He can do what you can’t even imagine! Ask other Christians to fight for your marriage in prayer!

To those already divorced because of bad marriages and still angry because God did not save your marriage: the consequences of sin in marriage are terrible. If you were sinned against, God still loves you! God allowed even His only Son to be sinned against and to suffer horribly.  No one can tell you why you had to endure such pain, but God has not abandoned you.  You can be sure of that!

To those in good marriages:  remind yourselves of why you are happy! Don’t take credit for it yourselves. Give glory to God! And teach your children and grandchildren why they should marry in the Lord. Teach them not to be afraid of marriage because of the corruption they see around them, but to trust God’s steadfast love.

To those yet unmarried: The only way to happiness is a marriage made in heaven! Be serious about testing both your own heart and the heart of a person you might marry to see if the reasons you want to marry include all of God’s purposes for marriage.  Before you step to the altar, make sure you are ready to take vows before God and that you really want God to join you together.

There are no perfect people, so there are no perfect marriages, but both we and our marriages can be perfected. In Ephesians 5, Jesus washes away all blemishes from His Bride, so their marriage will be perfect. The more we lose our marriages in Him, the more perfect our marriages become as well.

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Because God didn’t dictate a particular ritual or ceremony, even Christian weddings today are trending towards being completely secular. Yes, we still do them in church buildings—but it is not an official church service! Ministers still perform the ceremony—but so do fathers, professors, camp counselors, and county judges.  Most couples write their own vows rather than use stuffy church words.

One of the reasons the act of marriage is under fire in society is because of our uncertainty about what it is. Is marriage just a piece of paper, a legal status, a social status? Is there anything spiritual about marriage or is it just a cultural convention?

We really don’t even know what it takes to be married, or when marriage occurs! If a couple live together for twenty years are they married? Does it depend completely on the laws of the county or state or country where they reside? Can people just decide to be married? Or are two people married if they have a sexual relationhip—whether they intend to be married or not?

Does God not have anything to say about any of this???

We are so confused about what marriage is, no wonder Christians have so little trouble either ignoring it or abandoning it!

Moses, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul all return to the Beginning to talk about marriage—yes, the very beginning, so I think we should too.  In simple words, let’s remind ourselves of God’s description and design from the beginning

From Genesis 1:26-28—The First Creation Account

  • We are created in the image of God, male and female. As God is “us”, so are we!
  • The first command is to be fruitful and increase in number. “Fill the earth”! Procreation seems to be high on God’s agenda for men and women.

From Genesis 2:18-25—The Second Creation Account

  • Creation is incomplete until both Man and Woman are created.
  • Because both are incomplete without the other, Moses inserts  “for this reason”  people get married!
  • His basic description of the marriage ceremony  includes three distinct actions:
    • First a man decides to leave his birth family to create a new family.
    • He bonds himself intentionally to a wife, with the intent of being married
    • The two become one flesh through the sexual union.

THEN GOD JOINS THEM TOGETHER! This is the part we forget! We think that the law joins people together, or our vows, or that sex joins people together, but Jesus says, GOD JOINS THEM TOGETHER.

We make the same mistake with marriage that we do with baptism. Sure, we decide to be baptized! Sure, we submit to baptism. Sure, we are immersed in the Name of Jesus–but nothing would happen if God did not do something, if God did not wash away your sins! If God did not give you new life. If God did not add you to those who are being saved!  You cannot save yourself—and you cannot join yourself to another without God!

Don’t you think that this understanding elevates marriage from where it currently is in our world?  If we were to truly believe that God was joining a man and woman, would this moment not become much more holy!

I do believe that if we want to avoid divorce, we must recognize the divine participation in marriage and the holiness of the union.  We need to teach our children what God does at marriage. We need to instruct our engaged that God must do their ceremony. We need to instill in all of us who are married an awareness of being acted upon by God, divine intervention that created this union.

Only when we understand the sacred holiness of marriage can we understand the laws and attitudes of the world have very little to do with our marriages.

 

 

 

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