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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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The terrific pain and trauma surrounding any divorce should be enough to convince everyone that it is not what God wants for anyone!  The only proper response when we meet those who are scarred and damaged by divorce is to weep with those who weep! I’m truly sorry for the suffering, also for the anger, for the guilt, and for the deep sense of loss that you may have suffered with as well.

Divorce is not a fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—these are the fruit of the Spirit of God in us!

Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness…and the like, this sounds more like Divorce, doesn’t it! Paul says that these are acts of our sinful nature. Divorce definitely belongs on that side of the ledger.

No wonder God hates Divorce! Can we agree that if God hates Divorce that we should also hate Divorce?  Can we teach our children to hate Divorce? Can we teach our churches to hate Divorce?

Can we show enough love to divorced people that they know they are loved by us and by God even if God and we hate Divorce?

So what should the spouse do who is battered, or abused, or betrayed, or humiliated, who is disrespected?  Is divorce an option? 

Much I don’t know, but here is what I do know from God’s Word. Let’s look first at Jesus’ words in the Gospels (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12,  Luke 16:18)

  1. When asked about Divorce, Jesus said that the plan from the beginning of time was that what God has joined together, no man should separate!
  2. Jesus acknowledges that God allowed divorce because of the sinfulness of God’s people, even though it was not what He wanted for His people.
  3. Jesus says that to divorce your spouse to marry another is adultery.
  4. Jesus allows divorce in the case of adultery.  (Other translations of porneia include unchastity, sexual unfaithfulness, fornication, sexual immorality, even incest.)

So Jesus hates Divorce, but allows for it. 

The Apostle Paul mentions another exception: if a person becomes a Christian, but the spouse does not , if the unbelieving spouse leaves, the other is not bound. (1 Corinthians 7:15). I know that we have argued about this verse, but usually it is over the question of remarriage, not over divorce.  Paul says clearly that the believing spouse is not bound!  The divorce here, it should be noted, is instigated by the unbeliever, not the believer. That is important!  God hates Divorce!

I need to mention also that God Himself divorced Israel. Read Jeremiah 3 and Isaiah 50. He divorced Israel for adultery (Jeremiah 3:8) and for her sins and transgressions (Isaiah 50:1). In both cases, He longs for reconciliation, but there is no doubt that He has divorced her!

God hates Divorce—but He Himself has been through divorce. No wonder He hates it!

I really didn’t want to start with Divorce. I wanted to start with Marriage, but so many of us Christians are already divorced that I needed to let you know where I was coming from—and that I’m not advocating a return to law. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath!

I would have much preferred to start with Marriage because Marriage is made for us! The place to stop Divorce is in marriages full of life in the Spirit, in marriages where the Spirit bears fruit. 

We will talk about Marriage next.

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How to Stay Married for 40 Years!

Today is our 40th wedding anniversary!  Forty years! I don’t even feel that old—but we weren’t that young when we got married, so I guess we are. But we have been blessed beyond our imagination with everything that comes with a marriage from God.

I told most of the story last year on our 39th, so go back to April 2010 if you want to read the story of our wedding—it’s fun!  The starting is always fun and beautiful. The staying is the real story. Today, I’d like to reflect on why we have been able to stay married for 40 years.

1.            Let God choose your mate! I do believe in arranged marriages—God arranged. I can’t say that I wasn’t looking for a wife—but I wasn’t trying to make it happen either. You remember how Abraham got a little impatient and thought he would figure out how God probably was going to re-arrange things to provide an heir by making his household servant the heir of promise instead of the son God had promised. Lots of good Christian people make the same mistake. They pray that God will give them a wonderful partner for life—and then they panic when it doesn’t happen on their time schedule! They force it, they settle, they supplement—none of which show confidence in God.  Now God overcame Abraham’s momentary lapse and he can that of you and/or your children, but wait on God and He will provide

I graduated from college with plans to leave in two years for Germany with a mission team of four couples—and me—without even a girlfriend. I had barely dated my senior year because I was waiting for someone.  I also believe you will know when your prayer is answered: Sherrylee tells a different story, but I think I knew almost from the day I met her that she was the one! We dated long distance over the next year, so there were ample opportunities to be distracted, but I can say for my part, I believed in faith then and after 40 years now know that she was the God-given answer to my prayers. She was the only plan!

2.            We learned to talk to each other! At first this meant that we just enjoyed talking about almost anything.  With her in Florida and me in Mississippi for almost the whole time we dated, we drove a lot together—and never ran out of things to talk about.  But later–more importantly–I think we learned then to talk about the unpleasant things: our irritations with each other, our disappointments with each other, our different feelings about the way our life together was going!  Sherrylee taught me this! I brought nothing about self-disclosure or open, honest conversation about difficulties to our marriage. In fact, she forced me to learn to do this—and I’m eternally grateful—because I don’t know how couples can stay together through the hard stuff of every marriage if either of them has not learned to talk about it.

3.            We learned that conflict did not have to be destructive! Sherrylee is passionate and I am stubborn. When we fight, it tends to be passionate and loud!  My parents always went to the bedroom to “talk,” but since Sherrylee and I have worked together publicly most of our lives, we have not had that luxury. Our children have seen us fight and our staff has seen us in conflict—but while it is not pretty, I think neither our children nor our staff has ever felt like we did not love and respect each other.

4.            We have not let our lives take separate paths! Again, I thank God for Sherrylee because she, more than I, has been the one who did not let me develop my own little “work” world. She consciously joined me in the early days of LST, becoming the first employee of LST, and she will tell you that it was because she did not want our lives growing apart.  Men have to consciously include their wives and wives should persist in defending their right to be included in every area of their husband’s life—no exceptions!   This doesn’t mean you are never apart—just that there is no area of your life that is hidden or off limits or “none of your business” to your spouse.

5.            We remind each other of God’s goodness, not just on the good days, but on the horribly dark days as well. Sometimes people look at our marriage and our family and our life from the outside and they see a Disney storybook—but I will tell you that no one leads a storybook life—you haven’t and we haven’t.  We have had very serious issues with work, employment, ministry, our children’s health, our own health, our finances, we have been painfully attacked by people we thought loved us, we have been accused of evil that we did not do—but we have not yet lost a firm belief in the goodness of God. Part of the reason I have not become cynical is because Sherrylee’s presence in my life reminds me that has not withheld His richest blessings from me!

I know there are wonderful Christians whose marriages have been disasters.  I know there are wonderful Christian parents whose children are not good and who have left God. I don’t know why! What I do know is that God loves you and is doing everything in His power to bless you. Don’t lose faith! Don’t lose hope!

We are all living the lives God has given us through His grace and mercy. All I can really say to you who are seeking a 40-year marriage and having a hard go at it, is to echo the words of Jesus: seek first His kingdom — and all these things will be given to you – somehow!

Sherrylee are starting today on the next 40!

“Father, be our faithful Guide through the days or years of the rest of our lives together!”

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Today is Sherrylee’s birthday. I won’t tell you which one, but she would!  All I will say is that she was barely 19 when we married which will be 40 years ago in April!

In the last three posts, I’ve spent a little time talking about people who I’ve learned from through recent experience, so surely you are expecting me to tell you about Sherrylee!

First of all, to answer the most frequent of all questions: she likes her unusual name and uses the full thing in any formal situation, whether written or orally. Now her family calls her Sherry, so that’s what I usually call her too, unless I’m introducing her to other people.  She’s fine with both, but I just thought I’d get that question out of the way!

I actually woke up this morning thinking about how to tell you what I’ve learned from Sherry. As in any marriage, most of what you learn is so intrinsic to your personalities that it is hard to separate out into simple categories, but the more I thought about it, the one thing that recurs most often in what I have learned from Sherry, the one word that seemed to be a part of every descriptive phrase that occurred to me, that word was PASSION.

I grew up in a family that was all about subduing emotions and keeping passion under control. If you got too loud or too rowdy or too opinionated or too enthusiastic, you might . . . . surface! Or somebody might misunderstand you, or you might upset someone, or you might do something that was out of bounds.  You might sin! In retrospect, I would say there was a good bit of fear of some kind that ruled all of our emotions and/or actions. I’m not talking about paranoia; I’m just talking about “self-control.”

Her fearlessness was part of what attracted me to Sherrylee!  I was a senior at Harding and she was a junior in high school the first time we met. I was five years older at a time in life when that could be pretty intimidating to some people—but not to Sherrylee. She was not intimidated in the least! She was not afraid.  I’ll never forget the day in Scranton, PA on Campaigns Northeast when she arrived a little late to the team devotional. I was sitting on the front row of the church building by myself. We had just barely begun to know that we liked each other, and she marched down to the front of the building in front of the whole group to sit with me—as if we belonged together! You could hear the gasps literally—but I loved it—and her!

Sherrylee has taught me how to be passionate about people! Just a couple of days ago, we were walking back to our hotel in New Orleans about 10:30 at night when we walked past this young man in a mardi gras costume who was obviously very drunk. He was cursing into his phone very loudly and trying to tell someone where to pick him up off the streets—without success.  We walked about 20 feet past him, when Sherrylee turned to me and said “We need to help that guy!” So we turned around and went back—which we do fairly often nowadays. I walked up and asked if we could help him—that’s the way I am. Sherrylee came right behind me, said, “Let me have your phone and I’ll tell them where you are.” She took his phone, talked to his mother, and gave her directions to pick up her son.  I love Sherry for being so sensitive and yet so bold about helping others. I’m trying to learn more from her.

Sherrylee has taught me to be passionate in marriage! No, this won’t be X-rated because I’m not talking any more about sex than I am about our daily life together.  I think I could have been the kind of husband that loved his wife, but neglected her in ministry. From Day One of our marriage, Sherry has fought that tendency in me. She has passionately pursued me; she passionately pursued ministry with me! And I know that much of her motivation for doing so was so that we did not lose the passionate love with which we began our marriage!  I love her for that!

Sherrylee has taught me to be more passionate about God! When we were first married, I may have had a slight edge on her since I had majored in Bible and had four years of studying the Bible with people and two years of campus ministry, BUT I knew when I married Sherrylee that she had a great mind, an unlimited intellectual curiosity, and a deep and passionate love of God.

She is the one now who reads the N.T. Wright tomes! She is the one who still raises the deepest questions at the dinner table.  In fact, it is a standing tradition among our grown children to bet on how long we will be at table before Mom raises a deep theological question that she has been thinking about!

Sherrylee has taught me about passionate people who love God. She often raises her hands in praise; she often tears up with passion during worship. She prays earnestly—and often. She claps—loudly—and with extra rhythms! She wants to be in the front of the church, in the middle of the worship, talking afterwards to as many people as possible!

I have had so much to learn! And still do. She still teaches me daily not to be afraid, to forget about myself, and to let my deeper feelings show.

Happy birthday, Sherrylee! You have filled my life—and the lives of many, many people–with passion that is clearly the reflection of God’s passionate love for you.

 

 

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