Tuesday, December 30, 2008
1. By using the word for immorality rather than the word for adultery, Matthew seems to broaden the circumstances under which one could get a divorce. In other words, if Matthew would have written, "except for adultery," we would all know what that means, and we wouldn't even dream of thinking pornography is grounds for divorce.
2. However, because Matthew wrote, "except for sexual immorality," we are left trying to figure out all the possible ways mankind can be sexually immoral. Can a couple get divorced because the husband likes to wear women's clothing? Is that sexual immorality worthy of divorce? If lust is adultery in the heart, is that grounds for divorce? By using sexual immorality, rather than the very specific adultery, it seems couples could get divorced for just about anything, being that we're all sexual beings and all still struggling with swimming in a fallen culture with less than perfected hearts. Is this really what Jesus (and Matthew) had in mind?
3. Is looking at pornography adultery? I don't think so. When Jesus said if one looks at another with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart, I think we need to realize there is a difference between adultery in the heart and adultery. If you think this sounds like double-talk, then consider this: John says anger at a brother is murder and James says covetous passion is murder. Is it really murder worthy of the death penalty or life in prison? Of course not. I think what Jesus is saying is that these sinful actions like murder and adultery begin in the heart with things like anger and lust. Allowed free reign, all lust would be adultery. And all anger would be murder. If one doubts this, read war history where soldiers were left to carry out their desires.
4. So if one believes that Matthew left an "exception clause" in the prohibition against divorce, is looking at pornography adultery that is worthy of divorce? No. But I think most would agree that it's some kind of sexual immorality. And that is what appears to be the exception in Matthew. So according to Matthew, it doesn't take adultery. Any ol' sexual sin will do if you really want out of your marriage. That is, if Matthew did, in fact, leave an exception to the prohibition against divorce.
5. However, before any depressed spouse starts shouting, "Yippee!" I think it's only fair to stretch your mind a bit. What makes pornography pornography? Have you ever thought about that? Is it nudity? Is it a rating? Is it an action being carried out? I would argue that many R rated movies have everything to get the mind racing that pornography has. Is it not porn because you can't actually see the parts connecting? (Except, of course, for your favorite Hollywood actors' two foot long tongues scouring the inside of each other's mouths.) Is it not porn because there's a little more time between sex scenes in a Hollywood flick? Is it not porn because Hollywood movies are more socially acceptable? You know the action being simulated in an R or even PG-13 movie. Why is it not pornography? In addition, are romance novels that stretch women's hormones to the breaking point and appear to be just as addictive as mags and movies are to men also pornography? Go to a used bookstore. My goodness, if those little books aren't popular! And what about soap operas? Why are they so appealing? Is it really the long goofy stares before commercials? Of course not. It's the gut-wrenching romantic intrigue of following depraved human beings on a daily basis. So before we come down too hard on those who have problems with porn, we should do a little deeper assessment.
Now that my gymnastic workout is winding down, it's time to ask the real question. Is there such a thing as a biblical grounds for divorce? Was Matthew leaving folks an out if they think their spouse turns out to be a pervert? John Piper thinks no. He doesn't believe Matthew was giving an exception. He thinks all divorce is against God's revealed will. His arguments are fair ones, but he is in the minority. Most evangelical conservative folks think there is an "exception clause" in the Matthew text we looked at. Now, just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it true, but it does give me a reason to tread very carefully over what they've said. However, when the majority view doesn't make as much sense as the minority view from Scripture, I'm all for the minority view. In this case, I'm tempted to agree with Piper. I think Piper's view has serious merit. In his view, one can't get divorced for sexual immorality at all. Therefore, call porn whatever you want, it's only grounds for forgiveness and continued marriage. Call adultery whatever you want, it doesn't give you grounds for divorce.
Piper's view has been called the "betrothal view" because those who hold this view think that Matthew was referring to people in his day who were betrothed (like Mary and Joseph in the beginning of Matthew). Joseph, for example was betrothed to Mary, but when he found out she was pregnant, he couldn't just "ask for the ring back." He would have had to divorce her. So betrothal in that culture was more serious and binding than our idea of engagement, which more and more is just an excuse for a couple to live together for awhile without real commitment. Only Matthew gives the supposed exception clause. The other gospel writers don't give any reason for divorce, and call all remarriage after divorce adultery. It's interesting that only Matthew gives the full account of the birth of Christ, including Joseph's dilemma.
So here's what I'm saying:
1. I want to err on the side of marriage, not divorce, because marriage is God's design. Divorce is necessitated by man's sin.
2. I can sympathize with someone caught in a sucky marriage. I think Scripture spends a lot of time helping people deal with suffering rightly. But just because someone's marriage sucks doesn't give them the automatic right to end it by any means possible. We need to all learn rugged perseverance.
3. Marriage is never commanded in the Bible. And neither is divorce. So if one gets married, he or she should consider it a finished act until death. Bearing with one another through sin and hardship only makes Christ look more beautiful and displays the true purpose of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church.
4. Most of the time, folks contemplating divorce are doing it out of convenience or offense. Both reasons are wrong with only a little thought to prove it. Someone might say, "Yeah, but Jesus allows for divorce in adultery because he knows I could never trust my wife again. He knows how hurt I feel." Is Jesus that soft on us? He told Peter to forgive infinite wrongs, even when it hurts. He told folks in Revelation that they were about to be tortured and killed for his name, but if they kept faith they'd be in Heaven soon. He told Paul to live with his thorn. I fear we've fallen for the therapeutic pansy Jesus. I think in the midst of every conflict, we are always wisest to see how God might be refining us through it rather than looking for the backdoor to the furnace.
Monday, December 29, 2008
In the Old Testament, God commanded the death of whole nations by the people of Israel. From several texts, we can rightly gather that Jesus is himself God. The apostles tell the church to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and live our lives after his example. Put all that together and here's what we come up with: Christians should kill whole nations of people because Jesus, being the God of the Old Testament, killed whole nations, and we're to follow in his footsteps. We can see that this kind of mental gymnastics is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. However, I'm afraid we may have to do some in order to understand this question.
I think to rightly come to terms with these texts, we have to consider what the real issue is. Is the real issue God's concern over an offended person's feelings? In other words, does Jesus feel sorry for a man with an unfaithful wife, so he says, "God ahead man, I wouldn't want to live with her either. I feel your pain." When Jesus gave adultery as an exception for his prohibition of divorce, what was he seeking to protect? He doesn't come right out and tell us. So we're stuck trying to play gymnastics. Tread lightly.
I think the most important thing we can do when thinking about this is keep a very high view of marriage. Any attempt to belittle marriage or treat divorce frivolously by using a so-called exception clause is wrong. God has joined a husband and wife together with a little of his Spirit in the union. It is not something that should be broken lightly. It is also important to understand what marriage is. Marriage is a covenant, or a pledge of faithfulness to another person. In marriage, two people pledge to be a companion to one another. Part of this companionship is sexual fidelity and exclusivity.
When that exclusive sexual claim has been compromised, then it does appear that Jesus grants a permission to divorce. However, before doing so, the offended party should understand that Jesus also says that divorce is granted because of hardness of heart. So an unfaithful spouse shows a hardness of heart in committing adultery, and an offended spouse shows a hardness of heart in breaking off the union. The offended party should also consider that God is a husband to every member of his church, and never divorces his bride for any reason, including spiritual adultery. He absorbs the debt, including all the emotional pain of betrayal upon his own body on the cross. He is a true husband who lays down his life for his unfaithful bride. We're just stretching out in this post. The real gymnastics will begin next time. :)
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
"I am writing this book to build a vision of God into our lives that will not let us down in the worst of times. I mean really bad times. Horrific times. Who is prepared to meet the Agony that is coming? Our worship services and our preaching too often pamper us. They coddle.... The coddled Western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction. And when it does, whose vision of God will hold? Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows? Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews. And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians. God is weightless in our lives. He is not terrifyingly magnificent. His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.... Our felt needs are about to change dramatically. Pastors will be glad if they are ahead of the curve. Otherwise, it might be too late. Coddled people will not be good listeners when their world collapses. They will be numb with confusion and rage at the God who wasn't supposed to allow this. "If this is the way God is, why didn't you tell us?"
If that doesn't make you want to jet over to amazon and get this book, your jetter is broke. If you order soon and get your shipping right, you could have it in your little hands in time for giftwrap. Or just get it for yourself and curl up with it after the family goes home.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14).
We have a desperate daily need for one another. This is true for couples as well as single people. Over time, married people settle into habits and patterns of life that cater to our worldly appetites. And instead of spouses confronting one another, we conspire together to build our own personal kingdoms rather than God's. We choose together to deny the power of the Gospel by following the course of this world rather than renewing our minds. We clearly see this in the Bible in couples like Ahab and Jezebel and Ananias and Sapphira.
On the other hand, when a couple conspires together for the glory of God, a powerful force for the Gospel can be established. We clearly see this in the Bible in a couple like Aquila and Priscilla. However, behind every Aquila and Priscilla we'll likely find someone like the apostle Paul, encouraging and challenging and stirring up to love and good works. Deitrich Bonhoeffer says it this way:
When Christians live together, at some time and in some way it must come to the point that one Christian personally declares God's Word and will to another. . . . We talk to one another about the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our undoing. We are gentle and we are firm with one another, for we know both God's kindness and God's firmness. . . . When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God's Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God's Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one's community back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God's Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I think there are some huge lessons from the Titanic tragedy, and every tragedy for that matter. But here's one lesson for couples to consider. The people on board the Titanic had a crisis thrust upon them that demanded their immediate and ongoing attention. They had no choice but to deal with it. The supreme question of the the evening was who gets on the lifeboats and who drowns. There were no other pressing decisions to be made that night.
Love is different in a crisis than in every day normal life. Couples in Iowa could go to bed the night of April 14 and enjoy intimate love with each other. Men in Australia could work in the factory to lovingly provide for their families as the Titanic sank. Love looks one way in the daily grind and another way in a crisis. What would we think of a man who wanted his new bride to sneak below for some intimacy while the life boats filled on deck? Would he be loving to his wife? Maybe in normal life, but not in a crisis. He'd be at best stupid, and at worst a selfish jerk.
How do we understand a text of Scripture like 1 Corinthians 7:26-31: "I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away."
I think we have a difficult time understanding a text like this because we don't understand what happened when Christ came to earth. In the same way that the Titanic struck an iceberg, the cross of Jesus Christ struck the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the most catastrophic event to ever happen in the world. It makes the Titanic look like a walk in the park. The whole New Testament is written in a tone of voice that can only be described as "crisis-mode" when you actually stop and think about it.
Why are husbands supposed to live as though they have no wives? Why are those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it? The apostles, and especially Paul, obviously thought that Christians should live in crisis mode rather than daily grind mode. It's the only way texts like this make sense. It doesn't make sense for someone living in daily grind, non-emergency mode to reorient his life in such a way that his wife might feel less than provided for. But it makes perfect sense if Paul sees the whole world in a mode of crisis.
We don't have a sense of the weight of glory that happened at the Gospel. Paul says, "The present form of this world is passing away." Do you understand what he's suggesting? It's no less disturbing than "The watertight compartments are filling more quickly than we can pump it out." What does that mean? DEATH IS COMING. Your decisions, all the ones you'd like to be able to make, have just been narrowed down for you. Are you getting on a life boat or going down with the ship?
The Gospel is God's judgment on the world. On the cross, the world was reconciled to God. God judged the sin of all who would believe in him on the cross. And he declared guilty all who wouldn't believe in him on the cross. This world is going down like the Titanic. It has not been business as usual for two thousand years, or roughly two days in God's time. We are in the last days, and the end is imminent. It took the Titanic three hours to sink. How many days will it take God to call out his elect?
Christian couples can rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic all day long. They can do all they can to make sure the death of those around them is as comfortable as possible. And some might even call it loving. "Can I get you another drink, Mrs. Smith, before the table collapses beneath us?" Or some might call it foolish. Are you loving in daily grind mode or crisis mode?
Monday, November 10, 2008
For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
This little quote is a masterpiece - more raw than Steinbeck and more eloquent than Shakespeare. I guess we should expect that considering the author is God, and the quote is Proverbs 7. The society that Solomon wrote to may have been less technologically advanced than ours, but it was no less crude. Solomon warns young men against an imaginary married woman who runs the town while her husband is away on business. She ensnares her prey with seductive speech and sensual promises. The poor young dopes think they're getting lucky, when in fact they're being led to slaughter. Solomon describes her bed as "the chambers of death." That sounds appealing.
This text is as graphic as the pornography that is plaguing the hearts of so many men in our churches. And while women are the fastest growing demographic for porn consumption, men are still the primary partakers and targets. The methods may be different than the woman in Solomon's picture, but the message is the same. "Look at what we've prepared for you." "We've acted out for you everything you're missing out on with your boring, drab, selfish wife. We can get girls to do what you can't, but wish you could. Money will motivate in ways love never can." "You can even pretend you're the one using these lovely young creatures - the ultimate in reality tv." "And the best part is, no one needs to know. You don't have to face the lady at the checkout counter anymore. These submissive starlets are at your beck and call, in the privacy of your own home."
Men, if there was ever a time to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, it's now. The promises of porn are the same promises offered by Solomon's lovely adulteress. They are absolutely sure to satisfy, and just as sure to kill your soul. I have read several sources that suggest (and my own counseling experience verifies) that porn is more addictive than any substance known to man. The recidivism rate (people who return to their old way of life) is incredibly high. If you've never experienced pornography, let this be a warning like Solomon's. Don't start! It promises fullness of joy, but it's really just dining at death's door.
If you're already stuck in the trap, know this - no one gets out of a trap without a cost. I hate to be the one to tell you that. But it's true. Maybe you've heard of wild animals that chew off a leg that's caught in a trap. The bad news is, they lost a leg. The good news is, they saved their life. If you are stuck in the never-ending cycle of indulgence, guilt, fake repentance, re-indulgence, deeper guilt, more earnest fake repentance, re-re-indulgence, soul-crushing guilt, fake repentance with tears, re-re-re-indulgence, love-killing guilt, secret fake repentance that doesn't require the death of yourself, re-re-re-re-indulgence, marriage-wrecking guilt, secret fake repentance with a promise that this time was the last time, re-re-re-re-re-indulgence, nearly suicidal guilt, more fake repentance with a list of rules added in, re-re-re-re-re-re-indulgence, giving up the battle and accepting that you'll be a depraved sicko for the rest of your life - there is hope for you!
All it will cost is your leg! It's great if you can get through life avoiding traps. But for all those who aren't wise or fortunate enough for that kind of safety, this life is crummy and it requires your death to escape it. How does a Christian die to pornography? How does a Christian chew off his leg to get out of the trap? It's not difficult to do, but it's painful. Confession. Consider this word from Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his excellent book Life Together: "The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be for myself; I have a right to be myself, a right to my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The spirit and flesh of human beings are inflamed by pride, for it is precisely in their wickedness that human beings want to be like God. Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one's pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. By confessing actual sins the old self dies a painful, humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian... It is none other than Jesus Christ who openly suffered the shameful death of a sinner in our place, who was not ashamed to be crucified for us as an evildoer. And it is nothing else but our community with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession, so that we may truly share in this cross. The cross of Jesus Christ shatters all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to carry the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the genuine community of the cross of Jesus Christ; in confession we affirm our cross."
Indulging in pornography is dining at death's door. Make no mistake. You're killing yourself. You're killing your ability to love others. You're killing your ability to delight in God, and your ability to desire your wife, or marriage if you're single. You're killing your eternal soul, for the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It's better to die at the cross than at the judgment. Chew off your leg. Don't wait till it's too late to take that radical step. Confess your sin. Set up accountability. Don't fake repent. Truly repent. Don't forgive yourself. Chase after God's forgiveness. Don't pronounce a word of grace upon yourself. Let a brother or sister in Christ pronounce God's grace over you. You may be scared, but you won't regret it.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
This text is usually thought of as a task for the church. The church is a city on a hill and has to let its light shine. I fear that this way of looking at this text has diminished a lot of good works and left a lot of our culture in darkness. When Jesus taught this, he was speaking to individuals as part of a community. In other words, the church is only the sum total of individuals that are part of it. So the "church" can't really do anything. Only those individuals who make up the church can do good works and let lights shine.
So when Jesus said these things, he was speaking to - YOU. You let YOUR light shine. You let YOUR good works be seen. YOU bring glory to God by your lifestyle. But there's more. Folks aren't going to hear how sweet you speak to your wife if you never have anyone around when you talk. No one's going to hear how firm, yet fair you are with your children if you keep them cloistered away at home. No one's going to see your right living that flows from the gospel if you never leave the Main Street Monastery. Nobody is going to glorify God for works they don't see YOU doing. So this text is incredibly missional. You have a job to do in the world. You can't pass it off to other people or some vague entity called "church." And if people are going to see your light, be amazed by your lifestyle, you're going to have to invite them into it. Period.
There's simply no other way to be a follower of Jesus except for in public. Jesus said this as well. "Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 10:33). Okay, so you've never technically denied Jesus before men. Someone has never come up to you and asked, "Do you deny Jesus before me?" And you've never said to that person, "No! Of course I don't deny Jesus before you!" But is that what Jesus meant by saying that? Of course not. Because before he warned against denying him, he said this: "Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven" (Mat. 10:32). So it's not enough to not deny. You must acknowledge.
It does little practical good for two Christian spouses to sit at home, staring at each other, acknowledging Christ to one another. Will they be rewarded? "Good job, faithful servant! You sat in your holy huddle and didn't deny me. Enter the joy of your Lord." I'm sure you'll agree that the point Jesus was making was the public acknowledgement of Jesus before those who don't follow him. Read the whole chapter, and you'll see that Jesus was talking about withstanding persecution.
So Christian couples need to open up their homes, their lives, their hearts to people all around them that don't follow Jesus. This is where hospitality is so important. How many missionaries does a church have? The ones they sent to Bora Bora? What about the ones sent to Wal-Mart? The ones sent to Whirlpool? The ones sent to high school? The ones sent to the dentist and the drive in and the deli and the door of neighbors? Be a light by living right in someone's sight.
Of course, on a superficial level, we can say pride makes me feel like the center of the universe, worthy of my spouse bowing to my every whim. Most people are probably aware of that level of pride. But I think the pride goes deeper. And gets more hideous. Think about this event that happened when Jesus walked the earth.
1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)
This text is one of the sweetest stories in Scripture. Jesus is in control. The Pharisees are shown to be the self-righteous, evil jerks they were. The evil woman is given a free pass by Jesus, even though she sinned against him and her husband. This is a favorite text of preachers who want to show the amazing grace of God in forgiving unworthy sinners. I want to finish the story in a way the Bible doesn't. We don't know if the woman went right back to the arms of her husband, or her lover. We don't know if they ended up divorced. We don't know if she ran off and joined a convent (probably not). So let's give an uninspired ending to the story for the sake of the point I'm trying to make.
The thing that makes this story so sweet is that this woman is given a fresh start by Jesus. It wasn't as though she crossed the street outside a crosswalk. She was caught in the act of adultery. What condition was she in when she was paraded out for all the world to see? Ashamed and embarrassed are good guesses. Scared to death? How would you feel if you were her? How must her heart have been racing? And how must her fears have been relieved when her accusers began walking away without a word, heads hanging in shame themselves? How must her heart have calmed down, and her palms dried up when Jesus looks up, almost unimpressed by the whole affair, and asks, "Has no one condemned you?" What joy must have rushed upon her as she heard, "Neither do I condemn you."
Now suppose she went home and confessed her sin to her husband, told him of the whole ordeal and asked his forgiveness. He offered it freely, just happy to have his wife back. What would happen if every time she and her husband were about to be intimate, she'd get all weird and cold. When her husband asks what's wrong, she can't put her finger on it. Ultimately, they realize she still feels guilty for her past sin. This is the level of pride that many people have today, and it does affect marriages.
It is pride to think the world should revolve around us. It is greater pride to refuse the Son of God's cleansing blood. Yet we're all guilty of it to some extent. When we refuse to walk in newness of life, we're claiming a power of judgment superior to God's. That's not good. R.C. Sproul made this point before. If couples have a past of sexual sin before they get married, it is important to accept God's forgiveness if they ever want a healthy, guilt-free sex life.
So the first way pride makes sex a chore is by demanding to hold onto past failures, even when Jesus has said, "Neither do I condemn you." We want to condemn ourselves in an attempt to atone for our own sin. But miserable sex with your spouse won't atone for past sexual sin. It will only tick your spouse off. So dwell at the cross. Thank your Savior for his amazing grace. Don't just talk yourself into pleasing your spouse, all the while feeling guilty. Get happy in God by soaking in his saving blood.
Another way pride makes sex a chore is by judging a spouse who feels the guilt over past failures. Your spouse feels guilty and strange and not as free as you'd like. So you try to help out by reminding your spouse of the freedom you now enjoy in Christ. "He doesn't condemn you, so let's just get it on. It's not fair for me to be punished because you used to be a freak sinner." This is the kind of pride that sounds right - like you're just trying to give Christ the glory he deserves in salvation. In reality, it's probably more wicked than the other pride. This is the kind of pride the Pharisees had toward the adulterous woman. It's a strange irony when we boast of our freedom in Christ, and use it as a club to condemn our spouse.
So here's the deal. Pride is at the root of chore-some sex. Either we want our spouse to make much of us by being at our beck and call. Or we want our spouse to make much of us by leaving us alone for awhile. Either way, we're trying to build our own kingdom with ourselves at the center. That is pride. But there can be a deeper pride underlying this garden-variety pride. The only hope for overcoming all this pervasive pride is the gospel. Bask in the light of the cross. Accept his forgiveness and go and sin no more. Be patient with others in their struggle to believe the news that is too good to be true. Thank God that you and your spouse can freely enjoy an undefiled bed no matter how defiled you've been because we live in the age of grace.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Second, what happens when we realize that for all sex promises, it delivers far less? What happens when the grand production of sex doesn't pay off with excitement, but with boredom, or choredom? One of the great challenges in marriage is keeping sex from becoming a chore. And sex can be a chore for both spouses. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5: "But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
I've yet to talk to a married couple with one brain. Most married couples I know consist of a man with one brain and a woman with one brain. Two people, with two different brains, trying to think and want and feel as one brain. That's tough. Eventually, every couple is going to figure out that one spouse is going to want sex more than the other one. This is usually okay for awhile. But eventually, when one spouse is in the middle of buttering toast, and the other is calling from the bedroom, it can be a real chore. Sex can be a chore for the one who wants it less: "Just leave me alone! Is that all you ever think about? Haven't I fulfilled your conjugal rights yet?" But over time, sex can become a chore for the one who wants it more: "I'm so sick of being treated like a perverted selfish maniac, so just keep eating toast, Dear. I'll just handle my temptation to sexual immorality without the aid of a spouse." What do you do when that scenario, in some form, strikes your marriage?
First, for the one with the chore of wanting sex more than your spouse. 1. Do not, I repeat do not, don't do it, don't even try to, don't even want to even if you want to, it will ruin your whole weekend, don't do it, don't fall for the trap of thinking some poor blind depraved couple on a computer or tv screen can scratch that itch. Don't do it. Cut out your eyes. Cut off your hands. Throw yourself on the mercy of your spouse. Call a neighbor. Walk the dog. Cut the grass. Get out of the house. 2. When you get out of the house, do not, I repeat, do not, don't allow yourself to congratulate yourself on getting out of the house only to lust after the next human being that crosses your path. Now with that out of the way - 3. Don't lose heart. Don't think to yourself, "Forget him (or her), I'll show him that I can be just as selfish (or busy, or insensitive, or aloof, or cold) as he is." You'll only tie yourself in knots trying to be your spouse. You're not your spouse, you're you. And your spouse married you. 4. Don't put your spouse on a guilt trip for not wanting it as much as you. That won't lead to good sex when she is in the mood. Guilt sex isn't usually good sex, so you're really shooting yourself in the foot if you go down that road. 5. Don't seek a person you think is more in tune with your appetites.
When you want sex more than your spouse, first and foremost, before all else, remember your God. Remember that Jesus Christ has purchased on your behalf, fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore. There are pleasures awaiting us in Heaven that will make sex feel like a toothache. Have you ever thought about that? What are you afraid of missing out on? Here's the best kept secret in the world - we won't die without sex. We are taught from the youngest age by the cultural messages all around us that we will, but it's just not true. So when you want it four times a week, and your spouse isn't up to the task, just be satisfied with Christ and love your spouse. Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? Depends on how much you love your spouse.
Now for the one with the chore of wanting sex less. 1. Don't do it, no matter how much you're tempted, no matter how much you think it will get your spouse off your back, don't make your spouse feel like a perverted over-sexed freak just to lighten your workload. You can't make your spouse sin, but you can make it easy. Remember that. 2. Don't walk around in a funk wondering how you ended up such a selfish jerk. You will find it very difficult to please your spouse out of guilt. At least a spouse with half a brain. 3. Don't make rigid rules in your head about how if your spouse really loved you, he (or she) wouldn't be so demanding. It makes no sense to create and nurture animosity with the one we're spending the rest of our lives with. 4. Don't seek another person who will be more in tune with your own appetites.
When your spouse wants sex more than you, first and foremost, before all else, remember your God. Jesus Christ died for you. He left Heaven, took on flesh and blood, lived a life of scorn, died on a cross after public humiliation, and suffered the wrath of God so that you can spend eternity in Heaven experiencing fullness of joy and pleasures forever. For the joy set before him, Christ endured the cross. And for the joy set before you, you can endure fifteen minutes with your demanding over-sexed spouse. You really can. Will it be easy? No. Will it be fulfilling? Maybe not sexually. Will it be worth it in the long run? Absolutely.
Sex is a grand production, and it can be wonderful and special and great. On the other hand, sex can become a chore if both spouses don't work together, as a team instead of adversaries. I read somewhere that sometimes sex is steak. And sometimes sex is maccoroni and cheese. One is better than the other, but both are satisfying. At the end of the day there is no plan B. Spouses are commanded by God to satisfy each other. That requires communication, sacrifice and love. There's no way around it. You have to go through the mess of being two different people. You have to go through the hassle of pursuing. You have to go through the inconvenience of being pursued. You have to go to the trouble of enjoying your spouse, or at least fooling them into thinking your are. Don't try to find another way that doesn't require both spouses to die to themselves and offer themselves - either by lightening the load or by giving in - to each other in love. As long as God continues to leave us two separate brains, we'll likely have two separate agendas as to frequency and quality of sex. Save me from myself, indeed.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
So my wife has finally decided that women everywhere need to join the Dirty Plate Club. Perhaps you remember as a child being a member of the clean plate club. That's for all those good kids that ate everything on their plate and licked it clean to show their obedient spirit. The Dirty Plate Club is a little different. It's for all those who are awakening to the notion that living to share the Gospel is more important and satisfying than living the American dream. The goal of the Dirty Plate Club is not to leave dirty plates all over the kitchen. However, if in the process of being a friend to someone in need, if in the process of serving a neighbor by watching their kids, or if in the process of showing hospitality, your house gets wrecked, or dishes are left dirty, so be it... "here I stand, I can do no other, God help me." What if you don't have clean dishes to serve on? That's why God invented paper plates and plastic cups.
This new book may coincide with a new ministry, Luke 10:42 Ministries. Obviously the basis for this title is the standard-setting, Christ-spoken New Testament verse that reads: "but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." It's not an accident that the King of Heaven praised Mary for living out the words of King David "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). The Lord came to earth, the temple came down in all his beauty and glory. Mary saw it, was drawn to it, and couldn't help it. And she was considered lazy by her well-meaning sister.
Martha was simply too busy to notice the one thing that was necessary. And in spite of the good-intentioned, modern-day sermons praising "Martha's hands" as well as "Mary's heart," Jesus had no words of praise for Martha that evening. She was "anxious and troubled about many things." How many women are in the same situation today? How many women have trained their minds to strive for a standard that isn't exactly the goal of life? How many women have clean plates and messy hearts? Dirty plate anyone?
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I don't mean that last sentence as a statement of personal preference, like saying football is like Heaven on earth. I mean it as a true statement about what Heaven will be like. How is it like Heaven? First, the Bible tells us Heaven will be filled with thousands of thousands of loudly shouting saints praising the Lamb. The word "loud" appears 21 times in the book of Revelation. Hardly monastic reflection. Not quite the tranquility of a placid mountain lake. Second, God is glorified by the wide range of musical instruments being played with skill. It's amazing to me that some try to find sin in certain instruments, or any instrument when the Bible specifically commands praise from a variety of sources in the Psalms.
Most importantly, it's good to get lost in a moment where God's glory comes to the forefront of our minds and we forget about ourselves. The dynamic achieved at a concert imposes itself on the listener. You can't ignore it. It demands to be heard, to steal your attention and affection. While people have different tastes, and God is glorified by all kinds of music, there's just a dynamic achieved at a concert that is hard to replicate anywhere else.
This concert was no exception. Jars of Clay and Switchfoot are so artsy and eloquent, lyrically and musically. That's what I like about them. Third Day, while having just as much talent is right out in your face. They closed the night, and let me tell you when the stage lit up and you saw them there, you didn't think, "Wow, I'm a groupie of Third Day." They came out singing, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of Heaven, Maker of earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Begotten Son, our Lord." You stood up, surrounded by thousands, all thinking one thing: "God is awesome and I'm not the only one who thinks so!"
Husbands forgot that their wives were there. Wives paid no attention to the men at their sides. Children didn't look around to see if they'd fit in. Everyone just danced and shouted to the God who made them; the God who saved them. At one particular point when Mac Powell told everyone to sit down and enjoy a rest, a young lady in front of us, probably about 16 or so, just kept on standing with her arms in the air. She seemed oblivious to all around her. Why? Because she was caught up in the song: "Don't you know I've always loved you, even before there was time. Though you turn away, I'll tell you still. Don't you know I've always loved you, and I always will." A teenage daughter of God, sitting between her parents on a Friday night, lost in the love of her Redeemer. Sometimes it's good to get lost.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Where is the Great Commission in the average housewife's day? I doubt anyone will come to Christ because her end tables are dust free. I can't imagine the pagan next door asking a Christian housewife, "How do you keep your dishes done so well? I just can't find the time. What's the reason for the hope you have?"
Here's a suggestion: why not leave the dishes in the sink, call a non-Christian friend, and talk to her about the gospel of Jesus Christ - the gospel that frees us from the need to measure up to June Cleaver. If you don't have a non-Christian friend to call, then leave the dishes in the sink, the laundry in a pile, the clutter in the living room and for God's sake, go out and find one.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The apostle Paul wrote these verses to the church at Rome, instructing them on how to treat brothers and sisters in Christ who disagreed over what foods to eat or what days to observe as holy. Some Christians thought some days were more sacred than others. Other Christians thought Christ made all days equal. Some Christians thought some foods were wrong to eat, and some thought all foods were fine. Such matters still split churches and denominations today.
What was Paul's answer to Christians on both sides of the argument? "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). This is the kind of answer that makes people pull their hair out. What do you mean, each should be convinced in his own mind? That leaves so much room for... uhm... for... uhh... liberty! Someone has to be right. Someone has to be wrong. We just don't like having to live and let live. Yet this is Paul's answer. If you eat everything, don't be angry at the ones who don't. And if you don't eat meat, don't judge the one who does. Live and let live.
Why do we find it so difficult just letting people be who they are? Why do we feel the constant need to assess others, to control what they're thinking or doing? We find it very difficult to follow Paul's simple counsel. Paul says live and let live, and we don't listen. Instead, we scour the Bible looking for ammunition, looking for the reason our situation is an exception to Paul's counsel. "Oh sure, meat-eating is one thing. We're free in that. But we're talking about going roller skating! Have you heard the music they play at the roller rink? Is it good and pure and true? Surely you realize Paul said we're supposed to be ignorant of things done in the dark. Have you ever been to a bright roller rink? And don't you know our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Have you seen some of the nasty spills people take on a rink floor? How does that glorify God? By destroying his temple? Hmm?" Similar lines of thinking have taken place regarding dancing, drinking a beer, eating red meat, smoking a pipe, reading non-Christian fiction, playing rummie, wearing make-up and the list seems endless. We can't be satisfied with each other as we are.
What does this have to do with marriage? Glad you've stuck around to find out. The reason Paul says that each person can be convinced in his own mind, and doesn't owe anyone else an explanation is because each person ultimately belongs to God. God alone. The person who eats meat is not the servant of the one who doesn't. He is God's servant. So he doesn't owe obedience to anyone but God. He won't give any account of his actions to anyone but God. He lives or dies to God alone.
Liberty applies in marriage the same way. Your spouse is not yours. They don't really belong to you. They belong to God. Isn't God just awesome for letting you get benefits from his servant? He lets his servant serve you. And he lets you serve your spouse. I think of this sometimes, especially when I ponder how giving my wife is. She's not my servant. I don't deserve her. And you don't deserve your spouse. You deserve hell right along with me. But instead, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will spend eternity with God, and be served by his servants. What a loving, giving God. Think about this the next time you want to yell at your spouse for not "doing right by you." He or she isn't your servant. God will make your spouse stand, even when you want to condemn or criticize.
I can't tell you how many times I've caused my wife guilt for not doing just what I want when I want. She desires to be a servant to her family. And sometimes her family puts expectations on her that she can't possibly live up to. Everyone takes a pull, but hates the bloody mess that results from ripping her in pieces in selfishness. Thankfully, God will make her stand. Don't fall into the same trap I fall into. Just enjoy your spouse, and thank God that you're not profoundly alone right now. After all, you don't really have any servants of your own do you? Just one loaned out by God.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
When Muller's wife died, he preached her funeral sermon. His first point was that God was good in giving her to him. Under that heading, he preached the following: "And were we happy? Verily we were. With every year our happiness increased more and more. I never saw my beloved wife at any time, when I met her unexpectedly anywhere in Bristol, without being delighted so to do. I never met her even in the Orphan Houses, without my heart being delighted so to do... Thousands of times I told her, 'My darling, I never saw you at any time since you became my wife, without my being delighted to see you.' This was not only our way in the first year of our marriage union, nor in the tenth, in the twentieth, and in the thirtieth year, but also in the fortieth year of our conjugal life... Our happiness in God, and in each other, was indescribable. We had not some happy days every year, nor a month of happiness every year; but we had twelve months of happiness in the year, and thus year after year."
Maybe I'm just particularly blessed by God, but I can absolutely sympathize with Muller. I quote that line to Amanda all the time, "There's never a time that I'm not delighted to see you, Dear." She knows the quote and smiles when I say it. Of course, there are times when it's really good to see your wife. Maybe after a long day at work, or coming home from a trip. But overall, I can't imagine not being excited to walk in and see my darling wife at the sink, or coming out of the bedroom, or playing catch in the yard. Every time I see her, I am shocked all over again at how lovely she is, and I stare at her as though it were the first time I'd seen her. I never get tired of her. There are times when such attention becomes burdensome to her, and I have to be careful not to try to bind her to myself through my attraction to her. But most of the time, she indulges my doting with some return of kindness.
One would think that such a happiness in a wife would make a man insecure. If such a wife makes her husband so happy, surely he must be terrified of losing her. And if he did lose her, he'd likely be devastated beyond any hope of repair. That's not what happened with Muller at all. The final point of Muller's funeral sermon was that God was good in taking Muller's wife from him. "While I'm saying this, I feel the void in my heart. That lovely one is no more with me, to share my joys and sorrows. Every day I miss her more and more. Every day I see more and more how great her loss to the Orphans. Yet, without an effort, my inmost soul habitually joys in the joy of that loved departed one. Her happiness gives joy to me."
Muller's love for his wife, and delight in her, overflowed in peace at her death because he realized how happy she was in Heaven, at the right hand of her Savior who lived and died for her; and Muller was happy at her happiness. That is the essence of virtuous love - pursuing happiness in the godly happiness of others. Muller loved his wife more than he loved himself. So when she died, rather than becoming a basket-case, he rested in her eternal joy. And that comforted him. May God grant all of his married children a heart like Muller - a heart that is delighted with the spouse God gave, and a heart that pursues pleasure in the pleasure of another.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Now I love banana bread! But I wouldn't want my wife to feel guilty for not making it every time the kids didn't eat the bananas fast enough. On the other hand, I wouldn't want my wife feeling good for making it as a way to avoid the guilt of not making it. Does that make sense? The lady on the radio continued by encouraging women to get busy and clean out the junk drawer, do something around the house to make it more organized, etc. She then said something to the effect, "Just completing one thing made me feel so accomplished and free."
While I appreciate her heart in trying to encourage women and think she's said many correct things from what I can tell, I disagree with this particular message. It's amazing how freeing it is resting in what Christ has accomplished for me. It is not freeing to complete anything. It's constraining. If I feel free and accomplished by knocking something off the to-do list, then what do I feel when I fail to knock something off the to-do list? This kind of living over a long period of time will kill joy. The reason for this is simple. Rarely do we live up to our own expectations. And that is painful to deal with, because it bases our perspective on our performance rather than resting in God. On the other hand, some people do live up to their own expectations, and that's even more dangerous, because they justify themselves rather than resting in God. Either way, it's a failure to rest in God's provision of grace for us.
In saying this, I'm not saying we shouldn't do worthwhile things, like God is glorified by resting in Christ by perpetually resting on the couch. I'm simply saying the order has to be right. Remember Mueller from a few posts ago? We must do whatever it takes to get as happy in God as we can in the morning. Only in that way will we garner the perspective and power to love others in the right way. Doing our jobs in this world should flow from Gospel-centered joyful-hope. In this way, we won't assess ourselves on how well we accomplish something, or on how miserably we fail. We will assess ourselves on what Christ has already accomplished on our behalf, because we couldn't accomplish diddly-squat on our own. Now that's freeing.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
After we got it up, the neighborhood kids were dying to try it out. One of the kids just smiled really big, and said, "You guys must really love baseball!" I said we like it a lot. My wife played shortstop at the University of Dayton and her brother played baseball at Valparaiso University, so it kind of runs in the family. Her family. It doesn't run in my family. My experience with baseball before meeting my wife consisted of a year of t-ball outfield spent picking dandelions. What else is there to do in t-ball outfield? My dad must have decided I'd be a better florist than slugger because I don't remember playing any more little league after that.
But something happened when I met Amanda in college. She was playing softball, so I started going to her games. I thought it was pretty cool. As my love for her grew, my love for the things she loved grew. So naturally I developed a strong love for baseball. I can sit and watch it for hours, though that never happens. But I could if I allowed myself.
Now our oldest boy loves baseball, and all our girls love softball, and my two-year old boy is already swinging his little plastic bat and throwing his plastic ball around the house. Other kids can't help but see that while they're investing their time in video games, our kids are hitting balls. What's the point of this? Glad you asked.
Point number one - When we love someone, we can't help but develop a love for the things they love. I couldn't care less about baseball before I started loving Amanda. But now, I love it too. The same thing happens with God. Before I developed a love for God (because he first loved me), I couldn't care less about what he cares about. Now, I have developed a love for the things he loves - righteousness, love for neighbor, humility, perseverance, Christ-centeredness, the Bible, the fellowship of the church, justice, Heaven.
Point number two - When we love something, it shows. I couldn't hide the fact that our family loves baseball when the batting cage went up. The little boy knew we love baseball without my even having to say it. He knew because of our priorities. Some people have swingsets and sandboxes. We have pitching machines. The same is true with God. When we love God, truly love God, it has to show. Someone should be able to look at our lives, our priorities, and say, "You must really love God!" That little boy reminded me of some pretty important truths that day. If we love God, we can't help but love the things God loves; and if we love God, that love can't help but break out for the world to see.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
In this 32-page booklet, Priolo gives some consequences of divorce that many don't consider before they go to the lawyers. He raises an interesting point from the words of Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 19:8 "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so." So often, spouses feel justified in dissolving a lifelong covenant over the smallest offenses (or even large ones). But Jesus is clear - divorce is the result of a hard heart.
After giving several consequences, Priolo moves on to answering some of the more common reasons given for divorce, such as: "Even though I know the divorce is wrong, God will forgive me," or "I've fallen out of love with him," or "I have a peace about it," or "I could never trust him again." He answers these reasons, and others, with a biblical response rather than the faulty human reasoning one sometimes gets when contemplating divorce.
The booklet ends with counsel on how to give up an adulterous affair. There are many times when a spouse wants a divorce because he or she already has another person in waiting. Either there has been an expressed interest, or there's been an actual sinful relationship. Priolo explains how to overcome a complicated issue like this. I think this section is the best part of the booklet. Lou Priolo says a lot in a short amount of space in this excellent resource for counselors or those plotting to end their marriage. I highly recommend you get this book.
Monday, May 19, 2008
CAN Christ save marriages?
Yes, Christ can save marriages, but that doesn't always mean he will. Can speaks of ability. Christ has the ability to save a person's marriage. But Christ doesn't always immediately do what he is able to do. He always does what fits into his ultimate purposes for creation. For example, Christ can immediately send the world to a fiery hell. He has the authority and capacity to do this. But it would contradict his plans for the future of creation. So his purposes confine his ability. So if someone wonders whether Christ can be called upon to save a chaotic marriage on the brink of divorce, yes he can be called upon. However he cannot be constrained like a genie in a bottle. There's no guarantee that a husband or wife can turn to Christ for the salvation of his or her marriage, and things automatically, miraculously improve.
Can CHRIST save marriages?
Let's consider who it is we're asking to save our marriages. We're asking Jesus Christ, Son of God, Kings of kings, Lord of lords, Light of the world, the Word and Wisdom of God. When someone asks Christ to save his marriage, he has to understand something first. A person's marriage is not Christ's number one priority. Christ's number one priority is ensuring God gets the maximum amount of glory due his name. I've spoken with folks who "have tried Jesus back when Sally Jane was leaving me, and he didn't do anything for me." One of the blessed truths of Scripture is that Christ does good to his people. He is able to do this because at a point two thousand years ago, he took off his royal robes, put on swaddling clothes, then a crown of thorns, and humiliated himself on the cross for the sake of his subjects. But he is not on the cross anymore. He is back on his throne, building his Kingdom in the hearts of mankind, until he brings this age to an end. He does good to his subjects on his terms and in the manner that he sees fit. So, it is crucial when asking if Christ can save marriage to remember just who is being asked. If one has lived his life without faith in Christ, hasn't turned to him for forgiveness for his sins, and humbly submitted himself to Christ as Lord of his life, then he needn't be concerned about his rocky marriage. He needs to be concerned that his Creator has a score to settle with him unless he throws himself on the mercy of the court.
Can Christ SAVE marriages?
This is an important word to ponder. What does one mean by the word save? If by save, one means deliver from an unhappy state, or recover from the brink of divorce, and then leave well enough alone, then one might be disappointed at the answer. And what do married people need saved from? The heaping stack of bills? The screaming kids? Two divergent agendas? Irreconcilable differences? Incessant arguing? All those things are symptoms of the real disease affecting marriage - sin. And Christ saves sinners through the Gospel, not self-help. Is it probable that Gospel-centered Christians will have happier, more durable marriages than others? Yes. But Gospel-centered people don't start with a question about the condition of their marriage. They begin with a question about the glory of God and the state of their soul.
Can Christ save MARRIAGES?
Perhaps a better question to ask than 'Can Christ save marriages?' might be 'Does marriage need saved?' I would answer 'No, marriage doesn't need saved.' Married people need saved. Christ came to save sinners, not marriage. So if one is struggling through a rough marriage, or teetering on the edge of divorce, and will try anything, even Christ, to grant the kind of marriage he's been dreaming of, then he should be ready for a letdown. Christ cannot be used as a means to an end. He is the end. Christ doesn't exist to serve marriages. Marriage exists to serve Christ. So the most important question to ask before asking Christ to save one's marriage is to ask Christ to save one's soul. Then he will be in a better position to understand Christ's agenda on earth, and not sound like a thankless, spoiled brat trying to use God like some dime-store trinket.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Amanda and I have never in over eleven years argued about the toothpaste tube. I am not a roller. I am a do whatever it takes to get some on your brush and throw the messy-nozzled, capless tube back in the cabinet to coat the shelf in green goo. I can't imagine having nothing better to do than maintain a well-ordered toothpaste tube. And fortunately for me, neither can Amanda. She doesn't seem to care much either. I gather this by the fact I never open the cabinet to find a neatly rolled tube with a clean nozzle and a cap. So I assume she sees toothpaste the same way I do. But we didn't discuss this before we got married. And we've never discussed it after all these years.
Amanda and I have never had a discussion about the toilet seat. I know of couples who've had knock-down drag-out fights over a little piece of round plastic or wood. We have this kind of understanding that whatever one needs to do to get the toilet ready for use, then do it. It doesn't really matter what condition one finds the seat in. I assume Amanda feels the same way because in over eleven years, we've never had one discussion on how to properly leave the toilet seat after use. We never discussed this before we were married. Perhaps we are just magically compatible. But we never took a test to figure it out. We never really tried to determine if we were, probably because we never really thought it was important.
In my Bible study this week, I found someone incredibly compatible with his wife. And I wasn't really impressed. In fact, this man wasn't just compatible with his one wife, he was compatible with all 700 of his wives and his 300 concubines. His name was Solomon, and he was king of Israel, son of David.
"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, 'You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.' Solomon clung to these in love" (1 Kings 11:1-2).
Solomon was compatible with his wives. And it wasn't a virtue. What is far more important than compatibility with a wife is compatibility with God. Solomon lived his life for his own pleasure and comfort, and what did it bring him? Headaches. Fortunately, God is so very, very gracious. But the things that happened to the nation of Israel are for our instruction today, so that we won't worship idols as they did. Is your desire for that connectedness, that intimacy that you long for with your spouse, that craving to feel like the world was made for just the two of you really a God-centered, Gospel-driven desire? Or could it be a desire for a "soul-mate" that subtly replaces the only soul-mate God intended - Jesus Christ?
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The decision to have children is sometimes made along similar lines. We decide whether or not to have children based on our feelings at the time. If we want to raise our children correctly, we realize how much of a "burden" it will be on our lifestyle. If we feel like life is providing all the meaning and fulfillment we are looking for without children, we fear that having children may endanger our fulfillment. On the other hand, if our life feels meaningless without children, we may decide to have children out of a search for meaning.
Our culture approaches marriage in the same way. We choose to marry, or remain unmarried, or live together outside of marriage, or pursue relationships with those of the same gender out of a desire for our own fulfillment, or what we think will advance us to the most self-actualized state we can attain. When we don't feel like our marriage is giving us that meaning or fulfillment, we figure maybe our spouse might not be the "one" after all. So we set out to find the "one" that we've missed so far. Forget the vows. Forget the kids. Forget God. Forget everything we've built with our spouse over years of investment. Divorce. Start over in the quest for self-fulfillment.
Christians have bought into this destructive lifestyle as much as anyone. But we must stop. Our lifestyle choices must flow from a Bible-saturated, God-glorifying conscience, not the latest episode of Oprah or the View. Marriage is all about serving God, not finding meaning. Apart from God, and a magnetic attraction toward Heaven, everything in this life, including marriage, is inherently meaningless because it's all under a curse. God has punished man by denying fulfillment in vocation, children, marriage, leisure and any other category of life. And so the quest for fulfillment is a quest in futility.
As we examine the subject of marriage in the Bible, we are confronted with a deafening silence concerning self-fulfillment. That's just not one of God's front burner issues. When we see marriage in the Bible, we learn very little about the couples' personal lives - how they felt about their relationships. Could the lack of revelation concerning personal marital satisfaction be a clue to where it stands in God's list of priorities? Could a couple's love for God and their neighbors be more important to God than how well they relate to one another? Could marriage be designed more for the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ than the advancement of self-fulfillment? Hmmm.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The first great and primary business of every day is to be happy in God. I think this is true in terms of priority and chronology. In other words, when we first wake up, the first thing that should awaken in us is a happiness in God that sees us through the mundane and spontaneous events of the day. If we begin each day by not beginning until we're happy in God, the trials of the day won't seem as crushing, the temptations won't seem so appealing, and the triumphs won't seem so satisfying. The great dangers we must face every day are not all negative. It's not just the bad things that steal our hearts from God. The good things also keep us enthralled in an earthly mindset. So happiness in God is crucial to stabilize and focus our affections on heavenly things.
How do we get our minds as happy in God as we possibly can? One thing is for certain, we can't just expect to wake up happy in God. It's unlikely to naturally happen. Happiness in God must me nurtured, not just expected. And since we're pretty lazy and easily satisfied by nature, we may not take the necessary steps to attain such happiness. But we'll be much better off if we do. Muller stumbled on a way to get happy in God. "Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, as an habitual thing to give myself to prayer, after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord."
There was a time when Muller did what many Christians do, say their morning prayers. But he realized how ineffectual his prayers could be when his mind wasn't right. So he began reading and meditating on the Bible before all else, in order to bring himself into "experimental communion with the Lord." In other words, he would nurture a God-awareness in his heart that he could feel or sense. And the way he did this was through meditation on the Bible. And as he studied the Bible, something amazing happened to him. "The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon his precious word, was, to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation."
So as Muller read the Bible, he had one goal in mind. He was like Jacob wrestling with God. Muller wouldn't let go of the Bible until he got a blessing from it. He didn't just gaze over the text. He dug into it, demanding it open up to him and revive him. What was the result? The Word of God led him into prayer. Before long, he was intermingling his reading and his praying in a blessed union that resulted in "experimental communion with the Lord."
Is this kind of heavenly-minded meditation at the top of our "to do" list? Do we start our day in exercise? Not physical but spiritual? If we don't, we shouldn't be surprised when we find the day difficult to deal with. We shouldn't be shocked when our struggle to get through the here and now isn't met with comfort from on high. Communion with God is not for the lazy or half-hearted. God has promised we will find him when we seek him with our whole heart. That is what I see George Muller did. And God rewarded him with a happiness that transcended his circumstances and fueled a faith that still amazes people almost two hundred years later. He accomplished great things for the orphans of England with supernatural provision. The same promise is available to us if we come to God expecting the same blessings.
If you need a little jump start in your efforts to meditate on the Bible, maybe you could start with a great devotional on the book of Colossians called The Hope of Glory by Sam Storms. You can order it by clicking the link under recommended reading. He breaks down each verse into little bite-size pieces. Perhaps you could let Dr. Storms help you establish a new habit that will reward you with eternal benefits.
Monday, May 12, 2008
In the above verses, Jesus introduces a staggering ethic. Many husbands would congratulate themselves on how perfectly and deeply they love their wives. Many wives would feel good about the way they love their husbands and children. We might feel like we're being good Christians because we make so much of our family. Our bills are paid on time, we keep up a polite and respectful attitude in a finely structured household, our children have clean clothes and clean noses, the grass is cut and the garage is tidy, we eat our meals together around a table (unlike the busy heathen), we have family devotions, we go on date nights with our spouse to keep the romance alive, we obey the laws of the land, and we mind our own business. God must be pretty impressed with our stability. Or maybe not so much.
Could it be that what passes as respectable, responsible Christianity in our minds and across our culture is just plain old-fashioned love for ourselves? Jesus questions the benefit of loving those who love us back. We know there is a benefit from the one loving us back - a temporary one. But Jesus is asking ultimate questions here. What heavenly benefit is there for loving someone who loves us back? If even sinners who deny God and scorn the Gospel can muster up the capacity to love those who love them back, and be good to those who are good to them, and can loan to someone expecting to be paid back, then surely a Christian, with God's love flowing through them, can do better than that. And if they can't, they shouldn't expect a great reward to be awaiting them in Heaven.
I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another because texts like these show how idolatrous our comfortable little marriages can be. We who think our marriage is heaven on earth because we don't fight like other couples, and don't make messes like other couples, may be deluding ourselves. As Christians, our goal is not to make much of our spouse. Our goal is to join forces with our spouse as one flesh to make much of God by looking beyond each other to a lost and dying world all around us. Don't settle for the benefit of reciprocal affection - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - but rather, rise above such sinful, cowardly love to Christian love. Christian love flows to enemies, those not like us, that we don't want to associate with. Christian love does good to those who can't do good back. Christian love gives to those who can't repay.
Christian love comes from Christ. Those who know their Bible may think of Jesus' words in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." In this verse, it seems that Jesus thinks loving friends is virtuous. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Not if we consider that Jesus had no friends until he died for them. Everyone is born at enmity with God, not one loves him and seeks him. So Jesus practiced what he preached. He loved those who hated him, did good to those who cursed him, gave to those who took from him, and was merciful to those who did evil. That kind of love is so far beyond the love the world has for its own, that it is impossible to perform without the saving and sanctifying aid of the Holy Spirit. So I encourage all of us to examine our lives. What benefit are we getting from loving our spouse and our children? Naturally, we shouldn't stop doing it. But we should be looking beyond it, to those whom we consider unlovely and unlovable. Then we can expect a heavenly reward in addition to the old "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." I don't know about you, but I want more than a massaged back. I want fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God.