Building the church by building our families

weddingOn October 7, I published ten affirmations about marriage. Since then, we’ve been looking at the ten. Here’s the last:

Our church needs strong, healthy marriages.

Some people rankle at the idea that the church needs anything. Christ built and sustains the church. Does the church really need humans?

I understand that line of reasoning. I even agree with some of the sentiment. But I also know that God expects us to do our part to see help the church grow. (Ephesians 4:16) And a bit part of that is helping our families, our marriages, be strong.

There have been cultural shifts that have damaged marriage. The sexual revolution, from birth control pills to changing moral values, was in many ways an assault on the family. Marriage became optional. Divorce became acceptable. Children were seen as a hindrance to career and freedom. Sexual identity became a sea of confusion.

Some speak of restoring traditional values. I prefer to speak of restoring godly values. The church needs to focus on the home, building marriages and strengthening families. We need to enunciate our belief that families matter, that building a home is our highest priority. We need strong, healthy marriages.

Affirmation #10: Our church needs strong, healthy marriages.

Speaking words of grace to those who have divorced

weddingThe ninth of ten affirmations about marriage is this:
God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.

Yesterday we talked about recovering the first part of that statement, of proclaiming and living as a church the fact that divorce goes against what God wants. Today I want to reflect some on the second part of the statement: God loves divorced people.

It’s not easy to combat divorce without communicating some sort of assault on those who are divorced. We need to remember that those people have not removed themselves from the reach of God’s love. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin. Even a divorce that was carried out in a sinful manner can still be forgiven by God.

This isn’t the post where I look at all the ins and outs of divorce and remarriage. I may do that someday, but today isn’t that day. My point today is that even as we denounce divorce as being contrary to God’s will, we need to let divorced people know that God’s grace reaches them just as it reaches us. Whether they’ve been wronged or they have wronged another, God can heal that hurt and wash away all sin. Divorce need not define who they’ve been nor who they are going forward.

If we are going to stem the tide of divorce and speak with a prophetic voice to the generations to come, we will need the help of all Christians: single, married, divorced. We all need to affirm with one voice this two-faceted truth: God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.

So again, here’s affirmation #9: God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.

God hates divorce… but loves divorced people

weddingAt the beginning of the month, I presented ten affirmations about marriage in a sermon, then repeated them here. I’m looking at the different affirmations, one by one. The ninth statement was:
God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.

The church must present both of these concepts, teaching both vigorously. Hearing one without hearing the other leads us to dangerous extremes.

In an effort to show compassion toward those who have suffered through divorce, the church has run the risk of overly softening its stance on divorce. Divorce should be a rare exception, not an accepted alternative. We need to step up and say to younger generations: “We were wrong. We’ve made divorce seem normal. It’s not. God hates divorce.”

I learned a great life lesson once from some scraggly college kid whose name I don’t even know. I was 8 or 9 years old and was taking swimming lessons from the Red Cross. The day came for our swim test to pass from Advanced Beginners to Intermediate, and we each took our turn trying to do the different exercises on our way across the pool and back. Each person before me had tried and failed. One girl had made it to the other side and started back, but that was as far as she got. My turn came, and I started out, waiting to reach that moment when I too would admit failure. At one point, I felt the familiar burning sensation of water filling my nose, and I stopped and grabbed the side of the pool. This young man towered over me as I looked up from the water and screamed, “Why did you stop?” I gave him the obvious answer, “I got water in my nose.” And he then uttered the one word that I will never forget: “So?” That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to stop, I had merely chosen to stop. I learned that many times finishing something is merely about “stick-to-itness.” As you can probably guess, on my next try I was the first one in the group to pass the test. And, not surprisingly, several others in the class passed after that.

What does that have to do with marriage and divorce? I think we need to question our reasons and motives for giving up on a marriage. Are we giving up too quickly? Have we lost our “stick-to-itness”? We need to consider the impact our example has on others.

I was teaching a high school class about ten years ago. During one lesson, I got them to think about where they would be ten years from now. I’ll never forget the words of one boy who grew up in our church. “Wow, in ten years, I’ll probably be married. I may even be divorced by then.” We can’t have our young people thinking of divorce even before they are married.

Another effect concerns sexual purity. In another high school class, a visitor asked, “Why do people worry about waiting until they’re married when so many marriages end in divorce anyway?” When we teach an “escape clause” for marriage, we undermine the idea of being faithful for life to one person.

Do you remember the story of Aron Ralston? Aron Ralston loves the outdoors, hiking and trekking in the mountains. In 2003, he was hiking alone when a boulder fell and pinned him by the arm. For five days he waited for rescue. Then, facing dehydration and death, he took an incredible decision. He took a pocketknife and slowly amputated his own arm, freeing him and allowing him to hike out to safety.

What would it take to come to a decision like that? How desperate would you have to be to cut off a member of your own body? Would you turn to that solution quickly, or would you first explore every other possibility? Only when faced with death would a man do such a thing. So should be divorce. It is a desperate act, a self-mutiliation. It is the amputation of a part of our selves. We should resort to it only in extreme circumstances.

When you take a course in wilderness survival, they rarely teach you how to cut off your own arm. Why? Because it is assumed that you won’t ever reach that state of desperation. What if our teaching on divorce was similar? What if we could go back to a time when divorce was a rarity among us and not the norm?

Tomorrow I want to talk about the need to show compassion and love to those who have gone through divorce. But that compassion and love must be accompanied by a clear message: God hates divorce. Is there a time when divorce is okay? The answer is “NO.” It may be justifiable, it may be necessary, but it is never okay. God hates divorce, even in those rare instances where he permits it.

Affirmation #9: God hates divorce; God loves divorced people.

Breaking marriage vows offends God

motelMy schedule is a bit irregular these days, which distracts me from taking care of the blog. But I do want to finish my examination of the affirmations I made about marriage a couple of weeks ago. We’re up to number eight:

Failure to respect our marriage vows is an offense to God.

As I’ve said, we’ve lost the concept of what a vow really means. We stand and pledge allegiance to a flag without thinking of what it means to pledge. We take an oath in court without thinking about the God we are invoking. We take vows on our wedding day and lose sight of the seriousness of that act.

By including God in our marriage ceremony, we include him in the marriage itself. The promises made are made not only to one another, but to God. When we break those promises, we are disrespecting God.

God’s words from Malachi 2 are significant here:

“And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who hates and divorces, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2:13–16)

God is speaking directly about divorce, but notice what he says. God is a witness to the covenant made. Because of this “faithlessness” is offensive to him. Being faithless not only disrupts the relationship between man and woman, but also between the offender and God.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4)

Our 8th affirmation: Failure to respect our marriage vows is an offense to God.

Christian marriage is between a man and a woman

bride and groomI’m looking at the affirmations I made about marriage in a sermon last week. I’m up to the seventh affirmation:

Gay marriage is not Christian marriage.

I’ve already discussed this a bit in the comment section of an earlier post. I think that Jesus shows us what marriage is in Matthew 19. There he says that in the beginning, God created two genders, and marriage occurs when those two genders come together.

Let’s be clear. The driving force behind the move to legalize gay marriage in the Western world is not about being right with God. It’s about property and civil rights. That’s one reason I think we need to clear that civil marriage and Christian marriage are not the same thing. If judges and politicians decide to amplify the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions, that doesn’t change what Christian marriage is.

Homosexual marriage existed in the first century. The Greco-Roman world knew of such unions. It’s not a modern invention. (It’s interesting that the Wikipedia article on the history of same-sex unions says: “These same-sex unions continued until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.”) Yet the Bible is consistent in excluding homosexuality from the definition of a holy life and using heterosexual terms to speak of marriage.

Our society is changing, and our laws will surely change. But none of that will change what the Bible has said.

Affirmation #7: Gay marriage is not Christian marriage.