Friday, October 5, 2018

The Elusiveness of Joy

Joy: is there a more beautiful word in the English language? Is there a more allusive quality in human experience?

Joy is rooted or related, in some degree, to contentment. And, for most of us, contentment is difficult. 
We want. We desire. We feel empty, incomplete, and unsatisfied. And, so, we find discontentment rather easily, while joyful contentment remains elusive.

For much of the past six months, I have had a project. I wanted to complete a collection that I have been working to amass over the past 25 years. I wanted the complete recordings of The Beatles on compact disc. Not a noble pursuit, to be certain, but a desire that has been with me for a long, long time. And in my wanting, I flew caution to the wind and went on a buying spree.

Now, fortunately the costs of compact discs these days have greatly depreciated in the midst of the cloud-based digital media craze, so my buying spree didn’t break the my bank. But, in my haste (rather, discontent with what I already had) to complete my collection, I got reckless and purchased the same CD three times. Yes, I now possess three copies of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour album. My craven, ill-contented mind became forgetful. I was buying what I already had.

Obviously, this situation is not earth-shattering or life-crippling, but I am afraid it shows something of my character. I struggle with the joy that is contentment, and it is a struggle that has significantly affected me. I am impulsive about many things, and I am convinced that dissatisfaction is the culprit.

I’m ever looking for the greener grass. I’ve done so with things: desiring to acquire more and more stuff because of the perception that these things would add some fullness to my life. I’ve done so professionally: growing dissatisfied with what I am currently doing and desiring new works. But, now that I’m on the cusp of having lived fifty years, I think I’m beginning to see the folly of looking for the greener grass. In reality, that search is the pursuit of what I already have.

Contentment is recognition. Contentment is gratitude. Contentment is perception and perspective. Contentment is the refusal to buy the lie that has been told since Eden. That lie? It is simply: more is better.

Adam and Eve lived in a place of abundance. They had all they needed. Yet, the tempter sold them the lie, more is better. And like the couple of Aesop’s fable who killed the golden goose, they lost all in their pursuit of more.

The elusiveness of joy comes from greed . . . and a large dose of forgetfulness. We forget what we already have. We forget that green grass is growing at our feet. We forget the graces that we have already be shown.

Interestingly, the word “joy” in Scripture comes from the Greek “chara,” which is related to “charis,” or “grace.” Thus, joy is a gift. Or, perhaps better stated, joy is the realization that we have been shown grace. In other words, we are blessed. Our joy is not the product of more. It is not the product of new. It is not the product of better. No, our joy is rooted in grace . . . God’s grace.

Take a look around you. Don’t inventory what you don’t have. Take stock of what you do have. Be grateful. Be joyful. Be contented. Don’t seek to buy what you already have. The grass is rarely greener.

When the third Magical Mystery Tour CD came to me in the mail, my first thought was to return it to Amazon, but then I decided to keep it as a reminder of my folly. I need these reminders.

Joy is a work in progress. It is never a constant state. Fortunately, I think that Jesus offered us a tip for keeping joy alive when he prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Matter of Convenience?

Would I have followed? Would I have allowed my day to be interrupted in such a life-altering way? Would I have given even an hour of my time?

The setting was the shore of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee), and it was the morning following an evening of intense but fruitless labor. Simon and his partners were wrapping up their disappointing night of work to head home,  empty . . . without the catch that fed their families.

You would have to think that they were tired, frustrated, and perhaps worried about the welfare of their families in the face of a night of failure. You would have to think that these men longed to leave the shore far behind and return to the comforts and security of their homes. You’d have to think that Simon and his friends were now ready to do what most do at the end of long and frustrating days. Was the local “Cheers” to be their next stop? Did the barcalounger beckon? Was there a tee time to meet? Was the Harley ready to be fired up?

But then he came. Jesus came. And scores of people were in his wake. And he needed a platform . . . a boat, to be used as a speaker’s dais, from which he could be removed from the crowd, but heard and seen by all.

We don’t know the thoughts of Simon, at this point. Perhaps he was glad for the diversion from the failure of his night’s work. Perhaps he was eager to put the nets down and hear from the man who had recently healed his mother-in-law. Perhaps, though, his thoughts were a lot like our own when our time is co-opted by something that takes us off task, or away from the rest we desperately crave.

Would I have opted to sit through a sermon after enduring a long and disappointing night of labor? I wonder. And what of you?

The attendance in our Sunday church services might give us a clue about our behavior in that moment. Perhaps we’re talking apples and oranges, but I see to many people who are quick to spurn a gathering of the church for may other things. And those absences are with a good night’s rest enjoyed beforehand. Simon and his partners opted to hear Jesus after their long night of labor. His words became their priority and not their plans for rest. The schedule for their day became quickly altered when Jesus showed up.

Am I overly cynical to say that we have made our faith too often a matter of convenience? Am I too judging to say that we have relegated meeting with our church family to the bottom of our list of priorities? As long as it doesn’t interfere with our work, our fun, and our rest, we will be there. Is this how we do things?

Simon dropped his nets three times in Luke 5.1-11. Once, when Jesus began to speak, he dropped the nets he was mending and listened to the word of God. Then, he dropped his nets again, at the insistence of Jesus; and, following a fruitless night of labor, he brought in a great catch. And third, he dropped his nets to follow Jesus, to give his all, to follow without reservation . . . to give his life to the One who would give His life for all.

Would I have done the same? Have I done the same? Am I partner of Simon in the faith and devotion he showed to Jesus?

It is a question of priorities. What is most important to me? What is most important to you? What you give your time to is an indication. What you give your resources to is an indication. What you prioritize clearly shows who you are and whose you are.

Would you have stayed to listen to Jesus after a long and fruitless night of labor?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

McDonald's, Dairy Queen or Bob's Burgers?

What was the evangelistic mission of the church as it had its beginning in Jerusalem? What was the intent for its growth?

The charter, of course, for the church is the commission of Jesus to the eleven apostles who gathered with Jesus in Galilee following His resurrection. He charged them, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28.19-20). And, so, those men and others began to preach, and converts were won, and local gatherings of believers came into being. And before long, the church wasn’t located only in Jerusalem and Judea, but had spread to Galilee and Samaria, and soon to Syria, Asia, Africa, Greece, Italy, and beyond.

What was the intent as these churches came to be? Were these churches to be exact replications of the original church that met at Jerusalem? Were they to be clones of the mother church, keeping all forms and methods in place? Or, was it expected that as the church came to new towns and countries and cultures that forms and methods would be adapted to these new places and peoples?

I find it helpful as I ruminate on these questions to consider the business models adapted by three American food establishments: McDonald's, Dairy Queen, and Bob's Burgers.

First, the business model employed by McDonald’s is one of replication. The history of the creation of McDonald’s is fascinating and much more detailed than this short article can retell, but it involves brothers Richard McDonald and Maurice McDonald, who over a period of 15 years customized and streamlined the business of selling hamburgers into an operation that was the height of efficiency and profitability. Their success caught the attention of Ray Kroc, an Illinois-based salesman of restaurant equipment. Kroc eventually convinced the McDonald brothers to aggressively franchise their operation nationally. Kroc led this effort (eventually ending up with control and ownership of the company).

McDonald’s franchisees were bound to strict policies which governed everything from the architecture and d├ęcor of each restaurant, menus, staffing, and service. The governing concept was that every McDonald’s restaurant was a mirror of the original. Variance was not permitted. That was the business model, and it helped build McDonald’s into the largest restaurant chain in the world. (Although, today, the McDonald’s business philosophy has changed somewhat, and franchisees are given some leeway on matters that used to be non-negotiable.)

Dairy Queen had a different beginning and history than McDonald’s. The first Dairy Queen was opened in Joliet, Illinois by Sherb Noble in 1940. Its core business was soft serve ice cream, which had been developed in 1938, by business partners of Noble. The DQ concept was soon franchised, but franchisees were given a lot of leeway in the establishment and operation of their restaurants. The core business of soft-serve ice cream connected the franchises, but everything else was left to the customization of the franchisees. Frequent a DQ located in Texas, and your menu options will be somewhat different than a visit to a DQ in Minnesota, and the look of the place will be different, and methods of service will be different, but the soft-serve ice cream will be the same.

Bob’s Burgers is not a national entity. There are many restaurant establishments that are named Bob’s Burgers, and at least two regional chains bear the moniker (and, by the way, Bob’s Burgers is the title of a Fox TV animated series). The name Bob’s Burgers suggests the common business of selling hamburgers, but a Bob’s Burgers chain based in Louisville, Kentucky boasts tacos and burritos as its core business. Bob's Burgers are varied. There is no governing concept directing the business of local and regional owners.

So, is the church to be more like McDonald's, Dairy Queen, or Bob's Burgers? What was the original intent or evangelistic mission of the church? Was the intention replication? Were Christian missionaries to go out and win converts and plant churches, replicating the forms and methods of the Jerusalem church in every detail? Or, was the plan to win converts and plant churches who shared a common faith, but were given some freedoms to express and live that faith in community? Or, was there no plan or central concept? In other words, did the expansion of the church just happen, sporadically, organically, and without direction or intent?

Perhaps the very nature of the New Testament can lead us to an answer. Is there a manual for how to do church in the New Testament? In other words, is there a "How To Guide" for the structure and operation of the church in the New Testament?

You may quickly answer, "The New Testament itself is the guide." And, yes, in a sense, it is, but it is not a guide that provides much in the way of direct details. We have the Gospels, which offer narratives of Jesus' life on earth and his teachings, which concern themselves primarily with the subject of discipleship. The church, as an entity, is rarely mentioned by Jesus, and he certainly does not give details about what is to be the institutional structure of the church or of its routine methodology. The Book of Acts is helpful as a partial historical record of the early church, but its pages are much more concerned with the personalities of Peter, Paul, and others and with the core gospel itself than they are with providing a detailed look at the organization and operation of the church. The letters of Paul and other evangelists are largely reactionary in nature. They are written responses to issues of the day. And, certainly, from these responses we are able to see something of the nature and practice of the church, but the letters are not exhaustive in this regard--there are many holes (matters left to our discerning imagination?).

It seems to me that if replication were the original goal for the church that there would be a rather detailed manual for how to do church in the New Testament. In the context of the church assembling, Paul says that "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14.33 NIV), Would the God of peace (or order) leave it to his people to seek out and find details about the church in a process similar to finding needles in a haystack and in a process often subjugated to the educational and cultural biases of those who seek? In other words, wouldn't an objective standard for the church be clearly communicated by the God of order if the replication of that standard were the goal?

It seems to me that the intent of the New Testament is to articulate the identity and work of Jesus and the need for salvation on the part of humanity. The New Testament clearly shows how a person is delivered from condemnation of sin by the sacrifice of Jesus and clearly shows how the saved are brought together by God into community. But that community is not a static institution with a rigid set of policies and rules governing its operation. The church is an organism, not an institution. It is a community, a people, a family, and like any living thing it is conditioned by its environment. I'm not saying that it is subjugated to the whims of people, but the church adapts to its surroundings of time and place. Like Dairy Queen, the core business is static--the Gospel of Jesus Christ is formative and operative, but the forms and methods are fluid.

Before you protest my point, ask yourself, is the congregation of which you are a part a replication of the church at Jerusalem in circa A.D. 33? I don't think that I have ever encountered a congregation that mirrors Acts 2.42-47. In spirit, I've found many that do, but in practice I have found none. If replication is the goal, we have failed, right down to the name we pridefully post on our buildings.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Jesus, the Son of Joba?

Two distinct genealogies of Jesus are given in the Gospels. Matthew 1.1-17 provides a family tree of Jesus that shows his human heritage from Abraham to Joseph over 42 generations (counting Jesus, himself). Luke 3.23-38 provides another genealogy tracing the heritage of Jesus back through the ages, from Joseph to Adam, and ultimately to God. What are the purposes of these ancestral listings (in Hebrew, toledot)? And how can the differences between the lists of Matthew and Luke be explained and reconciled?
A satisfactory answer to the second question is allusive. The differences between the lists is profound. Most obviously, the orientation of the lists is different, as described in my opening paragraph. As glaring as the difference in orientation are the names of the ancestors themselves. Matthew provides the names of 26 ancestors of Jesus from David to Joseph, whereas Luke lists 42 names in the same time frame, and only four names from this time period appear on both Matthew’s and Luke’s lists (David, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel or Salathiel, and Joseph).
How can these significant variances be explained? A common explanation, argued since at least the time of Ambrose in the 4th Century, is that Matthew provides us with the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, whereas Luke provides the heritage of Mary. Three objections counter this argument: Luke does not name Mary in the family tree that he provides, only Joseph; of the time period of Luke’s writing it would go against every known convention to delineate a heritage through one’s mother (although, it is recognized that Mary is no ordinary mother); and, perhaps most convincing to me, is that Luke seems to emphasize that Mary is of the tribe of Levi and not of Judah. The reference to Elizabeth being a Levite of the house of Aaron is not a passing comment (Luke 1.5; cf. 1.36).
Another explanation for the differences between Matthew and Luke is intriguing and would fit with the larger theme found in Luke’s Gospel of Jesus being a champion for the disenfranchised of society. This explanation theorizes that Matthew lists the royal lineage of David, using kingly names, whereas Luke either gives the familial names of these ancestors, or traces a lineage of Jesus through ordinary men (and not kings) while making the vital connection that Jesus was a descendant of David and Zerubbabel (in whom the kingly line of David was preserved following the Babylonian exile). Thus, in this thinking, the differences in names are not discrepancies but representations of the different purposes held by Matthew and Luke as they outline the heritage of Jesus. (To add detail to this argument: Luke preserves the true heritage of Jesus, mostly through ordinary men who were descendants of David but not necessarily kings in their own right, while Matthew is merely providing the line of Davidic kings and chief heirs down to Joseph, and then Jesus, while in actuality the ancestry of Jesus may have bypassed many of the men listed by Matthew.)
As I said before, a satisfactory way to reconcile the divergent lists of Matthew and Luke is allusive to us, but I think the purposes for the lists are clear.
One, Matthew presents his list with an intriguing symmetry of three divisions of 14 generations, giving 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus. In Jewish thinking, numbers were often meaningful. Three fourteens (or six sevens) “bring” Jesus to the head of a seventh seven, which can be understood as the church.
Two, Matthew includes five women in his ancestry of Jesus, including Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba), and Mary. Each woman presents a certain amount of scandal and intrigue to the heritage of Jesus and highlights the providential nature of the coming of Jesus into the world and serves to connect Jesus’ awkward heritage with our own strange family histories (and even stranger relatives!).
Three, as I stated before, Luke is emphasizing the commonness of Jesus’ heritage, while maintaining his royal (Davidic) bloodline. There are a lot of “no names” in Luke’s listing of Jesus’ ancestors.
Four, both Luke and Matthew name Joseph as being the father of Jesus. And as the reader of the Gospel accounts, we also know that Jesus was born of Mary through a conception that was of God. Joseph was not involved in the conception of Jesus, but Matthew and Luke both name him as the human father. Perhaps I overstep by saying this: if we were able to do genetic testing on Jesus, I believe that he would have the DNA of Mary and Joseph. I think that Luke and Matthew clearly assert this in their ancestries of Jesus. And that is one of the wonders of Incarnation: by the power of God, Jesus was the son of Joseph, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of Adam . . . (and, yes, the son of Joda, and of many other forgotten men) . . . And, yes, especially, he was the Son of God!
Do you see other purposes in the ancestral lists of Matthew and Luke? Share them with me.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Raising the Son of God?

What were they thinking?

I’m referring to Joseph and Mary as they watched over the baby Jesus in those first hours after the birth of the child that was now theirs, but so much more. What were they thinking about their child? What did they expect would happen next? Did the thought of raising the Son of God intimidate them?

Think about it: How do you go about raising the child that is the Son of God? How do you nurture God in the flesh? How do you teach him? How do you discipline him? How do you parent the Son of God? Would there be house rules? Would there be chores? Would there be a curfew?

As you know, the Gospel accounts tell us very little about the emotional makeup of Joseph and Mary in those hours and days and years following the birth of Jesus. The birth, itself, is stated rather matter-of-factly by Matthew and Luke, with the latter elaborating a bit by saying that Mary took the child and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Luke also says something about Mary “treasuring up these things” (Luke 2.19), referring to her observation of the shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus. She has the same mentality a while later when she observes Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve and marvels at what she has seen. Beyond this limited insight, the Gospels leave the feelings (and intimate and internal questioning) of Joseph and Mary to our imaginations.

And that analysis speaks to the beauty of Biblical narrative. The Bible is predominantly narrative. As much as 65% of the Biblical text is in the form of narrative . . . story. God has spoken to us in story.

Why? Is that the most efficient means of transferring information? Is it the best way of instructing and commanding? Wouldn’t a bulleted-listing of what’s expected been much easier to communicate and for us to digest?

Perhaps so, if the existence of humanity were merely about obeying the Creator. But our life is about so much more. It is about relationship. And relationships are built on much more than rules and procedures. They are founded and nurtured on emotions, experiences, longings, and needs that go far deeper than words on a page.

Narrative speaks to the heart of a person with much deeper resonance than a bulleted list. Stories capture moments of life and invite participation. As we read of Joseph and Mary welcoming the baby Jesus into their lives and into our world, we naturally know something of the feelings they must have had and thoughts and questions come to our minds that surely were apart of their thinking because they have been true of the human experience since Adam and Eve started us off so many millennia ago.

But Bible stories do so much more than tug at our emotions and spark our imaginations, they teach us. They show us in vivid colors the wisdom and folly of human experiences as people succeeded or failed in their actions. The narratives of the Bible demonstrate living to us in both the fortunate and unfortunate. The stories of Scripture give the black-and-white commands of God the vibrancy of color that resonates with meaning and understanding in our minds. Stories help us see with deepened clarity what it is to seek God in our lives.

Let us always cherish the stories of the Bible.

Simply Jesus

Simply Jesus.

The Gospel of John tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (John 1.18 NIV).

To many, having a right relationship with God means observing all the rules of religion—worshiping right, speaking right, and living right. And yes, obedience to God is vitally important for us, but haven’t we missed the point when we reduce religion to what we do?

Very simply, it is Jesus who should be the focus of our attention.

Jesus came to earth to show us God . . . and to show us what it means to please God. This truth was loudly proclaimed on the mountain of transfiguration, where Jesus stood before the inner circle of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, and had the vestiges of His humanity pulled aside so that those men (and, though centuries removed, ourselves) could see His divinity. As they beheld His glorious form, a voice, the voice of the Father above, declared, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him” (Luke 9.35 NIV).

The Father’s words are instructive and they are commissioning. Jesus didn’t come to earth simply to die and be raised . . . He came to LIVE. And He left so much for us to observe and model in His living. His words of grace, His actions of love, His faith to the Father are all shown to us not as an ideal impossible to attain, but as a pattern to honor and desire.

Simply Jesus. We can’t go wrong with this intent. We can’t err with this method of seeking God’s favor. Very simply, let us do as Mary once did and sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words of grace, watching His actions of love, and being inspired by His faith to the Father. And let us not merely sit, but let us do. Simply Jesus: a motto for life.

In the Dark Night of the Soul

It is said that in terms of its economic impact, depression, in its many forms, is the second most debilitating health condition in America today.  Its societal impact may be even greater considering the great stress it can put on families.  However, depression is not an illness that cannot be treated or overcome.  Medicines, counseling, dietary concerns, and other measures are all helpful tools when combating depression.  Yet, is there an aspect of depression that is a blessing?

Consider the observation of H. Mark Abbott, who speaks about depression in a sermon entitled, “Surviving Depression.”  he says, much of America “is preoccupied with therapy, with offering cures for whatever ails, including depression.  But could it be that, instead of searching for cures for everything that ails us we ought to be listening for God’s voice in all the experiences of life, even in depression?  Maybe there are some things we learn, some growth possible only through those low, dark times.”

He continues, ‘A sixteenth century monk we know as John of the Cross originated the phrase ‘the dark night of the soul.’  he described God’s work in us not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness.  John of the Cross taught that night and darkness may be the friends, not the enemies of faith.  He taught that God may lead us into a night in which our senses, that is, our usual ways of feeling and experiencing life, are emptied.  Thus, we have no feeling of God’s presence.

“John of the Cross described this ‘dark night’ as a time when those persons lose all the pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life.  And there may follow a deep darkness of purifying and waiting.  But that darkness ultimately leads to a dawn in which the vision of God is deepened and enriched.”

In his sermon, Abbott argues that depression may actually be “a signal of something in our lives to which we need to pay attention.”  Perhaps an issue related to our health needs our attention: our eating and sleeping habits, our hormones, or other physical concerns.  Perhaps some deep-seeded feeling or grief or guilt or inadequacy needs to be addressed.  Perhaps it is a serious spiritual concern: a drifting away from God, or God using the time of dryness to re-orientate our lives or to give us a new commission and calling in life.

Abbott includes a quote from Elizabeth Sherrill, a woman who has struggled with depression intermittently in her life.  She says, “A crisis, when it shows us our need for help, can be good news.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

There Seems To Be A Lot Of Shouting These Days

There seems to be a lot of shouting these days.  I am not speaking of the arena of politics, nor am I speaking of the cultural clashes or the roar of thousands gathered to see a sporting contest.  Sadly, I am speaking of conflict within the church.

Throughout our land, churches are best with turmoil and division.  Factions of Christians have lined up against one another.  You have heard the labels, they sound as if they are names for sports teams or political parties: Liberal, Conservative, Progressive, Legalistic.  Voices are raised, tempers flare, feelings are hurts, and brothers are divided.

“You’re violating my conscience,” shouts one.  “You are weak in your understanding,” responds another.  “You’re seeking to destroy the church,” one levels.  “You’re just holding us back with your stubbornness,” chastises another.  “It’s my way or no way,” argues yet another.

The fighting seems to make a mockery of Jesus’ words, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13.35).  The shouting seems to dismiss the prayer of our Lord: “I ask . . . That they may be one” (Jn. 17.20-21).

It is human nature to defend what seems to be right and to promote that which is personally beneficial or comfortable.  However, our identity as Christians and as joint heirs of the eternal blessings of God demands that we defer to one another in love.  Paul’s words are clear: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body” (Col. 3.12-15).

In this spirit, may each of us defer to one another in love.  May our shouts be reduced to civility.  May our separate agendas be replaced with the unified agenda of proclaiming God’s eternal love to a lost and dying world.  We can get along, we can be one, and we can impact our world with the Gospel of Christ, but we must begin by humbling ourselves.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Staying the Course

taying the course is not always easy.

The Gospel writer describes the resoluteness of Jesus as he set out for Jerusalem, despite knowing the tragedy that would occur there.  In Luke 9.51, the description is given, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  A rather matter-of-fact statement.  A statement that subtly underscores the determination with which Christ set out on the path that would lead to his death.

The statement should remind one of the words Isaiah spoke about the one called the “Lord’s Servant.”  This servant is the Messiah, the one God would send as deliverer and redeemer.

The Lord’s Servant speaks of the difficult and trying times he would face, of the opposition that would be pitted against him, and he concludes in Isaiah 50.7, “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”

The Lord’s Servant affirms that God will be with him during his time of trial and that he will overcome, with God’s help, the opposition he will face.  The Servant is able to declare, “I have set my face like flint,” a statement declaring his resolve to be faithful to the task given him by God.

Jesus, writes Luke, “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  He would go to the place of the cross with the same spirit of resolve exhibited by God’s Servant.

Do we share in Jesus’ resolve as we follow in his steps and obey the will of our Father?  So many distractions vie for our gaze; it is so difficult, at times, to concentrate on the task at hand . . . faithful service to God.

Let us refocus and become more resolute as we follow the steps of our Savior and Lord.  Our God will surely provide us with the strength we need.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Trouble Was, He Never One a Battle

General George S. McClellan was a smart general. Trouble was, he never won a battle.

McClellan graduated first in his class at West Point. His intellect was better than most. As the Civil War erupted, President Abraham Lincoln called on McClellan to be commander of the Union Army of Northern Virginia, the main fighting force arrayed against the armies of the Confederacy.

In every respect, McClellan's force was superior to that of his Confederate counterpart. He had General Robert E. Lee out-manned, out-gunned, out-resourced, and out-trained. Unfortunately, McClellan lacked the initiative and daring of Lee and the Confederate Army.

McClellan was timid. Before he sent his troops into battle he wanted every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed. He spent hour after hour drilling his troops and scouting out the enemy, waiting for the perfect momen to strike. As noble as his efforts were, they were all for naught. McClellan's army never won a battle against its adversary.

Timidiy can cripple the strongest man in the world and make him susceptible to the smallest of foes. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in an attitude of complacency (if not downright satisfaction) expressed toward dwindling numbers. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in a desire to focus on the home-front while the mission field is neglected. Timidity on the part of churches has resulted in the abandonment of the number one rule of church growth: "Plant the seed, and God will provide the growth." Timidity on the part of churches has resulted on congregations that have little or no standing in the community and that have virtually no reputation for doing good. Timidity on the part of churches finds fulfillment in the status quo.

Boldness (notice, I did not say brashness) . . . boldness is a product of faith. It is confidence in God's eternal presence and provision of his people. Let us boldly be the people of God in this world. Let us not be intimidated by any task. Let us not doubt any outcome. Let us boldly put to use our abilities, resources, and opportunities. Let us not give the initiative to our Enemy, for timidity has never led one to victory, but is all-to-often the path to defeat.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Naming of God in the Story of Noah

An intriguing feature of the story of Noah and the Great Flood, one that almost goes unnoticed, is the naming of God in the story.  God has two names in the story of the Flood.  These two names give added meaning to the story; indeed I don’t know if the story can be fully appreciated without the knowledge that in it God is given two names.

For much of the story, God is referred to by the name Elohim.  The name, in English, is simply, “God.”  Elohim is a rather generic name for God.  It is the most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible.  Elohim emphasizes the majesty and transcendence of God above all creation and over all other gods.  The name can even be translated “God of gods” or “All gods in One,” for that is the concept inherent in the name.

In certain scenes of the Flood narrative, though, God is called by the name YahwehYahweh (or, Jehovah), in English, is “Lord,” or “Lord God”  (The term “Lord God” is Yahweh Elohim).  Yahweh is the most personal name for God in the Old Testament.  Yahweh was the name given by God to Moses at the sigh of the burning bush in Exodus 3, on the occasion of God calling Moses to return to Egypt and free his people from bondage.  Yahweh is God’s covenant name, the name of God that stresses his great love for and interest in the well-being of man.  Yahweh is a very intimate name; it is the name God cautioned the Jews to not misuse in the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”  (Although, the Jews misapplied the meaning of this command; they went as far as condemning the public usage of the name and even its mere utterance and writing.)

In the Flood narrative, the name Yahweh is used strategically and purposefully.  It is used in three specific scenes, along with an isolated fourth reference.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 6.5-8, the scene where God’s sorrow over the sinfulness of the world is expressed.  It is here, in this paragraph, where God’s intent to judge the world is made known and where Noah’s finding favor in the sight of the Lord is reported.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 7.1-5, the scene where God commands Noah to enter the ark, taking with him seven pairs of every clean animal and one pair of every unclean animal.  God tells him (in more detail than before) of what is going to transpire; namely, the world will be destroyed by flood and only those onboard the ark will survive.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 7.16, in the statement, “And the Lord shut them in,” describing God’s action of closing the door on the ark.

Yahweh is used in Genesis 8.20-22, the scene where Noah, having just left the ark, offers sacrifices to God.  God’s favorable response to the sacrifices is noted.

In each of these scene, God is shown acting in a personal manner; in other words, he is shown having human qualities and behaviors.  In Gen. 6.5-8 and 7.1-5, God sees.  What he sees, causes him sorrow (he has emotions).  In 7.16, he shuts the door of the ark (an action).  In 8.20-22, he smells the offering made by Noah, and he is pleased (again, and action and emotion).  In these passages, God is shown acting in a personal manner: he senses, he has emotions, and he acts.

What is the effect of this composite portrayal of God?  He is real.  God is a participant in the story—an active participant.  He is not a distant deity destroying the world on a whim.  He is an involved God fully conscious of what he is doing.

In his alternating between Elohim and Yahweh, the inspired author is teaching us that God takes an active interest in the affairs of man.

Remember, Elohim is a name for God that emphasizes his greatness, his transcendence above all else.  It is an important name, a name we should know and respect, but it is a name, when used by itself, which gives us an incomplete picture of God.

It is easy to see God as aloof, distant, above everything.  Many see God as all-consumed in himself, we cannot rise to his level, he cannot stoop to ours, so there is this wide gulf between God and man.
In the Flood story, it is easy to see God in this light.  A perfect God destroying a far-less-than-perfect world.  The act could be seen as being doing by a God who could care less.  He can always start over and make a more perfect world.

But, no, God has a vested interest in his creation.  He has an infatuation (wholesome, mind you) with his creation, namely mankind.  This vested interest is made manifest in the name, Yahweh.

The story of the Flood is not merely about a transcendent God doing what he has the power to do—that is, to destroy what stands opposed to him.  The story of the Flood is a about a transcendent God who cares deeply and eternally for his creation, no matter to what extreme they have gone to hurt him and from whom they have distanced themselves.

In the story of the Flood, God is not looking to destroy man, but to have fellowship with him.  Punishment is due (and deserved), but restoration is offered.  God delivers humanity by taking Noah and his family and delivering them from the Flood.  Indeed it really is more a story about Noah (man) than a story about a Great Flood.

Believe it or not, I received a lot of spankings as a child.  My dad could give a good spanking.  He wore a wide heavy belt; it stung; it got the message across (I was just a slow learner).  But, I remember that every spanking was followed by a hug.  Why a hug?  It was my fathers’ way of reaffirming his love for me.  My behavior demanded punishment, but that did not mean he had stopped loving me.  I remained his son, he remained my father, and the hug reinforced these truths.
Just as a father hugs his son after disciplining him, the alternating names used in the story of Noah affirm God’s eternal love for mankind.  He is Elohim, and his greatness demands our respect and reverence—he remains King and Judge.  He is Yahweh, and his love for us is everlasting—he wants to be our Father.
Jeff Foster

Churches Must Be Places of Healing

Each time I read the Gospel of Luke, I am impressed with the responsiveness of “sinners” to Jesus.  This responsiveness and the ease and care with which Jesus reacts provides insight into how churches can and must grow.

One scene from the Third Gospel stands out more than any other.  The story is told in Luke 7.36-50 of Jesus being entertained in the home of Simon, a Pharisee.  During the meal a woman enters the house and comes to Jesus.  “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair” (v. 38).  The action of this woman repulses the host, because this woman was “a sinner” (32), a woman of the streets, a prostitute.

The exchange that follows between Simon and Jesus is instructive.  Jesus condemns the man’s prejudice, and commends the woman’s contriteness.  He concludes, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (47).

This episode illustrates an important truth about the Gospel and provides insight into how church growth should be viewed.  This woman, convicted of her sins (at the very least, moved to find healing and wholeness) comes to Jesus.  She views Jesus as one who could help her, one who would be compassionate, one who would not drive her out into the streets again, one who would not condemn and exclude.  Perhaps she had witnesses his interaction with others.  Perhaps she had heard of his gentleness from those he had met.  And, as she came, she found the one she sought: the Lord, who, with gentleness not scorn, responded mercifully and decisively.

What is the challenge for the church?  What is the pattern given for church growth?  Are we viewed by the broader society and community as an “institution” (I do not like the word, but it fits) where the “sinner” can come and find the answers for which they are searching?  In other words, does the person on the street view the church as a people where he could and should be a part?  Does he see us as a gentle and merciful people and not as scornful and harsh?

Yet another way to ask the question: are we “pricking people’s hearts” with the Gospel (see Acts 2.37), or are we shaming them with our self-righteous smugness?

Zacchaeus sought out Jesus.  Jesus did not reject Peter when the fisherman said, “Lord, I am a sinner.”  He touched the leper.  He ate in the home of Levi.  He told the story of the Samaritan.  He condemned the old brother of the prodigal.  He blessed the centurion with the healing of his servant.  He restored Legion to renewed health and mind.
I am afraid that most churches today are viewed by the broader society and culture as peoples and places of exclusion and condemnation.  We are not seeker-friendly.  A poverty of spirit (Lk. 6.20) is needed in our churches.  We should look and feel more like hospitals than country clubs.

The mission of Christ needs to serve as our inspiration.  At Nazareth, he declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4.18-19).  To those who criticized his fraternizing with Levi, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5.31-32).  To Zacchaeus, he said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (19.10).  And, in the context of his lost but found parables, he explains, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (15.7)

When churches are viewed as a people of acceptance and as places of healing, phenomenal growth can and will take place.  It is an evaluation, however, that is not produced passively.  In other words, merely leaving the door open does not answer the challenge.  We must be present and visible in the broader community.  Our lack of conformity does not demand isolation.  (After all, salt must be tasted and light must shine.)  We must be present in the world, upholding what is good, opposing what is not (see Ephesians 5.11), and aiming to draw people to us and not driving them away.

A humility of spirit, all-encompassing faith, and a deep, genuine compassion for all persons are the fundamental building blocks needed in the construction of churches.  The eyes of Jesus were cast on the hurting and those in need; our gaze must be directed in the same way.  We must understand that we are all digging our way out of the same pit (rather, we are all being rescued out of the same pit!).

This is why our buildings need windows!  What message do we send when our gaze cannot be cast beyond bricks and mortar?  What message do we send when we cannot present ourselves transparently before the world?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What God Has Brought Together . . .

Since the middle of October I have been preaching through Jesus' Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This morning, our study brought us to Matthew 5.31-32, Jesus' statement on divorce and remarriage. I have been somewhat apprehensive about approaching this text, because of the trajectory my life has taken over the past 5 years. I did put a sermon together and preached it this morning. I humbly submit it to you, here, in written form. I pray that you will find these words a blessing. I would enjoy your comments and the wisdom you bring to this hard subject.

Did you read the Sermon On the Mount this week? This morning, we continue our study of this important part of the Bible. We come to a very difficult subject and one that is deeply personal to many of us here in this room.

But, first a little lightheartedness: A man visits a lawyer to seek a divorce. The lawyer asked, “Do you have any Grounds?” The man replied: “About three acres.” The lawyer tried again, “No, I mean do you have a Grudge?” The man answered, “No, but we have a carport.” The lawyer made one last effort: “Are you really sure you want a divorce?” The client replied, “No, I don’t, but my wife does. She says we can’t communicate!”

That’s about as humorous as the subject before us this morning gets.

DIVORCE. A scary word. A word that we’d rather not hear. A word that represents much pain and heartache, distress . . . even shame. Everyone of us here today has been affected by the sorrow of failed marriages. I have experienced divorce firsthand . . . my first marriage failed . . . many of you have walked in those same shoes . . . some of you have had children that have suffered divorce . . . some of you have experienced the divorce of your parents.

In 1999, thirteen years ago!, a study showed that 25% of adults in the United States have had a marriage end in divorce . . . one out of four adults in this country! Did you know that among those who call themselves “born-again” Christians the percentage of divorced adults is 27% . . . two percentage points HIGHER than the public at large.

Divorce is not merely “of the world” . . . it’s in the church, as well . . . indeed I would say that at least a third of the adults in this room today have been divorced, including myself.

So, what does Jesus teach about divorce? He addresses the subject in the Sermon On the Mount.

In Matthew 5.31-32, Jesus says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’ But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Do you see the pattern? The pattern that Jesus has repeatedly employed in this section of His Sermon On the Mount? Notice, Jesus says, “It was also said,” similar to the refrain from earlier verses, “You have heard that it was said.” And that is followed by, “But I tell You” (as we also see in vv. 21 and 27). This pattern will again be employed in vv. 33, 38, and 43.

What Jesus is doing is taking portions of the Law (the writings of Moses) and reciting them to His audience as their teachers (the Pharisees and scribes) were teaching them during that time. And He contrasts those teachings with proper applications of them for His disciples to employ in their lives.

Remember, the Pharisees, and those like them, emphasized the letter of the law . . . their’s was a religion of rule-keeping . . . crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. And they sought ways to skirt around God’s laws . . . to do JUST what was required and nothing more. But, Jesus is calling for a deeper obedience . . . He says that our righteousness must “surpass” that of the scribes and Pharisees. It’s not a matter of mere rule keeping, but a desire from the heart to BE the person God wants me to be. Jesus is emphasizing the spirit of the law over the letter of the law. And, so, He takes a portion of the Law that had been misapplied, or glossed over, and says let Me tell you what this principle truly means in the lives of My disciples.

And, so, Jesus says, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’” He is referring to something Moses said in Deuteronomy 24.

Deuteronomy 24.1-4a: Moses said, “If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her away from his house. If after leaving his house she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the second man hates her, writes her a divorce certificate, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house or if he dies, the first husband who sent her away may not marry her again after she has been defiled, because that would be detestable to the Lord.”

Notice, Moses neither encourages or commands divorce. He basically presents one long conditional sentence . . . saying that if this set of conditions occurs, then this is how the matter should be handled. Moses’ interest in the matter is not so much focused on “divorce” as it is on the treatment of the woman affected by the divorce.

As Moses is outlining this instruction, there was great disparity between men and women. A husband was the unquestioned master of the house and of marriage. If he chose to dismiss his wife, SHE had little recourse. He could throw her out . . . and, out on her own, she would be in a very precarious situation . . . especially if she sought to remarry. She could be accused of adultery for remarrying, and would have little ability to prove otherwise. And, in Moses’ day, the penalty for adultery was not merely the inability to remarry . . . BUT it was death . . . if you were guilty of adultery, you were to be stoned.

So, Moses says that the husband who divorced his wife MUST give her documentation, a “certificate of divorce,” declaring her purity. Moses also guards against further manipulation of the woman by saying that her first husband cannot then subsequently remarry her, if she has been divorced by another man. In effect, Moses is saying that you can’t go in and out of marriage at a whim.

People in Jesus’ day, notably the Pharisees, were using this instruction from Moses to JUSTIFY divorce. Thus, Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’”

In fact, as Jesus sat on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee and delivered His Sermon On the Mount, a rather hotly-debated controversy was being fought between two factions of Pharisees over Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 24. It was a debate that broiled for many decades. The battle hinged on Moses’ words, “she becomes displeasing to him,” and “he finds something improper about her.”

On one side of the issue was the school of Rabbi Shammai, who took the conservative line. He and his followers taught that Moses allowed for divorce, but only because some “grave marital offense” had been committed. Shammai argued that this offense was an act of “absolute indecency”—basically, an act of infidelity . . . not necessarily limited to promiscuity, but a “major” offense.

On the other side of the issue was the school of Rabbi Hillel, who adopted a much more lax position . . . and, the more widely-accepted view during Jesus’ day. Hillel and his followers argued that Moses gave permission to a husband to divorce his wife for any action of hers that upset him. For instance, Hillel argued that a man could divorce his wife if she spoiled his dinner by adding too much salt, or if she were seen in public with her head uncovered, or if she talked to other men on the street, or if she spoke disrespectfully to her husband’s parents, or if she became “plain-looking” compared with other women who seemed more beautiful in her husband’s eyes. These are laughable, but they were viewed as legitimate reasons for divorce in Jesus’ day.

The situation isn’t much different today, is it? Don’t people still divorce for just about any and every reason imaginable? A man in Hazard, Kentucky divorced his wife because she “beat him whenever he removed onions from his hamburger without asking for permission.” A deaf man in Bennettsville, South Carolina filed for divorce because his wife “was always nagging him in sign language.” A woman in Canon City, Colorado divorced her husband because he forced her to “duck under the dashboard whenever they drove past his former girlfriend’s house.” And a woman in Hardwick, Georgia divorced her husband on the grounds that he “stayed home too much and was much too affectionate.” These are actual statements made by plaintiffs seeking divorces. Did you know that every state in our union except South Dakota has some sort of law in place allowing for what is commonly called “no fault divorce”? It essentially means that either spouse in a marriage can file and petition for divorce for any and all reasons, or no reason at all.

This was essentially the view of the School of Rabbi Hillel . . . although it was a prerogative of only the husband . . . the wife had no legal standing to divorce her husband. She was at his mercy . . . or lack thereof!

Jesus is called into this debate between the schools of Shammai and Hillel. In Matthew 19 we have recorded an exchange that took place between Jesus and some Pharisees.

Matthew 19.3: “Some Pharisees approached Jesus to test Him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on any grounds?’”

In other words, they are asking, “Which Rabbi do you side with, Shammai or Hillel?” They might as well have been asking Jesus, “Are you a conservative or a liberal on the matter of divorce?”

Jesus responds in vv. 4-6: He said, “Haven’t you read that He who created them in the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Jesus’ answer must have surprised the Pharisees. Undoubtedly, they expected Him to cite Moses in Deuteronomy, but He doesn’t . . . Jesus goes all the way back to the beginning . . . to the creation of man . . . and in doing so, stresses the permanence of marriage.

Jesus says that God’s ultimate plan, the ideal, is that marriage: (1) is between one man and one woman; (2) is for life; and (3) is an institution created by God.

The Pharisees shout back: “Why then did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?” (v. 7).

Notice the attitude. The Pharisees saw Moses’ instruction as a license to divorce. They totally missed the point that Moses was simply speaking in the woman’s defense.

Jesus responds. In vv. 8-9, he says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not like that from the beginning. And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Jesus doesn’t take the bait . . . He’s not going to referee the controversy that was waging between Rabbis Shammai and Hillel. They were all about the permissiveness of divorce . . . that was their focus . . . whether it be the conservatives who limited it to some serious sin on the part of the woman, or the liberals who said it could be because of any offense brought to the husband . . . their focus was merely on the rights of the man to the end the marriage.

Jesus dismisses that battle as essentially a misreading (or, misapplying) of Moses’ instruction. And, in a manner of speaking, Jesus says, “Back up a moment, and remember what marriage is. It is a relationship created and given by God to a man and woman . . . it isn’t some trivial matter. It is a serious relationship that can’t just be thrown away on a whim. The cause of the failure of a marriage must be isolated to an act that in and of itself desecrates the very bond of marriage . . . like adultery.”

And, this is what Jesus also says in the Sermon On the Mount. Again, in Matthew 5.31-32, Jesus teaches, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a written notice of divorce.’ But I tell you, everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

First of all, notice, the focus of Jesus’ teaching is on the MAN . . . the husband . . . HE “causes her to commit adultery,” and the man who “marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Now, certainly, Jesus’ teaching applies to both men and women, to husbands and wives, especially in our day and time when there is a certain equality of rights and actions for men and women, BUT, it seems to me, that Jesus is not-so-subtly leveling the “gender” playing field.

Remember, in Jesus’ day (and in Moses’ day), it was the men who had the power . . . whether it be in society, or in the family. According to the customs of the day, a MAN could divorce his wife, but a WIFE had no such ability. And, at least in the eyes of the more progressive-thinking Pharisees, a man could dismiss his wife for ANY reason.

To this mindset, Jesus puts the SIN of the divorce squarely at the feet of the husband . . . YOU cause “her to commit adultery,” he says. And, it would seem, the one who seeks to benefit from the callousness of the first man “commits adultery” when he “marries a divorced woman.”

In Matthew 19.9, Jesus’ focus is even more squarely on the man. He says, “And I tell you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

And, in Mark 10.11, the point is even clearer. There, Jesus says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against HER.”

I see this focus on the MAN as being a primary reason for the strength of Jesus’ statement about divorce and remarriage. He’s employing a bit of hyperbole here to make a point . . . to stress the seriousness of the subject . . . much like what He says in the preceding verses about the temptations we have. Remember, Jesus says in Matt. 5.29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away,” and, in v. 30, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” Gouge out your eye . . . cut off your hand . . . obviously exaggerations to make a point about the seriousness of temptation.

And, so, likewise, here, Jesus is using a rather pointed statement to get the attention of those men who thought they had license to summarily dismiss their wives without much cause or concern for their plight.

But, there’s more.

The debate between Rabbis Shammai and Hillel was much more a battle of semantics than anything else. They were debating the meaning of words that Moses used many centuries before. To Shammai, Moses meant something akin to adultery. To Hillel it was anything that brought displeasure to the husband. These two rabbinical schools could not agree . . . and so in their struggle to be RIGHT on the subject they forgot the true importance of Moses’ instruction. In a battle over semantics (the meaning and use of words) the Pharisees reduced the sanctity of marriage to just another issue to fight over.

But Jesus, in both the Sermon On the Mount and especially later in Matthew 19, returns the focus to the sanctity of marriage.

Remember, when the Pharisees come to Him and ask Him to pick sides in the Shammai-Hillel debate, Jesus ignores the controversy over semantics and instead makes an appeal to what was true at the very beginning . . . that God had given marriage to a man and woman . . . it was not a relationship of convenience . . . but a holy bond.

The Pharisees debated when and how they could break that bond, BUT Jesus is saying, in essence, treasure that bond . . . value it . . . don’t be wrapped up in how can be nullified.

Today, sadly, the battlefield has shifted. Instead of fighting over the semantics of “adultery,” and trying to determine what is meant by “grave marital offense,” we fight over the “semantics” of “remarriage” . . . over when it is permissible for a divorced person to remarry.

Wouldn’t you agree? There’s been a lot of ink spilled (and probably more than a little blood, too) over the subject of divorce and remarriage. Families have become divided over it . . . churches, too. And the differing camps are as impassioned about their stances as were Rabbis Shammai and Hillel in Jesus’ day.

But, sadly, the battle is fought in the midst of half-truths and innuendos and speculations . . . in other words, we place ourselves as judges of relationships that are not our own and that we only view from the outside.

Do we get as worked up when somebody lies and sins? . . . treats another rudely and sins? . . . is improper with finances and sins? . . . dishonors his parents and sins? . . . withholds from God and sins? Do you catch the drift of what I am saying? We’re so quick to point fingers at another and question the validity of their divorce and remarriage, that we forget to notice our own sin.

Yes, divorce can certainly be sinful . . . but, it can also be that act of last resort that must be taken in a relationship that has become fractured beyond repair, and, worse, has become dangerous to one’s health and well-being. But, God is the judge of the merits of that . . . not me, not you.

Yes, remarriage after divorce can be sinful, but it also can be permissible in the judgment of God . . . and, I emphasize that, “in the judgment of God.”

I like the words of John Stott. He writes, “To be preoccupied with the grounds for divorce [and remarriage] is to be guilty of the very pharisaism which Jesus condemned.”

It is important to realize, we cannot undo the past. We can simply live this day forward in the best way that we can.

Let me say that again: we cannot undo the past, we can simply live this day forward in the best way that we can.

We all have past regrets . . . mistakes . . . things that we wish we had done differently. And it’s not always a matter of ruing over past sins. Sometimes it is a desire to have made wiser choices than were made . . . taking a more constructive course in life.

For some of us, those regrets involve the choices over who we married, or how we conducted ourselves in that marriage, or how that marriage may have come to an end, or what happened in the years that followed. But, no matter how strong our regrets are, we cannot go back and undo what has happened . . . the pieces cannot be reassembled as if nothing had happened.

  We can simply take this day, TODAY, and live it to God’s glory, knowing that the past is gone, forgiven by a gracious and merciful God, but realizing, too, that there are ongoing consequences from past choices . . . the issues related to divorce LINGER (especially if you have children involved) . . . but taking TODAY and committing ourselves to honoring God with the rest of our days.

I am reminded of the words Jesus shared with a woman caught in adultery.

  He said, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t dwell in the woman’s past, or grill her over past choices and past sins. He simply helped her in the present and said, “Go and sin no more.”

Make TODAY a turning point, Jesus says, and live the rest of your days honoring God.

For those of us who have been personally affected by divorce and remarriage, those are encouraging words!

In His Sermon On the Mount Jesus says to those who want to be His disciples, “Your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.”

The Pharisees were caught up in semantics, the meaning use of words . . . there’s was a religion of rule keeping. Jesus is calling us to something more.

  Instead of debating when and how a person might get out of marriage, Jesus says VALUE marriage . . . HONOR that bond. Instead of fighting over the subjects of divorce and remarriage and the semantics that surround the issues, we should be much more focused on promoting marriage and creating marriages that last.

Very quickly, here are some basic strategies for creating marriages that last. I offer these especially to the kids that are in here today and to those who are unmarried.

(1) View marriage as a sacred institution created and given by God.

(2) Find a mate who is committal in ways that extend beyond marriage.

(3) Look at yourself: value the commitments you make.

(4) Know that love is not the absence of conflict.

(5) Marry a Christian.

(6) Develop a mutual faith with your mate.

(7) Be humble. Always put the needs of your mate above your own.

One of the greatest gifts I have been given in life are the examples of my parents and grandparents. In July, my parents will celebrate 43 years of marriage. Yesterday would have been the 67th wedding anniversary of my mother’s parents, were my grandfather still living. Indeed I was blessed to have been at the Golden Anniversary celebrations of both sets of my grandparents.

We are blessed here in this congregation to have couples who have stood the tests of time . . . and provide to us such an example of love and commitment. They are the ideal! They are what its all about. Let’s honor them. Let’s be encouraged by them. Let’s learn from them . . . as we each strive to honor God each day forward.