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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Divorce

This Isn’t the Kind of Wedding Surprise You Want!

Saudi Wedding

It’s not often you get to see a Bible story play out in real life. But one just did!

I just read a story about a wedding in Saudi Arabia that was arranged by the bride and groom’s parents. They had never laid eyes on each other until after the ceremony.

When the bride lifted her veil, the groom said:

You are not the one I had imagined. I am sorry, but I divorce you.

Pretty crazy, right?!?

There’s a story in the Bible that is just like this. It’s the story of Jacob wanting to marry Rachel but being surprised when he was stuck with Leah.

So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, and they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed. I want to sleep with her.” So Laban invited all the men of the place to a feast. That evening, Laban took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and he slept with her. And Laban gave his slave Zilpah to his daughter Leah as her slave. When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Wasn’t it for Rachel that I worked for you? Why have you deceived me?”

The difference here is that Jacob does the honorable thing to his wife and does not divorce her, even though he was tricked into marrying her. The Saudi husband had no such notions of honor and said, “I’m outta here!”

There is something to be said about people who stick to our word and follow through with our obligations. Our world is more and more becoming a “throw-away” world where we discard the things that displease us no matter what the consequences. Our focus is more on what makes us happy rather than doing the right thing.

I hope you never get tricked into marrying the wrong person. Chances are you’ll never find yourself in this specific situation.

Still – wherever you find yourself – don’t give in to the throw-away culture. Be a person of honor. Do what you say you’re going to do.

Do the right thing, even if it’s not the thing you wanted to do.

Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce

Unhappy CoupleSomeone once asked me if I could describe the Gospel in just two minutes.

Yes. You see it all comes down brokenness. We are broken people and we live in a broken world. But brokenness isn’t God’s design or intention. It’s the same when it comes to marriage. N.T. Wright notes that anyone who even reads the words of Jesus out loud will most likely be called mean, unforgiving, Pharisaical, or worse. Jesus said:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many people swing into two camps that are polar opposites: on the one side you have people who say, “I can be a good Christian and pursue divorce and get remarried.” On the other side you have people who stick to a very literal and rigid reading of Jesus’ words.

And we cannot deny the words of Jesus. He clearly says in Mark 10:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

At this point everyone who is divorced or who has been affected by divorce in some way shuts down, turns off their ears, and stops listening to the message.
That’s what often happens.

But that’s because preachers who read the words of Jesus in this case never go all the way with the Gospel. Hear me out.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

These guys have no real concern about understanding God’s truth about marriage and divorce. Jesus is now in the area that John the Baptist had been when John condemned the behavior of Herod marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John told Herod, “This is not right!” But that’s just John. He tended to get emotional.

In fact, you could say he lost his head.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus they’re trying to put in in a tough spot on Herod’s turf – wanting him to make a declaration about marriage and divorce that will get him killed. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it.

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In the ancient world the certificate of divorce was a way of saying that the husband gives up his right and claim on the woman. Another man can have her without fear of the husband coming after him. There’s only one passage in the Torah that explicitly addresses divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1 says,

“If a man marries a woman, but she has become displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her on her way from his house.”

And Jews fought about what this passage meant. A hundred years before Jesus was born there were two major schools of thought. Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said that “something improper” meant infidelity. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel said it could be anything that displeases the husband – even burning the soup.

They missed the bigger picture.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The law passed down from Moses doesn’t declare divorce right or wrong – it simply assumes that divorce is a fact of life and seeks to protect the wife. The certificate of divorce meant when she remarried she would not be accused of adultery. But Jesus tells them that this was not God’s original design and intent.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The problem is not with God’s ideal or the Law – the problem is with people and their hardened hearts. We are broken people who live in a broken world. That means we will do broken things to each other. This is not the way God designed it to be – it’s a sad fact of brokenness.

And Jesus does an amazing thing here. Instead of simply ruling out divorce he elevates the idea of marriage. It’s not about how and when you can split. Jesus says that the way God designed human marriage to work is for two to lose their individual identities and understand that they are now part of the same person. Jesus puts marriage on a whole new level.

If this is God’s design and intention, who is man that we should split it up?

And that’s where most preachers stop. And people listening who have suffered through a divorce shrink lower and lower into their seats. But that’s not the end of the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is about restoration and reconciliation. The Gospel says, “You matter enough to God that He paid the price to fix your brokenness – a price you could never afford.”

The Gospel says, “The only thing that is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

That means that divorce, though not God’s design and desire,
is not an unforgivable sin.

That means that, as a divorcee, you can rest assured that God still loves you and that you are not separated from Him because of your marital status.

That means that, as Christians, we can treat friends and family with love and respect even when they have gone through divorce and remarriage.

The Gospel is bigger than all of us, and God’s grace reaches farther than we could ever imagine. We are called to be people of reconciliation and restoration. When we deal with people who are divorced or going through a divorce. When we live the life of a divorcee. God’s grace reaches to us all and calls us to act towards each other with that same grace.

‘Cause it’s only when we’re acting with this kind of grace
that we’ll see true reconciliation and restoration happen.

Related Posts:
Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak and Separation
I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

You’re Not Really Saved!

salvation

So it started like this: an Anonymous friend of mine in an online group I’m part of made a comment that he was going to go watch a Dexter marathon.

I jokingly said, “You say you’re a Christian but you watch those terrible shows. You must not really be saved.”

Then it hit me. Let’s play a game! Let’s come up with all the ways Christians downplay the salvation of those who don’t fit the mold. Let’s face it ~ we’re masters at belittling the salvation and faith of those who don’t fit our own mold of what it looks like to be a Christian.

I called it: Not Really Saved

Then the game took off like wildfire. Dozens of people jumped in and came up with hundreds of ways we belittle others’ salvation. Here’s but a small sample of some of the things we came up with.

You say you’re a Christian but:

1. you like beer? You’re not really saved.
2. you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
3. you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
4. you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
5. you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
6. you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
7. you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
8. you don’t have a home church? You’re not really saved.
9. you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
10. you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.
11. you smoke weed? You’re not really saved.
12. you enjoy sex? You’re not really saved.
13. you don’t listen to Christian music? You’re not really saved.
14. you think the earth is more than a couple thousand years old? You’re not really saved.
15. you don’t pray before every meal? You’re not really saved.

The list went on and on. Some were jokes (and quite funny). Some were serious. It was clear to me that many people have been hurt by others who claim to be Christian but, for whatever reason, don’t allow certain behaviors to be part of their theological circles.

Most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists.

Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold.

And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent. The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak & Separation

fighting coupleThere’s really nothing funny about divorce. No humorous little anecdotes can ease into this conversation. I’ve never met a divorced couple that was untouched – unscathed. The truth is that divorce hurts. As a pastor I wrestle with helping people discover God’s ideal and standard regarding marriage and divorce on one hand and then trying to find a Christian way to live after the divorce is final.

Truth be told, I find that the biblical perspective on divorce is really unpopular. People don’t want to hear what God has to say if he conflicts with what they want to do. I recently preached on divorce in my church. I have a habit of letting my church know in advance what the messages will be about (it helps get people in a mindset to receive the word for that day). I know of at least one person who intentionally skipped church because, as a divorced person, he didn’t want to listen to God’s perspective. This saddens me – that he felt we couldn’t have an honest discussion about God’s ideals without feeling judgment and condemnation. No one is perfect, and divorce is merely another sad reality of broken people living in a broken world. But we should still know what God’s ideals are. So here’s my take on what the Bible says:

First – divorce is NEVER God’s ideal. His preference is for a lifetime commitment, a covenant, between one man and one woman. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus says:

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

But even the Bible has some “exception clauses” that recognizes that broken people live in a broken world and end up breaking relationships. One of the divorce exceptions is, in the event of infidelity, the victimized spouse has permission to divorce and start life over. The Apostle Paul notes that if one partner abandons the other then the abandoned spouse is no longer bound.

All said and done, while divorce is NEVER God’s ideal – God recognizes that it happens. So you’re divorced. Now what?

  1. As much as possible, reconcile with your ex. WHAT?!? Not my words, but the Apostle Paul’s. The Christian life is about forgiveness and grace, so as much as you can try to reconcile.
  2. Ask God to help resist hatred, resentment, and bitterness towards your ex. You may be hurt and your ex might have acted in horrible, villainous ways. You can’t change the past, but you can work on your present attitude.
  3. Forgive and ask forgiveness for your role in the divorce. Sometimes a spouse is a real dirtbag and does damage to you. Sometimes there are two sides to the story. In all honesty, ask yourself what role you played in the divorce. You may need to seek forgiveness for your part.
  4. Continue to behave in kind, Christian ways. This one is HUGE. I’ve seen so many people forget how to behave decently when it comes to an ex. Mean talk, back-biting, and hurtful words come easily. Swallow them. Don’t do it. Keep your mouth shut. Behave in kindness and do nothing out of anger or hate. It’s about your behavior before God, regardless of what she did (or what he did). Here’s your model – follow Jesus’ example as he still behaved decently and sought forgiveness to the people who terribly wronged him.

Though divorce is a serious matter in God’s opinion, it’s not an unforgivable sin. God shows a lot more grace to people and their brokenness than we show to each other. If you have found yourself in a divorced status I hurt for you. It is not God’s desire for people to hurt each other and split. If you are divorced please know that you are not a “second-class citizen” in the church. You matter to God just like everyone else.

Through it all remember that God desires us to live in strong, healthy, and committed relationships. If you’re married and struggling, God can mend broken hearts and restore relationships. If you’re divorced and hurting, God can renew you from this point on and you can begin living in God’s grace, building healthy relationships from here on out.

No matter who you are – you matter to God.

I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

Unhappy CoupleI love to use responses from real people in my sermons and my posts. Not too long ago I preached a message called, “What Does the Bible Say About Divorce?” The week before I sent out some private messages to a handful of people I know who are divorced and I asked them each two questions: 1) What did you wish you had known before you divorced that you know now? and 2) What would you tell others in the early stages of the divorce process?

 

Wanna know what they said?

 

1. I wish it had known how much it affects the kids emotionally as well as my own self-esteem – even years later.

This is probably one of the biggies that people face when dealing with divorce – there is an unseen ripple effect that washes through people divorcing and any kids who are products of divorce. There are often identity issues with both adults and kids; people who had their identity wrapped up in notions of “family” or “child” or “spouse” suddenly find themselves cut loose and wandering.

2. You will struggle with resentment, hurt, and anger towards your ex.

While some couples can maintain a friendly interaction after a divorce it is rare. By the time a couple gets to divorce things are usually so fractured and fragmented that an amicable relationship is not possible. And a broken relationship most often causes people to feel hurt and resentment towards the other.

3. It’s not always easy “fun-n-games”; you can’t just get married and check out. You always have to put into it and you’ll only get out what you put in.

One of the biggest problems I face in marriage counseling and marriage classes is that people wait WAY TOO LATE to begin working on their relationships. If we take the time when things are good to set ourselves up for success we’ll have the tools to make it through the rough patches later on. Think about it like driving a car. If you hold the wheel in a fixed position the car will eventually go off the road as the road shifts. So we make constant adjustments in order to stay in our lane. Relationships stay on course when we work to make little adjustments here and there rather than try to jerk the wheel back as the car is careening off the road.

4. The grass ain’t always greener on the other side – you’re gonna take your baggage with you and sometimes that makes the next shot harder.

Ah, yes, the “Things have GOT to be better next time” mentality. Relationship guru John Gottman notes the divorce rate for 2nd marriages is 10% higher than in 1st marriages. So we don’t really learn from previous marriages and improve. We take the same junk from the past and move it into a new relationship. It’s like paying off one credit card by transferring the balance to another card. YOU’VE STILL GOT THE DEBT! And every relationship will have baggage. I once heard it said (for the life of me I can’t remember where I heard or read it) that, since any relationship will have baggage, marriage is simply deciding which set of baggage you want to live with. Things don’t improve if you don’t improve.

5. Divorce is not as easy as you may think.

Yup – that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Some people don’t realize that the Bible speaks a good deal about relationships and divorce. In one sentence: God takes marriage seriously and expects that we take it seriously as well. One time Jesus was asked about divorce. They asked: “Why did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He answered: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
Funny thing – expectation of longevity is an indicator of successful long-term relationships. When couples have an expectation that they’ll stick around as long as things are good and as long they are “in love” they tend not to go the distance. Couples who have an understanding that the relationship is a life-long commitment and plan to stick it out no matter what speed bumps come along fare much better in longevity. When we take marriage as seriously as God does we have better odds of successful long-term marriages.

So what can I tell you about making things better?

First – God can heal all broken relationships. Don’t give up all hope – he works miracles.
Second – If you are married, never argue using the word “Divorce” as ammunition. Couples who keep that in their back pocket will always see it as a way out.
Third – Put in effort to make things better rather than throwing in the towel. Read books. Find a pastor or counselor to talk to. Do something.
Fourth – When you’ve exhausted all options sometimes your spouse gives up and walks away. Know that God still loves you, and that no relationship status is going to cause him to turn his back on you.

So…what about you? What do you wish you had known then that you know now? What would you say to those in the rough spot of a pre-divorce marriage?

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