Friday, April 30, 2010

Marriage Grace

This past Sunday, I finished preaching a sermon series called “Resurrecting Marriage: Learning Marriage CPR.” My dual goals when preaching are: to be faithful to what the Scripture text actually says, and, communicate relevantly with love and clarity. Some Scripture texts are very difficult to either accept or preach. Mark 10:2-12 is both hard to accept and hard to preach, especially vv. 10-12. My desire was to bring a word of grace to the strong words of vv. 10-12 without watering down what Jesus said. You can watch or listen to the messages here.

Some feel I wasn’t clear enough as to what do you do if you’re divorced (regardless of the reason) and remarried, in other words, “now what?” The way forward for those who are remarried is the same for those who are still in their current marriage: practice Marriage CPR.
Commit (in this new marriage) to God’s Vision for that marriage,
Pay Attention to Your Heart and
Relate with Christlike Love

Keep doing those three steps (as explained in each of the 3 sermons). Especially the last letter/point, “R,” Relate with Christlike love, is how you relate in order to move forward: Love with Christ’s love, which is Compassionate, Forgiving, Initiating, and Sacrificial. But keep doing “C” and “P” too (paying attention to your heart and stay committed to God’s vision for your [new] marriage.)

Some may ask, “If you’re remarried, and are faithful to your spouse, are you therefore “living” in adultery? No. There’s a difference between “living in adultery” and “committing adultery.” If you’re legally divorced, or your spouse is deceased, and then you remarry and are faithful to that spouse, you are not “living in adultery.” Living in adultery is either:
a. living in an ongoing pattern of marriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce-remarriage, etc. or
b. living with/having sex with another person who is not your spouse.

So, if you’re remarried, the past is past, receive God’s grace and move on; you have made a new covenant before God (your new marriage vows), now go back to the “CPR” and
Commit (in this new marriage) to God’s Vision for that marriage,
Pay Attention to Your Heart and
Relate with Christlike Love.

You don’t undo one wrong with another one. It is not God’s will for you to divorce your current spouse to remarry your first (or former) one. Remember, we’ve got to stop treating this area of our lives different from other areas: every single one of us needs God’s grace whether we’ve been divorced or not and God’s grace is available for each of us regardless of our past. Thank God! Grace is the only way to move forward.
Some may ask: if our souls are “glued” together, and we get divorced, can we ever”be free” of that person in our new marriage; will we always be carrying around part of that person in our soul, even into our next relationship?

The answer is to look at divorce for what it is: a death. Divorce isn’t like a death, it is a death. The same question asked in the previous paragraph is asked of people grieving the loss of their spouse through that spouse dying. Can you totally forget the person? Probably not. Can you get past that death and get remarried and have a healthy relationship? Absolutely. Is it easy? No. The longer you were married, truthfully, the harder it will be to “get past” the former marriage. But by God’s grace, it is most definitely possible; and not only possible, again, because God is God of grace, it is what God desires for you.

This is why it is so absolutely critical that we grieve well the death (and/or divorce) of the first marriage; the grieving/healing process is critical for the viability of the new marriage. You need to take at the very least a full year to process/heal the death of that marriage and, depending on the situation, you may need 5 or more years. To the degree that you process well, grieve well and get healed up, your new marriage can be better than the first one, even if the first one was great.

With God’s grace, incredible vistas of fulfillment and joy are waiting to be experienced and explored. God’s grace is not a hack patch job. He is the God who heals the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). His grace is healing, restorative, re-creating, and unbelievably satisfying. But we must learn to receive and assimilate that grace into our lives - again, the exact same thing, everyone else must learn to do - regardless of our pasts.
For all of us, an incredible future of joy and fulfillment is available because of God’s grace. Let me give you 2 great verses to meditate on:
2 Corinthians 9:8: And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Peter 3:18: Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

An area of confusion that some have mentioned to me is reconciling the Bible’s strong stance against divorce with the “exception passages” that seem to “allow” divorce. There is a tension there, but it’s the same tension present in the verses that call us to holiness while recognizing that sin happens and providing grace when it does.

God’s original plan never included divorce, but he recognizes that it happens. The key word is “recognize.” That doesn’t mean he “approves” it or “endorses” it. When we talk about the Bible “allowing” divorce or when we talk about “valid” biblical divorces, (e.g. Matt. 5:32, 1 Cor. 7, etc.) we are using language that recognizes that divorce does happen, but its not as if God is saying “I approve of/endorse divorce.” That puts words in God’s mouth he never intends to say. We must live with the tension that “recognize” and “allow” do not mean “approve” and “endorse.”

We must also recognize that the Bible never intends to answer the question “what are all the circumstances in which a divorce is allowed?” The Bible declares God’s original desire and then in different places recognizes circumstances where divorce might happen. Taking these exception occurrences and recognizing that the Bible doesn’t intend to speak comprehensively or exhaustively on the issue of each of the individual circumstances that lead to divorce, wise counsel calls us to examine each situation in the light of the Scriptures and seek the best path forward for that relationship. Combing the Bible to look for exceptions and loopholes is a distortion of the purpose of the Bible. Seeking wise counsel in light of Biblical truth honors God’s Word and the purpose for which it was given.

Because this is an area that is fraught with so many questions and issues, our Church Life Board (of which I am a part) has written a brief
position paper on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage that I believe will be helpful. I urge you to read it carefully.

May God’s great grace be upon you and your family as you seek to live your life in a way that honors Him.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I got a ton of comments about my message this past week. I think one of the things that struck a chord with so many of us is how self-oriented we all are. I know I am. (I’ve already used the I/my word 5 times in 2 sentences!)

One of my favorite meetings each week is our SAT (Strategic Advisory Team). We start off the meeting with a Life Group type section where we share life with each other, laugh, pray, laugh, share how God is speaking to us through His Word, share struggles, laugh and generally practice healthy team relationships. This past week we got talking about how rampant self-orientation is in our society. Everywhere you turn, you are trained, tempted and taught to believe that “it’s all about you.” Each of us admitted that our default mode is to look at life through self-oriented glasses. American society is known for its individualism and it has infected all our life including our marriages in very ugly ways. We actually are offended when God doesn’t make everything work out the way we think it should be. This may be our biggest struggle in becoming like Christ. Jesus lived a thorougly God-oriented life; everything revolved around the Father. Our self-orientation is so deeply ingrained that living a thoroughly God-oriented life seems strange if not impossible.

Try this experiment. Monitor how you react to people and situations the next couple of days. Listen to your thoughts; notice how often you receive and interpret life around you from a self-oriented perspective. Don’t do it any longer than a couple of days as it only reinforces self-orientation. Then begin an experiment where you seek to intentionally see life, what happens to you, how you interact with people, everything, from a God-oriented perspective. Throughout the day, ask God to recalibrate your thinking to a God-oriented way of thinking. Ask him, point blank, “how do you see this, Lord; what’s your perspective on this; what do you think about this?” When you get hurt, or something happens you don’t like, immediately ask him for the grace to see this from his perspective; how can he use this for his purposes. Tell him you belong to him and you want to live surrendered to him. Tell him “it’s not about me, its all about you, Lord.”

Then write me and tell me how it went!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Missional Living

About 30 years ago, some people began using the word “missional” to describe living every moment of every day as a disciple sent by Christ into the world and incorporating the mission Jesus gave us into our lives 24/7 vs. the prevailing mentality of compartmentalizing our lives into segments like family, job, activities, friendships, and church. The church had become a place you went and watched for a couple of hours a week and then got back to the rest of your life. The language of “missional” was crafted to call the church back to its original mission of being the presence of Christ in the world 24/7.

Today this language of living “missional” lives is getting more and more press and in some circles has almost become faddish (which is scary since we all know what happens to fads.) To read a brief (vs. a whole book) and excellent history of the missional movement see here. To see a definition of a missional church, see here. Below I have copied an excellent description of a missional church. These are the indicators of a missional church. I long for Church of the Open Door to become more missional and it is the direction I have been leading the church ever since I arrived. It is a long, arduous process but recently I am seeing more and more signs that are very encouraging. There have always been people at this church living missional lives, even before the language was coined, but they have been a minority. It seems that every day I am hearing news of the people of Open Door really living out their faith, becoming more like Christ, living missional lives. I encourage you to look at these indicators of a missional church below and ask yourself, is this true of our church? What can I do to live out this kind of missional life? In other words, what can I do to become more like Christ in the way I live my day to day life?

1. The missional church proclaims the gospel.

What it looks like: The story of God’s salvation is faithfully repeated in a multitude of different ways.

2. The missional church is a community where all members are involved in learning to become disciples of Jesus.

What it looks like: The disciple identity is held by all; growth in discipleship is expected of all.

3. The Bible is normative in the church’s life.

What it looks like: The church is reading the Bible together to learn what it can learn nowhere else – God’s good and gracious intent for all creation, the salvation mystery, and the identity and purpose of life together.

4. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death, and resurrection of its Lord.

What it looks like: In its corporate life and public witness, the church is consciously seeking to conform to its Lord instead of the multitude of cultures in which it finds itself.

5. The church seeks to discern God’s specific missional vocation for the entire community and for all of its members.

What it looks like: The church has made its “mission” it priority, and in overt and communal ways is seeking to be and do “what God is calling us to know, be, and do.”

6. A missional community is indicated by how Christians behave toward one another.

What it looks like: Acts of self-sacrifice on behalf of one another both in the church and in the locale characterize the generosity of the community.

7. It is a community that practices reconciliation.

What it looks like: The church community is moving beyond homogeneity toward a more heterogeneous community in its racial, ethnic, age, gender, and socioeconomic makeup.

8. Peoples within the community hold themselves accountable to one another in love.

What it looks like: Substantial time is spent with one another for the purpose of watching over one another in love.

9. The church practices hospitality.

What it looks like: Welcoming the stranger into the midst of the community plays a central role.

10. Worship is the central act by which the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving both God’s presence and God’s promised future.

What it looks like: There is a significant and meaningful engagement in communal worship of God, reflecting appropriately and addressing the culture of those who worship together.

11. The community has a vital public witness.

What it looks like: The church makes an observable impact that contributes to the transformation of life, society, and human relationships.
12. There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the reign of God.

What it looks like: There is a widely help perception that this church is going somewhere – and that “somewhere” is a more faithfully lived life in the reign of God.[3]

One final note from the writings of the Gospel and Culture Network: Darrell Guder emphasizes the importance of having congregations formed by hearing the Bible “missionally.” He points out that when missional renewal is happening, different kinds of questions are brought to the Bible. He writes:

Congregations are open to being challenged, to looking hard at their deeply ingrained attitudes and expectations. The missional approach asks, How does God’s Word call, shape, transform, and send me . . . and us? Coupled with this openness is the awareness, that biblical formation must mean change, and often conversion. Christian communities may discover that their discipling will require repentance and that their way of being church will have to change.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fearing Jesus

I don’t usually get afraid when reading the Bible, though it has happened on more than one occasion. This morning I read in Luke 8:26-39 a story that made me afraid. The story includes things that have been known to scare other people as well: talk of torture, tombs, demons, high cliffs, deep water, and a pig stampede; but they aren’t related like you might think. You have to read the story to find out where the fear shows up, and when you do maybe you’ll be stunned by the same phrases that got me.

Read Luke 8:26-39

Did you read it? Two reactions to the story are juxtaposed with each other and I wonder which one best describes you and me. Both reactions are associated with fear. The first one is in v. 37: “the people asked Jesus to leave them.” The second one is in v. 39 where Jesus says, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” Three things about these verses make me afraid:

1. It is possible to get so comfortable with the way I have arranged my life that when Jesus upsets it, I might find myself wishing he would leave. In this story when it’s clear that Jesus isn’t welcome, he leaves. That scares me.
2. It is possible to care more about my comfort level than about someone getting their life miraculously changed. A man is liberated from bondage and death, his life is forever changed, he is saved, rescued, miraculously delivered, and all people can think about is themselves. That scares me.
3. Jesus has instructed all of us who have had our lives changed to “Tell how much God has done for you.” But we don’t. Or at least few of us do. What did this man do? Verse 39 continues: “So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” Why don’t we? One word: fear. Fear of what people may think; fear of what to say, fear of how people will respond, etc.

I fear the fear that keeps us silent and preoccupied with lesser things while people all around us live in bondage and death. Do we keep Jesus at arms length out of fear? Are we more concerned with our comfort level than changed lives? Do we share the good news of Jesus or are we silenced by fear?

“Lord, I praise you for all that you have done for me. Help me recognize opportunities where I can tell others of all you’ve done. You’ve healed me, forgiven me, saved me, adopted me. You’ve cleansed me from my sin and filled me with your Holy Spirit. You’ve given me a purpose and hope and a reason for living. You’ve given me a calling and spiritual gifts to serve you and others. You have surrounded me with blessings, with family, with friends, and placed me in a church that is inspired by a clear mission from you. I am blessed beyond measure and its all because of you! Forgive me of my fear, I surrender it to you. You have not given me a spirit of fear and timidity, but of love and power and self-discipline. Fill me with your Holy Spirit and give me boldness me to tell others of what you’ve done for me. Amen.”