Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Did God Create Marriage?

From God's omniscient perspective, marriage could have had little eternal significance. Surely, he knew the end from the beginning and realized there would come a time when marriage for humans would be unnecessary. In fact, this is THE silver bullet that pierces the heart of Mormonism. Mormon hopes rest in eternal marriages, Jesus said such do not and will not exist; therefore, Mormons bank all of their hopes on a puff of vanishing smoke. Yet, if marriage has such a limited shelf life, then why did God institute it at all and make such a fuss about it?

God's plans for humankind within history required marriage. Not just the dominion clause, breeding and bossing can be accomplished without covenants, but child rearing cannot. Fathers and mothers working together is required. I think that is why the divorce epidemic is having such detrimental affects on our broader society--children cannot be raised according to design by single mothers and in broken homes. Sure, there are exceptions, but it's hard to miss the overall trend. Our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, make-it-up-as-we-go approach to love, marriage and family is a dismal failure.

So, within this space called history, from the fall in the garden to the dead seed of man rising from the dust to face God's judgment, marriage has divine and practical benefit. He who finds a wife, or vice-versa for that matter, finds a good thing; something not to be discarded even after the kids have grown and gone. How hard can it be to see that spouse as the gift from God he or she truly is?

Marriage is not a human invention, nor a societal convention that can be tossed aside or experimented with. Oh, we can continue to break marriages upon the rocks of hedonism, but that only delivers the next generation into the cold, dark, stormy deep. When it comes to marriage and family, there's God's way or there's a slow descent into the night!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Marriage Is About What We Give It

Marriage is anything but a human invention, and is not primarily the consequence of "falling in love." Unfortunately, that's about as deep as the cultural understanding of marriage gets in the West, and as a result, God's purposes for marriage have been frustrated and public trust in the institution has been eroded to the point of collapse. The Bible tells us God instituted marriage to accomplish several things for humankind from his perspective, and to allow several things from our perspective to be accomplished in our lives.

From God's perspective, marriage was meant to provide the human race with companionship in the mission of life, to be the environment for sexual expression and the conception of new life, and to be a bastion of holiness and learning for the family. To be honest, it's not like fallen man was ever going to do well achieving such noble ends. Nonetheless, noble ends these are, and they need to be front and center in our consideration of the institution.

From our perspective, marriage is meant to provide fundamental emotional comfort, to supply the security of a loyal commitment, and to be a reliable source of provision and care. These too are noble goals, but unfortunately are set before the eyes of the inherently ignoble. Nonetheless, this is the design of marriage, and we need to understand this if we're ever to honor the bond with the gravity it deserves.

Marriage has been romanticized through myth, tale, torrid paperbacks, and the insipid celluloid regurgitations of Hollywood. The emphasis, generally, is on how Prince Charming or Snow White makes their love feel. If these sources are the only input informing one's expectations of marriage, that one will, in all likelihood, make a terrible spouse and find the trouble of maintaining the bond of matrimony more than he or she cares to bear. You see, in the real world God made, marriage is not about what we get out of it, but what we give to it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grounds for Divorce

Despite what many folk say, according to Jesus Christ (also here, here, and here) there are no affirmative grounds for divorce. What Jesus said about marriage is that it is a lifelong covenant that no one should break. Some people will shatter the bond through abandonment and/or adultery, to their shame, but no one is given the grounds by which they can take the impetus to break it because they want it broken. Those that are the victims of a marriage broken by abandonment and/or adultery have some leeway to remarry, those who remarry apart from those exceptions commit adultery.

If a supposed Christian has abandoned a spouse, that one should be rebuked and commanded to return to the care his or her spouse. If that one will not return, he or she has proven not only his or her infidelity to a spouse, but to God. Their unwillingness to provide (what marriage is supposed to provide) for their spouse before God makes them worse than an infidel. According to the Word, the Christian abandoned by an infidel, or unbeliever, is free of the bond and can marry again as long as they do so with a believer. The effect of this allowance is an exception to the Lord's adultery clause (for any resultant remarriage by the abandoned) rather than a ground given for divorce.

If a supposed Christian has entered into a sexual relationship with someone in addition to his or her spouse, that one should be rebuked and commanded to cease the adultery. If he or she will not, that one should be excommunicated. The faithful spouse would have the ability to remarry and not be considered an adulterer, nor the cause of adultery. The wronged party, in effect, is given an exception to the adultery clause for divorce and remarriage rather than a positive ground for divorce.

If a Christian marriage is broken out of acrimony, or because of irreconcilable differences, or loss of interest, or anything other than abandonment and/or adultery, the parties do not have the right to remarry. To do so would be adultery. We are grown ups with God dwelling inside of us. If we're actually saved we should be able to find the means of getting along with someone else we're going to spend eternity with. Laying down our lives one for another is the stuff of the kingdom.

I live and am licensed to drive in Pennsylvania. Our traffic laws do not assign anyone the right of way on our roads. Instead, our laws are framed as to whom must yield right of way in any circumstance. So in a mishap, no one can claim they had the right of way; one can only be assigned blame for failure to yield such. I see the Bible approaching divorce in a similar fashion: it doesn't give anyone the right to divorce a spouse, it gives exception to the adultery clause for those for whom there was a failure by a spouse to yield to the marriage bond. So, although there may be grounds for remarriage, there really are no grounds for divorce.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Epidemic of Divorce

America's epidemic is not AIDS, nor abortion, nor even pornography, although all are widespread and portend terrible trouble. The most virulent disease in the West is divorce. It only kills a relative few (although some are notable), but it is destroying our culture, and worse, something these other plagues could not-- our churches.

The evangelical church has lost her voice and her way in dealing with the dilemma, preferring pop psychology and hedonism to the
Bible when it comes to the subject. As long as American Christians, like any other American, continue to sell their souls to the demon of happiness and the phantom of self-fulfillment, marriage won't stand a ghost of a chance. Our society and our churches will continue to decay and be nothing but shadows of their former and their possible selves.

OT allowed divorce on fairly broad grounds. Anything deemed an uncleanness, or indecency, in a wife (only husbands could divorce) by her husband (how objective was that likely to be?) could result in a pink slip and a "seeya." Who would have guessed that in God's sight "you disgust me" was actionable? Paradoxically, this same God who allowed divorce in the Mosaic code, decried it in no uncertain terms through the prophet Malachi! In explaining the apparent duplicity, Jesus said it was the hardness of our hearts rather than the softness of God's that inspired that provision.

I've pastored long enough now, and have seen enough marital failures to realize just how right Jesus was: we are terribly hard-hearted, absolutely unwilling to give another person what reasonably could preserve a relationship. Every marriage I've ever seen fail has done so because one or both parties were too hard-hearted to do what had to be done to maintain the marriage. Usually, it's not long at all until such parties are at it again in a new marriage, likely there to see the same result as they did with the one they tossed away.

We're naturally self-centered, self-absorbed, fault-finding, unforgiving, ungracious, uncommitted, and that's just the Prince Charming and Snow Whites among us. Trying to maintain a relationship that requires dedication and sacrifice in the face of such hard-hearted human nature yields a recipe for disaster. Yet, God is in the disaster surviving business, if we can just get off our high horses and listen to his instruction.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We Get One Shot

Here's something fun from the What You Ought to Know webshow called Time Travelling the Multiverse for all you Star Trek fans (yes, I'm ashamed to admit I'm one of you). [HT: Uncommon Descent]

Didn't think there'd be a spiritual application? You'd be wrong...

For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Hebrews 9: 24-28 NIV

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Sensible Thing to Do

Grace is all we've got. Thankfully, it's more than sufficient. Should it, though, get no further with us and have no more impact upon us than giving us a perpetual get out of jail free card? Is the human race, including Christians, nothing more than incessant cosmic recidivists? Does God long for more than that in his gracious heart or is his grace merely a means of looking past the nature of the beast?

The answers to such tough questions may be disturbing to us who have come to depend on being graded on a curve. Knowing the stripe of our own skin, we may feel safer letting things alone, unprobed, at the unlocked cell door on our way out. Put it all down to grace, and move thoughtlessly on to the next offense. Quick, convenient, and beside, plumbing any further can only reveal nothing but hopeless sludge. Grace is all we have.

Yet, the Bible is filled with directives telling us to get our acts together and move on with God:
press on, put off, make every effort, guard, stand, fight, don't lose heart, etc, etc, etc. Are those real directives, spoken with the expectation of compliance, or are they nothing more than decorative hooks to hang grace macs on? Can God be that lame?

Walking takes two legs. Whereas we are hobbled and could get no where by our own efforts, we do not seem to be considered immobile by the God who comes alongside and helps. His Word to us is "move." In light of his assistance, it is only reasonable to expect a difference in us--in direction, in attitude, in action, in lifestyle. Resting in God's mercy while moving forward into holiness is, truly, the sensible thing to do.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Words to Take to Heart

The quadrennial election year drama is over. The economic boom went bust, and investments have lost all their lustre-- valuations are so low, we don't even need to keep up with them any longer! Things are relatively calm on the war and terror front. Careers don't seem so certain to be what we envisioned, nor are we certain they ever will be. A job may now be just that, a job (and thank God for it!).

Maybe we should see all this derailment and depression as a godsend. Can we truly say the church was paying attention to what it should have been of late? Oh, there were plenty of distracting opportunities to learn about "Christian" investing, "Christian" recreating, "Christian" businesses, "Christian" politicking and "Christian" dominion, but events have surpassed such concerns and who wants to bother with such pablum now? It seems a bit pointless.

Now that we're shaking ourselves awake in this brave new world, coming to after a stunning blow to the head, maybe we can see with new clarity what really matters, what is really worth expending our limited time, treasure, and effort on. We've spent ourselves on the worldly and look what we've gotten in return. Not only are we worse off than we were four years ago, we're worse off than we were 12 years ago! There's really nothing compelling left to distract us from what really matters any longer.

Can we finally take Jesus' words to heart?

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Matthew 6:19-34 NIV

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What About Those Who Don't Speak in Tongues?

Many folk at my church, and at other Pentecostal churches, have not spoken in tongues... yet. I say that because it is my desire that every one of them would. It is not something that can be forced or enforced, but I believe each Christian who hasn't spoken in tongues, yet, would be blessed, and more biblical, if he or she did.

Jude, in his brief epistle, says that we build up our faith by praying in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans that the Spirit is able to pray that which we can't find the words to utter. Clearly, the Bible highlights the benefits of tongues (incomprehensible speech from the Spirit) to the believer. I see no possible downside to speaking with other tongues when the scriptures testify to the upside.

Of course, what really matters is what Jesus wants for us. He told the first believers to wait until they were baptized in the Spirit before going off and trying to do church and fulfill the Great Commission. They waited, were baptized in the Holy Spirit, spoke in tongues as a result, and then proceeded to go and turn the world upside down. Why would anyone expect a different pattern for those who came after them?

Evangelism and church planting took off globally when Pentecostals began to follow that pattern early in the last century. More has been accomplished toward fulfilling the Great Commission by tongue talking charismatics in the last 100 years than has been accomplished by the cessationist church for the entirety of its 17 centuries of history. Honestly, this is the definition of a no-brainer!

Unfortunately, there is a disconcerting trend among Pentecostals today reversing that direction. In the Assemblies of God, less than a third of church membership speaks in tongues. That does not portend well for that group. If we do not produce the church Jesus wants (see above), if we don't follow the orders Jesus gave, how in the world will we get the "well done" rather than the "go away?"

We need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues; however, if someone has not yet received it, he or she should not be treated badly or ostracized-- he or she is family in God! That one should merely be encouraged to continue waiting. The only division this experience needs to cause within the family of God occurs when someone tries to prevent folk from speaking in tongues. Trying to force it is probably just as bad!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why Do We All Speak In Tongues?

Are tongues the only initial evidence of being baptized in the Spirit? Beyond doubt, tongues are one of the possible evidences found in the Bible, but what about the fruit of the Spirit and or even prophecy and visions? Why all this fixation with tongues among the Pentecostals?

Except for the experience of Christ (as noted in an earlier post), tongues is either directly associated or can be inferred in every incidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit recorded in scripture. In Acts 2, 10, and 19, tongues are specifically referenced. In Acts 8, it is clear that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was anticipated to have some physical, visible sign. Given the facts of what they accepted as evidence in chapter 10, what would you guess that sign might be?

Even though not mentioned in Acts 9, we know Saul/Paul could speak in tongues after his baptism (again, as noted in an earlier post). Minimally, it was widespread, if not universal (as I believe) in Corinth. That other signs come in conjunction with tongues should not seem incredible, specifically prophesying, but that tongues is there everywhere cannot be reasonably disavowed.

The earliest church had an experience that then became precedental. They used the first occurrence as a rough template for that which followed. For the vast stretch of time that the historical church did not follow suit, there was no tongues and precious little other miraculous manifestations. In 1901, when that which became the Pentecostal Reformation rediscovered this pattern and embraced it as normative, tongues and miracles resurfaced with vigor.

I think we can know the tree by its fruit in respect to this doctrine. Those who believe it experience what is in the scriptures, those who don't scramble around clumsily trying to explain why they don't practice what's in the Word. Why, oh why, would anyone attempting to follow the Bible for an example of godly living, not want to speak in tongues?

There is, however, a big difference between the evidence for birth by and the evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit. The fact of conversion is evidenced initially by the Holy Spirit inwardly inspiring an awareness of God as Father and Jesus as Lord. Over time, it expresses itself outwardly by a lifestyle of holiness and the fruit of the Spirit. The initial evidence of baptism in the Spirit is speaking in tongues. Ideally, a Christian will evidence both.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Some of Tongues

In the Acts of the Apostles, the only time we see the whole church publicly speaking in tongues is at the initiation experience in chapter 2. In that specific instance, the languages miraculously had some public good because they were the tongues of men rather than angels; hence, many of the pilgrims gathered for Pentecost understood them and were ministered to by them. Past that, there is no recorded instance of any church publicly, corporately speaking in tongues, but there is the inference that the church in Corinth did so.

Tongues, obviously, had a very minimal benefit to corporate and public gatherings. The instructions Paul gave the Corinthian church concerning tongues revolve around this issue. In the Corinthian church gatherings, everyone was publicly speaking in tongues. There would have been no issue at all if only a few had the ability to speak in tongues, but everyone could, and everyone was. The result was chaotic meetings that accomplished little good for the church, and made no sense at all to visitors. Nothing got communicated!

Paul instructed the church that corporate benefit and sensibility should dictate the practice of speaking in tongues in public gatherings. Though everyone could, not everyone should speak in tongues in public. Only two or three at most would be inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so, and those utterances would have to be interpreted by the sister manifestation of interpretation of tongues for the proper benefit to ensue.

The call is for restraint in public, not to imply that not everyone could speak in tongues in private. In fact, Paul wanted them all to continue to speak in tongues, and admitted that he spoke in tongues more than them all. Some, but not all of us will have a recurring ministry of speaking in tongues in public or interpreting tongues that were spoken in public; but all, not some of us who are baptized in the Holy Spirit have the privilege of praying in the Spirit for our own edification. It is up to the Spirit to determine which of us is the some.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

When God said, "Don't eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," do you think he intended to keep humans in ignorance for eternity? In light of 1 Corinthians 13:12, I believe the correct answer is no. Eventually, had Adam and Eve not eaten the forbidden fruit (at least if you believe it wasn't a foregone conclusion that they would), I think God would have invited them to partake of everything he had, but all things must wait until their time.

For many years, Abram and Sarai, who became Abraham and Sarah, were folk indistinguishable from any others alive in their day, but stirred by encounters with the living God, they became people of incredible faith. During the process of that growth, they kept the faith and held out for the promise of God for a long time against astounding odds. At some point in time, however, anticipation fatigue set in and they became impatient. The result was Ishmael and endless blood and warfare. God wasn't holding out on them, they just needed to hold on until it was time. Isaac became their laughter of joy soon enough, but their impatience left a mark time hasn't erased to this very day.

Saul, had nothing going on. His complete lack of extraordinariness literally stood head and shoulders above the rest of Israel. Out of the blue, God raised him to a perch he never could have ascended to himself. One would think God asking him to wait for a sacrifice until his prophet, Samuel, showed up wasn't asking all that much, but Saul couldn't restrain himself against the expectation (and fear). How sad for him and his entire family.

Seldom does our impatience portend the same disasters that these three examples did, but it can. The one who can't wait for the Lord, ends up the drug addict, the gambler, the fornicator, the willful, the false. What does waiting cost: hunger, boredom, anxiety, seeming a loser? The easiest thing to do is cash in your chips and follow the expedited, humanly conceived path to gettin' 'er done. The problem is that those chips were the promise of God, and you may well not get them back if you didn't have the foresight to hold on to them. There are many difficulties on the path of faith, the waiting may be the hardest part.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Choose to Believe

"What is it to believe? It is to have such confidence in what the Lord has said that we take Him at His word, simply because He said it." ...Smith Wigglesworth (emphasis added)

What is it that the Lord wants from people? Nothing more, nothing less than faith. Oh, I know there are other aspects to holiness and righteousness, but at the most basic, the most fundamental, everything comes down to faith. Works never were and never will be the issue, for God is more than willing to look at us, not on their basis, but through grace. The only issue, as far as humans are concerned, that is ultimately determinative with God is faith. It was that way in the beginning, it is still that way, and will be until the end of time when all things are made new.

When Adam and Eve were in the garden, the issue to be decided was not whether or not they would toe the line of obedience, but whether or not they had confidence in what the Lord said. To undermine them, the Devil had to first assault the character of God and pull the rug out from under grandpa's and grandma's confidence in his word (note vs. 4-5). That accomplished, disobedience was a foregone conclusion. It is impossible to remain obedient under testing if one has diminished or no trust in God's character and word.

Humankind gets things all topsy-turvy when it comes to God. We project upon him our own performance orientation, and make him the cosmic task master who's ever eyeing our stats and looking to cut us from the team; however, with God it's never, "what have you done for me lately?" What can we ever truly do for him anyway? No, we may be servants of the Most High, but our relationship with him is never subject to performance reviews.

Our moments of trial and ordeal come down not to our feats but to our faith. Everyone needs, in those times in the valley of decision, to take stock of his or herself and talk to themselves about what they think of God and his word. When Eve did so, she talked herself clean out of faith: we need to learn from her error and instead choose to believe.