Sunday, August 9, 2015

While I Was Sleeping…In Washington

The Lord God took the human and settled him in the Garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it. The Lord God commanded the human, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.
So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. The human said,
  “This one finally is bone from my bones
    and flesh from my flesh.
  She will be called a woman
    because from a man she was taken.”
This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:15–24 CEB)
What a beautiful picture of God’s design for marriage. Nothing in all of creation was good enough for man … except woman. God made man and woman to complete each other. The first thing in creation that was “not good” was this man’s alone-ness. So, God made the perfect companion for him. Just as Father, Son, and Spirit come together to form One God, so, man and woman come together to make one flesh. Our relationship with each other, then, was meant to reflect the relationships experienced within God’s own self. In fact, do you remember that passage in John’s Gospel? Jesus is preaching and tells the crowds something very important:
I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
The same word is used here to describe the relationship between man and woman. They are different beings, but they become “one” flesh. God intended for us to enjoy that same intimacy and oneness. We are not alike—men and women! Have you noticed that? God noticed it too. So, God created us to complement one another. Together, we form a picture of God for the world. What a wonderful gift God has given to the world and us. As the world searches for a definition of marriage, there it is. But in case you haven’t noticed …  there is some disagreement over this issue today.

I’m not sure my family could have a chosen a more interesting time to visit our nation’s capital! I’m the history nerd of our family, as many of you know. My family was looking forward to the bright lights of New York City. I was looking forward to the history and political intrigue of Washington DC! We visited all of the monuments and museums that we could possibly visit in three days! I believe we probably averaged 10–15 miles a day on foot. My children couldn’t wait to visit just one more museum (Good thing you can’t see their faces right now)! One of my favorite places to visit was the Capital. We were able to sit in the House and Senate chambers as US Representatives and Senators debated laws. Doesn’t that sound great?! It was wonderful! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Not all of us shared the same excitement…one of us (to remain nameless) actually fell asleep in the House chamber! How is that even possible?! It just so happened that the day we were on capital hill, two historic cases were being ruled upon across the street. The Supreme Court ruled on whether or not parts of the new Health Care Law were constitutional. They also ruled on whether or not same-sex marriage would be legal in America. We were in the Senate chamber when the decision was handed down and since that moment, I’ve thought a lot about what I might say to you this Sunday morning.

“Marriage today is under attack”—at least that is what some folks are saying. On the front page of the Focus on the Family website this month is an article that declares, "Traditional marriage as the foundation of family life in our nation is under attack." Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told a Christian group a week after the Supreme Court decision, "America is under attack." Last year, before a crowd of 7,000 people, Pope Francis said the Christian family and marriage “have never before been under attack like today.”

Well, what do you think? Are they correct? This is pretty strong rhetoric! It implies that we are at war! So, are we? Well, there are some signs that a war is taking place. And for a few decades now, the front lines of that war have been Hollywood television and movie sets. In the earliest days of television, the most popular shows depicted marriage in a very different way than it is often depicted today. Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, The Walton’s, and The Bob Newhart Show. These shows depicted marriage as a happy institution. Marriage between a man and a woman, husbands and wives loving each other, respecting each other. Over the years, however, this picture of marriage has been increasingly challenged within Hollywood. Divorce has become commonplace on the big and small screen. Not only do Hollywood actors and actresses get married and divorced at an alarming speed, the movies they make also portray divorce as the normal and logical result of marriage and at the same time, lasting marriages have been characterized as hardships or burdens—screaming kids, giving up your freedom, tied to one person forever. While the single life has been characterized as everyone’s ultimate fantasy—parties every night, good looking singles hanging out at the bar, a new gorgeous looking partner every night of the week, no commitments; complete freedom!

Also, in recent years, more and more shows have depicted homosexual relationships and same-sex marriages as valid marital options: Two and A Half Men, Arrested Development, Glee, Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, plus ten new series that began this year that all feature homosexuality in a prominent way. Each of these challenging the idea that marriage was meant for a man and a woman. Hollywood might be on the front lines, but it is not the only front of this so-called war. Ashley Madison is a Canadian-based online-dating service. It is marketed to married people or to people who are in a committed relationship. It’s slogan is: “Life is short. Have an affair.” The website launched in 2001 and now has more than 124 million visits per month.

So, I guess there has been a war of sorts taking place in our world. A war over what marriage is. How important is marriage? How serious a commitment is marriage? People have taken sides on these questions, and battle lines have indeed been drawn. Hollywood is fighting this battle. Politicians and Courts are fighting this battle. The church is fighting this battle. But you do know, don’t you, that this war is not new. Marriage has always been under attack in our world. God created marriage to reflect His image to the world. One man, one woman; two separate, different beings coming together to make one flesh. But even in the Bible, we see early on that some humans had different plans. As you know, polygamy is common in the Old Testament. But what is interesting is the language used by the biblical writers about polygamy. Nowhere does God ordain polygamy. In fact, the first time it is mentioned in the Bible, we see careful language used to describe it. Genesis 4:19 says,
And Lamech took for himself two wives…
That language is important. Lamech “took for himself…” He took it upon himself to leave the plan of God and take multiple wives. Deuteronomy 17:17 says, “The king must not take many wives so that his heart does not go astray.” Notice that every time a man took multiple wives in the Bible it always turned out badly (without exception). Abraham had Sarah and Hagar—and eventually had to send Hagar away. Jacob had Rachel and Leah, but they fought over children. Solomon had numerous wives, and it led to his rebellion against God. In the Bible, any time people strayed from God’s plan for marriage, things do not turn out well for them.

Beyond the record of the Bible, we know of other times in history when people went against God’s design for marriage. In Ancient Rome it was common for men to take young boys, age 12-20, as their sexual partners. In the same culture it was acceptable for men to take slaves or prostitutes as their sexual partners. Divorce did not originate in our era—it has been common for centuries. It is tempting to think “Things were great back then” But we cannot ignore this fact: There has always been a war against marriage. But why? Why has there always been this constant effort to go against God’s plan for marriage? Because the marriage relationship is a picture of God’s image. And Satan’s task from the beginning has been to keep that image from the world—to stop that image from being seen at all costs.

So, how can make sure that God’s image IS seen by the world?

First, we need to be careful with our rhetoric! Words are important. Contrary to what the childhood slogan would have you believe, words CAN hurt! God’s people need to realize that our goal is not to kill our adversaries. Our goal is to show the world a picture—the beautiful picture of what God intended for marriage and we need to do that with grace. There is a phrase that occurs many times in the Bible: “grace and truth.”
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
God calls us to engage our world with grace and truth. We must share the truth with the world, but we must do it with grace and mercy and compassion. Did you know that every single time that phrase “grace and truth” occurs in the Bible, grace comes first? God calls us to lead with grace. One of the great stories in the Bible comes to us in John 8. The crowds bring to Jesus a woman who has been caught red-handed in adultery. The law says to stone her; it is unambiguous! They bring her and throw her at Jesus’ feet. And His response? First, He offers her grace! “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I.” But then He offers truth. “Go and sin no more.” God always leads with grace and we should too!

Look, this is a hot topic in our nation right now. Be careful how you talk about this! Be careful of the things you post on the Internet. Because this is not just an issue or a cause or a political platform, we are talking about people here, real people who struggle with same-sex attraction. Just like you struggle with lying, or greed, or alcoholism, or gossip, or heterosexual lust! Look, I’ve said it before from this pulpit. I believe the homosexual lifestyle is a sin. And I believe God intended for marriage to be between a man and a woman. But if you encounter someone who struggles with this issue in their life, there is a 99% chance you are not going to change their mind or their heart with your strong, combative rhetoric. In fact, more than likely, you will push them away from church. More than likely, you will push them away from God.

Lead with grace. Because your goal is not to kill them! Your goal is to help them stand up again in this fallen world. And as you lead with grace, why not give them truth by showing them a picture of what God intended for marriage

The most damaging tool in Satan’s arsenal to destroy marriage… It is not Hollywood or the Supreme Court. It is the current state of heterosexual marriage in our nation. Bob Russell, former Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, writes a blog once a week about various issues in our world. Listen to what he wrote about this issue last month:
I believe the best thing we can do at this point is to model what a Christian marriage and a godly family should be.
About half of today’s youth grow up in broken homes and have very little understanding of what a good marriage is supposed to look like. The television show The Simpsons is currently used on some college campuses to teach about the family. But Homer and Marge Simpson are certainly not good role models for marriage.
ABC now airs a program called Modern Family. This award-winning show bills itself as: “…three families give us an honest and often hilarious look into the sometimes warm, sometimes twisted, embrace of the modern family.” Not surprisingly Modern Family makes light of affairs, live in relationships, divorce and the homosexual lifestyle.
Our culture’s poor perception of marriage, however, is not totally the fault of Hollywood, the media, educators, no-fault divorce laws or the Supreme Court. Those of us who are married haven’t set a very inspiring example.
When you see a couple at a restaurant engaged in eager conversation, touching, laughing, completely focused on each other, what do you conclude? “Not married yet.”  When you see a couple at a restaurant staring into space, not talking, obviously bored, what do you conclude? “Must be their 40th wedding anniversary!”
No wonder today’s youth have such a negative concept of marriage and the family. If they go to church they may hear sermons about God’s design for marriage but they don’t see many inspiring examples of Christian couples who appear to be fulfilled and happy.
One of the best things we can do for today’s youth is to model a loving and lasting marriage.
Church, I could not agree more. The best way we can fight the war against marriage in our world is to show the world a picture of marriage as God intended for it to be. Moms and dads, show your children that you love each other. Model respect in your home, model selflessness in your home, let them see you go out on date nights, let them see you show physical affection for each other and teach them about God’s intent for marriage. If they are like my children, they have a lot of questions and the answers they receive from their questions from school or peers are not great! Don’t take this issue for granted. Engage your children with this issue. And know that they need BOTH of you! Husbands, this isn’t your wife’s job! One of the practical reasons I believe God designed marriage for a man and a woman is that we have different gifts to bring to our families. Even politicians who disagree with me on this issue know this is true! President Obama said in a past Father’s Day speech:
We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it. (President Obama, Father’s Day, 2008)
Teach your children this lesson—not just with your words, but also with your actions. Husbands and wives, you need to protect your relationship with each other. It is the most important earthly relationship you will ever have…you cannot take it for granted! I was visiting with Roger McCown a few weeks ago. Our children were all at camp. He had a week with Liz; I had a week with Kim. We agree that we love our kids. But that week was important. We realized that we still liked our spouses! But some of us have not spent enough alone time with our spouses to even know if that is true anymore! I’ve been here just over four years now. In just a few minutes this week, I came up with a list of 11 couples from this church who have either divorced or separated in these four years. There is a war against marriage. It is a war that was waged a long time ago and we must be diligent and intentional in our efforts to fight.

You know, I’ve picked on Hollywood a bit this morning. Hollywood is not all bad. Not all movies are evil. Let me prove it. A few years ago the movie Father of the Bride came to the big screen—a wonderful movie! It is a touching comedy-drama dealing with a father's feelings about giving his daughter away in marriage. George, the father (played by Steve Martin), narrates the story in flash-back fashion and focuses heavily on pleasing his daughter. A critical plot question is: Will George focus so heavily on his daughter and her happiness that his wife will become lost in the shuffle? After all, he's not just the "father of the bride." He is still a husband. You know, that is something that we often forget, husbands! In the midst of the busyness of your life, as you juggle the various commitments you have, never forget that your primary earthly commitment is to your wife. I love the moment in the film when Steven Martin remembers that truth.

Toward the end of the film, the day of the wedding has finally arrived and things couldn't be going worse. For one thing, there is snow, lots of it—in southern California, no less! The wedding planners are caught up in shoveling rather than organizing the reception. The florist is trying desperately to thaw out the freshly planted walkway tulips … with a hair dryer. The swans that were supposed to be floating gracefully in a newly-built fountain pool are instead warming themselves in the porcelain tub of an upstairs bathroom! All of this for George's beloved daughter.

As a defeated George leans his forehead against the doorframe, Nina descends the stairs, "All right. Relax, honey. Everything is going to be just fine. At least we know they can't start without us." George looks up to see her, and in a voiceover, we hear him say, "I knew I'd never be able to remember what Nina wore that day. But I also knew I'd never forget the way she looked."

Our lives are busy with children, our jobs, church, even with weddings! Do not lose sight of the most important earthly relationship God has given you! There has always been a war against marriage in our world. But never forget that the front line of that battle for you is in your own living room. In our quest to fight this war in our nation, my prayer is that we will never forget the battles that are closest to home.

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