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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Let No Man Put Asunder

Last summer I had surgery to repair an umbilical hernia. I wasn’t convinced it was necessary but my family was worried about it and said, “Some people die from hernia’s dad!” so I set it up. It was the first surgery I had had in 37 years so, as I knew, surgical procedures had changed a bit. Every precaution was taken because there is still the danger of infection or other complications in spite of all the safeguards in place. I was given tremendous care at the facility and then was given an excuse to sit in a recliner for a week. As far as surgeries go its hard to imagine one going easier. I received great care before and after from the medical professionals, from my family, and from friends.

A week later I went back for a check up and when I lifted my shirt to show the surgeon the area he looked surprised. He told me that that is about the most bruising we ever see with this surgery. I later asked him if I could go swimming, he said sure, but do me a favor. “If you do go swimming, keep your shirt on, don’t let anyone see that, and don’t let anyone know who did that to you.”

Of course, there’s nothing funny about most surgeries. Some of them are deadly serious. But I want to direct your attention to another sort of cutting. It happens a lot and there simply are no controls and no safe and healthy means of anesthetizing the pain that comes from such a cutting. The cutting is less like a surgery and more like a bomb, no one close to the blast walks away unscathed. Jesus said, quoting Genesis 2:
Matthew 19:5–6 (ESV)  . . . ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his 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.”
In place of the word “separate” the King James version says, “put asunder.” This language is picked up in the a traditional version of the marriage ceremony. Perhaps you think my analogy between surgery and divorce a bit over done. But The Greek word behind the translations “separate” or “put asunder” includes the idea of “sever.” Furthermore, my interviews with groups of divorced people both in the past and very recently back up my characterization. There are no safeguards against the cutting involved in separating what God has joined together in a marriage. It doesn’t matter how clean or efficient the process; it is a devastating experience. Believing that I am following God’s leading, I will carefully wade into this topic at Bethany Place this Sunday. Surrounding divorce. there are several groups of people I want to encourage and speak to, each with unique needs. Here are a few (there are other scenarios):

To the married person considering divorce because they’ve gotten caught up with another person I would like to challenge with every arsenal in scripture and heart broken story I know to block their way. Attraction for another human being will go away if it is not nourished. Sexual or romantic bliss is not a right that we can demand.

To the person contemplating divorce because of irreconcilable differences I would urge to slow down.

To the person contemplating divorce, because of abuse I would say get out of harm’s way immediately.

To the person who’s been divorced, I want to offer God’s grace and hope.

To the children of divorce, I want to say God loves you, its not your fault, and we want to help you.

To the church and the Christian community I want to say, let us wake up to the carnage these folks are going through and be doing all that we can to love and rescue and make a difference in their lives.

You can see some of the scripture for Sunday’s message and suggestions for prayer regarding this subject below.
Matthew 19:3–9 (ESV)
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his 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.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 
Suggested items for prayer:
  • Pray for existing marriages that both partners will live by the values of Matthew 19:5-6.
  • Pray for persons pursuing marriage that they will be allowing God to shape their character to be fully prepared for both the blessings and challenges of marriage. 
  • Pray for persons considering divorce that they may listen to godly advice and stay close to God and to his church as they struggle. 
  • Pray for hope and for healing for those in the midst of divorce, for all parties involved including children.  
  • Pray for those that have been divorced that they might richly experience the grace of God, his acceptance through his grace, and his purpose for their lives.
  • Pray that the church may know how to sensitively, practically, and faithfully minister to all persons affected by the tragedy of divorce. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Fresh Vision for Marriage Audio

The audio for the message I preached yesterday, on Phil. 2:1-11, 5/27/12 at Bethany Place, is available here on the Bethany place site. You can also see a video to the message here

Friday, May 25, 2012

Living Single in a Married World Audio

The audio is now available for the message Living Single in a Married World, based on Philippians 1:11-30. I wrote a preview for that message here. You can listen online or download it to your computer by following this link.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Fresh Vision of Marriage

It’s not for nothing that traditional marriage vows state “for better or for worse” because there may be nothing like a marriage that has the potential to bring out both the best and the worst in a man and a woman. Most every human relationship can be faked in some way, but marriage simply cannot. There was a very funny movie in the late 90’s starring Tim Allen & Christie Alley called For Richer for Poorer. The first scene shows the husband and wife, played by the above actors, celebrating their anniversary with many friends in their swanky New York apartment. It’s evident that their affection for each other and “great marriage” is admired and envied by their friends. However, once the crowd leaves, it’s immediately evidently that they actually despise each other and are headed for disaster. All that is played out for great laughs, though of course there’s nothing funny about real marriage disasters.

In some respects marriage is like a really challenging academic test designed to be beyond everyone who will take the test to measure the real limits of their academic ability. Or perhaps you could relate marriage to the training of special forces personnel where candidates are thrown together in very close proximity and stressed in every imaginable way to determine whether or not candidates will be emotionally, mentally and physically up to the extreme circumstances they will later face.

But I don’t mean to give an overly pessimistic view. As I often tell my kids, anything worth doing that has the potential to deliver great good is also likely to be very challenging and demand your best. Marriage is a great good, but it places incredible demands and exposes any character weakness in both partners.

I’m reading The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller. I highly recommend both to those married and those who hope to be married at some point. In the second chapter, which is worth the price of the book, Keller relates that in spite of the tremendous challenge of marriage the majority of people are happy in their marriage:
All surveys tell us that the number of married people who say they are “very happy” in their marriages is high— about 61– 62 percent— and there has been little decrease in this figure during the last decade. Most striking of all, longitudinal studies demonstrate that two-thirds of those unhappy marriages out there will become happy within five years if people stay married and do not get divorced.
Next week at Bethany Place I will directly address the need to support and encourage those who are divorced. This week in the 3rd message of the series Applying the Gospel to the Family Circus, I will directly challenge the conventional views of marriage in a way that I’m praying will provide a fresh vision for marriage and reveal what scripture says God’s ultimate purpose for a marriage is. I have no intention of ignoring the needs of those who are single, divorced, or widowed, which I hope is evidenced by last week’s sermon and next week’s. However, my desire to encourage and support those folks does not diminish the real need for us to do all that we can to challenge and strengthen existing marriages. The well being of our children, families, churches and society is directly affected by the well being of the marriages in our midst. Once again, I am preaching from a passage that does not directly address marriage, but the application works, i promise. You can see the scripture, outline and prayer guide for this message below.

A Fresh Vision of Marriage
Philippians 2:1-11
Applying the Gospel to the Family Circus, Part 3

You will move toward fulfilling God’s intent for your marriage when you
1.    Seek genuine transformation through the gospel
Philippians 2:1 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

2.    Pursue the same purpose
Philippians 2:2–4 (ESV) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

3.    Move toward expressing stunned worship and adoration to Jesus
Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Some suggestions for praying through this passage
Pray for God to develop in you through his grace encouragement in Christ,  comfort from love,  participation in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy for other people, especially your spouse if you have one. 

Pray that God would grant you the strength to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. (See Ephesians 3:16-19)

Pray that God would reveal to all of us the ways in which we act from selfish ambition and conceit. Pray that God would help us to practically see how to act in humility toward others, putting their needs above our own. 

Pray that God would awaken all of us to the glory of Jesus' act in leaving heaven to come to earth and that we would be led to increasingly stunned worship and adoration of him through that.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Follow up to Living Single in a Married World

Here are a couple of resources I discovered in preparation for the message Living Single in a Married World delivered at Bethany Place based on Philippians 1:12-30. It was an unusual text to use for this subject. The audio should post soon. The most important resource I want to point out is a talk given by Tim Keller called Singleness: The Biblical Guidelines. However, it does deal with mature subject matter. Another blog post of interest is What Not to Say to Single Women in Your Church
I also used the following quote from C.S. Lewis. It is found in The Weight of Glory
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why a Married Guy is Talking about Living Single in a Married World

I'm talking about this because I love people who are single, plain and simple. This Sunday at Bethany Place I am preaching a message titled, Living Single in a Married World. I am approaching carefully. I’ve never really been single in the way we understand that word. Kat and I were married before we left college, having met and begun dating just a few weeks after arriving at college in 1980. Before that, I admit with some embarrassment I simply refused to be alone. Throughout high school I went from one relationship to another; some lasted many months, some just a few weeks, but I rarely passed a weekend without persuading a girl to go out with me (the girls didn’t have much to choose from, it was a small town!). I didn’t grossly misbehave in those relationships but I say with regret that I never gave God much of an opportunity to meet the craving in my soul that kept driving me toward those relationships, though I was a rather serious follower of Christ already at that time.

And so in approaching the challenge of speaking on this topic, I'm remind of the commercials that quip something like, “I’m not a surgeon, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” Except that I’ve prepared more diligently than just getting a good night’s sleep. I’m not single, but I have listened to many single adults over the years talk about the experience. I’ve read much in the past weeks to prepare to discuss this topic. Plus we are going to explore a text of scripture written by a rather famous single person, the Apostle Paul. The text does not explicitly address the experience of being unmarried, but there are tremendous applications in the text for single persons of all varieties: never married, divorced, or widowed.

I also want to make you aware of an excellent resource. The link points to a talk given before a group of singles by Tim and Kathy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. There are some things that need to be shared on this topic, but would make most everyone in any church uncomfortable, especially parents with young children in the service. So rather than wandering into those topics without warning for those who will attend BP on Sunday, I want to pass along the link to this resource that I think will be of tremendous help.

You can see the scripture from which I will preach, along with the outline, questions and prayer suggestions below.

Living Single in a Married World

1.   Develop a passion outside yourself

Philippians 1:12–18a (ESV)
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

2.   Experience that Jesus + nothing = everything

Philippians 1:18b–26 (ESV)
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

3.   Pursue this passion in unity with a strong group believers

Philippians 1:27–30 (ESV)
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Questions for discussion or reflection
·      What other examples from scripture do you know of where God took something that was difficult and used it for good? Can you think of examples in your own life?
·      Perhaps not many would claim that they could always say with Paul, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” But if that’s not so, that means that some other person or thing goes in the blank where Christ’s name goes: “For me to live is _________.” If not Christ, what honestly goes in the blank for you? Can that person or thing bear the weight of being your ultimate reason for living?
·      Why could it be important to be richly connected to strong group of believers?
·      Do you find that you are tempted to avoid getting deeply engaged with a church? Why or why not? If you could speak to married believers in the church what would you say?

Suggestions for praying through this text
Pray for God to help you to see how he is redeeming difficult circumstances in your life for good.
Ask God to give you a desire to honor him with your body regardless of the circumstances of your life.
Ask God to open your eyes to those whom he has called you to pour your life into.
Ask God to grant to you a band of brothers and sisters with whom to pursue his purposes for you in the world. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fighting for Joy Audio

Audio from message Fighting for Joy from Psalm 42-43 at Bethany Place on April 29, 2012.


As a teenager in my home church it always got my attention when the pastor would say something about how to relate in the family. If he referred to some verse on that topic in Proverbs or elsewhere I would typically underline it. When I was first married I often listened to Focus on the Family while working, which at the time typically addressed how to be a better parent, spouse, etc. I listened to Chuck Swindoll as well, who often addressed such issues in his sermons. Currently, I count at least 70 books I own related to family issues, many of which I have read, others are for reference. That does not count books I’ve given away or lost. I've been married for 27 years and a parent for just shy of 25 of those. I have two adult children, a 4 year old, and a daughter in law. I've also helped raise a few other teenagers over the years. I've walked through horrendous pain with many in the midst of terrible family tragedies. Some of my best friends have gone through brutal divorces. I’ve seen much hurt up close. So do I feel like an expert in this field? Not on your life. Yet, I feel compelled to address these matters form God’s word. This Sunday at Bethany Place I’m beginning a series I’ve called Applying the Gospel to the Family Circus, but the prospect of wading into these issues in the next few weeks I find pretty intimidating. 

In praying and studying to prepare for this series I’ve hit upon an angle that I've not seen anyone take previously. Especially in the first three weeks I will explore these subjects from the first part of the book of Philippians. I am impressed with the power of applying the message of Philippians to the relationships that hit closest to us. Already my work on the first message is changing the way I think about and live among my own family. The thoughts in the text or so profound I am calling the first message, Overhaul. I believe it is that dramatic. I will link to the message audio here when it is available.

You can see the text and tentative outline for Sunday's message below as well as plan for the rest of the series.

Applying the Gospel to the Family Circus, Part 1
Philippians 1:1-11

1.    Clarify your identity

Philippians 1:1 (ESV)
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

2.    Evaluate what you give

Philippians 1:2 (ESV)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3.    Sharpen the way you pray

Philippians 1:3–6 (ESV)
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

4.    Identify a new basis for affection

Philippians 1:7–8 (ESV)
It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

5.    Upgrade your desires

Philippians 1:9–11 (ESV)
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Here is the tentative plan for the whole series
May 13: Overhaul, Phil. 1:1-11
May 20: Living Single in a Married World, Phil. 1:12-30
May 27: Exposing Unrealistic Expectations for a Mate, Phil 2: 1-11
June 3: Hope for the Broken: Isaiah 61:1
June 10: Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Deut. 6
June 17: Modeling a Heart for God, Phil. 3:17-21