Thursday, February 17, 2005

Hearing God in Community

When I started my "Let's Get Personal" series I said that I was "starting a dialogue" - meaning that my words weren't meant to be the final word but the start of a discussion. I knew my words would make some uncomfortable and I wanted to hear back from them to either sharpen or dull what I had said.

This last week proved to be a great discussion following my sermon on divorce and remarriage. People's questions, objections and comments all helped me to expand my understanding and consider other Bible verses that applied. I kept adding to the manuscript of my sermon and reposting it on the website because I felt my message would be incomplete without the updates.

As I thought about what happened, I was pleased to see the evolution of God's word to us as a community. I think that's how it works. Too often we like to say "this is what God says - period." But as everyone adds their reaction, insight and life experience, the Word takes shape. It becomes alive and is able to strike deeper into our spirits because it's become more than information. It's a work of God's Spirit in, through and to his people.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Holiness & Grace

I'm a holiness preacher at heart. A holiness preacher...according to my definition...calls people to obey God at all costs - even to their own detriment. I'm also a grace preacher. I believe that when we fail to obey God he is always there to accept us, cleanse us, lift us up and send us back on our way. In my mind, there's no conflict. These two attributes of God work like 'hand in glove'. But I'm afraid many people don't appreciate this balance. I'm afraid that obedience is seen as harsh and unreasonable. Doesn't God want me to be happy? Why can't he simply forgive me? Why does he ask me to change? Doesn't he know my situation - how hard it is - how impossible obedience is? Can't he understand and just let it go?

Our greatest happiness comes when we are walking in sync with God. Jesus called this "abiding". He said "If you abide in Me I will abide in you." Paul called it "walking after the Spirit". When we honor God through our obedience we are ultimately honoring ourselves. We are treating ourselves with the most respect and dignity. It's just one of the many paradoxes of the Kingdom of God. But when we seek to please ourselves we ultimately undermine our happiness because any life with "self" at the center will lead to futility, despair and ultimately destruction.

As I turn the corner on my series "Let's Get Personal" - the issues at hand get very hard. When confronted with what the Bible/Jesus says about money, divorce and sex the call to obedience often requires great sacrifice - a great forsaking of personal agendas. It requires "standing naked" with your sin and weakness and seeing your failures for what they are. It requires owning them- yet receiving God's love/forgiveness and choosing to obey again in spite of your mistakes. This is the essence of worship.

That's why I wanted to "get personal". I wanted people to see that following Jesus isn't about singing cool songs and feeling warm and fuzzy. It means choosing God's way in the face of the screams of both the world and their own desires. It means walking away from the crowd and being willing to stand alone. I hope you are one who is willing to recklessly pursue God no matter what the personal cost.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Divorce & Remarriage Revisited

After my message on Sunday I had a few people wish that I had answered a fourth question: "What if I divorced and remarried and I realize now that I did it poorly?" The implied question there is..."Am I doomed by God to live a miserable life?" And/or..."Does God consider me an adulterer from here on out?" Those are pretty serious questions that deserve an answer.

I can't imagine living with the thought that God saw me as an adulterer and there was no recourse. So let me give this a shot.

First of all, let me say that Jesus' words about divorce and remarriage leave little "wiggle room". To NOT be considered an adulterer requires either rejecting his words or observing in scripture how we might be able to resolve being an adulterer. But, unless someone broke covenant with you, you have to own the adultery part.

Now, as bad as that is, who hasn't failed God? And specifically relating to marriage...who hasn't WANTED to break covenant with their spouse? It's admirable that people don't follow through on their desires (and not divorce) but no one is perfect. And like any sin, there is forgiveness, there is reparation and restoration. God always offers us a fresh start but there may be some conditions attached and some consequences that follow.

If you find yourself in this scenario, I recommend a few things. First, admit the adultery. Own it. You can't find forgiveness if you don't admit the guilt. And not just the overall guilt but the specific things you did wrong, the specific character flaws that led you to divorce and remarry in the manner that you did (maybe selfishness, pride, impatience, bitterness, etc.).

Second, ask and receive God's forgiveness. All sin is forgiveable if you are truly sorry and willing to forsake it. This is how you can put the adultery in the past. Next, ask forgiveness of those you hurt; your ex-spouse, your children, your friends, maybe even your current spouse if you realize that you entered into the marriage inappropriately. That doesn't invalidate your current marriage but clearing the air of past wrongs will help the future of your marriage.

Finally, make any amends that are outstanding. You need to bring closure. Leaving issues unresolved only causes personal and relational discord - not only with people but with God. As hard as these things may seem to do, not doing them will only cause you inner turmoil. Doing them will bring you the freedom you have been looking for.

Sixty percent of remarriages end in divorce. That tells me that there is a flaw in the whole divorce/remarriage scenario. Many reasons could be pointed out but I think a very big flaw is that people fail to do what I've outlined here - bringing closure to past wrongs. Marriage is hard enough when things go well. When you bring all kinds of baggage from a previously failed marriage into a new one, it's a wonder any work at all. I welcome your feedback.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Sexuality & Promiscuity

When we changed websites I stopped blogging. But after hearing from another pastor how many people read his blog, I thought it was time to begin again. This blog gives me the chance to share more personal thoughts and more in-depth than I can on Sundays.

I read an article yesterday called "Losing Your Promiscuity" in preparation for my message this Sunday. It really troubled me. The author was a counselor and wrote about the young people that he sees that have such distorted views of sex. The typical person is actively very young and very often with different partners. He described it as being as intimate a refueling a plane. Then as these same people go into marriage, sex has lost its power. Instead of being the consummation of love at marriage it is merely a well used add on feature.

I couldn't help but grieve for the loss that these young people are experiencing. But the truly sad thing is that they aren't even aware of the loss because they never appreciated what they had in the first place. I'm frustrated already at the thought of having only 30 minutes on Sunday to try to counter such deeply embedded thoughts in our culture.

God's call to sex within marriage isn't prudish. We keep valuable jewels in a bank vault for a reason - only bringing them out at special times for the select few to see. That's what keeps them valuable. When you start showing them on street corners with no security, those same jewels become common and even boring.

We live in a culture that has lost an understanding of intimacy. I pray that we can find it back. Read the full article at