September 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I recently had the privilege of marrying a young couple, and after editing some personal details, decided to post the message I delivered during the ceremony here. The objective was to communicate a Biblical perspective on marriage and, of course, the Gospel. Both are gifts of God that require clarification in these times.
What is marriage?
Did you ever stop to wonder why we have this ceremony where a man and a woman are united in front of a bunch of people and there’s music and flowers and a party afterwards? Isn’t it curious that notwithstanding some differences in tradition, everywhere around the world, every culture throughout all human history has embraced marriage, this joining of a man and a woman in an exclusive and lifelong commitment as a fundamental unit of society, which has proven itself to be the best way to raise a family? Where did this idea come from?
It so happens that marriage wasn’t the invention of any country or government or religion or church, but human beings received marriage as a gift from God. At creation, God gave the first man Adam to the first woman Eve, and said what God has joined together, let no one separate. Marriage is God’s gift to us.
How do we respond to getting a gift? Well, it depends on the gift, doesn’t it? Some gifts we don’t like or end up using. Some of the gifts you get for your wedding may end up in storage, re-gifted for the next wedding you attend, or end up listed on Des Moines Swap for $15. Anyone have a gift like this in mind?
But what about the good gifts? You know what I mean. That prized thing that gets used and enjoyed and cherished for a long time, you take care of, and you wouldn’t give it up for anything. On your thank you note to the giver you include an extra paragraph spilling onto the back of the note expressing your gratefulness for the gift and how you use it all the time!
The wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 18 tells us that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and receives favor from the LORD.” When I’m feeling poetic and remember my own blessings, I refer to my wife Amy as my “good thing.” Consider marriage as a good thing, and a gift from God.
Not very long ago, I did a Facebook poll asking people to post what their favorite wedding gifts were. The top 3 types of gifts were cash (popular with the guys), non-stick cookware, and personal, sentimental type gifts like a drawing, painting, or hand-made quilt. Marriage, in a sense, is like cash. It’s highly valuable, basic and foundational to society. Like non-stick cookware, it’s a reliable gift you keep and care for and it’s a daily part of your life. And like those priceless sentimental gifts, marriage is something you cherish, create memories with and you won’t give up for anything.
One thing you do with a good gift is try to understand it and how best to use it. What was God trying to tell us with the gift of marriage? That it’s the ultimate expression of love between a man and a woman and the best way to bring up the next generation for the good of society? That’s true, but there’s more to it, something eternal: Marriage is also intended to be a picture of the love and commitment Jesus Christ has for us.
It wasn’t long after that first man and woman were joined in marriage that through their pride and disobedience, sin came into the world and stained everything. But even then, God had a plan to redeem us from sin. The God we take these vows before today is one of truth and justice, so He must judge sin, but He’s also a God of love and grace, and He stands ready to forgive anyone who accepts His free gift.
What was that gift? John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This freedom through Jesus is a gift, not something we can earn or buy or even register for. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…”
Bad gifts will come and go, but recognize the rare and precious good gift when you see it. James, the brother of Jesus, reminds us that every good gift comes from above. God has given us much, hasn’t He? There is also the gift of each other. I know [Groom] considers [Bride] a gift, and [Bride] says the same about [Groom]. And they both agree that any children resulting from this union are a precious gift from God too. You also have the gift of lifelong friends here today who have loved and supported you, and each of you have the gift of a new family to be a part of. And about your marriage, the gift of God we celebrate here today: Use it, enjoy it, cherish it, take care of it, be thankful for it, and don’t give it up for anything. And finally, may the gift of eternal freedom in Christ guide your perspective in all of these other gifts.
That’s my hope for each invited guest here today. Jesus comes where He is invited. [Bride] and [Groom] have both invited Christ into their marriage, and into their individual lives. He wants to be in yours too.
Closing Prayer: Our God and heavenly Father, giver of life and breath and everything else, we thank you for the gift of marriage, and your many blessing bestowed upon us. As the truine God and Creator of the universe, you have made us in your image to seek and value relationships. As we witness this wonderful relationship solemnized in marriage, may we seek your face above all, by the extension of Your love and grace, “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” paying the ultimate price to unite us to Yourself. We pray for [Bride] and [Groom] in their marriage, that You would in Your Spirit strengthen them as husband and wife and parents, and teach them to continually rely on You. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
September 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
“The children of divorced parents have grown up to be adults of no religion,” a new Pew Research Center study(1) says, according to the Washington Post. “People whose parents divorced when they were children are significantly more likely to grow up not to be religious as adults, the study found. Thirty-five percent of the children of divorced parents told pollsters they are now nonreligious, compared with 23 percent of people whose parents were married when they were children.”(2)
The correlation in this study seems pretty strong. Does it make sense that when an impressionable young person sees something as fundamental and life-shaping as a safe and sound family structure, where he placed his faith, divide, it can lead to the shaking of other foundational structures, like his understanding of God and faith? And maybe in particular faith in the community aspect of church life?
From the Post article: “Everything in a divorce gets divided. Literally everything. Parents’ friends get divided. Relatives get divided. Everyone takes sides… Even religion takes sides. The church gets divided. Dad leaves Mom’s faith, or vice versa. Negotiating those worlds becomes difficult.”
From politics to family to church, Jesus’ words (also famously quoted by Lincoln) seem to have an increasingly wider application: “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25)
Maybe the lesson for the church is to strive in unity and love as an answer to those soured on it by broken families, if they will come.
1) Cooper, Betsy. “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back” Pew Research Center. PRRI, 22 Sep. 2016. Web. 29 Sep. 2016.
2) Zauzmer, Julie. “How Decades of Divorce Helped Erode Religion” The Washington Post. WaqshingtonPost.com, 27 Sep. 2016. Web. 29 Sep. 2016
January 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
Marriage is work. Sometimes very hard work. And somewhere along the line we got the idea that work is a bad thing. But don’t we generally refer to people who refuse to work as bums? Work is something that can bring great rewards, and that applies to marriages too. There is a bad kind of work, however: The kind that is non-productive or counterproductive, work that doesn’t labor for something good. That’s the work to avoid. Things that are hard and take time are worth the effort, especially marriage. We can definitely work it the wrong way and be busy with the wrong goals, but don’t let a fear of work spoil things worth pursuing. Get to work!
November 28, 2014 § 1 Comment
Christian apologetics has been around as long as Christianity has, because followers “of the Nazarene sect”(1) have always needed to provide a defense to its skeptics. Marriage, however, has met with very few challengers since its institution thousands of years before Christianity. That is, until recently. Now that there is the need to make a case for traditional marriage in the face of alternatives, we in effect have a use for marriage apologetics.
Who are marriage’s great apologists? In my opinion, there are many, and I’ve decided not to attempt a list for fear that I’ll be coming back to add to it time and time again. But all of them provide logical and level-headed reasoning on why the man-woman marriage prescribed in scripture and universally accepted by every culture throughout history is best for society. A good marriage apologist can defend marriage with or without the Bible. As a fundamental relationship of any society, cultures and governments look to marriage as the primary means of family and flourishing and the good of society, and children do better with a mother and father.
But marriage apologetics is far more complete when we don’t leave out the Bible, for the same reason that most marriage defenders are Christian, or at least have a regard for the book of Genesis(2) as authoritative. The religiously faithful are naturally the most ardent defenders of marriage no doubt because of the understanding of its divine origins. From a Christian perspective, if the Bible is God’s Word, then marriage is God’s design, and thus “not ours to alter. It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate.”(3) That last affirmation derives from The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium, a global conference of faith leaders hosted by the Vatican. Lately, there have been a number of big conferences aimed at discussing the importance of marriage, including the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s National Conference(4), where it could almost be said that marriage apologetics is a subset of Christian apologetics. (In fact, the heavy-hitters on the roster at the ERLC conference make up for my lack of a list of marriage apologists.)
The most effective part of apologetics, in my opinion, is personal testimony. At the end of the day I don’t think there is anything more convincing in Christian apologetics than stories of how Jesus Christ has changed a person, and of course what He has saved them from. Likewise, marriage apologists should be telling stories of great marriages. Christian Author John Stonestreet has often said, “We need to tell stories that portray the beauty of lifelong love as well as the power of the natural family. And, we need to tell the stories of those who are being victimized by the so-called ‘right’ to same-sex marriage. There are plenty of stories that fit both of those categories.”(5)
Finally, we can’t overlook the greatest connection between Christian apologetics and marriage apologetics, which is their shared ultimate purpose: the Gospel. According to the Bible (Ephesians 5), God’s larger purpose for marriage is to display the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, and because this satisfied our debt of sin, it pleased the Father. Christians live a joyful and fulfilling life when they live it in love and submission to God and His word. The greatest joy in a lasting marriage comes from a husband sacrificially loving and leading his wife and a wife joyfully loving and submitting to her husband.(6) In this way, marriage points to something far more evangelical. When we live out marriage the way God designed it, we display the Gospel, and what better mission can a husband and wife engage together?
1) Acts 24:5
2) Genesis 2:24
6) Ephesians 5:21-33
Marriage: What It Is Reveals What It Isn’t (And A Review Of ‘Same-Sex Marriage, A Thoughtful Approach…’)
September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
Whatever side of the same-sex marriage debate you are on, you should be clear about how you define marriage. We have to know what it is to hold any kind of position on what it isn’t.
Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet‘s new book, Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage is a excellent articulation of the definition of marriage, Biblically and otherwise, in light of the normalization and legalization of same-sex marriage. It outlines the challenges the Church now faces and offers a truly thoughtful response to this massive and unprecendented cultural shift. It’s an easy and insightful read with well-footnoted content laid out in a very sensible format.
WHAT IS MARRIAGE?
Helping nail down an objective marriage definition is in my opinion the book’s most immediately accessible feature, and what makes it a much-needed apologetic tool for engaging a culture that is evidently very confused about the topic. It may be surprising to see how similar the definition of marriage put forth in Scripture is to the one recognized by governments and societies all over the world for millennia. Consider first the Biblical definition and purposes for marriage.
What if we leave out the Bible? Over the long span of history, cultures around the world, religious or not, have most highly regarded the very same type of marriage. With the exception of the past few decades in a few countries in the West, the marital union of people of the same sex was virtually unheard of (and still is rare globally). Practically, the complementary relationship between men and women is pretty obvious to most. For thousands of years and in everywhere in the world before the year 2000, one-man/one-woman marriage was simply nature and the norm. Anything else was the exception.
Overall, societies have always regarded marriage unions as permanent. Divorce is ancient, but was never the ideal or the goal in any marriage. Many gay marriage advocates argue that the high divorce rate among heterosexual couples shows that the traditional match-up may not be so ideal after all. The problem with this argument is that divorce is and has always been an example of a failed attempt at marriage. In fact, divorce is not part of marriage; it’s the end of marriage. Divorced people are not married, so divorce can’t really be an argument against traditional marriage. If anything, it’s an argument for the fact that we get many things wrong.
Around the world throughout history, societies have considered the marriage union to be an exclusive relationship. Husbands and wives are not considered free to wander in and out of the commitment. Couples do unfortunately cheat on their spouses, and this is another example of marriage done incorrectly. Marital infidelity is a broken promise. Like divorce, it’s never the ideal and never in the plan at the outset of a marriage.
Natural marriage has always been in part about companionship and how one completes the other for the good of family and society. Love and romance are happy features in most marriages, but it is not a fundamental purpose. Proverbs says to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” but the Bible doesn’t emphasize feelings of love as a condition to lifelong marriage. Likewise in the secular world, what couple applying for a marriage license is ever asked by the clerk, “How do you feel about each other? Are you sure you’re in love?”? As Sean and John note, “The government does not care how a couple feels (its not on the form), but rather how they fit into the larger social context.” (pages 25,158) To the state (here in the US and most other governments), feelings of love and romance take a back seat to other more lasting purposes of the union.
What are the purposes of marriage that the state is really interested in? The fact that most traditional marriages produce children, and the ideal (supported by study after study) that children are better off with both a mother and a father. The companionship of marriage plus children makes a family. Every society seeks good replacements, and so governments encourage and even incentivize marriage as a way to ensure children become good and productive adult members of society. Families are the basic building blocks of civilization. Granted, not every marriage produces children, but every human being on earth comes from a mother and a father (and generally fare better growing up with both).
Secular society will on the whole have little interest in the picture of Christ and the Church that marriage bears, but this picture is the result, not a precondition, for Biblical marriage. The criteria that the Bible sets up for marriage are pragmatic and mirrored almost intuitively by every culture for all time, up until very recently.
And just as you can’t get a pie with just sugar, any of these criteria alone do not make a marriage. The sexual union of a man and woman can be done without being married. All kinds of relationships are permanent (as are markers and glue). Boyfriends and girlfriends can be exclusive. Companionship can be had with any human and most animals. You can hire a “helper.” And we can make babies without, except for the opposite sex pairing, any of the above conditions being met. A marriage is a marriage when all of these are in view or at least categorically possible.
While the case for traditional marriage can be argued very well without using the Bible or religion, we will never really know WHY we have always recognized (not invented) one-man/one-woman marriage without starting at the foundation. Even Jesus, when fielding a question about divorce from the Pharisees (Matthew 19, Mark 10) went straight back to the design phase, quoting Genesis 2.
“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Notice that the Lord answered a question about divorce (which is not actually marriage) with the fundamental origin and purpose of marriage. If we know what marriage is, we can always identify the many things it is not—divorce, cohabitation, gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever else might come down the pike.
For Christians, our appeal has no real authority without the Word of God as the foundation for marriage, but the fact that societies everywhere around the world have historically validated the same kind of marriage outlined in the Bible is affirmation of God’s design of a very good thing.
MORE ABOUT THE BOOK
That is more or less where my understanding of marriage has landed after a bit of refinement from reading Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. But back to the book: Get it and read it. In addition to clarifying what marriage is and why it matters, Part 1 of the book outlines the societal shift that has happened in recent decades and recounts the history of recent changes in views on marriage. Part 2, What We Can Do For Marriage goes into the Christian responsibility for marriage, learning from the “gay liberation” agenda, some serious introspection with a call to repentance, things churches can and should do, and answers to common questions.
Throughout the book are brief interviews with with other Christian authors and otherwise notable folks addressing key issues related to marriage. For example, on page 88-89, Eric Teetsel fields several questions on What Same-Sex Marriage Means for the Church’s Role in Culture. Very insightful.
It was very interesting just how influential one book could be to the gay movement. After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s by Marshal Kirk and Hunter Madsen (1989) was a playbook for many in the movement (Chapter 8, pages 90-98), which outlined a 3-step process to change public opinion: Desensitize the public to the gay culture, portray anti-gay voices as bad guys “without reference to facts, logic or proof,” and convert the public through propaganda. It worked. Lessons to learn from this kind of movement are that sometimes a good story is better than a good argument. We have great stories to tell about life-long, natural marriages, and we should be telling them.
The emphasis that the authors put on the need for introspection and repentance by the Church was a surprise for a book written as a defense of marriage, but it’s warranted and appropriate. Christians corporately need to self-examine our motives and our approach, past and present, in how we treat our gay neighbors. Biblically, we are called to tell the truth about marriage and sexuality, but we are called to do it out of love and respect for gay people as fellow image-bearers of God. We need to humbly admit we’ve made mistakes before moving on. Here are a few questions from Sean and John (page 106):
• Have we told inappropriate jokes that slander or dehumanize gays and lesbians?
• Have we condemned another, using their homosexual sin to justify and coddle our own heterosexual sin?
• Have we physically or emotionally abused someone because they identify as gay?
That said, most of the arguments put forth in defense of same sex marriage are flat out fallacious, most notably Strawmen (replacing the actual argument with one that is easier to defeat) and Ad Hominem (attacking a person’s character instead of the argument). We need to be aware of this and respond with well-reasoned answers (but “do so with gentleness and respect.”–1 Peter 3:15). We need to be aware of manipulative buzzwords, like discrimination, and realize that “not all discrimination is wrong. It’s often appropriate and necessary.” (pg. 26) The authors walk us through some “What if” scenarios and close with appendixes providing answers to pertinent questions and common challenges, including “Isn’t opposing same-sex marriage the same as opposing interracial marriage?”, and “Don’t you believe in marriage equality?” and the complex question (a trick question that assumes something not necessarily true), “Why do you hate gay people?” (pages 155-160).
But Christians have had their share of fallacious arguments in this debate. On John Stonestreet’s Breakpoint program, he featured a letter from a Christian condemning something she called “the Argument from Ickiness.” This is summed up in the sentiment “Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worse kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.” Aside from being ignorant and wrong, this argument relies on pure emotionalism and zero rationale. For the past 30 years many who spoke against homosexuality have generally not had a real argument against it, but a childish “Yuck” reaction. After the influence of media and pop culture had finally succeeded in normalizing homosexuality by portraying gays as ordinary people looking for love like the rest of us, it led a lot of people, gay and straight, including our vice-president, to conclude that “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.” The Argument from Ickiness was all many had against the movement, and it didn’t work anymore.
Sean and John’s book brings to light not only a right-headed rationale against gay marriage, but a right-hearted compassion for gay people—a clear answer for the need for both grace and truth that Christ calls us to. Marriage affects everyone eventually, and there is not a single Christian who will escape the question of what marriage is and the need to respond with a definitive position on same-sex marriage. This book is an incredible source for equipping Christians for what is here now and what lies ahead.
October 27, 2013 § 1 Comment
First a brief background on the characters in he story. Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi, an Israelite, and both are widows. Ruth was a foreigner (from Moab) who had committed to the God of Israel and vowed to stay with Naomi and care for her (1). In ancient times, a woman without a husband is in a dire situation, and this was true of Ruth and Naomi. The workers in a nearby field agreed to let Ruth follow behind and gather the grain that they missed or dropped as they harvested. The field’s owner, Boaz, showed special kindness to Ruth upon discovering her situation. Naomi realized that Boaz was a close relative, and the opportunity for redemption came in a particular kinsman-redeemer law. A kinsman-redeemer was a guardian responsible for caring for he family interests of the widow of a deceased relative. This provision allowed Ruth to seek his hand in marriage, resulting in the rescue of Ruth and her mother-in-law from their financial and social situation and enabling the continuation the family name and inheritance.
The first observation of Boaz’s redemptive plan was that the request for marriage (2) came from Ruth to Boaz, not the other way around. In God’s redemptive plan for His creation, He allows for us to approach the throne of grace and make our appeal to His Son Jesus. Christ is portrayed as the Groom coming for His bride the church, but it is our place to humbly go to Christ and ask for forgiveness. Ruth was a gentile without a husband, but the door was open for her too, and Ruth became part of the line of David that led to the birth of the Messiah a thousand years later in the very town in which they now lived.
The second observation I found interesting is that the form of redemption in Ruth is marriage and not some other arrangement. It’s hard to think of any other relationship people can enter into that can save us, here on earth, to the extent that a man marrying a woman can. Societies and cultures everywhere fundamentally rely on marriage and the resulting family to carry on humanity, to adequately care for and raise children, and provide a basis for all we know about society. The government of Nigeria, fed up with terrorism arising from its own people, recently took steps to enable mass weddings under the premise that men who marry and start families do not generally become terrorists.(3) Marriage has saving power.
Ruth is pretty foreign to modern ideas about marriage and redemption. Today, it is uncommon for the woman to propose to a man, and I’m not sure why that is still uncommon. But it is increasingly uncommon to see the historic and conjugal understanding of marriage as something that serves the public interest.(4) Marriage is not a social or religious or sexual idea, but a pre-law, pre-political unit of society that law has recognized, not created; one which produces good citizens and fundamentally brings goodness to the world.(5) Marriage and the family it blossoms redeems us from ourselves. When it comes to marriage, liberalism or expressive individualism has brought self-seeking alternatives, but marriage seeks others, the benefit of others and society as a whole. When it comes to redemption, we ultimately will never find this in ourselves.
1) Ruth 1:16