Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When We Undermine Marriage

A few days ago I saw the blog below:  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/02/21/when-gospel-loving-churches-undermine-marriage/  As I read this, I honestly saw how often even our church and other well meaning adults will undermine marriage without realizing what we are doing.  Marriage that, if asked, we would all say that we should all hold in high esteem. I hope the blog causes each of us to slow down and think through why we do the things we do and what messages we send with our actions. 


When Gospel-Loving Churches Undermine Marriage

When sociologists chronicle how the West redefined marriage, they will cite many factors, including progressive social pressure, willing media, and liberal theology. But thoughtful evangelicals shouldn't only point the finger at the outside world.

church-weddingEven among gospel-preaching congregations, we've contributed to the steady erosion of a once-strong institution. And I'm not primarily talking about divorce or the wink-and-nod treatment for cohabitation. Here are three practical but powerful messages we've sent to our young people, the outside world, and to ourselves about how we really think about marriage.

1. Marriage is important, but not as important as immediate stability.

As a pastor, I can't tell you how often I saw fear in the eyes of parents with children in college. But they didn't fear that their good Christian kid would shipwreck his faith in the secular university or that their daughter would get pregnant. 

No, quite often these Christian parents feared that their son or daughter would find a suitable mate, settle down, and get married, while still in college. I once had a nice Christian mom tell me, "I tell my son, every week, 'Don't you go off and get married now. You've got to at least finish graduate school.'"

To be sure, some young men and women just aren't ready to tie the knot. As the father of three daughters, I will make sure the suitors who come to my door (and they will come to my door or they will not be suitors) are mature, spiritually and emotionally. I want to know my daughter isn't marrying a slacker who will live in my basement until he's 35, having mastered every level of Angry Birds.

However, sometimes we treat marriage while young as a plague to be avoided at all costs. We're telling our children, in effect, "All that stuff we say all the time about marriage, it's important. But pay no mind. Really smart people put off marriage until it's convenient." If our kids listen to this kind of advice, we rob them of this blessed, sanctifying tool in the hands of God. These rhythms of life, these cycles of repentance and forgiveness, make them more like Christ.

Yes, some couples should wait. But no one enters marriage perfect or even ready. More often than not we should encourage young couples to get married and watch the inevitable grit and grace of marital intimacy weave a gospel story.

2. Marriage is important, but not as important as our church activities.

Several years ago I attended a wedding at a church in one of the most concentrated areas of the Bible Belt, where traditional marriage still polls well. This couple had come to the altar after a life transformed by God's grace. Their story was one of brokenness, beauty, and redemption in Christ. But you'd think this event was a major disruption to the church calendar.

The bride and groom paid handsomely for use of the hall—and that's what this venue felt like on the big day, a rented hall. This wedding might as well have been celebrated in a sterile city hall building. And I'm not just talking about the lack of Christian symbols in the d├ęcor, but the stunning lack of interest, on the part of the church, to celebrate this wedding. To be fair, this megachurch probably couldn't give every single wedding the type of fanfare that family and friends want.

But on this day, the wedding seemed like a nuisance, a speed bump in the highway of the church's important weekend activities. The wedding party had a hard time finding help getting in the facility, finding the right rooms, and figuring out the sound system. The pastor, to his credit, was kind and helpful and had shepherded this new couple toward this day. But the couple heard a not-so-subtle, contradictory message: "Yes, we are happy you are getting married, but don't do anything to ruin our really awesome big idea we are doing on Sunday so we can draw people into our church so they can hear the gospel."

Few things demonstrate the gospel like weddings! Christian weddings aren't merely secular ceremonies. Each one celebrates God's loving, intentional design for the people he has pursued, rescued, and appointed as future kings and queens of the universe. The intimate union of man and woman before God helps us peer into another world. It's a signpost for another kingdom, a city whose builder and maker is God.

Weddings shouldn't be incidental occasions in the life of God's covenant community. They prompt celebration and worship. The church should gather around this new couple and bear them up by their presence, by their prayers, and by their generous giving.

3. Marriage is either the utopia at the end of your dreams or your worst nightmare.

More than one social commentator has suggested that long before the gay-rights movement, evangelicals undermined marriage by modeling in real life the opposite of what they preached. The problem isn't just no-fault divorce. Sadly, many lifeless marriages resemble business partnerships more than intimate union. No wonder many young people seem so disinterested in marriage. They've never seen marriage modeled well in real life. The intimacy, spark, and love evaporates just when the kids start paying attention. Avoiding the seeming hassle of marriage, young people check out all together.

In correcting this problem we can swing wildly in the opposite direction. We sometimes present marriage as something more than it was meant to be. Hoping to cultivate healthy sexuality, we sell marriage as utopia, the ultimate destination for hopes and dreams and good sex. We set ourselves up for disappointment. Even the most vibrant Christian marriage only offers a foretaste of a far better gift, Christ himself.

Marriage is neither the nightmare some portray it to be, nor is it heaven. Instead, it's a temporary theater where Christ is sanctifying us and working out his glory. Let's not preach the gospel from the pulpit but deny it in our attitude toward marriage.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Spiritual Narcissism

While reading a book this week I came across a quote by James Taylor (not the singer). He wrote:


 "The curse of the contemporary emphasis on personal growth is its narcissism: the secret of sanctification is the abandonment of every attempt to cultivate the self, or in a still simpler formula, coming from the heart of the gospel, it is losing ourselves to find ourselves."


What Taylor says is alive and well in our lives, more than our flesh would ever like to admit. I have told our people on multiple occasions that the statement, “What does this passage mean to you?” should never be uttered. The reason is that no one should care what it means to you or to me or to anyone except God, the author of the text. In spite of what the late Whitney Houston stated, loving yourself is not the greatest love of all, in fact it is the worse love of all. Scripture makes it crystal clear that we are to die to ourselves; that the reason we go through hardships, the reason we learn truth is not for “me”. The primary reason we grow is for God’s glory, to make Him known. The secondary is to teach others that they may in turn teach more. When this biblical thinking is not at work in us we become either critics or self absorbed spiritual 2 year olds, wanting what is in this for me. So, it leads to such things as a senior adult who has been married for 40 years who now has no desire to be at a marriage conference because they “know all this,” forgetting that they may need to go in order to encourage and engage with the young couple who has been married for 4 years. Mark Dever tells the story of a friend of his who was thinking about leaving a fellowship because “they were holding him back,” to which Pastor Dever basically said…maybe God sent you there to help speed them up. When I view my growth only for me, I lose why I need the church body. I begin to get consumed with “I’m beyond this teaching, or I have passed this class.” To help us understand this we have to remember…IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. When I believe it’s about me, then I miss that the reason I am learning, the reason I am maturing is to make Him known! One of the primary ways of doing this is to make disciples. Christ’s call, the call to the cross is to lose myself, to prefer others, a consuming passion to know more about not only what I am interested in, but what is important to the body. The heart of the gospel is not to ask what’s in it for me, but to be Kingdom consumed and others focused. Certainly, this doesn’t mean I am not to be growing, but I am not to be living my Christian life like I go to a restaurant. If they cook what I like, have the service I want, and consistently meet my expectations, I will continue to go. There is nothing wrong with picking out a restaurant that way, but there is something terribly wrong with picking out a church, and even picking out friends that way. In our “pill popping” culture we tend to look at our problems or weaknesses and get determined to fix it and to do it quickly.  We certainly need to be sensitive to conviction, but I need to know that my weaknesses, my struggles are not just for me, they are to glorify the King and they are to be used in the Kingdom to love, empathize, and mature others. Our growth with God must be fixed in our understanding as that I am not learning this just for me, I am learning everything in order to pour into someone else.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Big Money Questions

There are times I come across a blog that I know helps me or can help others, and I just file it away to use in an e-mail, teaching or even a blog. Below, you will find a blog about money and some questions to ask about money.   Most of us have realized on multiple occasions that we could be better stewards of what God has given us and I believe this blog by Tim Challies will help greatly. I hope you can use it:

4 Questions To Ask Your Money
November 18, 2013
There are some subjects in the Christian world we probably talk about too much and some we may talk about too little. Over time, I think we swing back and forth, often overcorrecting. In my experience money has been one of those subjects we sometimes over-emphasize and at other times almost forget altogether.
I have benefited tremendously from frank, Bible-based discussions on how Christians are to use their money. I have modeled my use of money after people who spoke to me, or who wrote candidly, about their own use of money. As far as I can discern they did not do this in order to boast, but in order to lead and disciple. Their practical counsel has shaped my understanding of the right use of money at least as much as any sermons I’ve heard.
Someone once drew my attention to four questions to ask when I am about to make a purchase—any purchase. Looking back, I can see how much better I am at managing money when I keep questions like these in mind (which, I believe, were first posed by John Wesley).
1. In spending this money, am I acting as if I own it, or am I acting as the Lord’s trustee? I need to have a constant awareness that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). God owns everything in this world, and that includes both me and my money. I am not the owner of my money, but a mere steward or trustee. I am given money so I can use it on God’s behalf. When I face my next purchase, I need to ask myself whether I am acting as if I own my money, or whether I am aware that this is God’s money. This question alone may make all the difference between a good purchase and a foolish one.
2. What Scripture passage requires me to spend this money in this way? The Bible gives guidance on the way I am to use my money and I need to keep a careful watch on myself to ensure I am using it that way. Money is to be used to support myself and my family, to support local church ministry, to bring relief to the poor, and many other noble ends. I tend to look for the cracks and the wiggle room that will give me license to use my money in any way I want. I believe we are permitted to spend a portion of our money on gifts and rest and enjoying the good things of this world, so this question does not remove all fun in life! But this question does ensure I am using my money in a balanced and biblical way.
3. Can I offer up this purchase as a sacrifice to the Lord? This is a question of stewardship and heart allegiances. If I am a trustee or steward of God’s money, I am able to hold loosely to my money and the things it purchases for me. I need to be able to make a purchase and say to the Lord, “I did it for you. It’s all yours to use as you will.” I have to be willing not to have this thing, or be willing to have it taken away, if that serves the Lord. I think I struggle with this one most when I am at the Apple store!

4. Will God reward me for this expenditure at the resurrection of the just? When I stand before the Lord, will he say, “Well done good and faithful servant” about this particular purchase? Will this be a purchase that is rewarded, or a purchase that will prove still another sin that Christ has had to settle on my behalf? I do well to consider whether this is a noble purchase, a proper use of God’s money, or whether I am pursuing only selfish ends.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rare Air

I will spend more time this year than ever before, focusing on where we are as a church body. Based on the stats of this blog, I know there are a good number of readers who do not belong to Trinity, and I appreciate that support so much. However, I absolutely love the place we are in as a church body right now. While we have sold our facility and are praying and searching for the proper location as a church body for us to worship, I just want to share with you what excitement this opportunity is bringing to Trinity. There are few established churches who get the opportunity to reevaluate what they are doing from every aspect, as well as clearly define who they are and where they are going for the foreseeable future. It has been tough to do either of these with a historically inflated membership role and a building which doesn’t serve who we really are very well. Right now, our Strategy Team has worked, and will continue working on everything from our purpose statement, to a new church covenant and doctrinal statement. We will also be working with individual ministries in setting their purpose statement, working on new church by-laws and so many other amazing opportunities. Pray for this team as this will impact how we do missions more effectively, how we can reach our community in a greater way and will set our hearts and eyes in an even more Kingdom focused direction. This is a rare opportunity that should cause excitement in our church body. Please be in prayer for our Strategy Team and overall leadership as we walk through this new phase.   God is up to something at TBC and it is exciting to be a part of it. If you are a member of Trinity and you have questions, suggestions or you have resources or a skill set that can help us in the coming days, please don’t hesitate to e-mail our team at newbuilding@trinitysouthaven.org