marriage today in the church and society

“Haven’t you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 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.”

Matthew 19

Eugene Peterson, one of the very best Christian writers in my lifetime, himself a pastor had an interesting exchange in the past few days in which he seemed to affirm same sex marriage, and then immediately retracted that, and clarified his position. See this interesting post from Christianity Today.

My own position is to side with what scripture up front seems to make clear both in regard to marriage, and same sex relationships, or homosexuality. Of course scripture itself is nuanced, and challenging on some levels, and always must be read in light of its fulfillment in Christ. That said, it seems pretty clear why the traditional view not only holds strong with most Christian denominations and traditions, but surely will remain so in generations to come. Perhaps what might change is how people who have same sex attraction are received into the church, although that probably varies from church to church now.

Denominations and churches which accept and practice same sex weddings, and ordain those who are thus “married” I have seen, either argue that scripture itself leaves room for “covenant” gay sexual relationship, that when scripture does address this subject the few times it does, it is referring to something else altogether. I have read the arguments myself, and find them less than convincing in comparison to traditional teaching and interpretation of scripture. Or there are those “Christian” leaders who simply question Biblical teaching, even at times suggesting that the resurrection of Christ can be taken either literally or metaphorically, in others words that one can be a Christian without believing Christ’s physical, bodily resurrection. While I disagree, I can respect the former, but not the latter.

I think it’s a tragedy when whole groups are ostracized by the church, and now I’m thinking of the LGBT group. But any church, or Christian who doesn’t hold an affirming view of such relationships, will be seen as attacking the person. I doubt that enough work is being done to reach out to these people. At the very least they should know that they’re loved, and welcomed. I’m not sure myself just how to address this, though I think I know what my tentative suggestion might be. But I would want to be part of a group of men and women prayerfully deliberating on that.

As to my own view for society, I say that the church should not try to dictate what the state wants to do. The state, or government is not the church, and can’t be held to the church’s standards. Nor should the church be forced by the state to adopt the state’s standards. So I would hold to a separation of church and state, at the same time hoping that the church’s influence through the gospel might rub off on the state. But never at the expense of compromising the church’s own complete allegiance to Christ and the gospel.

It is quite a challenging and hot topic today, a sea change having taken place in society, with some impact on some churches. It’s simply a new time for the church to learn to live in a culture which doesn’t define marriage in strictly a traditional way. The church will continue on, but hopefully with new insight in helping those who feel rejected by the only one who can change any of us, and receives us all.

is God all we need? yes and no

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

Genesis 2

It is a common thought in Christian circles that God is all we need. That contains truth, but doesn’t play out well in real life. If one is referring to God as the Source of all things, and the actual Life in whom everything else is somehow meant to live, then yes, God is all we need, and all anything else in creation needs. And add to that God’s provision for all. As we read somewhere in the psalms, the eyes of all look to God, and he provides for their needs (a paraphrase).

But God has made it so that within this God-life so to speak, the ideal life of which humans fall short of, there are needs met by something other than God. Life in the old creation is not the life to come of the new creation in Christ ultimately enveloped by the Triune God. But it is nevertheless dependent on the God who made it. God is still present everywhere and upholds all things in every way. Yet within this sphere humans need food and water, shelter, and as the text above makes clear, other humans. At least they’re better off in relationship to each other. If God was all they need the way it is told here and there, this would not be the case.

In the new creation beginning now in Christ, we still need each other. The body of Christ is a good picture of that. We are incomplete without each other.

And even in the fullness of the new creation to come when heaven and earth are made one at Christ’s return there will still be life grounded in a certain reality in which humanity is fulfilled in a certain setting. What is true now will most likely reach its perfect fulfillment later, except those aspects of creation which are only part of the old creation, whatever they may be. That would include the necessity of food and drink to remain alive. In that immortal state in and through Christ, though it’s apparent we’ll be partaking of food and drink, such will not be needed to survive. We are beginning to touch on areas not covered in scripture, and which are certainly beyond us, so it’s best to stop at that, at least for me here, anyhow.

Everything good comes from God. Part of the true way in which God is all we need. In and through Jesus.

the real thing

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:19-20

There is no one who enjoys a coffee, and even better yet, a beer with a friend, then I do. And how about some good Beatles music, and better yet, Bach? And what about a trip to sight see, like for example in the Rocky Mountains? Or to relax and chill in some resort area, a real vacation? Do we enjoy weddings, and what matters from that beginning, the marriage which follows? Of course. It’s not like we Christians can’t enjoy good things that are a part of creation. It’s just that we know there’s more, much more. And we won’t settle for second best.

As usual, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But the marriage analogy not only surely helps, but hopefully will make the point. What day is more happy than one’s wedding day? We might say especially so for the bride, but is it really less so for the groom? I’ve only been a groom, so I can’t say. Ha. But what follows, probably beginning with the honeymoon, but especially after the honeymoon experience begins to wear off is real life. Life in a relationship between two flawed individuals, who little know what they’ve gotten themselves into, given the seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day together existence of marriage. Having to learn to work though issues together, such issues including shortcomings and indeed, even sins, especially of the tongue which need to be taken care of in confession to each other, and forgiveness given. But to get back to the point of this post, marriage is an apt analogy of the reality that there’s more, much more which needs to break into this old creation: nothing less than the new creation in and through Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15 (link above will take you to the entire chapter) is a remarkable chapter in which Paul advocates the resurrection, and specifically the resurrection of Christ as at the heart of the gospel. And for Paul, his entire life was lived in service to Christ and to the gospel, to the point which other things in comparison hardly mattered at all to him in his personal life. Others had a wife or husband, but Paul didn’t. Others received compensation so they could continue on in preaching the gospel, whereas he (at least, often) refused such (1 Corinthians 9). He certainly lived a difficult existence to say the least (1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians not letting up on that theme one iota). To him to live was Christ, and to die, gain (Philippians 1). He was at the front of the new movement of the gospel, the good news who is Jesus with all that means, and one would expect serious opposition to that, and not an easy road for a number of reasons, not the least of which was God’s work of preparation to help him to be ready to suffer for Jesus’s sake. And Paul tells us (through the word/scripture, by extension to us today) to follow him as he followed Christ.

1 Corinthians 15 (if you haven’t read it at all, or recently, it wouldn’t hurt to do so now) is a remarkable word on how the good news in Jesus in the resurrection in him makes living for today and this world without a thought for tomorrow, or specifically the life after this life, such a sad, even fatal mistake. In Christ we get caught up into a new existence which while enjoying this life, by faith knows that the real life is in him, bringing in the new creation, bringing us into the life of the Trinity, the true eternal life, beginning in this present life in the power of Christ’s resurrection, but destined to take over the world in the new creation. A destiny which sees this life as both the beginning and means through nothing less than death and resurrection in Jesus of arrival to what we have inklings and even real  beginnings of now, but can’t be imagined apart from the revelation of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2). And so, we continue on.

fleeing sexual immorality

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10

This is not a soft and cuddly passage, and you won’t find every passage even from our Lord in the gospels to be what people would call soft and cuddly. There are of course what are called, “the hard sayings of Jesus.” But life isn’t soft and cuddly, either. It is hard for everyone, and it seems, harder for some more than for others. And for many reasons, mirroring the complexity of life and being human in all its wonder and brokenness.

Paul doesn’t mince words and makes no bones about what he’s getting at, nor does he flinch from making the First/Old Testament scripture to have some kind of normative sense for today. He says what is written in them is written to us as examples and for our warning. Ironically, I think that since “Today” is the day of salvation, it is Christians God holds accountable now, withholding the removal of those who are not Christian which ultimately awaits the final Day of Judgment to come.

I won’t echo the words of the passage quoted above. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a popular kind of precious promise verse, but everyone who has memorized that verse would do well to memorize or just as good, probably better, simply meditate on that entire passage, cited above.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

1 Corinthians 6

This is earlier in the same letter, Paul warning believers to flee from sexual immorality. Quite a bit is said in the passage just quoted above, some of it at least a bit hard to understand, but the point I would like to hammer home some, is that sexual intercourse is much more than just a physical act, though it is certainly that. It is perhaps first and foremost an expression of oneness with each other, the climax and in a sense fulfillment of being one, but carried over into all of life. That is why adultery is so utterly devastating. The oneness in the marriage union is broken. It is little wonder to me that Paul followed up those thoughts with the next passage on marriage, which I will quote only in part.

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.  The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.  Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.  I say this as a concession, not as a command.  I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

1 Corinthians 7

This is not rocket science, yet at the same time involves all the complexities of the wonder and brokenness of our humanity. So that we need God’s grace to follow through and work on these things, and to do so in a way that is honoring to the Lord and a witness to the world.

One of the problems which is a part of our culture (or sub-culture) is the false idea that sex itself is dirty, which comes from the false idea that the body is somehow morally dirty, or less than the ideal or goal of creation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I think it continues to plague many Christians, and too often there’s a backlash from the culture into a mindset and practice that anything goes.

Last, but not least, we need to adopt the attitude and practice of the Apostle Paul. Even though he was single himself (probably once married, in that he was a Pharisee, and all Pharisees had to be married, but perhaps his wife was deceased), and according to his thoughts in 1 Corinthians 7 (click hyperlink above, to read that), had a gift from God so that he could live happily without a wife, yet Paul himself had to exercise strict self-control, and yes, over his body.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

Yes, the body is good, and meant for the Lord, and for the right and natural use of it from creation, but no, we can’t allow whatever circumstances we face, or temptations, to detour us from God’s will. That is to be our passion, our drive, so that when necessary, we put the brakes to the inclinations, or strong desires which may come our way. We do so with God’s full revelation in Christ in mind, with the fact that God makes a way of escape for us. Indeed we must, in the words of scripture, flee from sexual immorality.

prayer for a wedding

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. We thank you, also, for consecrating the union of man and woman in his Name.

By the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon Randy and Kim. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their heads.

Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death.

Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

a tribute to my wife, Debra (with some thoughts on marriage)

30 years ago today, I married my best friend and lover, Debra, “Honey Sweets.” We’ve been through it now for thirty years, through good times and bad in the sense of difficulties. I believe I couldn’t have married a better woman. Deb is as consistent as day and night, the four seasons. She is a woman of a complete child-like faith as a daughter who is deeply loved and cared for by her heavenly Father. And her faith has helped me in more ways than one to change and grow. One example: she is a person who simply does not worry at all; I am one who over the years have struggled with anxiety and fear. I have come a long ways in no small part through Deb’s example, while I would acknowledge it’s an ongoing issue for me.

My wife is simply the one I feel at home with; hopefully we are a blessing to each other. There is no doubt that marriage in significant part is for our growth in holiness. It is a picture of Christ and his bride, the church and of the relationship of God to his people. Marriage is supposed to be a covenant in which each spouse is committed to the other in their commitment to the Lord. Short accounts and growth in love, in righteousness and truth over the long haul need to be staples in any growing marriage. I so much look forward to what lies ahead: hopefully at least another thirty years to keep after this, and just to be together. Frankly at the beginning I was not well enough aware of this, and more than that had issues to work through.

All married couples at least surely for the most part need special input at times. Just another reason why the church needs to be an intrical part of our identity and practice. We can’t make it, or at least do well on our own, no matter how we think we’re doing. And a big part of the church’s role is to help us live well as followers of Christ in all of our relationships, marriage certainly a big part of that. We need more of a witness of marriages which get off the ground well and keep on growing as a witness, and marriages which have overcome something of brokenness, but can show the way to forgiveness, change, growth and joy. The world needs to see both.

Deb and I are in this together; we are mutually submitting to each other as we both seek to submit ourselves to Christ. We also are keeping short accounts. Sometimes we need some sharp points to challenge us to change. But everything needs to be tempered with grace. Truth yes, but never apart from grace. We all need patient, forgiving love in all relationships and particularly in the marriage relationship in which we are exposed in all of our weakness and shortcomings, along with the good gifts from God brought into the relationship.

I wish this post was all about Deb. It is more about our marriage and marriage in general. We will enjoy this day in celebration of 30 years of marriage. Looking forward to at least another 30 more in which we hopefully can shine the light of God’s love and grace in and through Jesus and the gospel for others to see and be encouraged by for their own lives. As we seek to show others the light in the Lord together.

one Christian response to the US Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage

First of all I want to congratulate all my gay friends who are celebrating. It is a big win for you. In saying that, I for one, am not counting that in your winning I am on the losing side. What the state decides to do is the state’s business, I take it. And I want to acknowledge whatever relief and help from this some, or perhaps many of you are experiencing. And I want to hold out my hand and say we are friends in spite of our disagreement on this issue. Our friendship might naturally be somewhat stilted because of our disagreement, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mutually respect and appreciate each other, even enjoy each other’s company. How many people and families enjoy some good friendship with each other in spite of differences, some of them seemingly significant, for example political differences?

I also want to acknowledge that too many of us Christians have acted in any thing but Jesus-like love to gays. We have bashed you over and over again with Bible verses and cries of judgment. Although many of us in doing so have wanted to do so in love. And I think some honestly do love and have genuine concern for those they speak of. But by and large I’m afraid the negative vibes have outweighed whatever good has been present.

Now having said that as best I can for now, I want to express just a bit of my own view which sides with the Christian orthodox interpretation of scripture. Most Bible scholars, including those who are liberal in their theology agree that the Bible prohibits same sex intercourse in both the Old and New Testament. And marriage from the beginning, as Jesus said, was to be between a man and woman who would thus become one flesh.

When we speak of the good news of Jesus, salvation is necessarily accompanied with judgment. The judgment is for sin judging what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Christianity is not really a feel good religion or faith. It is not about being happy or having what one wants in terms of desires, feelings or the will. It does involve a spiritual (not physical) battle against the world, the flesh and the devil. When Paul spoke to a governor who was evidently intrigued and had sent for him- about the gospel, specifically faith in Christ Jesus, he spoke about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come (Acts). And while Jesus never spoke directly about same sex acts per se, he seemed to heighten the demands of the Torah in regard to sexual activity back to the orignal intent of God’s will in creation and toward the goal of the kingdom come in him in the new creation (one example found in his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew). In all of this, I’m not saying the ethic of following Jesus means no enjoyment of life. Paul writes elsewhere that God has richly given us all things to enjoy. In the next breath saying that we (precisely those who are wealthy) are to use the good we have to help others (1 Timothy).

In the end, none of us are the judge. God alone is the Judge who gave the law and knows its precise application (James). He sees everything and through everything clearly. We all are accountable to him. And in the end, it is the good news in Jesus that is the only lasting hope for all of us, in this life and in the life to come. Whatever you decide to do, know that there is good news in Jesus always present for all of us. God in the Person of his Son became one of us in Jesus, and announced in his coming that God’s kingdom is present. And he died for our sins and was raised to life to bring us to new life in him. Through repentance and faith and baptism, we are brought into his kingdom, dying to the old and raised into the new life.

In Jesus we have a hope that overcomes all that is off the mark and wrong now, all the heartache, heart-break and brokenness that seems part and parcel of this life. There’s no getting around that, it seems, sadly. So in Jesus, the healing begins as we enter into this life, are being made new in it, and look forward to its completion at Jesus’ return in the resurrection at the new creation. Past, present and future salvation.

And so again, best to you. I will not be among those who stare or look down on couples who obviously want to express their love to each other in public. I hope we can live together as friends in spite of our differences. Perhaps drink some beer and get to know each other. There would be plenty we would have in common, I’m sure. And along with what we have in common, perhaps we can listen well to each other about our differences, if we’re comfortable in doing so. Knowing we are neighbor in this life, not enemies. Present in some ways for each other.