Here is more from the lost sermon on marriage, The Commitment.

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Some time ago we came across an argument between Jesus and the teachers of the law. I mentioned that the way theological arguments happened in those days was through a successive appeal to authority. The ultimate authority, for those first-century Jewish teachers of the law, was Moses, the man who wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

So in the course of your argument, if you’re able to prove that your position can be traced back to Moses’ words, then you win. Jesus knew that the Pharisees held Moses in the highest regard, and he probably didn’t feel like arguing that day, so he just conceded the point: What did Moses command you? Jesus is like, “Okay, I’m more interested in teaching than arguing, so just give me your best argument right off the bat.” Let’s just cut to the chase.

And the Pharisees presented Moses’ position: “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Before we move on, we should probably ask the question: Where did Moses say that? Great question! It’s actually in Deuteronomy 24. I bet you didn’t even know there was a Deuteronomy 24! Let me read it to you.

1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, 2 and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, 3 and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, 4 then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

Interesting. Did Moses ever say a man can divorce his wife? He didn’t, did he? The law here is not, “Here are acceptable grounds for divorce”; instead, the law is, “When one of you gives your wife a certificate of divorce…”. Moses never permitted divorce; he just conceded that divorce was a reality when human beings marry one another.

But Jesus isn’t ready to concede that point. Look at how he interprets this passage in Deuteronomy 24.

5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The fact that laws like this exist, Jesus says, points to the reality that you’re all a bunch of hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble yourselves, work through your issues together, and persevere through trials in order to keep your commitments. No, Moses wrote you this law because you’re only willing to fight for what you want, you’re too proud to admit it when you’re wrong, and you’re ready to drop your commitment the moment others start impeding upon the realization of your selfish desires. That’s why Moses just conceded the reality of divorce—because he knew people too well.

Jesus knew people really well, too, but he’s not willing to concede the reality of divorce. Jesus has far too divine an imagination to settle for a world in which divorce happens.

The Pharisees have made their appeal to Moses. Now Jesus is going to make his appeal—to creation. And remember, he was there. The New Testament declares that Jesus was present at creation. He remembers how things were originally designed. He knows, firsthand, what God’s intention had always been for marriage.

God did not build divorce into his creation because he did not build sin into his creation. He did, however, build marriage into his creation because he also built self-sacrificing love into his creation by creating human beings as free, moral agents. But God has never been willing to concede the reality of divorce. He says through his prophet Malachi, “I hate divorce.”

So Jesus quotes from Genesis 1 and 2, the only passages in the Bible, until Revelation 21 and 22, that are unstained by the presence of sin. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” God had a plan, and that plan did not include divorce.

You see, we were not originally created as hard-hearted sinners who are too stubborn to humble ourselves, too proud to admit that we’re wrong, or all too ready to drop our commitments the moment others start impeding upon the realization of our selfish desires. That is not how God made us. That is not found in Genesis 1 and 2.

But we were made as ‘male and female’, the perfect complements to one another. Perfect partners. By design. According to plan.

Moses looked at the world and conceded the reality of human sin. Jesus stepped into our world and refused to accept our reality, then he went about changing it. Here’s the most important thing I or anyone else will ever say about marriage: We’re supposed to be looking at Genesis 1 and 2, not Leviticus 24. Our model is the beginning of creation because Jesus came to make all things new, to restore creation to the way God originally intended it, to undo all the evil that has been wrought upon God’s good creation by sin and death. When it comes to marriage, we claim Jesus as King must look to Genesis 1 and 2. Male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. And we must conclude what Jesus concludes: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Christian marriage is not based on romantic love or sentimental feelings; it is based on the beginning of creation being re-created in our hearts and in our most important relationship. Marriage predates Moses. Marriage predates sin. Marriage was built into creation by the Creator himself.

Last weekend I was scheduled to preach a sermon on marriage from Mark 10. I was really looking forward to it, but God had other plans for the message that night, so the marriage sermon had to be scrapped. I promised to post some of the excerpts here on the blog.

My blog has taken a back seat lately. Working a fulltime job in the marketplace has limited the amount of things I can do, and, unfortunately, I’ve had to all but eliminate two things that have been very profitable for me in the past: reading and blogging. (And don’t even get me started on blogging about reading!) I’m hoping that this will be a temporary adjustment period, and that I’ll find the time to read and blog again soon.

I suppose that’s enough of a pity party. Here is some of what I was going to say about marriage last week at Ember.

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Marriage is a difficult subject for many. Divorce is even harder. Many of you may be children of divorce. You’ve watched your parents turn on each other. It’s often been said that what kids need most is not to know that their parents love them, but that their parents love each other. Divorce destroys that love foundation. So, before we look into our passage for tonight, I want to briefly lay a theological foundation of a love that never gives up, burns out, or fades away.

Because of what we see in Jesus, we can know these things: God always keeps his promises; God always follows through on his commitments; There is perfect, eternal, infinite love between the three members of the Trinity; We are invited to fully participate in the divine love of the Trinity. The Trinity will never get divorced. The love of God that exists within God is infinitely strong. It can never be broken because God is perfectly selfless, humble, and unstained by any sin.

In a world of dissipating love, it’s a comfort to know that there is a love that is stronger than life, that sustains creation, and that resides within the heart of the One that made all that exists. Our new family–the family of God–is built on a foundation of self-giving love that does not change over time.

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I’ll share more on this tomorrow. There’s a much longer section that I hope will be worth reading, but I wanted to put this theological foundation up today. I hope this provides some perspective on what love is and where we can find the love that never lets us down.

About a year ago, Breena and I decided to step out in faith and move forward with planting Ember Church. Though we were surrounded with a great group of friends who were also committed to the task, we knew that I needed to find a full-time job to support my family while we planted. This is called bivocational ministry, and while most church planters and pastors don’t go this route, there are some of us who choose to minister the way Paul did. (Paul was a tentmaker and a leather worker, trades he held while establishing churches in the various cities to which God led him.)

Very early on in this process I had a serious conversation with God. It went something like this: “God, if you want me to plant Ember Church, you’ve got to get me a job. In this economy, and with my past history of job searching, it’s truly going to take a miracle for me to get a job. So I need you to move for me.” I didn’t sense God telling me anything in that moment, though the first Ember sermon ever proclaimed this truth: God is with those he calls. I believed that God would come through for me, for my family, and for this church.

Months went by with no progress on the job front. The church started on schedule, but still no job. Then Bexley was born, but still no job. Thanksgiving. Christmas. I was beginning to doubt that God was with me. I was beginning to doubt that he would come through with a job.

Sometime during the holidays I had pressed through my period of doubt and began to trust God again. I was more confident than ever that he would come through with a job, and very soon. Then came the new year, and companies started posting job openings again. There was one job posting that caught my attention for it’s unorthodox language, and I determined to give this one a little extra attention. I wrote the most audacious cover letter you’ve ever seen. My opening line read like this: “You can stop your search now, because I’m your guy.” I got a call from them the same day! After a year of submitting applications and resumes with no response, I got called back the same day.

I waited and waited to find out if I would get that first interview. On Tuesday of the following week I received an email from the HR department asking if I was still interested in the job, and whether I had gotten the email the previous Friday to set up a phone interview. “What email,” I shouted! “I never got an email!” Some technical glitch had occurred, and I never received it. The most important email of my life, and it got tied up in cyberspace. What is this, 1997?

Of course I responded right away, and had a great interview the next day. Then the waiting really began. Would I get the second interview? Would I make into the next round? Several days passed before I heard anything, but I finally got the good news. They were bringing me in for a face-to-face interview!

I called my parents and they offered to buy me a suit. (How am I this old and still don’t own a suit?) I gladly took them up on the offer, and had a really good interview. That was Friday, and they were interviewing two more candidates on Monday. So, once again, I waited. But I had been waiting for about a year for God to come through for me, so a few more days wasn’t going to be too bad.

It must have been Wednesday when I got the next call. They wanted me to come back for a third interview! This was unprecedented, for me. Not that I’ve never gotten a job anywhere, but that I’ve ever participated in this many rounds of interviews. This time, I interviewed with the team members with whom I might be working, and then with mentors within the company. Both of these interviews were to determine if I fit with the team and the culture of the company. I thought both interviews went really well, and had a strong sense that, by this point, there weren’t any other candidates being interviewed. When I got home, I told Breena, “I think I’m going to get this job.”

That was Friday, so we had another weekend of waiting. Monday came and went, so I decided to call the manager on Tuesday. When I got through to him, he dropped this bomb on me, “I was just getting ready to make you a verbal offer. Can I call you back in an hour with the details?” BAM! And like that, I had a job. A great job. At the best place to work in central Ohio.

God came through. It was his time (not mine), but he did it. He came through for me, my family, and Ember Church. I’ve only been at work for a couple days now, but I already love it. I’m excited to go there. I’m excited to get started on video production. I believe in the company and what they’re doing. I believe in the culture they’re trying to create. I simply can’t imagine how things could have turned out better for me, and I am very grateful to God for his faithfulness. I pray that he will come through for you as he has come through for me.

I’m reading a book called Belief, which is an anthology of arguments for the reasonableness of faith. It was compiled by Francis Collins, who wrote The Language of God. While I’m not a huge apologetics guy, I do enjoy reading this type of stuff from time to time. Some of it is very mentally stretching for me, making me wish I had taken a philosophy course in college.

I had this moment yesterday when reading a short entry from Anselm of Canterbury. I don’t recall reading anything from Anselm before, and while this was just a couple pages long, I could tell I would have an extremely difficult time keeping up with him over the course of an entire book. Do you enjoy apologetics? Do you like to read the classics? What’s it like for you to read a book that was written in a time very different from our own?

I’d like to lay out, as best I can, Anselm’s rational argument for the existence of God.

“God is something than which nothing greater can be thought.” In other words, whatever the greatest thing we can think and imagine in our minds, that is God.

The Bible says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” But when this person hears the description, “something than which nothing greater can be thought”, he gets a picture of that something in his mind, even though he believes that that something does not exist.

However, “something than which nothing greater can be thought” cannot merely exist in the mind, because then everything that does exist would be greater than it. If “something than which nothing greater can be thought” exists solely in the mind, then it is “something than which many greater things can be thought”, which is, of course, absurd.

Therefore, it is definite that “something than which nothing greater can be thought” must exist both in the mind and in reality.

As I understand him, Anselm is basically saying that the greatest thing you can think of must exist both in your mind and in reality, because anything that exists in reality is greater than anything that exists only in the mind. So if God is the greatest thing we can think of, he must exist in reality, otherwise he would not be the greatest thing we can think of.

Anselm wrote this about 900 years ago. What do you think? Is it a convincing argument? Does it have a fatal flaw?

This post is a response to a comment from a friend, who was responding to Tuesday’s post, Tithing.

For the issue of giving to the local church, we have to look to Paul because, as you say, Jesus was dealing with a pre-local church context. In fact, he was dealing with a Jewish context where tithing was a part of Torah, and he encouraged the people to tithe. “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Mt. 23:23)

So then, to Paul. This is from 1 Corinthians 9.

1 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Verse 14 is crucial because Paul declares a command directly from Jesus, that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. Paul, however, lets the Corinthians off the hook in this regard, not because he’s being magnanimous, but because of their stubborn and judgmental hearts (v. 3).

The problem is not that Paul shouldn’t be asking for money and is, it’s that the congregation is judgmental toward and offended by him when he does. The root of this problem, as I stated in the previous post, is that money is an idol for all of us.

Let me go one step further. Almost every pastor I know would do the ministry for free if it were possible. I can’t think of a single person in the ministry, that I know personally, who is doing this because it seemed like a wise career choice. They are all doing it because they believe God has called them to the task, and they are so passionate about the proclamation of the Gospel that they would forsake lucrative careers in other fields to give their whole lives to the mission of Jesus. (In case you were wondering, a Master of Divinity is the only Master degree where the typical holder earns less than those with just a Bachelor degree.)

Nobody goes into ministry for the money. I, myself, ministered for free for 2 years. I’m trying very hard to minister for free right now, and am extremely grateful for the generosity of Ember Church in the meantime. Paul ministered for free because the people in Corinth were hard-hearted and judgmental. (In fact, it’s more likely that he had to rely on the support of other, more generous and kingdom-minded churches to supplement what he lacked from his tent-making work.) But that is not God’s plan for those who preach the gospel. Again, verse 14, “The Lord [Jesus] has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

We could even drop down another level and talk about what Jesus commanded his disciples when he sent them out in, say, Mark 6. (Which is the passage I’m preaching from this week at Ember.) Verse 8, “Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts.” What is he saying? He’s saying, “Trust my Father to provide for your needs through the generosity of those to whom you preach.” So even as far back as the first commissioning of the disciples we see that Jesus’ intention is for them to “receive their living from the Gospel.”

Someone might say, “Well that’s convenient for you to say, guilting people into giving so that you can earn a salary.” But that cynicism doesn’t negate the explicit command of Jesus. While we pastors, Paul included, might walk on eggshells and put up with a lot because of this cynicism and judgmentalism, it is not what Jesus intends for his church. And the cynicism is wrong. It is, biblically, wrong. But we pastors, like Paul, put up with it for the sake of the gospel. We hem and we haw over money, and we pussyfoot around because we think that, because we earn our living by preaching, we don’t have the moral authority to preach on money. That’s simply bogus. If money is a near-universal idol, and the Gospel has something to say about all of our idols, and we’re called to preach the Gospel, then we’ve got a moral obligation and a command from Jesus himself to preach on money. If you (and this is a general you) as a Christian are offended by biblical teaching on money, then your idol is showing, and you should expect God to do something to your idol along the lines of what he did to Shiloh, and then to the Temple in Jerusalem.

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