Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dissecting Divorce: 3 Truths on Breaking Covenant



So today…I’m going to tackle a new subject after an impromptu discussion on it Wednesday night during youth group.

The subject? Divorce.
Duh, duh, duhhh…

Now, before you panic and exit [p]age left, let me offer a few disclaimers:

1By no means do I consider myself a marriage counseling expert; I’m simply a youth pastor who knows what a happy marriage tastes like and what the Word says about it.

2) By no means do I want to come across as insensitive to what some readers may be going through. So please understand it’s my earnest desire to broach this post with utmost humility.

‘Cause truth is: there’s much for me to learn on the matter; however, I hope the little I do know can be effective, insightful and…dare I say enlightening.

With that said, as many of us are aware: divorce is both a relevant and prevalent issue in society today. And as a pastor of students, a quarter of whom are struggling/have struggled with divorce in the family, it’s an especial concern. Yes, I know it can be "taboo" to talk about divorce outside of closed doors (trust me…I balked initially at writing this); then again, I’m not one to feel ashamed of affirming God’s purposes. After all, how can the truth speak if it’s not heard?

Selah.

Moving on…if someone came up to you and asked why divorce is such an epidemic…what would you say?
  • Financial stress?
  • Unmet expectations?
  • Lost sense of meaning/identity? 
I mean…if you were to start there, I’d certainly see why.

But I guess for me…I’d have to start with man’s dissatisfaction with what God has appointed him (i.e. everything we need for goodness/godliness, which for many of us, includes marriage at some point in our lives)...and his satisfaction in making conditional aspects of God’s nature we’re called to emulate.

To put it simply: I believe we, as a culture, have long lost sight of what covenant is. Even in the church, many have bought into the idea marriage is more about compatibility than companionship. Granted, there’s nothing wrong about compatibility. I just think if we’re quick to [ab]use a perceived lack of it as a means to separate ‘lifetime’ from ‘commitment’, then we’re flirting with unholy prioritization1.

Still, for those who’ve ever waked through marital turbulence, you know the tension is an entirely different animal in it than outside it. Thus, how we cope when the temptation to divorce knocks and how we encourage those holding onto their marriage for dear life are worthy discussions.

But before we dive in, we must first consider what God thinks...which leads me to my first truth:

1) God absolutely hates divorce.

Consider Malachi 2:16: “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.”

Pretty strong language, right? Then again, this makes perfect sense. After all, God is love and by nature contests his antithesis. Whatever the case, whenever we hear 'God' and ‘hate’ in the same sentence, it should arrest our attention, especially since fearing God means to love what God loves and hate what God hates.

2) God's intends our vows to be unbreakable.

Consider Proverbs 20:25:“It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”

After further review, I think it’s fair to say many of us don’t always weigh the weighty obligations of life before committing to them...and I submit part of the reason is our penchant to sub in our [largely subjective] conviction for God’s [absolute] conviction.

The crux here is: if we know the love/fallenness combo platter is a messy one, why then do we only consider the consecration of our vows after-the-fact when truth is: a) God has given us the commitment blueprint outline2 (i.e. consider your ways first and then hold true to them second) and b)  God's faithfulness and good intentions never waver. 

Selah.

Note: For some of you reading this, it’s not a matter of not considering your vows first before making them as much as it is you’ve grown numb to the magnitude of them. If that’s the case, then I encourage you: ask the Lord for fresh love for your spouse. Again, since God is love, the receiving is only contingent on your choice to accept it. Even the strongest couples in the world reach points when they must ask God for renewed devotion/passion for each other.



3) Apart from certain exceptions, divorce isn't an option3.

Consider Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9.

“But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Note how both passages raise up an exception clause (i.e. “marital unfaithfulness”) and subsequently the million-dollar question: Is it okay to divorce under the grounds of sexual immorality? Well, given such sin is an egregious breaking of marital covenant, I’d have to say ‘yes’; however, we must remember...

1) God is a God of grace who makes walking in repentance and restoration possible…
2) In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as “irreconcilable differences”…
3) A one-time act of sexual immorality versus a pattern of sexual immorality are two [very] different things…
4) In the same way we’re called to be slow to anger, we must be [very] slow to divorce (hence the word “quickly” in Ecclesiastes 4:12). Regardless of the situation, divorce must be seen as a "no resort" before it's treated as a "last resort"...
5) Achieving reconciliation is only possible if it’s pursued first; if the pursuit is one-sided, pray, seek counsel…and pray some more. Even if you feel alone, don't ever underestimate the power of prayer...
6) Requesting help isn’t a sign of weakness…
7) As long as two people are married, they’re called to multiple a godly legacy. Sure, it may not be easy, but couples who fight the good fight together in sun and storm not only are more likely to stick together, but are more likely to inspire other couples to do the same.

But Cam, what about couples mired in verbal/physical/child abuse? 

In these situations, I contend some form of separation is often a smart move if one side is unwilling to cooperate; however, if the abuser is willing to receive help, then it’s best both spouses walk in reconciliation hand-in-hand. ‘Cause again, the main objective is finding freedom from sin/strongholds together. Yes, be Spirit-led in setting boundaries and expectations; yes, do what’s best to preserve health and safety. Just remember to do these things a) trusting/relying on God every step of the way and b) resisting the urge to make self-preservation your default response to fear.

Anywho, I could say more, but given I’ve breached the 1,000 word barrier, I’m going to peace out and leave some questions for thought (see below). As always, feel free to comment or shoot a PM my way if any of this hits home. 

‘Til then…have a blessed weekend and I’ll catch ya on the fry…

~ Cameron

Reflection Questions
  • What’s been your experience with divorce?
  • Why do you think so many couples split?
  • How has your concept of covenant changed after reading this?
  • What truths do you abide by when it comes to being faithful in relationships (to friends, spouse, etc.)?What would you say is the best way to save a marriage? What are the absolute ‘musts’ when it comes to reconciliation? 
Footnotes

1) Which in general hurts Christian community in many other ways…more on this in future posts…
2Note: By ‘hold true’, I’m including prayer, verbal/behavioral expressions of commitment, setting goals, choosing joy, and integrating accountability into the mix.
3) i.e. There are no valid grounds for divorce.

Photo creds: theodysseyonline.com 
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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rethinking Community: 3 Truths on What It Is & What It's Not


I’ll be honest: sometimes, I don’t [fully] understand “community”.

I mean…I know we were made for it. I know God ultimately is it.

But I guess I just don’t know how to [entirely] live it the way we were intended.

Granted my perspective is a tad crusty…dare I say, cynical…on account of more friends fading away in recent years, not to mention the demographical disadvantages in places where connection should be happening.

But skepticism aside, I do wonder if part of the confusion is tied to the increasingly blurred line between perceived “community” and proximity.

For instance, with proximity, you’re generally around people who are apathetic in knowing you (classic ‘don’t know, don’t care’). I see this at my work all the time. If you’re ‘different’1 , then people are indifferent. As a result, cliquey cultures abound and those on the outskirts are treated as outcasts.

Contrarily, with community, you’re around people who are, at least, open to the idea of actively seeking relationship/koinonia. I see this at my church most the time. If a new person walks in the door, he/she’s not only taken in, but intimately walked with until they’re communally integrated (or at least have a clearer understanding on direction).

So however we define the contrast, it’s fair to say proximity and community are nowhere close to synonymous.

But perhaps you’re like me considering your depression/discouragement…trying to make sense of why so many people are content in being proximal, but not close.

If that’s you, understand I can’t speak for everyone, but based on what I do know…

1) If we desire community, then it must be a priority in our lives.

There’s no such thing as ‘secondhand’ community. Either you’re relationally intentional or you’re not.

2) Community isn’t just a good idea, it’s also one of the greatest mandates we’re given in Scripture.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:24-25

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…” ~ Acts 2:42-47



So random question: How many of you like chocolate milk? I imagine most of you. Well, as you likely know then, chocolate milk isn’t really chocolate milk unless the chocolate is stirred in. Have you ever tasted unstirred chocolate milk? No bueno, right? Basically just milk with a subtle hint of cocoa residue.

With that said, think of community like a cold glass of chocolate milk2. If we don’t allow the Spirit to stir us through genuine relationship, if we’re so easily satisfied by fenced-off fellowship, then the flavor of whatever community we’re experiencing is going to be compromised. Therefore, I submit if we truly want to live out Hebrews 10, we must be willing to allow the Spirit to stir us up so people can taste the sweetness of God's presence through our interaction.

3) Like proximity, community and cliques aren’t compatible.

My thought here is: if there are walls or barbed wires involved, it’s not real community. Sure, there can be camaraderie behind closed doors, but when we talk about authentic community, it can only be experienced by a group of people who are open to love and encourage anyone and everyone. Thus, if we’re content on not loving past our current relational defaults, then our community is nothing more than a shadow of what God intended. 

Of course, there’s much more I could say about community, but for now, I’ll park it here…just because I can’t help but feel many out there are feeling battered and bruised not only by what they’re experiencing in social circles, but what they should be experiencing. I know for me, I’ve found myself in this boat in recent years.

Yet, it’s in the moments I’m wrestling with community when I’m reminded to allow the Holy Spirit to stir me up with a desire to love and encourage anyone and everyone with the good news that Jesus is not only near, but eager in wanting to abide with us.

So when you feel shut out, ask the Lord to open you up. ‘Cause truth is: Love is not contingent on inclusion (given inclusion implies boundaries), but is calibrated by humility seeking the interest of others, making brotherly affection evident, contributing to the needs of the saints, all the while proclaiming the excellencies of him who ordained the beauty of fellowship to begin with (Philippians 2:4 + Romans 12:10 + 1 Peter 2:9).

Footnotes

1) By ‘different’, I mean anything from calling and character profile to age and race

2) Props to Steve Garrett for the inspiration given during the August 28 Pursuit Service @ The Gate Community Church

Photo Creds: a2ua.com

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

LEGACYouth: Savor the Labor


Sunday Messages Notes - September 4, 2016

Well, guys, tomorrow is the first Monday of September and you know what that means...
Labor...Day! 

A time when white clothes go out, sales come in, summer holidays are over, and classes begin (at least for our west coast friends ;) For most, it’s a welcome day off of work or school, ahead of what is likely to be a busier month than the last.

Yet, while we recognize Labor Day as an annual holiday courtesy of the labor movement, dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, for many it's still a mystery why we celebrate it.

Let's see if we figure anything out from these clips...




So based on these clips (and a little side research), we celebrate Labor Day to honor those who strove for fair compensation, safe working conditions, a valued labor force protected from exploitation...and the weekend.

But perhaps you're still , 'How does this apply to me as a Christian?'

For starters, I submit we honor Labor Day similarly to how we honor the Sabbath - esteeming the fact God has blessed us both with work and with rest.

You see...during the core of the Industrial period in our nation's history, work was strongly emphasized to a fault as there wasn't a fair system of checks and balances in play. But eventually, there was an uprising from those who understood work as being better executed with boundaries/strategic rest in play.

So when I think about how this pertains to us as believers, I can't help but consider these verses... And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation~ Gen. 2:2-3

Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. ~ Psalm 74:12

You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. ~  Psalm 77:14

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.Psalm 90:17

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… Col. 3:23

Note when we survey the common denominators of these passages, we find...

  • Work and rest are both best understood as God-established institutions (as evident in Creation) operating in tandem with each other.
  • Honest hard work is something God seeks from all of us.
  • God's Word tells us that working hard, with faith and rest in mind, can lead to the great things he has planned for us.
Perhaps you think this doesn't apply to you because you're young...

But I encourage you: as students...

1) Don't underestimate the call you have to expand your understanding. Rather than view learningas a necessary evil, dare to view study as work and rest unto the Lord (knowing you can discover more of him through both).

2) Dare to be a laborer of Christ.

What is a laborer of Christ?

It's being an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) who not only pursues understanding...but seeks to make that understanding known to the world (see Great Commission), who applies balances and boundaries to work and rest, all the while seeking God's approval above anyone else's.

So again, when it comes to why we celebrate Labor Day and how we're to perceive it as believers, know we're not just celebrating a day off from school/work, but also the opportunity we have to rejoice in what God has done, to partner in what he is doing, and to bless him through faithful effort in reaching people (i.e. tending the harvest).  


How awesome it is knowing we can savor the labor and help lead people to the God whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

If you think about it, the opportunity to grow in study is a HUGE blessing from God.

2) Note: If the aim of your effort is rooted in self/other's approval, you won't find the satisfaction you crave (as the A+, the compliment becomes the reward in and of itself). After all, God has something special to those who pursue him with a pure heart and a steadfast spirit.  #levelup

Photo creds: http://www.hbcharlesjr.org

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.