Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Marriage Myth #5

Our final marriage myth was "If it doesn't work out we can always get a divorce." We discussed how marriage is considered from the beginning to be a covenant that is for life. God said upon creating marriage that it was him who joins and "what God has joined, man should not separate." But from early on it seems man's heart was hard and people were determined to seek what they wanted over what God wanted. Moses allowed them to divorce and set boundaries for divorce because people were going to do it anyway.

Malachi a post exhilic prophet reminded an errant Israel that "God hates divorce." (Mal. 2:12) In Jesus' day, there was a raging debate surrounding divorce. There were two schools of thought. One was a more liberal interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where the law aknowleges that a man could divorce his wife by giving her a certificate of divorce if he finds "anything displeasing about her." According to this school, "anything displeasing" means anything. If you don't like her cooking or her personality or her housecleaning skills those could all be legitimate reasons to send her packing.

The more conservative school interpreted "anything displeasing about her" to mean something sexually displeasing or that she wasn't a virgin or had experimented sexually with someone else. The only reason for divorce in this paradigm was adultery or fornication. When Jesus is asked for his opinion (Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-9) he takes the side of this more conservative interpretation. That is why he says that anyone who divorces his wife except for the reason of adultery commits adultery and causes his wife to do the same.

There are some gray areas in the theological discussion of marriage-divorce-remarriage but one thing is crystal clear, God wants married people to stay married. With the very institution of marriage being threatened these days, it is not surprising that even some Christian marriages are nearing the point where divorce feels like the only option. The Bible teaches that someone who feels that way should reconsider. They should stop and think, "Is this about what I want or what God wants?" God sees that they are not happy but he also makes it clear that he wants us to seek obedience before happiness. When we blindly obey even when making that choice puts our happiness at risk, God will show us how to claim happiness from obedience.

If you or someone you know is in a situation where your marriage is struggling it is so important that you submit to obedience and stay. Then it is important that you get the help you need. Find a competent Christian counselor to help you walk this path and watch what God will do as you choose his will over your own.

I feel the need to add two disclaimers so that I am not misunderstood.
1. I write this to encourage the married to stay married. I do not intend this as an indictment on those who have made the painful choice to divorce in the past. I neither judge nor question your decision and encourage you to seek God's forgiveness if you were in the wrong and then move forward into a life centered on pleasing him. Divorce is not a death sentence.

2. If you are someone who is living with someone who is abusive to you then my recommendation is to get out of that situation. Abusive individuals trap those closest to them in a cycle of violence and repentance to manipulate them to do what the abuser wants them to do. The only way to break that is to leave. If that is your situation, please get safe and then get help.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Marriage Myths Busted #4

Marriage Myth #4 is "It doesn't matter where you get the appetite as long as you come home to eat." It is used to excuse behavior that is inherently threatening to marriage. It means, "You can lust after anything you that pleases you as long as you don't engage in physical adultery." Given the state of marriage and divorce in our country and given the fact that extramarital sexual activity still remains a leading cause in divorce, it doesn't seem that this little mantra has served us very well.

Christians are certainly expected to remain faithful to their spouse. Our text was Matthew 5:27-28 where Jesus reminds us that lust is the same as adultery in God's eyes. He says there that adultery begins and ends in our minds. We looked at David's affair with Bathsheba and remarked that he not only allowed his gaze to linger where it should not have but he also preserved the image of her body in his mind to sexually feast on. That "lust" led him to inquire about her, send for her and then commit adultery with her. Later David's son Solomon recalling the devastation that David's adultery and his tragic attempts to cover his sin caused his family tells his sons in Proverbs ch. 5 to stay away from adultery and to delight in the wife of their youth.

We discussed making a plan to deal with temptations that are inevitable for most of us. The three point plan we discussed is below:
1. Avoid temptation rich environments - including attractive people and the internet
2. Avert the eyes - control where you look intentionally avoiding sexual images
3. Keep the flame alive at home - a strong marriage is the best defense against infidelity

We also pointed out that the internet can be a menacing tool for the enemy with its many sexual images and its opportunities to anonymously connect to others in a sexual way. Sixty percent of all married people in one survey admitted to having some sort of extramarital sexual/romantic connection on the internet. We stated that we need to begin considering the possibilty that an open, unfiltered connection to the internet might be a threat to our marriages.

We also listed four keys to faithfulness and they are below:
1. Discipline the mind - don't allow sexual images or scenarios to dwell there.
2. Accountibility - meet with someone to discuss, confess and pray for each other in dealing with temptations.
3. Do the work of marriage - A strong marriage is the best defense against infidelity
4. Know the heartache of failure - know from the experience of others that adultery and sexual sin will devastate your family.

We closed by pointing out that if someone were to break into your home with the known intent of devastating your family you would do harm to them or give your own life to stop them. We need to consider sexual temptation as just such an invader in your marriage and family. Be determined that Satan will not get to your family through you.

Be watching this week for the final Marriage Myth to be Busted!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Marriage Myth #3

In my sermon series "Marriage Myths Busted" we completed marriage myth #3 this past Sunday. Marriage Myth #3 was "Sometimes Married People Just Grow Apart." The truth is, married people often do drift emotionally apart but there is no mystical force that just separates them. "Growing apart" happens when couples fail to do the work of relationships. We discussed how the honeymoon phase of a marriage ends when couples begin to have to work together to solve the inevitable problems that arise. Couples that do not develop an effective strategy to accomplish the three primary tasks of marital relationships are going to struggle with negative emotional energy that tends to smother the positive emotion that we desire in our marriages. The three primary tasks were compared to three common household chores to enable us to remember. They are as follows.

1. Focusing on God and Spouse Rather than on Self. - We likened this to Folding the Laundry. When you fold laundry, you often fold more clothes for others than you do for yourself. Marriage is an entity designed by God to help us to shed all selfishness and look to God and others before self. Find out what your spouse's needs are and seek to meet them regardless of whether or not they reciprocate.
2. Develop an Effective Strategy for Problem Solving. - This is like Taking Out the Garbage. If we don't take out the garbage regularly, it will pile up and stink. Likewise, we need to clear the problems from our relationships. Resolving conflicts, collaborative problem solving and leading with faith are important for this task. Also must be careful about power imbalances. Both members of the couple should feel comfortable giving their input to the solution.
3. Continual Effort to Build Intimacy. We called this one "Making the Bed." The bed should be made every day if we want the room to be presentable. Both husband and wife should be working daily to interject fun and togetherness in the relationship. Taking walks together, going on dates, playing games, little love notes and surprise gifts mean just as much to every marriage as what goes on in the bedroom.

As couples attend to the work of their relationship they grow through the working phase to realize a marriage that is a real partnership. It is a comfortable place where each supports the other and love continues to age and add real quality to the marriage. It is what God created to be that sense of "one flesh" that he spoke of in Genesis. When we do the work in our relationships we reap the rewards as God desired it to be from the beginning.

Be watching next week for Marriage Myth #4