A Wedding in Room 408

Central Church Family, Marriage 1 Comment »

I was honored to perform the short wedding ceremony today as Jake Reeves and Stevie Couch got married in his hospital room at Northwest Texas. Already a dozen people have asked me, “Is this a first for you?” And my answer is, “Yes, this is a first for me! The groom was wearing a Texas Aggies shirt!”

I was the emergency pinch hitter today. Stevie’s long-time preacher / family friend was in town to perform the wedding Saturday night. But Jake was in the ICU at Northwest, in the process of being diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis and being treated for life-threatening acid levels in his blood. The decision was made late last night to go ahead with the wedding today, in Jake’s room, right before a probable surgery to remove a couple of cysts that are exacerbating his problems. But the designated preacher was already back in Seminole. So I was very privileged to get the call late last night.

After the inevitable jokes and one-liners — Don’t they have a cure for cold feet in this hospital? — Chris gave Stevie to Jake and the two exchanged solemn and eternal vows in the presence of God and in the name of Christ Jesus. No, this isn’t how they wanted to get married, or where, or when — none of this was according to their long-time plans. The truth is, though, none of that matters to our Lord, who sanctifies their marriage to reflect his eternal glory. And it doesn’t matter to the parents of the bride and groom nor to Stevie’s sisters or any of the other witnesses who affirmed the marriage with their own vows to help nurture and protect this holy union at all costs. What matters is that they have promised to give themselves to each other and to give their relationship to God.

In one special way, the location for this quick wedding was fitting. Jake and Stevie, both paramedics, actually met for the first time at Northwest Texas Hospital. Now they’ve been married on the fourth floor and someday they might have a child on the third floor.

No cake for the groom today — it may be a long, long time before he gets any cake. But if you’re dropping by the hospital to visit the newlyweds, you might take him a diet root beer.

Peace,

Allan

Husband of One Wife

1 Timothy, Leadership, Marriage, Titus 2 Comments »

For a church elder, WHO he is is much more important than WHAT he is. We respond to our shepherds because of their great Christian character, not because their names are on the back of the bulletin or because they lead the prayers at the end. The New Testament never instructs God’s people to follow a leader because he holds an office or a title. It has everything to do with his character and his life.

That’s what we have in those two lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are the marks of Christian maturity. These are the distinguishing traits of someone who has grown in Christ and experienced the life-changing power of the Lord. Their character, their consistency, is above reproach. Not perfect — that’s not what this means. If elders had to be perfect, we wouldn’t have any elders. Blameless, above reproach, means that nobody can legitimately accuse them of any conduct which is not fitting a mature disciple of Christ. It means these qualities should exist in a man’s life to such a degree that they should stand out as the kind of man he really is. It’s clear. He’s a model of Christian maturity.

Now, we have a tendency to view these lists as narrow, legalistic qualifications. We use these lists sometimes like a grid, holding it up to each elder candidate to see if he fits, to see if he checks all the boxes. Even then, we’re generally more concerned with two or three of the character traits than we are the others. And I want to specifically address two of these today and tomorrow and attempt to put them in their proper perspectives.

“Husband of one wife.” You find this exact same phrase in both of the lists, both times immediately after the general descriptive term “blameless” and “above reproach.”

The original Greek text in both lists is mias gunaikos aner. Literally translated it’s “of one woman/wife, man/husband.” Yeah, this is weird for us English speakers because gunaikos can mean woman or wife, depending on the context, and aner can mean either man or husband, again, depending on the context. It’s like the German herr can mean man or husband or sir or lord, depending on the situation. Frau can mean wife or woman, depending on when and where and about whom it’s being said. You’re not sure until you understand the context. The only thing I can point to in English that might be close is when we pronounce somebody “man and wife” at a wedding; you know that “man” means “husband” because we’re at a wedding.

For me, “husband of one wife” is the best English translation. But it’s just as possible and just as correct to translate it “man of one woman” or “man with one woman” or “a one-woman man” or just “faithful to his wife.”

See, the verb is present tense. It matches the present tense verbs in both of the passages. They’re all present tense. He is currently right now the man of one woman. He is presently faithful to his wife. The emphasis is on the man’s character, not his marital history. Maybe he’s had a previous divorce. Maybe he’s got sin in his marital past. The concern in these passages is what’s going on with him right now? Is he loyal? Is he sexually pure? Is he faithful to his wife in all things? Is there any indication he might not be faithful to his present wife?

That’s the way many English translations render this:

NIV – “faithful to his wife”
ESV – “husband of one wife” and a footnote: or “man of one woman”
NIRV – “faithful to his wife”
CEV – “faithful in marriage”
NLT – “faithful to his wife”
MSG – “committed to his wife”

For the Central church, this is our understanding and this is how we apply it: is he currently faithful to his present wife? This fits with the Scriptures and with the function of an elder much better. And it fits much more faithfully to the grace and forgiveness of the Gospel of Jesus than saying any divorce, no matter how long ago and no matter the reason, disqualifies a man from being considered as an elder. Divorce is not an unforgiveable sin — it never has been — no more than if a man at one point in his past had an issue with violence or greed. It doesn’t disqualify him from being an elder today.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the circumstances of a man’s past divorce are irrelevant. If he sinned in his marriage, he might fail some other qualities like blameless, loves what is good, self-controlled, holy, disciplined. Maybe. It needs to be vetted. Is the divorce a past sin that’s been confessed, repented of, and forgiven? Are those sins evident in the man’s life today or is he known as living proof of the Holy Spirit’s transforming power? Is his life an evidence and an example of faithfulness, of a heart saved and changed by God in Christ? Those are the concerns.

Marital faithfulness is a virtue. It has little to do with going through a divorce a long time ago. It has nothing to do with being married twice due to divorce or death. Those things do not reflect on the current Christian character of a candidate.

Peace,

Allan

Marriage Needs Sex

1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Marriage No Comments »

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again…” ~1 Corinthians 7:3-5

Paul writes almost shockingly when he talks about the importance of sex within the marriage. It’s revolutionary. He’s writing these words at a time when women were legally considered the property of their husbands. But Paul says, no, the wife owns her husband’s body in exactly the same way he owns hers. Nothing like this had ever been said before. This is a radical and unprecedented  restriction on the husband’s sexual freedoms. He can only have sex with his wife. And he HAS TO have sex with his wife! Scholars and historians cannot find this thought written down anywhere in history before this — not in secular or religious writings — this idea of mutual sexual ownership.

Paul is telling married Christians that mutual, satisfying, sexual relations must be an important part of their life together. Sex should be frequent and reciprocal. One spouse can’t deny sex to the other. That plays right along with everything we know about God’s designs for Christian marriage: loving each other the same way Christ loves the Church and mutually submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Each partner in marriage has to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure, but with giving it.

In the movie Annie Hall, her therapist asks her how often she and Alvie are having sex and she answers, “Constantly! Three times a week!” The therapist asks Alvie how often he and Annie are having sex and he says, “Never! Three times a week!”

OK. It takes both people. We know this. Men and women are really, really different physically, emotionally, psychologically, and on down the line in as many ways as you can imagine. So, yes, it’s not easy. Nobody says this is easy. It takes all the mutual loving and submitting and sacrificing and serving that Ephesians 5 talks about.

You know, if you’re married — I hope you know this! — sex doesn’t just happen when you turn off the lights and turn on the Marvin Gaye. It’s about consistent kindness and every day listening and communicating. It’s about daily sacrifice and respect. And it’s not about you. It’s about the other and paying attention to something bigger than both of you.

So, married people, let me ask a couple of questions: Do you believe your current sex life with your marriage partner fully agrees with Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 7?

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again…”

Are you and your spouse practicing this?

Sex is a powerful thing. This whole “one flesh” idea means that sex is a sign of the personal union and the means to accomplish that union. It consummates the marriage and it acts to maintain that covenant. And it’s got to happen in a marriage. It’s not a marriage without it.

It’ll also text your marriage or troubleshoot your marriage. It’s such a powerful thing. If your relationship is in a bad place, sex doesn’t work very well. Sex is so intimate and so close and so personal, it doesn’t allow you to just sweep things under the rug. If there’s mistrust or disrespect in the relationship, if there are some unresolved hurts or wounds, the sex will bring it out and force you to deal with it. Or you just stop having sex. And that’s a sure sign that you need to do some serious digging and soul-searching. There might be something you both need to address to move closer to God’s design for your sexual and emotional intimacy. For the sake of your marriage.

Listen, I know this is difficult. There’s nothing easy about this. Marriage is hard. Sex is tough. And it requires a lot of grace: grace from our Lord to us in our marriages and to us as individual Christians; and grace from us to one another in our marriages and in our churches. But we make it so much more difficult when we separate sex and marriage. Sex without marriage doesn’t work. Marriage without sex doesn’t work. You know I’m telling the truth. You probably know from your own experiences. Because that’s the way our Creator designed it.

Peace,

Allan

Sex Needs Marriage

1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Genesis, Marriage No Comments »

SexKissB&W

“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.’… Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple 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 body.” ~1 Corinthians 6:16-20

The apostle Paul forbids Christians from having sex with a prostitute. But the reason he gives is fascinating.

The “one flesh” in Genesis 2 that Paul uses here and in Ephesians 5 means more to him than just the physical union. If he were just talking about body parts, he’d be saying, “He who unites himself with a prostitute unites himself with a prostitute.” Duh! No, he says don’t unite yourself with a prostitute because remember, “The two will become one flesh.” One person. The man and woman who have sex are united at all levels of their lives. Don’t unite with someone physically unless you’re willing to unite with that person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally. Paul is crying out about the abomination of physical oneness without all the other kinds of oneness that God designed to go with it.

Tim Keller says you could paraphrase Paul’s statement like this: “Don’t you know that the purpose of sex is always one flesh — to become united to another person in every area of life? Is that what you’re seeking with the prostitute? Of course not! So don’t have sex with her!”

Now, our culture says just the opposite of what Scripture says and what God’s Church has always taught and practiced. Our world finds the idea of abstinence from sex until marriage as ludicrous. Our culture can’t even comprehend the idea. Yet this is the unquestioned and uniform teaching of all the Christian churches for all time — Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic. Right down the line. Forever. Not because the Bible has a low view of sex, but because it has such a lofty one. Sex has a divine purpose inside marriage. But when sex is separated from marriage, it can be devastatingly dangerous.

Sex makes you feel deeply connected to the other person even if you use it wrongly. That’s the way God designed it. And it works. Even if you experience it outside marriage. Sex makes you feel deeply and inseparably connected to that other person, even if you don’t want to be. As you’re physically joined, you find yourself feeling marriage-like connections even if you’re not married. You feel like the other person is obligated to you, even though that person doesn’t have the obligation to even call you the next day. So it’s messed up. And it leads to jealousy and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex and they’re not married. Sex makes it really hard to break up with somebody even when you and all your friends and family know you should break up. You feel so deeply connected. You feel a “forever” because that’s how it’s designed. If it’s separated from marriage, though, sex can trap you in a horrible relationship.

If you’re not married, the instruction from Scripture and the expectation of your church — and this won’t surprise anybody — is that you adopt the Christian ethic and practice chastity: No sex if it’s separated from marriage. Now, that will be very difficult, especially in a culture that will give you no support for your conviction. So, you’ll need the Christian community. You’ll need your church to act as a people and a place of open and supportive and loving family. You’ll also need the love and grace of Christ and the boldness and power of the Holy Spirit. And you should be able to find that in your church family, too.

Peace,

Allan

Sex Is From God

1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Genesis, Joel, Marriage No Comments »

“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” ~Genesis 2:24

The first explicit mention of sex in the Scriptures is in the second chapter of Genesis. This is the same line Paul quotes in Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6 when he’s talking about marriage. Man and woman, husband and wife, are to be united to become one flesh.

You know, when we read this, it looks like it’s only talking about a physical, sexual union between two bodies. But it actually means a whole lot more. When Genesis 6:12 says all flesh had corrupted their ways, it doesn’t just mean bodies. It means all people. When Joel 2:28 says God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, it means people, not just bodies. It’s like if I said I was going to “count noses” in the worship center on Sunday or do a “head count.” I’d say, “I’ve got 985!” (preacher count) and you would know I’m not talking 985 noses or 985 heads; I’m telling you how many people are in the room (more like 700). It’s very common to use a part of a thing to represent the whole thing.

So marriage is leaving your father and mother and uniting with another so profoundly that the man and woman actually become one new single person. We’ve talked about the word “united,” or “cleave” in the older translations. It means to make a covenant or a binding contract. Every aspect of the two lives are sworn together. The man and woman merge into a single, legal, social, economic, emotional, physical, spiritual unit. They give up a lot of their rights and their independence. They give themselves completely to one another.

To call the marriage “one flesh” means that sex is a sign of that personal and legal union and the means to accomplish it. It’s the God-created way to help you give your entire self to your spouse. Sex is God’s ordained way for two people to say to each other, “I belong completely and permanently and exclusively to you.”

Now, we’re not done with this. Today’s post just really sets us up for tomorrow and Thursday.

Peace,

Allan

Sex and Marriage

Central Church Family, Marriage 2 Comments »

SexField

I wrapped up our six-weeks sermon series on marriage here at Central a couple of weeks ago with a sermon titled “Sex and Marriage.” As soon as church was over, one of our elders, who will remain nameless — his initials are Ira Purdy — approached me and asked, “What is this? Sweeps week?!?” At about the same time, two of our teenagers, Josh and Boyd, came up from behind me with a couple of prayer cards. “You said the word ‘sex’ 84-times during the sermon!” They pointed proudly to their two separate scorecards with all the penciled-in tally marks. Both cards added up to 84.

My first thought was, “Wow, that’s got to be some kind of Church of Christ record.”

Sure enough, we contacted the Christian Chronicle the next morning and they verified it last week. Saying the word “sex” 84 times in a 27-minute sermon broke the previous Church of Christ mark set by Marvin Phillips at the Garnett Road Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he said the word “sex” 51-times in a 32-minute sermon in 1979.

Most sermons about sex and most youth group talks about sex seem to center around the idea that sex is wonderfully great but it needs to wait until marriage. Sex is incredible, but you can’t enjoy it until you get married. And while all those sermons and youth talks are made by well-intentioned and sincere Christian leaders, the impression can almost be taken that sex and marriage are two separate things.

Like a house with a swimming pool in the backyard.

Sometimes we act like marriage is the house and sex is the swimming pool out back. Sex is the add-on that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the structural integrity of the house itself. The marriage relationship and the sex are two different things. We’ve got the marriage in one place — this is where we live and this is what we pay attention to and this is what’s really important — and when you sign the contract you walk into the house and open up the back doors and say, “Wow, check out this awesome swimming pool!” It’s a fringe benefit that comes when you buy the house. It’s a really nice extra.

Or maybe just the opposite. Maybe sex is the foundation for the marriage and relationship is the add-on. Maybe you’ve understood sex as the main house —sex is everything, I’ve got to get married so I can have sex, I’ve got to get married so I can be fulfilled sexually — it’s the foundation, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the roof, everything. And the relationship is the pool out back. It’s nice. I’m glad I’ve got it. Two separate things.

That kind of thinking, seeing sex and marriage as two separate things has led to a whole lot of sex without marriage and a whole lot of marriage without sex. And both of those situations are a distortion of God’s holy will and doing untold damage to God’s holy people.

I’ll post every day this week from that “Sex and Marriage” sermon I preached a couple of weeks ago. In the meantime, don’t call the Christian Chronicle or contact Marvin Phillips. It’s a joke.

Peace,

Allan