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Divorce & Remarriage: Part Four

Before I post the next section of our “Divorce: It’s Going to be OK” sermon from last Sunday at Central, let me direct you to this story in USA Today detailing the successful efforts of Blue Bell Ice Cream to identify the woman who licked the top of a container of Tin Roof last week and placed it back inside a store freezer. It happened in Lufkin, Texas. Behind the Pine Curtain. What’s wrong with those people? It’s sickening to me that somebody would do this in the first place but, more than that, it’s ludicrous that she and her friend would record it and post the video to the internet. More proof, as if we needed any, that the internet in general and our iPhones in particular are making us worse people, not better.

Also, please be aware that you can buy Little Debbie Christmas Tree cakes now in the middle of the summer. It’s a special promotion they’re calling “Christmas in July.” And please do not be surprised that I am participating.

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God forgives all sin through the cross of Christ –

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” ~Romans 5:6-10

Divorces cause many burdens: physical, emotional, sexual, and social burdens. And, of course, spiritual burdens. Well, yeah. Divorce is sin. There are consequences for disobeying God. With divorce, there’s a guilt because we’ve failed at this most important relationship. But God forgives us and restores us by offering his perfect Son to cover our imperfections. At the cross, we’re made perfect in God’s eyes despite our many failures, including our failures in marriage. We look to the love of God and the cross of Christ.

We’ve tried legislating divorce and remarriage by laws and rules. So if a person destroys a God-ordained marriage and can’t fix it, we impose some type of punishment or restitution. If you’re going to be forgiven by God and live in a righteous relationship with God — if you’re going to be OK — then you have to do this and you cannot do that. We try to deal with divorce through laws. Praise God, he deals with divorce at the cross!

The cross of Christ is an eternal symbol of God’s limitless love and amazing grace. When we are forgiven at the cross, we become perfect by God’s love and grace and we are completely released from the burdens of guilt and shame and fear and we’re also released from any requirement to make some kind of restitution. The Church has forced divorced people to stay celibate, we’ve forbidden them to remarry, we’ve demanded they dissolve their second marriages, and we’ve disfellowshipped people who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay those prices.

Know this: Jesus Christ is the only one who pays the price. Jesus Christ makes restitution for all the sins of humanity at the cross and that includes restitution for divorce. Jesus paid it all!

“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more!” ~Hebrews 8:12

We do not offer judgment or condemnation to the world or to each other. We gladly offer the cross of Christ. We don’t fix past sins by adding new ones. Sometimes you truly cannot go back and change what’s done. But you can commit to, in our Lord’s words, go and sin no more. All of us can claim complete forgiveness and perfect pardon through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ and work hard to remain from now on faithful to whatever vows we’ve made.

A church that is anchored in the love of God and the cross of Christ is a church that can say to a couple in crisis, “Don’t divorce; stay married.” We can say to the divorcing couple, “Repent of this sin against your family and against God.” And we can say to the divorced, “God loves you; he’s not angry with you; you are forgiven by God in Christ.”

There will be some who accuse us of preaching cheap grace. My response to that is God’s grace is better than cheap; it’s free!

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 6:23

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!” ~Ephesians 2:8

There are some who say you can’t be forgiven for divorce and remarriage if you’re already a baptized Christian when it happens. There’s forgiveness if your divorce was before you became a Christian, but if you were already a Christian you knew better. You can’t be forgiven of that. You’re living in sin.

Really? Go back and read Romans 5:6-10.If baptism into Christ forgives a pre-Christian divorce and remarriage, how much more! If God’s grace is freely given to his enemies, how much more for his children! The idea that Christians receive less grace and forgiveness than non-Christians cannot be our guide. The idea that Christians receive less grace because we understand God’s will better distorts grace. All God’s children have grace. Grace has no value if it doesn’t forgive sin. Romans 8 tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Three

Part One: Divorce is Sin.
Part Two: The Church has Tried to Legislate this Sin through Law.

Marriage after divorce is not a sin. Divorce is the sin. Divorce — breaking a marriage covenant — hurts people and destroys the Gospel. Getting married — making a marriage covenant — blesses people and proclaims the Gospel.

“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” ~1 Corinthians 7:10-11

The correct translation of the first sentence in verse 11 is “let her remain unmarried” and not “she must remain unmarried.” The original Greek word is menato – “let her remain.” Well, why does Paul want a divorced person to stay single? In 1 Corinthians, Paul wants everybody to be single. He truly believes that’s the best way to be a Christian. It’s the best way to serve God. He says it in verses 7, 26, 32, 34, and 40. Paul consistently emphasizes the benefits of being single; we’d be surprised to see anything different.

In verses 12-16, Paul talks about Christians who are married to non-Christians. His advice is to stay together in the marriage. Holiness is contagious. Don’t underestimate the power of God’s grace.

In verses 17-24, he gives the general counsel to stay as you are. He says it three times.

In verses 25-26, Paul talks to virgins and he tells them to stay single. He truly believes you can serve Christ better without the worries and responsibilities of marriage.

And now in verses 27-28, he says it’s not a sin for a divorced person to remarry:

“Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned.”

Again, the original Greek language is important. “Are you married? Do not seek lysin (‘to be loosed’). Have you laylysin (‘been loosed’)? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned.” Paul says it’s not a sin for the divorced to remarry. The old NIV butchered this and the new NIV makes it worse. For some reason the NIV uses two different words to translate the same Greek word used twice in the same verse like it’s two separate things. But most every other translation since Paul wrote it uses the same word twice to mimic the Greek. Check the KJV, the New KJV, ASV, NASB, NEB, Alexander Campbell’s Living Oracles Bible from 1835, Webster’s translation from 1833, the Rheims translation from 1582 (older than the KJV), and the Revised Challoner-Rheims Version put out by the 1950s Catholic Church, perhaps the most conservative when it comes to divorce and remarriage. It’s not a sin for the divorced to remarry.

We cannot object to plain Scripture because we think Jesus said something different. Jesus is answering a specific question about a detail in the Law of Moses and, as Christians, we see the Law of Moses differently. Jesus tells the lepers to show themselves to the priests; nobody’s arguing for the sick to do that today. Jesus says to lay your gift at the altar; we don’t make animal sacrifices in our worship assemblies anymore and nobody’s saying we should.

But what our Lord says is very important. Do not read me as discounting the words of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus reminds the people about the certificate of divorce. The certificate is what gave the divorced woman the right to remarry. Everybody who was listening to Jesus assumed that divorced people can remarry — that’s the whole point of the certificate! All of Jesus’ listeners assume divorce and remarriage are less than ideal; but they never conclude it’s impossible or that remarriage is a sin. It’s not prohibited anywhere in the Law of Moses. The right to remarry has always been an assumed result of every divorce.

Divorce is sin, not remarriage. It’s not a sin to remarry after a divorce. There’s no such thing as an adulterous marriage.

And I know God hates divorce. That’s what the Bible says. Yes, God hates divorce. The Bible also says God hates our worship assemblies when we don’t treat our neighbors with love. The Bible says God hates prideful eyes, lying tongues, hearts that devise wicked schemes, and people who stir up conflict in the community.

The Bible also tells us that Christ Jesus died to forgive us of those sins and to bring us into a righteous relationship with our God.

Divorce is not the end of the world. Divorce is not a death sentence. It’s not the unforgivable sin.

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Two

(This is part two of our sermon “Divorce: It’s Going to be OK” from this past Sunday at Central.)

Divorce is sin. And the Church has tried to legislate this sin through law.

Generally speaking — I’m using very broad and very general language in today’s post — the Church has historically taken a phrase or two from Jesus and a sentence or two from Paul and come up with complicated rules and strict laws and serious consequences for legislating divorce and remarriage.

We have said any divorce not based on fornication is an “unscriptural” divorce. In other words, divorce is only allowed by Scripture if one of the parties has had sex with somebody else. We’ve taken the words of Jesus in Matthew, his specific answer to a particular question about a detail in Deuteronomy 24, and we’ve built entire legal structures around it. You can’t divorce your wife except for marital unfaithfulness. We’ve called it the exception clause. Now, I’ll suggest that the reason Jesus’ words about divorce in Mark and Luke don’t contain this exception is because Mark and Luke are written to Gentile Christians who don’t know and don’t care much about the Law of Moses. Matthew is written to Jewish Christians who care a great deal about how Jesus might interpret that murky phrase in Deuteronomy 24. So Matthew puts it in.

Regardless of that, now we’ve got “scriptural” and “unscriptural” divorces based on who did and who didn’t have sex with somebody else and when they did it. So if a couple gets a divorce and there’s no fornication involved, we’ve said there’s no divorce. They’re still married in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter how many trips they’ve made to the courthouse and how many divorce documents they’ve signed, we’ve said God is still recognizing the marriage. It can’t be undone without sexual infidelity. So if either one of them gets remarried, we’ve said they’ll be living in adultery. They will always be living in sin.

OK. What about a couple who marries and then divorces after three years? No kids. No fornication. No sexual sin. It’s just a bad match — irreconcilable differences — and they divorce. Both of these people wind up marrying again and these two second marriages are doing well. The guy has two kids with his second wife, the woman has three children with her second husband, and both families have re-committed themselves to Christ. And then fifteen years later these two run into each other at the mall. They haven’t seen each other or spoken in fifteen years. So they talk and they show each other pictures of their children and they sit down for coffee together as they’re getting caught up. Next thing you know, the coffee leads to dinner, and the dinner leads to these two having sex together that night in a hotel room. And the angels in heaven rejoice! Praise God! These two are finally obeying the will of the Lord!

We’ve also determined that if there are “scriptural” and “unscriptural” divorces based on fornication, then there must be guilty parties and innocent parties. The guilty party in a divorce can never remarry, but the innocent party can. Which means — follow me on this — we’re saying in God’s eyes the guilty person is still married to the innocent person but the innocent person is no longer married to the guilty person. I think that’s impossible. I don’t know if it’s physics or just math, but that’s impossible.

In a “scriptural” divorce in which somebody had sex outside the marriage, the innocent party can remarry because he or she has been released from the first marriage. But the guilty person is still bound? Is this about marriage or is it about punishment? We’ve made it so that in church you’re better off killing your husband than divorcing him. We’ll forgive you for murder. And then you can remarry.

We’ve made it so that in an “unscriptural” divorce, where nobody’s been unfaithful sexually, both parties are guilty. The man divorces his wife, he doesn’t get remarried, he’s not having sex with anybody else, and we say the wife cannot remarry. She’s waiting on the guy to have sex with somebody else first. She’s waiting on it! And the church is hoping for it! Somehow we’ve said this couple is still married in God’s eyes. On what grounds, I have no idea.

What about the couple that’s “unscripturally” divorced and remarried prior to baptism? Does their Christian conversion allow them to remain married? Some have said, “No, they’re living in adultery. They have to be divorced in order to be saved.” Wait. Do we tell married people to divorce in order to please God? Do we tell them they can live together but they can’t have sex? Is that the biblical model for marriage?

If a husband abandons his wife and leaves no forwarding address, can the wife remarry? Well, is the guy having sex with another woman? And what kind of proof do we need?

Does fornication after an “unscriptural” divorce retroactively make the divorce “scriptural?” In other words, the husband divorces his wife, there’s no fornication, so the divorce is “unscriptural.” If the husband remarries, now he’s committing adultery and the first wife can remarry. So in an “unscriptural” divorce, the first to remarry is a sinner and going to hell while the second to remarry is good and going to heaven.

What if a husband is beating his wife? She’s in danger of injury or maybe even death. Can she divorce? Can she remarry? Well, she can’t divorce him if he’s not cheating on her. So maybe the Church recommends a restraining order or a legal separation. Wait. The Church recommends she be relieved of her marital duties, but not her marriage? She’s not going to submit to her husband, she’s not going to serve her husband, she’s not going to give her body to her husband, she’s not going to live with her husband, but they’re still married? This is not God’s model for marriage. Is she really still his wife? Should she be? We’re setting up false and fictitious marriages for the sake of preserving a doctrine!

Jesus says, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
Paul says the Gospel is about love, not law.

At best, we’ve developed rules and laws that are unmerciful.
At worst, we’ve punished people and monitored their salvation and sought our own salvation through legalistic works. Through law.

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part One

Preaching through this current series at Central on our family issues is giving our church a great opportunity to have difficult conversations about serious matters. We made promises a long time ago that Central will be a safe place to have hard conversations. And that continued with this past Sunday’s sermon on divorce and remarriage. We can’t ignore stuff like this. We have to talk about it.

It’s an important topic. If marriage is intended by God to reflect his holy love and faithfulness to the world — and it is — then anything that disrupts it or destroys it is serious. It’s also a relevant topic. Everybody in our church is impacted in some way by divorce. We’ve all been affected. This topic can also be controversial. For a lot of us, our background and our instinct is focused on having the “correct” position and being “doctrinally sound.” In other words, we’ve argued about this stuff. And it’s emotional. It’s hard to have strictly rational, logical, biblical, theological discussions about divorce because it’s so personal. And painful.

Sunday’s sermon at Central went like this: divorce is sin, we’ve tried to legislate that sin through laws, marriage after divorce is not a sin, God forgives sin through the cross. I’ll post the sermon here in this space over the next four days, according to those four main points.

Divorce is Sin – It’s not the unforgivable sin. But it is sin.

In Matthew 19:3, the Pharisees ask Jesus where he stands on Deuteronomy 24: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” Deuteronomy 24 begins, “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, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce…”

We know from ancient rabbinic writings that during Jesus’ day there were two schools of thought on Deuteronomy 24. Two very prominent rabbis at this time disagreed on what “indecent” means. Shammai taught that “indecent” means fornication or sexual unfaithfulness. Hillel taught that “indecent” means anything the husband doesn’t like — she burned the toast, she can’t parallel park, whatever. It’s a tough question. The Law is a bit ambiguous here. Where are you, Jesus? Can you divorce for any and every reason, or just for sexual infidelity?

“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?’ Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Jesus comes down on the conservative interpretation. He sides with Shammai that “indecency” means sexual infidelity. But he also points the Pharisees to the more important principles and foundational purposes of marriage for all time. God joins a married couple together. God unites a husband and wife and the two become one holy person. And it is a sin to tear that divine union apart.

Well, if divorce is a sin, why does God allow it with a divorce certificate? That’s a really good question. And Jesus doesn’t shy away from it. He explains that divorce was never part of God’s plan, marriage has always been intended for life. But God knows that marriages are going to fail. We live in a fallen world, we are all broken people. God anticipates divorce. It’s not approved, but it’s regulated; it’s not ideal, but it’s permitted. Why? “Because your hearts were hard.” The old KJV says because of “the hardness of your hearts.”

Do we still have hard hearts today or has that changed? (Answer that silently. To yourself. About yourself. Not about your spouse.) Jesus isn’t saying hard-heartedness is over and we don’t need the provision for it anymore. He’s simply saying it’s a sin to terminate a marriage and, yes, it happens.

Also, in verse 9, when Jesus says, “commits adultery,” that’s a metaphor for covenant-breaking. Adultery in the Bible isn’t always about sex; it’s an approved figure of speech for not keeping the marriage promises. You find it in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Adultery means covenant breaking.

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” ~Matthew 5:32

How can the wife be an adulteress when she hasn’t had sex with anybody else or remarried? How can she be guilty of adultery just because her husband divorced her? Don’t overthink that. The only way that’s possible is if Jesus is using “adultery” as a metaphor for covenant breaking. The husband has made it impossible now for the wife to fulfill her marriage vows. She can’t keep her covenant promises because he’s divorced her. When you’re married, you’re not the only one impacted by your choices. The two have become one. He’s breaking the marriage vows and now she’s an adulteress. It doesn’t mean she’s had sex outside the marriage; it means the marriage is over for both of them.

And that’s the sin: ending the marriage covenant, breaking the marriage vows made before God. There could be any of a bunch of reasons for the divorce — sexual misconduct, neglect, abuse, addiction, boredom, whatever. But the net result is that the covenant is broken and that’s the sin of divorce. “What God has joined together let no one separate.” There may be different degrees of guilt on one side or the other, but the sin of divorce is breaking the union that God has commanded us not to break.

“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” ~1 Corinthians 7:10-11

Notice the Bible uses the terms “separate” and “divorce” interchangeably. “Separate” and “divorce” mean the same thing. Now, in the United States, you can get a separation and still be legally married. You and your spouse don’t have to live together, you can live in different states, you don’t even have to see each other at Christmas, and you’re still legally married in the eyes of the government. In the Bible, in God’s eyes, separation is divorce. You’re not united, you’re not together in body or spirit. The covenant relationship created by God to reflect to the world his matchless glory and his faithful love has been ripped apart. God says through his prophet Malachi that divorce is an act of violence.

Divorce is sin. It’s not an unforgivable sin. But it is sin.

Peace,

Allan

4Amarillo Week 2019

What a joy to come together with our Christian brothers and sisters from the other three downtown congregations for four days of outreach programs and service projects. This is our fifth annual “4Amarillo Week” in Amarillo, a collaboration between First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Polk Street United Methodist, and Central Church of Christ. This week we’re running a morning Vacation Bible School at Margaret Wills Elementary and an evening VBS at San Jacinto Elementary. We’re feeding all the kids from those two communities lunch and dinner to go with the Bible stories, the games, the arts and crafts projects, and worship times. We’re also working in the San Jacinto Neighborhood Garden.

 

 

 

All four churches are gathering at San Jacinto tonight for the annual 4Amarillo Ice-Cream Social. For the past five years we’ve hosted this at Central and judged all the homemade ice-cream and gave out trophies in a bunch of fun categories. But this year, we’re taking it to the community. We’re going to make hundreds of ice-cream sundaes for all the kids who are attending these neighborhood VBSes, their families, all the volunteers, and everybody from the four churches.

Praise God for the blessed privilege of joining him in breaking down the walls between his people and his churches and taking the Good News of salvation in his Son Jesus to our neighbors in Amarillo.

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Our Central missionaries in Bogota, Columbia — Byron and Sandra Cana and their two sons, Diego and Derek — arrived in Amarillo late this morning and will be here with us for almost two weeks. I was honored to join them and Steve & Debbie Cearley and Tom & Janice Grant, four members of Central’s foreign missions committee, for a good ol’ Texas lunch at Cracker Barrel. It was great hearing Byron and Sandra’s improved English, it was encouraging to hear about the Lord’s work in Bogota, and it was entertaining listening to Tom try to explain to the Canas what exactly is a Sod Poodle.

Peace,

Allan

I Trust You Now

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling in its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you. I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly, and I trust you now.

~Hannah Whitall Smith

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