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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Preventing Church Splits

Thabiti Anyabwile has finished up his excellent series on keeping a church from splitting.

Recommended reading for all pastors/elders:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

By the way, Pastor Anyabwile is a former Muslim. Read his very encouraging testimony: From Mecca to Calvary.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Resources on Homosexuality

Web-Based Biblical Teaching on Homosexuality from DesiringGOD:

The Other Dark Exchange: Part 1 & Part 2 [Part 2 has good counsel for the struggler and parents of those who struggle.]

Testimonies of those changed by the Word of God.

Letter on how to relate to a loved-one who is persistent in homosexuality.


Help in Escaping from Homosexuality:

Exodus International

Love Won Out Conferences (Focus on the Family)

Desert Stream Ministries

Coming Out of Homosexuality (book by Bob Davies)


The Psychological Debate About Homosexuality:

National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality


The National Debate about Homosexual "Marriage":

An excellent message by Albert Mohler at the Desiring God National Conference: Homosexual "Marriage": A Tragic Oxymoron

Wisdom from John Piper on Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage

The Truth about Same Sex Marriage by Erwin Lutzer

The Campaign to Protect Marriage by Dr. James Dobson (broadcast CD)

More Web Resources on Homosexuality from Focus on the Family


Books for Family and Friends:

Someone I Love Is Gay

When Homosexuality Hits Home


Speaking the Truth in Love:

Homosexuality: Speaking the Truth in Love by Ed Welch

God's Grace and the Homosexual Next Door by Alan Chambers

Homosexuality 101 DVD by the Staff at Exodus International

The best book on the family in print right now: GOD, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. Excellent chapter on homosexuality. By Andreas Kostenberger.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Matt's Messages - The Surprising Truth About Homosexuality

“The Surprising Truth About Homosexuality”
October 29, 2006
1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Before we get to the sermon this morning, I want to thank you for all of your expressions of appreciation these last five weeks during pastor appreciation month.

Heather and I are very thankful for all of your gifts and kindnesses. Thank you for your cards, gift-certificates, taking us out to dinner, and holding an appreciation dinner for us here last Sunday–complete with deviled eggs and Texas Sheet Cake–it is good to be known! Thank you for babysitting our kids and for telling us how much our ministry means to you. We love you, and it is a real joy to be your pastor.

One of the big highlights for me each year is seeing what you put in the newspaper. I don’t know who that goofy bald guy is in the picture this year, but the little thank you in the newspaper for “helping us build our families on the Gospel” is a big encouragement to me. It’s great to know that you are listening.

Another encouragement to me along the same lines is how many of you have taken a free CD of the messages this Fall for yourself or to give away. As I have said before, the best way for you to show your appreciation for me and my ministry is for you to dig into the Bible yourself and to follow Christ with all of your heart.

Now, this is our seventh week in our Home Improvement Series: Building Our Families on the Gospel. We’ve spent the better part of the last two months on the topic of marriage. Next week, we will begin with children and parenting.

But between the two, I think it would be good for us to examine the topic of homosexuality. One of the world’s alternatives to God’s design for the family. Homosexuality. And I invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 9.

Homosexuality, of course, is in the forefront of our culture every day. The news is full of scandal right now with Republican representative Mark Foley and change with the New Jersey State Supreme Court this week ordering their legislature to create homosexual “marriage” as an equivalent to one-man-one-woman marriage which has been the norm in all cultures over all of history.

What is being proposed is a radical change in the definition of marriage that will have far reaching effects on the family in America.

Entertainment has homosexuality on the front-screen. All I have to do is to drop names like Will & Grace, Brokeback Mountain, and Ellen DeGegeneres to show how pervasive homosexuality is in our entertainment culture.

While only about 3% of all Americans have homosexual or lesbian desires and/or behavior, the issue is front and center in our culture.

And it is present in our community and our local culture. Just a few weeks ago one of you asked me for counsel on how to love and relate to a lesbian couple of your acquaintance.

And it is present in our families and our friendships. Most of know someone who identifies themself as an homosexual.

Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on the issue. It has much to say about homosexuality that is very clear and very helpful for cutting through the cultural fog.
And what the Bible has to say may be surprising to you or to the people around you.

I’ve titled today’s message: “The Surprising Truth About Homosexuality.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is actually part of larger passage about problems that the Corinthian church was experiencing–and here specifically, about lawsuits between believers. These Christians were acting like unbelievers, and Paul wants to warn them to cut it out or they may prove themselves to be unbelievers in the end.

But embedded in that larger context is the surprising truth about homosexuality. Let’s read verses 9 through 11 of 1 Corinthians 6.

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” [NIV]

Surprising Truth #1. HOMOSEXUAL LUST AND BEHAVIOR IS SIN AND INVITES THE WRATH OF GOD.

Now that may be surprising to you if you are only familiar with homosexuality from our culture and not from the Bible.

Our culture is working hard to make homosexuality seem natural, normal, healthy, and (especially) good, morally good.

But it is not.

Look at verse 9.

“Do you not know that the wicked [wrongdoers, those who practice sin] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived [as the world wants you to be deceived...and then he gives a list]: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [those are the two key categories for us right now] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The word the NIV translates “male prostitutes” (Greek: malakoi) is translated “effeminate” in the King James Version and the New American Standard. It refers to the more passive partner in a homosexual act. In the Ancient Near East men who did that often offered themselves as “call-boys” hence the translation “male prostitutes.” But it refers to more than men who do it for money.

The phrase the NIV renders “homosexual offenders” (Greek: arsenokoitas) refers to the more active partner in a homosexual act. That’s why it is translated “homosexual offenders,” that is, the one who penetrates.

It isn’t just talking about those who break sodomy laws. It is referring to both the active and the passive partners in homosexual activity.

The English Standard Version simply renders both in one phrase: “men who practice homosexuality.”

And both are described here in verses 9 and 10 as wicked.

And both invite and deserve the condemnation and judgment of God.

The Bible clearly says that (v.9 and v.10) they will not “inherit the kingdom of God.”

Instead, they will inherit spiritual death and Hell.

Homosexual Lust and Behavior Is Sin and Invites the Wrath of God.

This is the clear teaching of the whole Bible.

From the beginning, God made humankind in his own image, male and female He created them. And when He started putting them together into couples, He did it male and female.

Remember the biblical definition of marriage from last week? Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Homosexuality goes against the biblical design for human couples at every point, and therefore, is rebellion against God’s created order and must be opposed by Him.

We see that opposition at Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). And in the days of the Judges with the Gibeonites (Judges 19).

The Levitical holiness code for Israel made it very clear that it was an abomination for a man to lie with a man like he would with a wife.

And the New Testament has the same message. Here in 1 Corinthians 6. Also in Romans 1 and 1 Timothy 1.

Homosexual lust and behavior is sin and invites the wrath of God.

Anyone who tells you anything differently is wrong. If you have questions about that, I’d be glad to loan you some good resources to study what the Bible says about it.

Notice that I say homosexual lust and behavior.

It’s not just outward homosexual behavior that is wrong.

Unchecked homosexual desire is wrong, as well.

Listen to Romans 1 describe the Fall of humanity:

“For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. [Idolatry.] Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this [the exchange of the truth of God for a lie], God gave them over to shameful lusts [out of control desires]. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. [Lesbianism.] In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust [desires] for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. [Judgment.]” [Romans 1:20-27, NIV]

Do you see how the Bible condemns their desires and not just their actions?

Beware of people who tell you that homosexuality is an orientation that they did not choose and that they are not responsible for. Maybe they are responsible for their acts, but not for their desires.

The Bible says that our sins go deeper than just what we do with our body parts. They go down and actually start with our wants.

And homosexuality is, at root, a perversion of desire.

It may not feel like someone has chosen it, most of our twisted desires do not (do they?), but we are held responsible for what we want, not just what we do.

And homosexual lust and behavior is sin and invites the wrath of God.

Now, you may think, because I’m a Bible-thumping preacher, that that is easy for me to say. But it’s not.

People that I love are caught in homosexuality. My first real encounter with it was through two of my friends in high school.

If I could change this biblical truth to be a little less condemning, I would.

My heart has broken time and again over the fact that homosexual lust and behavior is sin and invites the wrath of God.

But that is the truth, surprising or not, and we are called to speak the truth.

Now, you might not be surprised that this is truth about homosexuality. You may have already been taught to detest homosexuality as a perversion of God’s good plan.

But you may be surprised by surprising truth #2: HOMOSEXUAL LUST AND BEHAVIOR IS NOT THE WORST SIN THERE IS.

Did you notice something about homosexuality as a sin in this list of sins? Where does it fall in the list? Is it first because its worst? Is it last to reach a crescendo and be seen as the worst sin possible? Where is it in the list? Somewhere in the middle. Just kind of stuck in there.

Let’s read it again. Verses 9 and 10.

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Interesting. Are you in that list?

Maybe you struggle with homosexual lust and behavior. But if you don’t, are in that list?

I have been some of the things in that list myself.

I still struggle with some of things in that list.

Homosexual lust and behavior is sin, but it’s not the only sin there is, nor is it the worst.

Somebody ought to tell Fred Phelps that.

Fred Phelps is the leader (I can’t call him pastor) of the Westboro Baptist Church (which isn’t really a church either). They are hate group of people who claim to be Christians and love to get on television and proclaim that “God hates fags.”

They were the ones who wanted to protest the funerals of the Amish girls earlier this month. Sick and wrong.

They have the idea that homosexual sin is basically unforgivable. To research this sermon, I went to their offensive website to get an understanding of their views from their own words. I can’t bring myself to quote them.

Homosexual lust and behavior is sin and invites the wrath of God, but it’s not the only sin there is, nor is it the worst.

In Romans 1, Paul uses homosexuality as an illustration of the dark exchange of the truth for lie, of the Creator for the creation. Homosexuality is a perversion and an illustration of what perversion looks like. But it is just a sin, like other sins.

And we are all sexual sinners.

We all have a sinful sexual disorder of some kind, whether it is same sex or not.

Maybe its heterosexual lust or misbehavior.

No one here is perfect in their desires and all of their behavior all of their lives.

And all sin is a falling short of the glory of God that invites and deserves the wrath of God.

We may be surprised to find out that homosexuals are not in a special category of worst kind of sinners.

And as side note to that, homosexuality is not the greatest threat to the family in America, either.

What we talked about last week is. Divorce.

Divorce is a much greater threat to the family in America than homosexuality.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Homosexuality is sin. It invites the wrath of God.

And what homosexual activists are trying to do in creating a new thing called “homosexual marriage” is a dangerous and bad thing for America that must be opposed.

If it continues unchecked, it will undermine our society.

But it got where it is because our society abandoned the family long ago with rampant heterosexual sin and escalating divorce rates.

And the church didn’t stop it. The church’s divorce rate is running neck and neck with the world’s!

We need to oppose same-sex unions in our nation, but we need to get our house in order, too!

Homosexual lust and behavior is sin, but it’s not the only sin there is, nor is it the worst.

Sometimes, we can get to thinking that we’re so much better than those “filthy gays.” There is probably a little Fred Phelps living in all of us.

We need to repent of that attitude right away.

And embrace surprising truth #3. HOMOSEXUAL LUST AND BEHAVIOR CAN BE OVERCOME BY THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST. Look at v.11.

“[The wicked homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God...] And that is what some of you were [past tense!]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

There were Corinthians who were passive homosexual partners.
There were Corinthians who were active homosexual partners.
There were Corinthians who were a part of the gay and lesbian lifestyle.

Were! Past tense!

They were changed by Jesus and His Spirit!

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed [cleaned!], you were sanctified [set apart!], you were justified [named righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

There is hope. Change is possible.

Homosexual lust and behavior can be overcome by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Remember, it’s not the unpardonable sin!

Jesus Christ died on the Cross for homosexuals!

He took on the penalty of lust and perverted sex acts. He absorbed the righteous wrath of God!

Jesus Christ died and rose again to free us from our sin.

Listen to Titus 2.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”

That is the only hope for all sinners, including homosexual sinners. Praise God.

Now, you may have noticed that we didn’t have a testimony this week.

I almost showed a DVD of a testimony, but I didn’t want to take the full 7 minutes in our time together to watch a screen.

But we do have this DVD in our church library now from Exodus International, the world’s largest network of ministries that serve people who want to escape from homosexuality. It’s called Homosexuality 101 and it answers several questions about what factors play into homosexuality and testimonies of those who have left it.

When we lived in Chicago, Heather and I had a friend who was a former homosexual, had lived the lifestyle, and now headed up a ministry that went into gay-bars and started spiritual conversations!

He and his wife were a part of this ministry together.

Change is possible. The Gospel can overcome our sexual sin, no matter how deep we think it runs. The Gospel goes deeper!

Homosexual lust and behavior can be overcome by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, three points of application.

First, if you personally struggle with homosexual lust and/or behavior, LOOK TO JESUS CHRIST FOR FORGIVENESS, HEALING, AND TRANSFORMATION.

Don’t try to just stop being homosexual on your own. It won’t work.

You need what we all need: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Repentance is turning, our hearts turning away from our own agenda, our own way of doing things.

And faith is resting on Jesus Christ and His Crosswork on your behalf.

Become a faith-follower of Christ and you will find forgiveness, healing, and transforming power.

We will help you to do that and to start a new lifestyle of faith.

We’ll surround you with wholesome friendships and help you with discipleship, and walk with you through the process of being more like Christ.

That goes for anyone here who struggles with any sexual disorder.

Look to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, healing, and transformation.

There is a little booklet called “Homosexuality” by Ed Welch that we have back in the back. We’ll start by reading that together and talking about how the Gospel can change your life.

If you are a parent or another family member or a friend who has a loved one who is trapped in homosexuality, my counsel for you is to LOOK TO JESUS CHRIST FOR GRACE, WISDOM, AND BOLDNESS TO LOVE YOUR HOMOSEXUAL LOVED-ONE.

The Lord Jesus will help you to love them wisely.

I have a number of resources that I would recommend to any family or friend that was in that situation. I’ll be putting them up on my blog this week.

Talk to me. I’d be glad to help you.

Some parents need to realize their part in their child’s choices.

Many fathers especially have been aloof and distant and that is a contributing factor to homosexual tendencies.

If you have sinned against you child, you need to own that sin and ask for forgiveness.

There’s plenty of forgiveness in the Cross for you.

Don’t give up on your loved-one. Keep on loving them with the Gospel and with practical, tangible expressions of your love for them.

In a few weeks, I’m planning to preach on raising boys to be men and girls to be women.

If your child is not yet an adult, one of your major parenting goals needs to be to disciple your child toward and understanding and embrace biblical manhood or womanhood.

If you failed at that, there is still hope while you all live.

Look to Jesus Christ for grace, wisdom, and boldness to love your homosexual loved-one.

And thirdly, what should the church do?

Knowing these three surprising truths about homosexuality, the church as a whole should SPEAK THE SURPRISING TRUTH WITH SURPRISING LOVE.

The world thinks that we know only one of those truths, the first one.

And we can’t shrink from that first one.

But we need to keep them all in balance!

The world should be shocked to find out that the church loves homosexuals even if it hates homosexuality.

We are tempted in our day and age to love homosexuality or to hate homosexuals, but the opposite needs to be true of us.

Is it true of you that you love homosexuals?

And do you love them enough to speak the surprising truth?

Is it true of you that you hate homosexuality?

Not just the yuck-factor, but you hate the rebellion from God’s perfect plan?

There are churches who don’t hate it enough. There are churches that are ordaining practicing homosexuals to be their pastors and bishops.

We need to hate it.

And we to hate it enough to proclaim the gospel that changes people.

The world needs to know the surprising truth about homosexuality:

Homosexual lust and behavior is sin and invites the wrath God.
Homosexual lust and behavior is not the worst sin there is.
Homosexual lust and behavior can be overcome by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And world needs to hear this surprising truth told with surprising love.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wisdom on Beauty

David Powlison writes about the Dove Beauty Campaign.

He uses some bigger theological words [i.e. "noetic" refers to the effects of sin on the mind, "common grace" is the grace that God gives to all regardless of faith], but it is carefully cut wisdom worth pondering.

Someday, I would like to be wise like Dr. P.

[HT: JT (as usual!)]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Resources for Troubled Marriages

The books I mentioned in the sermon are:

1. Ken Sande's Peacemaking for Families (must reading for every family!).

2. Leslie Vernick's How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (long title, good book).

3. Jerry Jenkins' Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (establishing habits to keep faithful).


I also highly recommend:

Robert Jones' After Adultery (incredibly helpful booklet by a good friend)

The MarriedLife Blogteam has recently run a helpful series on: Finding God in My Difficult Marriage


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Matt's Messages - Keep Together

“Keep Together”
October 22, 2006
Matthew 19:1-9

Today is our last day specifically on the topic of marriage in our Home Improvement Series. We’ve talked so far about headship, submission, being married to an unbeliever, and being lovers. Next week, we’re going to talk about one of the world’s bad alternatives to marriage: homosexuality. And parents, you may want to think about whether or not to have your younger kids in the service next week. Just like last week, it will be a G-rated show. I will not be graphic or crude in any way [in fact, I’ll be less explicit than last week because the Bible is], but the subject matter is potentially explosive, so you may want to take some care with the younger ones and at least be ready to have some good family discussion of what is said.

And then in November, we’ll begin talking about children and parenting. So, today is our last day specifically on the subject of marriage.

And today we’re going to tackle the topic of when marriage goes sour. When marriages experience conflict. And when marriages threaten to break up.

Divorce.

To continue our construction metaphor, divorce is the threat of demolition to our home-improvement project. At least, demolition to the marriage part of home improvement.

And I don’t have to say much to convince you that divorce is demolition.

Every family here has been touched by the excruciating pain of divorce in some way or another. We’ve all seen it, some more closely than others. A number of us here have been divorced or are the children of divorce and feel its effects. And our culture, especially our local culture, bears all of the marks of demolition because of the destructive force of divorce.

In Matthew 19, the Pharisees (Jesus’ religious enemies), tried to trip him up on the subject of divorce. Let’s read it. Matthew 19, verse 1.

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’”

Now, notice that this was not an honest question. Verse 3 says that they were testing Him.

This question of the legality and permissibility of divorce was one that the rabbis had argued over for a few centuries, and they were trying to get Jesus into trouble by laying a trap for Him.

They are specifically referencing a popular debate over a text in Deuteronomy 24. Some rabbis taught that you could only divorce (and it was mandated to divorce) if there was adultery. Others taught this (v.3) that you could divorce for any and every reason including the wife burning the toast!

But Jesus, as usual, doesn’t fall for the trap and cuts His own unique path through the minefield. He takes them back to a more fundamental text: Genesis 2. Look at v.4.

“‘Haven't you read,’ he 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'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’”

Jesus takes them back to the original design for marriage–in the garden. And He points out that we were made male and female and because of that, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. That’s the biblical definition of marriage.

And who does that? Who does the marriage? V.6. “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

This is God’s fundamental stance on divorce. He hates it.

He despises divorce. He doesn’t want it. It’s against His revealed will.

He puts couples together in marriage. He doesn’t want them undoing it.

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Now, the Pharisees didn’t like that answer. They still thought that they could trap Him by using the Law of Moses (which was God’s Law, after all) to catch Jesus in a wrong answer. V.7

“‘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.’”

Now catch what Jesus is doing here.

On the one hand, He reveals that divorce is permissible in God’s eyes in some situations.

God (through Moses) permitted divorce because of human weakness–the hardness of men’s hearts.

And Jesus allows one exception to the general rule here in verse 9. “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness [Greek Word: porneia - a wide range of sexual sins], and marries another woman commits adultery.”

So marital unfaithfulness is an exception to the general rule.

And the Apostle Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 7:5 that believing spouses who have been abandoned by unbelieving spouses do not have to consider themselves bound either.

So there are two exceptions to the general rule.

But notice what Jesus is doing! He is saying that, on the one hand, divorce is permissible in God’s eyes in some situations (porneia and abandonment by an unbelieving spouse), but on the other hand, He is establishing the priority of the general rule.

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Anything outside of those two exceptions is adultery and is opposed by God.

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

While divorce is sometimes permissible, [and if you are divorced for one of God’s exceptional reasons, there is no shame for you to feel...and yet...while divorce is sometimes permissible...] God’s fundamental stance towards it is hate.

Malachi 2:16, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel.”

“What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

What God has joined together, let couples KEEP TOGETHER.

Now, I’d like to give three principles that I think are biblical counsel for couples to keep them together.

If I had time, I’d love to talk about how to follow Christ after being divorced because I know that a number of us here are in that boat.

And many of you are doing that very well and living out a God-centered lifestyle in your particular situation.

I’m hopeful that some of what I’ll have to say in a month or so about singleness will apply directly to you.

But today, I’d like to try to help our married couples keep together. And if you are soon to be married or would like to be married, I think this would be good counsel for you to store away, as well.

Because Jesus was adamant: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

#1. KEEP YOUR PROMISES.

At our wedding, my Dad told us that marriage is simple (not easy, but simple). There are only two keys to a good marriage, he said: marry the right person and keep your promises.

Keep your promises.

If you are married, do you remember what you said at the altar? “Before God and these witnesses?”

Here’s what I said on June 18, 1994:

I, Matthew Charles,
give myself to you, Heather Joy,
to be your heart’s companion,
your helper and partner,
your support and your safe place.
By the power of our Lord Jesus Christ
I will not break this vow
whether we are in sickness or in health,
poverty or wealth,
sorrow or joy.
I give you my love.

Those were my promises and they entailed a bunch of others.

And if God put us together, then I need to keep us together by keeping my promises.

It’s about commitment. What I’ve noticed about couples these days is that they are not committed to their promises from the beginning and to the end.

They don’t seem to realize that marriage is a lifelong thing. There seems to be “escape clauses” built into their understanding of marriage.

But marriage is supposed to be “for better, for worse, and for keeps.”

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

Marriage is supposed to be a permanent bond built on solemn promises–a covenant brought together by God.

I’ve said it a number of times this Fall already. That’s what you build your marriage upon–commitment...not feelings.

When conflict comes (and conflict is inevitable!), you stay married because you are married! You are in covenant with that person.

Here’s one practical way to do this: never use the D-Word.

Don’t joke about it.
Don’t throw it in there sometimes to get a reaction.
Don’t use it when you’re fighting.

Banish it from your relational dictionary for you and your spouse.

Never use the D-Word.

Your kids (if you have any) will thank you for it.

Keep your promises.

That includes being faithful to your spouse, right?

What we saw last week in Proverbs 5 about being satisfied with your spouse alone. Eyes for her, eyes for him alone.

Adultery devastates marriages. Don’t allow yourself to go down that path even a little bit.

If you are tempted, then read Proverbs chapter 5 three times a day every day for the next month. And do what it says.

Be faithful. Keep your promises. I know that it’s harder than it sounds, but it is possible, and it’s what you need.

Keep your promises.

God put you together. It’s not just you and her. It’s not just you and him. What God has joined together you keep together.

Keep your promises.

#2. KEEP SHORT ACCOUNTS.

This means to be peacemakers in your home.

It means to work through conflict and make sure you get it worked through.

Ken Sande in his excellent book, Peacemaking for Families says in chapter 1, “Marriage Means Conflict.”

You are going to have conflict. It’s inevitable. You are two imperfect sinners joined together in covenant relationship! You’re going to have trouble.

The question is what are you going to do with that conflict?

Conflict is an opportunity for God to work in your marriage.

And for you to work it out.

Now some people fall into the ditch on one hand of what Ken Sande calls “Peace-Faking” that is running away or trying to escape from conflict. Raise your hand if that’s your normal way of handling things.

And the ditch on the other side is what Ken Sande calls “Peace-Breaking” which is attacking and trying to win the argument at all costs. Raise your hand if you that’s your normal way of handling things.

In the middle is peacemaking–the process of working out your differences in God’s grace. And it involves a lot of longsufferingness and forgiveness.

Keeping short accounts.

Two weeks ago I told you about a fight that my wife and I had where she had ended up being submissive.

A number of you asked for more information about that fight. I’m guessing that you didn’t know that Heather and I don’t always agree.

We were actually arguing about training wheels.

I was for, she was against. And we were both pretty dead-set in our opinions about it. At one point, the “discussion” came to tears.

But there are two things about our “fights” that you need to know.

First is that we are (point #1) committed to our covenant. So any disagreement takes place within our marriage and doesn’t threaten to undo it.

Sometimes to cool down we have to leave the room. Once I actually left our apartment. In my socks! There wasn’t anywhere for me to go.

But we know that we are both committed to our marriage no matter what. We are in covenant. And so we are free to disagree within a safe place.

And the second thing you need to know about our “fights” is that we resolve them. Every one of them.

We take Ephesians 4:26-27 very seriously. It says, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Lots of couples let the devil get a foothold in their marriages by letting little conflicts go unresolved and adding up to big conflicts.

Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

Keep short accounts.

Be quick to forgive.
Be diligent to confront.
Be fast to overlook.

Bear with one another.

We take this phrase literally. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

We don’t go to bed with unreconciled conflict.

Now, sometimes, we have to agree to disagree and go to sleep–on the issue. Agree to disagree on the issue we are disagreeing about.

But not on the relationship. We don’t got to bed angry.

And sometimes we have heavy-eyelids the next day because it took some time to work it out.

But we do. And I expect our marriage to last until we die or Jesus returns.

Keep short accounts.

Now, I know that that’s easier said than done. Especially when one of the spouses isn’t willing to work on it.

And you can’t do their side for them. You can’t.

But you can take responsibility for your side. And you can look out for their best interests.

Remember Philippians 2 that we quoted last week. “Look not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

What I see today is couples that are more concerned about their “rights” than about their spouse’s best interests.

What would happen if every husband laid aside his own agenda and looked out first of all for his wife’s interests? Even if they were fighting.

What would happen if every wife laid aside her own personal agenda and looked out first all for her husband’s interests? Even if he seemed to be against her.

The best book I’ve ever read on conflict-ridden lopsided marriages is by Leslie Vernick, and the title says it all How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong.

David Powlison calls that a “Unilateral Love Offensive.”

You can love your spouse and do what’s best for them even if they don’t return the favor.

That’s got to be part of your commitment.

To keep short accounts.

Heather and I worked our conflict out. And when she was submissive and said that we could do it my way, I proposed a compromise where we try it her way for a little while but we keep the option of adding training wheels alive.

We worked it out.

Keep short accounts.

If you are having trouble working it out. Let me give you a piece of advice.

Get help early on.

Get help now.

Too many couples (most of them!) wait until its almost too late to seek out help.

Remember that sermon I gave 6 months ago from Proverbs 15:22? “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Humble yourself and get help.

Let me say something provocative: All marriages need outside help.

I’m not saying professionally.

But we are sinful people who need each other. That’s why we have the Body of Christ.

That’s why we offer Link Groups. That’s why we need fellowship with each other.

Not everything requires a pastor or a counselor.

But we all need each other. All marriages need outside help.

Especially when you’re stuck. Don’t try to go it alone. Seek out someone you trust to talk it out.

Call a Christian friend with a marriage you respect.

Give me a call. I’m here for your marriages.

Call another one of our elders. They’d be glad to help you.

Keep short accounts, and when you can’t, get help without delay.

Because God has put you together. Your job is to keep together.

And the third way to do that: #3. KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS.

Be Gospel-Centered in your marriage.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.

If you are looking to your spouse to satisfy your deepest desires, you will be so disappointed. But if you are looking to Jesus for your heart’s satisfaction, you will not be disappointed in the slightest.

Jesus Christ died and was raised for your sins.

He died and was raised for the sins you have committed against your spouse.

He died and was raised for the sins you have received from your spouse.

And there is grace to cover them all at the Cross.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.

Remember what Holly said last week about the Real Love Triangle?

Jesus at the top and you and your spouse on either side.

If you both move towards Jesus, you will move towards one another.

And the worst case scenario would be if your spouse decided to no longer move towards Jesus. But where does that leave you?

Closer to Jesus anyway. And that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

Keep you eyes on Jesus.

If that means that you need to repent of something, then do it.

If you need to repent of your selfishness in your marriage, then do it.
If you need to repent of unfaithfulness in your marriage, then do it.
If you need to repent of peace-faking or peace-breaking in your marriage, then do it.
If you need to repent of treating your covenant lightly, then do it.
If you need to repent of unforgiveness and lingering bitterness, then do it.

Turn from those sins and turn to Christ.

He will forgive you and give you grace to be selfless, to be faithful, to be peacemaking, to be covenant-keeping, to be forgiveness and keep short accounts.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. And you will keep together.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Audio Biographies

John Piper's biographies of heroes of Christian history are now available in audio. Listen to one each day and be informed and inspired.

[HT: JT]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More Romance Resources for Married Lovers

The best is C.J. Mahaney's book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God and the teaching series Song of Joy that provided the basis for it. [To catch C.J. teaching on this material at the Desiring God National Conference, listen here or watch here.]

Family Life Website Marriage Channel

Here is a good article from them with romantic ideas.

Sign-Up to Receive Emails with Romantic Ideas for Your Marriage: Simply Romantic: Tips to Romancing Your Husband/Wife

Married Life Blog (from Covenant Life Church):

Recently they ran a series on Romantical Mondays with lots of good ideas.

To study the Song of Songs itself, I recommend the very readable commentary by Tom Gledhill in the Bible Speaks Today series: The Message of the Song of Songs.

Matt's Messages - Lovers

“Lovers”
October 15, 2006
The Song of Songs

A few weeks ago, I realized that I had prepared a schedule of messages for this Home Improvement series that focused on some of the hardest parts of marriage: headship, submission, being married to an unbeliever, next week–conflict/divorce, and so on.

And I realized that I hadn’t planned in a least one message on some of the most delightful stuff about marriage. “Sugar and spice and everything nice,” if you know what I mean!

So I decided then and there that I had to fit in a message on romance and sex in the context of marriage. Being “Lovers.”

And there is no better book to study about that topic than the Song of Songs.

Now, that might surprise you. You might not have known that there was a book in the Bible–God’s Holy Word–that celebrates the gift of intoxicating marital intimacy.

Most people assume that the Bible has one thing and one thing only to say about romance and (especially) sex. What is it?

“Don’t do it.” “Just say no.” “Sex is bad.” “Don’t have sex.”

But that’s not true at all!

The Bible does warn against sex outside of marriage as being wrong and harmful and dangerous and displeasing to God.

But inside of the covenant of marriage, the Bible has an altogether different message on romance and sex:

Do it! Romance each other. Have sex. Lots of sex. Make love. Enjoy each other.

Be lovers.

And there is an entire book of the Bible–not just a verse here or there, not just a chapter, but a whole book of God’s Holy Word–dedicated to celebrating marital love and sizzling intimacy!

Now, that still doesn’t make it easy to preach about!

This is a difficult subject to preach on for a variety of reasons.

The first is that it is, in many ways, a private subject.

Our culture doesn’t understand that and tries to use romance and sexuality to sell things–everything, anything–on TV!

But it is proper for us to pull a veil over this information at times.

Robin, Andrew, and Peter are right here on the front row. This is a G-rated show! And I wouldn’t want to awaken anything that is inappropriate at their level.

It would be different if this was a marriage retreat, and we could be a little more public and vivid in what we taught about. But it is a private subject.

And for some of us, it is also a painful subject.

You’ve been hurt. Romance and sex have been used against you in some abusive way. Or you’ve been disappointed. Or you’ve been disappointing and made some mistakes in this area. So any teaching on it might awaken old wounds.

Believe me, as I prepared this material, I was aware that as glorious as it is, it could bring up some memories that are unpleasant.

And it’s also hard to preach on because it is a complex subject.

For one thing, we’re all at different places. Some of us are married and this message is mostly directed at married couples or soon to be. Some of us are unmarried and too young to get married. And the Song of Songs warns us three times(!) to not awaken love before its time. So, we have to be careful to not arouse those powerful feelings even as we study this important subject. Some of us are divorced. Some are widowed. Some of us have been married a long time. Others just a short time. And all of us probably need to hear something different. So it makes it complex.

And the subject is also complex just because the Song of Songs is complex. Some scholars say that after the Book of Revelation, Solomon’s Song of Songs is the hardest book of the Bible to interpret. And after studying it this week, I think I have to agree! I wished a bunch of times that I hadn’t announced last week that we’d be dipping into it today! I don’t understand all of it and don’t pretend to.

So, it’s a complex subject.
It’s a potentially painful subject.
And, to some degree, it should be a private subject.

On the other hand, here it is in your Bible!

An entire book in God’s Holy Word dedicated to lovers!

Just because of that, it’s an important subject. Too important to pass over.

Too important for our families. Too important for Home Improvement.

So, let’s pray and see what we can say today about the Song of Songs.

[prayer]

Now, this morning, we’re not going to read the whole thing. And I’m not going to try to explain everything that is in the Song of Songs. Someday, Lord-willing, I will teach the entire thing to you. But I’m not ready for that just yet.

But I do want to dip into it. I want to show you some of the book’s features and explain some of it’s message to you. And I want to apply it to our marriages.

I want to start by saying that I have one goal for this message for our church family.

And that is that our married couples romance each other.

LOVERS, ROMANCE EACH OTHER.

Husbands, romance your wives.

Wives, romance your husbands.

There is an entire book of the Bible to give you inspiration for that purpose!!!

Lovers, Romance Each Other.

And by that, I mean the whole list of things that fall under romance.

From warm companionship and simple signs of affection all the way to making sweet love together. Enjoying the gift of marital intimacy.

Bible believing, Bible applying Christians should be known as the happiest, most sexually fulfilled people on the planet.

You wouldn’t know it from TV, but the best sex and romance is to be found in a Christian marriage!

Lovers, Romance Each Other.

I have 5 adverbs to add to that goal.

#1. EXCLUSIVELY.

Lovers, Romance Each Other Exclusively.

Look at Song of Songs chapter 2, verse 16. This is the voice of the beloved bride.

“My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.”

Now the lilies in the rest of the book allude to her sweet femininity, so that probably is a reference to some kind of sexual activity.

But what I want to point out is the possession and the exclusivity of this relationship.

“My lover is mine and I am his.”

In other words, “We belong to each other and to no one else.”

Proverbs 5 gives this command: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. [He’s talking about whom to romance.] Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? [If your wife is a spring or a fountain or a cistern, should she be giving away her water to others. No.] Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer–may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated [intoxicated] by her love” (15-19).

That’s a command. Sex is for marriage. Exclusively.

And there is power in that.

Because I know that all of her romance is directed at me, and because she knows that all of my romance is directed at her, there is a power in our romance, a force that binds us together and gives a potency that transforms the quality of our love.

Husbands, do you have eyes for only one woman?

Wives, do you have eyes for only one man?

Can you say? [Do you say?!] “My lover is mine and I am his...”

Lovers, Romance Each Other Exclusively.

If there is someone else, even if it’s just mental, just a wandering “what if,” they need to go so that you are exclusive with your spouse.

Lovers, Romance Each Other Exclusively.

Lovers, Romance Each Other (#2) CREATIVELY.

We have before us a literary creation meant to celebrate the gift of intimacy.

And there are here some carefully chosen words that are meant to arouse romance and sensuality between these two people.

It’s very creative. And I think that one of the purposes of that is to inspire us to do the same. To be creative in our romance.

C.J. Mahaney has written an excellent little book on this that I have drawn heavily from. It’s called Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know, and I heartily recommend it. Every wife should buy it for their husband. Every husband should buy it and apply it for their wife.

And he has this phrase in there. “Gentlemen, before you touch her body, touch her heart and mind.”

Mahaney says, “Based on my counseling experience as a pastor, I’d say most wives are well aware of this dynamic. They know that carefully composed words have great power to promote romance and marital intimacy.”

And he suggests that we learn how to creatively romance our spouses by reading and thinking about the Song of Songs.

Let’s take an excerpt and think about that. Turn over to chapter 4, verses 1-7.

This is the lover groom speaking to his beloved.

“How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each has its twin; not one of them is alone. Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”

Now, some of that takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?

We don’t talk like that. And I’m not suggesting that guys should just quote this word for word to their wives!

You might get in trouble for telling her that her hair looks like a flock of goats or that her neck is like the tower of David.

But those are metaphors, and in Ancient Near Eastern poetry, this was heavy stuff!

He’s not so much telling her exactly what she looks like, but what she makes him feel like when he looks at her.

That flock of goats hair was like a living, moving, vibrant kind of hair seen from the distance. This was the closest they came to special-effects. It’s like on one of those commercials for hair products when the hair on the model just dances around on her shoulders–like it’s beautiful and alive. That’s what he’s saying.

And the tower of David probably moved this man with its elegance and stateliness. He was saying that she provoked profound admiration in him when he looked at her neck. She was stately and awe-inspiring to him.

You see how creative he was?

Saying her breasts were like fawns was not saying that they had four legs and a white tail. It was how those fawn made him feel. They were soft and warm and tender and made him feel tender, too. She changes him when he looks at her.

Do you get the picture?

She is creative, too, with how she talks to him. Switch over to chapter 5, verse 10.

“My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves by the water streams, washed in milk, mounted like jewels. His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume. His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh. His arms are rods of gold set with chrysolite. His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphires. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”

She’s saying that to other people about him!

Do you sense the creativity here?

Can you do something like that with your spouse?

Words. Carefully chosen words have a real power to them.

Use them.

Of course, creativity isn’t just about words. C.J. has a whole chapter on what guys can do to creatively romance their wives.

#1. Date night. I highly recommend it, too.
#2. Phone calls.
#3. Notes, cards, letters.
#4. Gifts.
#5. Music.
#6. Gettaways.
#7. Surprises. Read the book to see what he says about all of those.

I made one of those creative phone calls to my wife this week and it was very silly and very romantic. I actually left a voice-mail, and she’s saved it! It was a keeper.

Now, you might be saying, “Well, that works for you, you’re kind of goofy, and Heather likes that kind of thing. But that’s isn’t me.”

I say, Lovers Romance Each Other Creatively, and do it your way. Find out what pleases your spouse and get to work!

Because romance is work. It comes naturally a bit, but then over time it takes work to keep going.

But that work is worth it in the payoff.

Don’t believe the movies that show the romance as working at the beginning and then dying away because it’s just not there anymore and there’s nothing you can do about it.

No!

Work at it. Find out what she likes and do it. Find out what pleases him and do it.

Romance is for all married couples.

It won’t look the same for all married couples, but it is for all Christian marriages.

Don’t let it die out.

Don’t become like that guy who said, “I told you I loved you when I married you and if anything changes, I’ll let you know.” That’s a sinful, unbiblical thing to do.

Tell her. And tell her creatively.

This creativity builds anticipation. And it moves towards consummation.

#3. Lovers, Romance Each Other PASSIONATELY.

Look, for example, at chapter 4, verse 9. This is the man speaking.

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!”

That’s passion.

Listen to what she says in chapter 5, verse 8.

“O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you–if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.”

Oh yeah. These are people who don’t just feel half-hearted about each other, but give their all to each other.

They are passionate.

Are you passionate in your romance for your spouse?

Passion comes and goes. It ebbs and flows. You can’t build a marriage on feelings. You have to build it on covenant, on promises-kept, on commitment.

But on that covenant, on those promises, on the foundation of that commitment, you can fan the flames of passion.

And you can be more in love with your spouse after many years of marriage than newlyweds could ever dream of.

That’s definitely true for my beloved and me. We are more in passionate love now than we were when we were young.

What can you do to build passion?

One thing is to talk about it. Again, creatively use words and build your passion.

Say, “I love you” to your spouse every day.

And not, “Love ya.” like it was a handshake, but “I love you” and look in their eyes.

That’ll make a big difference, just that little thing.

It isn’t a foundation, but to continue our construction metaphors, passionate romance is like a super-glue or a cement that goes into the building process and acts as a bonding agent that ties the whole thing together.

And guys, we’ve to take the lead here. We’ve got to take the initiative in passionate romance.

Like everything else in marriage, our headship is at work here.

But ladies, in the Song of Songs, the woman takes the initiative, too. Carolyn Mahaney points out in her book that the woman is attractive, available, and anticipating.

At several points in the book, she is inviting him into an intimate encounter.

Ladies, your husbands are open to this!

#4. Lovers, Romance Each Other INTIMATELY.

Notice as you read the Song of Songs how sensual it really is.

And I mean all five senses: Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, Smell.

It’s about intimacy. Full intimacy.

Notice all of the words about kissing.

Chapter 1, verse 2.

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth–for your love is more delightful than wine.”

Kissing from the get-go!

Chapter 4, verse 11. The guy says, “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.”

C.J. points out that this means that this kind of kissing did not originate with the French!

Lovers, Romance Each Other Intimately.

There is also caressing and intimate touching. I won’t go into that for time and G rating reasons, but you can see it in places like chapter 2, verse 6 and chapter 7, verse 8.

And it does all work towards consummation. Look at chapter 4, verse 16.

“Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. [The garden is her.] Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. [Then he says,] I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.”

That’s consummation.

And the point is that marital intimacy is a gift. It is to be celebrated (there is an entire book that celebrates it in the Bible!), and it is to be enjoyed, experienced, relished in the context of the marriage covenant.

So, lovers romance each other intimately. I expect there to be application of this teaching! You don’t have to tell the rest of us about it, though!

And fifth and last, Lovers, Romance Each Other LOVINGLY.

And by that, I mean serve each other in love.

This gift to be enjoyed is really a gift to give, not to take.

As much as we enjoy it, romance and sexuality are meant to be something that we give away out of love for our spouse.

Philippians chapter 2 is true for our bedrooms as much as any other room:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

Jesus selflessly died to save sinful people like us.

And if we turn and put our trust in Him we will be saved.

How much more should we turn away from our selfishness to show love and deference for our spouse?

Don’t demand.
Don’t withhold.

Serve.

In romance, seek the best for your lover.

And you will bring much glory to God.

If you are married, are you romancing your spouse lovingly or self-servingly?

I’ll tell you this. If you are not romancing your spouse, you are serving yourself.

You’re being sinfully lazy.

God is calling you to set your agenda aside and purse romance with your spouse.

Did I mention that there is an entire book of the Bible devoted to inspiring you to do that?

Husbands, Romance Your Wives.
Wives, Romance Your Husbands.

Lovers, Romance Each Other Exclusively, Creatively, Passionately, Intimately, and Lovingly.

Chapter 5, verse 1, the last little bit spoken by the Friends of the Lovers, which is probably also the voice of God:

“Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.”
For this message (and for improvements in my marriage's romance), I am heavily indebted (even down to key phrases) to C.J. Mahaney's book and the teaching series that provided the basis for it. Thank you, Mr. Mahaney!

To catch C.J. teaching on this material at the Desiring God National Conference, listen here or watch here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spiritually Single Resource

I haven't read it yet, but I'm told that Lee & Leslie Strobel's Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch is a good resource for those who are married to unbelievers.

Now that's a Mitchell!



My Dad is famous for being able to sleep in just about any position. Here's Isaac doing it while sitting on the couch.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Byron is Moving

My blogging pastor buddy Byron Harvey is moving.

Our loss up here is their gain down there.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

More Bibliophilia

Al Mohler on Personal Libraries

Christianity Today's List of Top 50 Books that Have Shaped Evangelicals in the Last 50 Years

Justin Taylor reminds us to Read the Old Books and the Best Books and do it worldviewishly.

Matt's Messages - Married to an Unbeliever

"Married to an Unbeliever”
October 8, 2006
1 Peter 3:1-6

We are returning today, to our Fall series of sermons on Home Improvement: Building Our Families on the Gospel. Think back and you will remember that we’ve had three weeks together in this series. The first was an introduction to the series and a vision for the family [Remember all the props?]. The second week was about male headship in our families–God has designated men to be the leaders of their families. And the third week got us into marriage by God’s design–wives joyfully submitting, husbands sacrificially loving.

We’re going to keep talking about marriage for the next three weeks. Next week, as you’ll note on page three of your bulletin, I’ve added a message about romance and sex in marriage. Come back next week to hear about sex! Pray for me as I prepare that message. We’re going to dip into the Song of Solomon next week, and I’ve never preached from there before. So pray for me. And then the next week will be about conflict and divorce. Then we’ll move off of marriage into parenting.

This week, as we have heard in our testimony, we’re going to talk about being spiritually single. Married but spiritually single. What the old King James Version called being “unequally yoked.” In other words a Christian married to an unbeliever. “Married to an Unbeliever.”

Now, in my thinking, there are three main ways to become married to an unbeliever. And they are all very different.

The first way is BY GETTING SAVED.

You are an unbeliever (a non-Christian)–you might not even know that you aren’t a Christian–and you marry an unbeliever.

And then you hear the gospel, receive it, and get saved.

Where does that leave you?

Married to an unbeliever.

This was the main way that people became spiritually single in the New Testament.

The gospel was just beginning to take root in the Roman Empire, and as it infiltrated cities, it also infiltrated homes. And not always did both spouses become believers.

So, a few different times in the New Testament, the apostles left teaching for us on how to live while married to an unbeliever. This morning, we’re going to look at the fullest of those passages.

The second way to become married to an unbeliever is BY BEING FOOLED.

You are a Christ-follower, and you marry someone you think is a Christ-follower, but they turn out to not be a Christ-follower.

What do you do?

The Bible says that if they will consent to stay married to you, you stay married to them (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

So, you were fooled, you were surprised, but there you are married to an unbeliever.

You need to know that there is much grace for you. You are not a second class citizen in the kingdom.

And the Lord will help you as you follow Him alone.

The third way is BY BEING FOOLISH.

That is, you are a Christ-follower and you know that this guy or this gal that you are interested in is not a true Christ-follower...but you marry them anyway.

If you are not married yet, don’t go there!

That would be foolish at best and probably disobedient on your part.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6, verse 14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (14-15).

Can he say it any more clearly?

Now, that passage is talking about more than marriages, but it definitely applies to marriages.

To use the construction metaphor: you will have two different foundations, two different building materials, two different houseplans if you choose to be married to an unbeliever. You’re going in two different directions. Don’t go there.

I know that there are powerful forces that want to convince you that it is no big deal (everybody’s doing it), but you need to resist them and marry “in the Lord.”

And I can introduce you to a host of husbands and wives who (as much as they love their spouses) wish today that they had not done that foolish thing then.

Now, if you have done that foolish thing, there is grace for you, too. Don’t feel condemned by me. We love you, and we’ll walk with you through the consequences of your choices. We have all done foolish things and need the body of Christ to grow from them.

And God is full of grace for those who repent and desire to follow Him!

If you are married to an unbeliever because of foolishness, confess that to God, receive His grace, and begin to follow Him faithfully like you should. It won’t be easy, but God is gracious.

I know that it is hard to be married to an unbeliever. There are so many issues that come up: church involvement, parenting: especially if the unbelieving spouse is a man and the believer is a woman and the child is a boy! That makes parenting so difficult.

But God gives grace to the humble.

So humble yourself under the mighty hand God, and He will raise you up in due time.

Now, this morning, we’re going to go to 1 Peter Chapter 3.

As I said, this is the fullest passage on how to live while married to an unbeliever. It is addressed to Christian wives who are married to NonChristian (or we might say pre-Christian) husbands.

Now, I know that husbands can be spiritually single, as well. In a previous church we were a part of, there were quite a few Christian husbands who had wives that didn’t believe. And there are biblical principles for those husbands to follow, as well.

But the majority of spiritually mismatched couples include a Christian wife (I think that’s because of the power of male leadership–when a man believes the Gospel his wife more readily believes and follows as well). But the Gospel is stronger than nonChristian male leadership, too! Praise the Lord for women who follow Christ even when their husbands don’t.

So, this morning, we’ll talk mainly to wives married to unbelieving husbands–though there are principles here for all women.

Let’s read verses 1-6 of 1 Peter 3 and see what Peter has to say to those who are spiritually single.

“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

I see at least four principles here for Christian wives married to an unbeliever.

#1. SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBAND. V.1 “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands.”

Now, that should sound familiar! We saw that back in Ephesians chapter 5, last time we were together.

Wives should submit to their husbands as unto the Lord.

But we might have thought that that principle wouldn’t apply if you were married to an unbeliever. How do you submit to him?

But in 1 Peter, as our guy’s Sunday School Class is about to find out, submission to unbelieving authorities is a major theme. It runs through chapters 2 and 3 and really shows up some in chapter 4.

Peter says we are to “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men...” (2:13). And that includes Christian wives to unbelieving husbands.

Peter uses the example of Sarah (from Genesis) in v.6 “[Be] like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.”

Submit to Your Husband.

Now, this command is very simple, but it is not always easy. And in our culture, it is regularly laughed at and scorned.

Today, submission to a husband’s authority and leadership in the home is considered (at best) an out-moded, out-dated relic of ancient history, and (at worst) a practice that is harmful and demeaning to women.

But as you can see here (in v.1 and v.6), it is the very word of God to us. “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”

Now, don’t forget what that does NOT mean: that a wife is somehow inferior to the husband in worth or value. We’ll see in v.7 that wives are not worth less than husbands (they are equal in Christ!). And it also doesn’t mean that every woman is supposed to submit to every man. This is not the Taliban that says that women are to be treated as inferior creatures who obey whatever man they come into contact with. V.1 says, “YOUR husbands.” Not everyone’s husbands. Your husbands. And it does not mean that the wife is to blindly, unthinkingly obey her husband’s commands. It doesn’t mean that there is never a time for discussion or even dissension. This text assumes that some wives will disagree about Christ! And it, also, certainly does NOT mean husbands subject your wives. Nowhere in the Scriptures are husbands ever called to force their wives to submit to them. Again, this is not an excuse for abuse. Peter calls upon Christian wives to voluntarily choose to submit. It takes a strong woman to do this.

However...it DOES mean to submit. To place yourself under his authority. To allow him to lead you. To (like Sarah did) call him “lord” (small L!) or “master” (small M!). To call your husband the head of the home, the captain, the chief, the foreman, the one in charge.

Submit to Your Husband.

I can think of no better illustration of this principle than my own beautiful wife of 12 years.

One of the most beautiful things about my wife is her Sarah-like submission to me. To me!

▸ She follows me.
▸ She allows me to take the initiative.
▸ She lets me have the last word in decision-making even if she doesn’t see things completely my way.
▸ She places herself under me and my authority, both in public and in private.
▸ She makes me feel like the head of the home.

I don’t deserve a Daughter of Sarah like Heather Joy. But I’m awfully glad I’ve got one!

Just yesterday, we had a fight. A disagreement over something that came to tears. And you know where she left it? In my hands. “I will follow you. I won’t get in the way of what you think is best.”

She was very submissive.

And that’s what you are being called to if you have a husband.

Even if he is not a Christian. Especially (!) if he is not a Christian. V.1 again.

“Wives, in the same way [that everyone who is under authority is supposed to submit–even Jesus Christ did–chpater 2] be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over [battle terminology!] without words by the behavior of their wives.”

Now, notice, this does not say to capitulate to his religious preferences. This does not say sin with him or become an unbeliever and worship Allah at the Mosque with him. Or alcohol at the bar with him (for that matter!). This assumes disagreement and dissension in areas spelled out by your faith.

When he wants to sin, go with God not with him!

But it does say submit to him, too. When you can, follow his lead. Let him call the shots for your family. Don’t buck his leadership. Submit. Follow. Support.

Because it is walk, not talk, that wins the war for unbelieving husbands’ hearts.

There is a war on. It is much more important than the war on terrorism. It is a war for the souls of unbelieving husbands. And the battle is not won (primarily) with words. It is won (v.3) “without words by the behavior of their wives (v.2) when they see the purity and reverence (literally: fear) of your lives.”

Godly walk, not talk, wins the war for unbelieving husband’s hearts. I think that’s the same for unbelieving wives, too.

Not as much by what we say, as how we live.

Christian wives are to live lives of purity (holiness) and reverence (the fear of God).

And when they do, these daughters of Sarah will often win the great war for the eternal soul of their husbands.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them about Jesus at all. It doesn’t mean that you don’t share the gospel with them or share what you are learning in your Bible. It does mean that you don’t nag and that you know that living the gospel is going to be the most effective weapon in your war.

Submit in Godly purity and Godly reverence to your husband.

In our last church, there was woman named whose husband was an unbeliever almost violently opposed to the gospel. He was jealous of her time. She was very gifted in ministry to women and wanted on many occasions to be involved in the leadership of women’s ministry and lead Bible studies. But this husband didn’t want her to do those things. So this lady had a lot of hard decisions to make regularly. She decided to attend worship on Sundays because she believed God called her to that (and she had to obey God rather than man). But she was very careful to not take on too many other responsibilities at church and even in her beloved women’s ministry to be ready to do what and when her husband wanted.

In our three years there, the husband’s heart began to soften. He saw in her a life of reverence and purity and yet her Christianity did not make her less of a wife to him, but more. And he even attended church from time to time and came to a couple of men’s ministry events. We are still praying for this guy, but the ground of his heart has become more cultivated and prepared for the seed of the gospel. All because she submitted to him.

Is this easy? Not always. I don’t pretend to think that this easy! But it is crucial for the salvation of unbelieving husbands and the glorification of God, and it is God’s will for all of the wives here this morning.

The second thing that you should do if you are married to an unbeliever:

2. BEAUTIFY YOUR INSIDES. V.3

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

This is a strong word to the women of our day. Godly women spend their time, energy, and resources in beautifying their insides–their spirit, their heart–not their outsides.

So many women do not. The cosmetic industry in America in multi-billion. The women’s clothes section of the department store is the biggest of all the departments. There are two dozen magazines at Wal-Mart to tell you how to dress to attract a man and to be popular and to fit into our culture. Women spend time, money, and energy trying to look like Katie Holmes or Jennifer Anniston or Paris Hilton or [fill in the blank with the latest so-called “beauty” from People magazine]. Some women can take hours in the bathroom getting their face ready to meet the day and not spend 15 minutes on their knees or in the Word.

We are training our daughters (and allowing our daughters!) to focus on EXTERNAL BEAUTY when what is (v.4) “valuable in God’s sight” is INTERNAL BEAUTY.

Ladies, don’t you want to do what is valuable in God’s sight? Don’t give in to the pull of culture and make this mistake. God values inner beauty over outer beauty. So cultivate that. Spend your time, energy, and resources on becoming godly not gussying up your outer shell.

Teen girls, I especially talking to you.

In Peter’s day, they were trying to do that with (v.3) braided hair, gold jewelry, and the wearing of clothes. And Christian women are still trying to use those things to get beautiful. Just add to this sentence: curling irons, hair dryers, make-up kits, wardrobes, make-over magazines, and supermodel role-models.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This verse does not say to try to look ugly. It doesn’t even say (as some people have said in the history of the church) that a woman should not wear jewelry or get her hair done. If it was saying that it is also saying that a woman shouldn’t wear clothes! (V.3!)

It says, “Don’t find your beauty in those things! Ladies, don’t focus on them! Don’t get caught up in the externals of hair, jewelry, and clothing. They all fade away. But unfading beauty is on the inside and must be cultivated.”

Ask yourself what is going to last. External beauty? Maybe for a few years. But internal beauty is designed to last for millions of years throughout eternity.

Peter describes the kind of beauty that God sets a premium on as (v.4) “a gentle and quiet spirit.”

Now, that doesn’t mean a woman who never talks or never makes a noise or never is extroverted around people. It’s not talking about a kind of personality, but a character trait.

It means a woman who is not flustered. A woman who has inner strength. A woman who in her spirit is not internally agitated and restless. A woman with serenity.

Not a demanding woman but an accepting woman. Not a woman who is a feisty fighter for her rights, but a woman who gently accepts her lot in life and focuses on the Lord.

Can you think of a tranquil woman like that? I can make a whole list and many of them are in this room.

God values a woman who can internally trust in Him and peacefully live her life in an un-grasping manner. That’s inner beauty! And you know it when you see it.

Do you want to be truly beautiful? Beautify your heart with gentleness and quietness of spirit.

That’s how the holy women of Old Testament history beautified themselves. They were great examples. V.5

“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.”

#3: HOPE IN GOD.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? What are you hoping in?

∙ Are you hoping in your external beauty?
∙ Are you hoping in your popularity?
∙ Are you hoping in some guy, your husband even?
∙ Are you hoping in your hairstyle, your posture, your fashionable, designer clothes, your chic “new look?”

Don’t! Peter says holy women hope in God.

Sarah’s Daughters find their significance in God. Sarah’s Daughters trust in God’s promises. Sarah’s Daughters bank on what God thinks about them not men. Sarah’s Daughters look to God for their security.

Ladies, what are you hoping in today?

What you hope in, defines your beauty.

Hope in God. And you will not be ashamed or disappointed.

Do you want to be popular for a long time? Hope in God and popularity in His sight.

4,000 years later, we are still reading about Sarah who was beautiful in God’s sight. V.6

“[They were submissive to their own husbands,] like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

Sarah’s daughters hope in God.

#4: DO NOT FEAR ANYTHING OR ANYONE (BUT GOD). V.6 again.

“You are her daughters if you do what is right [submit, cultivate inner beauty, hope in God] and do not give way to fear.”

My wife’s favorite book on Christian womanhood is called Fearlessly Feminine. And that’s exactly right!

Christian women are called to be fearless. Fearless of anything the world throws at them. Because they hope in God. Fearless of anyone–including their unbelieving husbands! Because they fear God.

God-fearing women need fear nothing else.

Not because they have “rights” or a good paying job or a stable marriage but because they have an unshakable God.

I know it’s not easy to do when you live in the unstable world of being married to an unbeliever, but you belong to the King of the Universe and ultimately, you don’t need to fear anything or anyone but Him.

I love that phrase in verse 6, “you are [Sarah’s] daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

That’s what I call classy, spiritually single ladies: Sarah’s Daughters.

And I pray that those of you who are in that situation of being married to an unbelieving husband would be like Sarah: submissive, internally beautiful, hopeful, and fearless in God.