Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Sacred Institution?

In action taken this week by the Supreme Court of the United States of America, we have once again witnessed assaults on the Biblical, historical and traditional institution of marriage. These actions will result in further redefining marriage by our culture in a way that is inconsistent with the Scriptural perspective of the union of one man and one woman together for a lifetime.

Having said that, and having consistently expressed strong opposition to the concept and practice of same sex marriage, I must also point out that no actions taken by the states, courts, legislative bodies or executive branches of government can change the fundamental nature of marriage in God’s eyes. While I am highly disappointed in the continuing degradation of marriage as an institution in our society, I cannot honestly say that these recent actions by government have done any more to hurt the institution of marriage than actions and attitudes of society in general, including, I am sorry to say, self-professing Christ-followers.

Long before the concept of same-sex marriage became a realistic possibility in our culture, heterosexuals were doing more than their fair share to degrade and defile marriage. If we are outraged by society’s acceptance of same-sex marriage and view that as a threat to the institution of marriage, we should be equally offended by other practices that have trivialized marriage as well.

For example, sex outside of marriage (either pre-marital or extra-marital sex) is a fundamental threat to the institution of marriage. As our society has become accepting of sex outside of the confines of the marriage relationship, we have seen a cheapening of both sexual relations and of marriage. The idea of “saving yourself” for marriage is quaint and seemingly archaic in our culture, though God’s standards of confining sex to the marriage relationship has never changed. Whenever a celebrity or athlete acknowledges he or she is a virgin, it becomes news (generally mocked and ridiculed).

I’ve actually heard supposedly Christian ministers advocate the practice of living together before marriage. Some suggest that this is the best way to really get to know your partner before you make a lifetime commitment. If that were true, then the rate of divorce among those who lived together before marriage would logically be lower than that of the general population, but multiple studies have indicated that is not the case. In fact, those who live together before marriage divorce at the same or perhaps even slightly higher rates than those who don’t live together before marriage. Of course, this practice of co-habitation has become so common that it’s increasingly difficult to find a couple who didn’t live together before they were married. This is even true for many couples within the evangelical church.

While the practice of extramarital sex is still ostensibly frowned upon in our society, it really doesn’t cause many raised eyebrows when someone admits to such a relationship. Especially among men, there is a sense that “boys will be boys”, and thus a fact of life to which we must become accustomed.

While divorce rates for committed Christians (as opposed to those who define themselves as “Christian” because they’re not Jewish, Muslim, etc) is lower than the general population, it is still exceedingly high. Many Christians feel no compulsion to save their marriages through counseling and intense effort. As one man told me a few years ago (a former pastor, no less), he wasn’t happy in his marriage and simply wanted out.  We grow bored. We grow restless. We grow weary. We want out.

I was watching a show recently that is set in the 1960’s, and they referred to the child of a divorced couple as coming from a “broken home”. When I heard that phrase, I thought to myself, when was the last time I heard a divorced family referred to as a “broken home”?  That is exactly what it is, but we don’t use that terminology any more.

And of course, this doesn’t even take into account the countless joyless marriages in which people muddle through for one reason or another, including religious convictions. Unfortunately, those religious convictions are not strong enough to motivate them to practice love and submission in accordance with the standards of Scripture. They’re going through the motions, but in the process, they are hardly glorifying Christ through their loveless, joyless marriages.

I mention all of this because I think we Christians need to understand that there are a lot of practices, beliefs and attitudes that threaten the institution of marriage every bit as much as same-sex marriage. We get all bent out of shape because of the declining morals in our society, but we need to acknowledge that these morals go far beyond just the fairly recent acceptance (“tolerance” as society refers to it) of homosexual marriage.

Maybe we shouldn’t get on our high horses to decry the way “the liberals” are harming marriage until we take a long hard look at the damage we conservative Christians have already done to what God intended to be a holy and consecrated institution for the welfare of mankind.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Vacations

Every Summer when I was growing up, I could be sure that I'd hear at least two or three sermons about the heathens who forsook the church for a week or two in order to take a summer vacation. Pastors would rail against these pagans who would abandon God for a little R&R. Of course, I never understood why pastors would take it out on me--I was IN church. Shouldn't they be shouting at those who weren't there?

When I became a minister of the Gospel more than 20 years ago, I vowed that I would never take that approach to those who had the good fortune to be able to get some time away to be with family or to enjoy a little down time. I think that I have honored that vow throughout my ministry, because I truly do not begrudge people some time away. As a family, we always made it a priority to take a week or two off for summer vacations. Even now that Kacie is grown and out of the house, Kim & I purpose to take time away together periodically. And with a more flexible schedule, it doesn't always have to be in the Summer.

I don't think there's a thing in the world wrong with getting away for a while, and if that means missing church for a few weeks, so be it. However, what I do have a problem with is taking a vacation from God. That is a recipe for disaster. So while you enjoy your summer and take some time for a change of pace, let me encourage you not to take a vacation from God in five vital areas.

Don't take a vacation from God's Word. You need to maintain a time each day that you are in God's Word. There are all kinds of devotionals available online, and great resources like The Daily Bread, Table Talk  and other daily devotionals to assist you in your study of God's Word.

Don't take a vacation from prayer. Just as you need to hear from God on a regular basis, He wants to hear from you.

Don't take a vacation from worship.  You don't need to be in a church service to worship. Listen to Christian music and take time each week just to give praise and honor and glory to God. You can listen to sermons from great preachers online. Or you can listen to mine.

Don't take a vacation from serving. Look for opportunities to serve others, either through church-sponsored service projects or just as you come across needs where you live, work and play.

Don't take a vacation from giving. The expenses of God's church go on whether you are present or not, so be faithful in your support of the Lord's work. Life Spring offers online giving options that are secure and easy to use. 

Enjoy your summer and all that comes with it. Longer daylight hours, warmer days, swimming pools, grilling out and vacations--these all are gifts from above. Enjoy them in a guilt-free manner. But don't take a vacation from your relationship with God.