Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Can Christians Divorce?

Dear Friends,

I had a conversation with a Christian friend last week about marriage and divorce, and after he left, I thought about something that happened many years ago.

It was while at a grocery store that I saw a woman who had gone to a church where I had also once attended. I remembered that she and her three kids had been very involved in the church ministries and then she suddenly left and we never saw her family again. I asked why she left. She told me that she and her husband had gone to the associate pastor for counseling. It came out during the sessions that her husband was physically abusing her. He had injured her several times to the degree that she had to go to the emergency room and tell them that she had “fallen.”

The associate pastor, who had a master’s degree in counseling, read Ephesians 5:22 to her and her husband. “Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” The pastor said that the lack of her submission in the marriage was the problem. If she would be more submittive to her husband, she could avoid triggering his anger and the subsequent abuse. Furious that this pastor had made her the “cause” of her husband's violent and abusive behavior, she went in protest to the senior pastor. He told her she needed to submit to her husband and quoted Ephesians 5:22. I believed her account of what the pastors had said to her because that was the doctrine of this church. She told me she hated the Foursquare church, hated its pastors and had just filed a restraining order against her now former husband. She asked me how I was doing and I was too ashamed to tell her I'd recently become an ordained Foursquare pastor.

God made monogamous marriage between a man and a woman Matthew 19:3-6 and intended for that to be a Covenant (formal, binding agreement) with Him that would remain unbroken. But humans fail and God’s law, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 recorded by Moses, permitted divorce and remarriage, while at the same time, “God hates divorce.” Malachi 2:16 

Today it seems that many churches hate divorce even more than God does. Some pastors and denominations declare that divorce is never permitted under any circumstance. If divorce does occur, even the innocent party is too often painted with the brush of condemnation and told that they also will suffer under God’s judgement. Have we placed so much emphasis on the sanctity of marriage that we’ve forgotten how to love the victims of it?

Referring to marriage, Jesus said, “Therefore what God has joined together let not man separate.” Matthew 19:6. And then the messiness of life happens. And when the messiness breaks the Marriage Covenant, there are times when it’s permissible, even advisable, to leave a marriage. 

Jesus said that sexual immorality was a permissible reason.  And we need to understand that the Marriage Covenant does not end when a divorce is finalized by a court. The Covenant is ended when the marriage vows are irreparably broken. 

Domestic abuse breaks the Marriage Covenant. The vows we take in the presence of God to “love, honor and cherish..” are broken in repeated and unrepentant physical, sexual, mental & emotional abuse.

We also take a vow in our Covenant with God to stay together until, “death do us part.” When one person decides they no longer want to be married and they leave their marriage to abandon their spouse, the Covenant – those sacred vows – are broken as he or she crosses the threshold to walk out the door.

Adultery, abuse and abandonment are the three situations that break the Marriage Covenant and may permissibly end a marriage. But Christians need to exercise integrity and not spin these in an effort to give themselves an “out.” Adultery is not when he looks at the attractive neighbor, abuse is not when she’s cranky and hurts his feelings and abandonment is not when he goes golfing on Saturday. But when severe, on-going and unrepentant issues become damaging to a relationship, a pastor or Christian counselor may be able to help a couple restore their marriage or prayerfully hold their hand through the ending of it. 

And we always need to be careful that we don’t use the “God hates divorce” or an out-of-context scripture as a weapon against the victim in an abusive relationship and add to their anguish. Loving marriages are God’s plan for us – abusive marriages are not. There can be no doubt that God grieves over the heartache and loss in a fragmented family as the marriage vows disintegrate in a divorce. But God is a God of mercy and grace and is in the business of bringing healing and restoration to broken lives. No one who loves God is out of His redemptive reach.  Amen?

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Slaying The Nitpicker!

Dear Friends,

It was one of those humbling and embarrassing experiences. It was many decades ago that my step-daughter’s Christian elementary school called us at work. They had done a routine head check and found that she had lice. Being a do-it-yourself kind of guy, I just wanted to shave my step-daughter’s head and spray her all over with a can of Raid but her mother had a better idea... 

And that was when I found out that among the most unique jobs, there are actually professional nitpickers. Ours was a kindly older woman who was very compassionate and quickly eased our embarrassment. Special shampoos kill the lice but the nits are the tiny eggs of the lice that stick to the hair follicles. The nits have to be painstakingly picked off of each strand of hair with a special comb or they will hatch into lice and reinfect the person.

The word “nitpicker” originally meant someone who focused their attention on these tiny lice eggs, but in the late sixties, it became a slang term for someone who was overly concerned about inconsequential details. So a nitpicker is someone who criticizes other people by focusing on their tiny insignificant flaws. It’s someone who constantly carps about petty things in life and about other people. They just fuss over things to find fault with. (If it bothered you that I ended that last sentence with a preposition, you may be a grammarian nitpicker!) 

Nitpickers are the people whose sole pleasure seems to be in studying someone or something in the hope of finding a flaw. Nitpickers love to quarrel and argue just to prove they are right and the other person is wrong. Their goal is not to help or improve the other person but to make them wrong.

Nitpickers are unpleasant people to have in your life. You may have a wife, husband, daughter or son who is a nitpicker. Maybe the nitpicker in your life is your parent or boss. Or maybe the unpleasant nitpicker is the one who stares back at you in the bathroom mirror. If we are the nitpicker, we may try to spin our nitpicking into something positive. We pridefully call it our “attention to detail” and describe ourselves as a “perfectionist.” But that can be just our self-righteous way of spinning the sin of nitpicking into something that sounds respectable and praiseworthy. The word “nitpicking” is not in our Bible but grumbling, complaining and murmuring are listed as sins and nitpicking is the obsession to grumble, complain and murmur about the petty little things that others do.

What are some of the root causes of nitpicking? Our constant carping on another person can come from our unforgiveness that leads to bitterness, complaining and a hardness of heart toward another. We fall short of the grace of God when we let bitterness come between us and another person. Hebrews 12:14-15. Nitpicking comes from prideful thinking. You can only criticize another as long as you think you’re better than they are. Nitpicking can also come from a lack of spiritual maturity. When we bicker and quarrel and let loose the bitter nitpicky condemnations of others, we are behaving like those do not belong to the Lord. 1 Corinthians 3:3 NLT

The sin of nitpicking, is destructive to our walk with the Lord and destructive to our witness as a Christian. You can’t be operating in the will of God and manifesting His grace to others while you’re digging down in their lives to do petty faultfinding. Nitpickers obsessively seek to discover what is wrong with another person. In contrast, Christians have a passion to discover what is right with another person. 

Christians who manifest the grace of God, will pick through the brokenness and dysfunction in the life of another person in order to seek out the good. People of grace will always seek to buildup, edify and encourage one another.1 Thessalonians 5:11

We can’t change others, but with God we can change ourselves. If the nitpicker in your life is the one you see in your bathroom mirror, you can slay the nitpicker. We can overcome our critical spirit by firmly rebuking in the name of Jesus every time we feel that tendency coming on to engage in petty fault finding. We need to be the light in our families and in our relationships with others. 

Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 And in order for us to be the light, we need to guard our heart and words and become the messengers of God’s grace. Amen?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

You Are God-wired To Hug!

Dear Friends,

It happened just a few years ago during a thunderstorm in Southern California. High school sweethearts Dylan Corliss and Lexie Varga were walking hand-in-hand on a tree-lined street in Claremont. They were on their way to get a burger when they were struck by a bolt of lightning. Dylan said, “Suddenly out of nowhere, we just felt like we were getting hit over the head and shoved to the ground with a big flash and explosion sound.” Dylan woke up curled in a ball three feet from where Lexie had fallen. The lightning hit Dylan in the back of the head and the electricity transferred through his arm into Lexie before exiting through her foot. They felt a “tingling” all over their bodies but were otherwise unhurt and they continued on to get the hamburgers. When they got home, their families insisted they go to the hospital. The ER doctor said that because they were holding hands, the force of the electrical energy was able to dissipate between the two bodies and prevented a serious injury. The doctor said that the only reason the teenage couple was still alive may have been because they were holding hands.

The day after that thunderstorm was a Friday and I was walking along Carpinteria Beach holding hands with my own sweetheart. It was a gorgeous day at the beach. A nice, low tide with calm, shallow waves made for easy walking on the hard-packed sand at the water’s edge. A marine layer of clouds had courteously kept the temperature to a comfortable 65 degrees. The overcast skies had discouraged the usual crowd of beach-goers and there were fewer people and more shorebirds on the sand. 

We saw a young couple with a small child walking along. Both were walking with heads down and focused on their phones. Both appeared to be texting. They were oblivious to each other and paying no attention to their son and to the beautiful surroundings as they walked on the beach. I felt sad for them. They were not together on the beach that day, and I wondered how long they would be together as a couple. 

Then we came across another couple who looked to be in their seventies. They were holding hands, walking closely together and thoroughly enjoying their day. They stopped to watch two large brown birds who were poking their long curved beaks into the wet sand to look for lunch. They laughed at the bird’s antics. It was apparent that they had been walking hand-in-hand through life for many years and that was why they were still together.

Holding hands may not save your life in a lightning storm but it may save relationships. We are wired by God to connect with one another through touch and yet even the very thought of that is scary to some. A psychologist said recently that, “We have become a touch-phobic society. We don’t touch strangers or even friends.” And she said this before the Covid pandemic physically isolated us!

In many cultures, affectionate touching between friends is normal. In Armenian, mid-Eastern and Mediterranean cultures for example, women friends often walk hand-in-hand and even men walk with their arm over a friend’s shoulder. Hugging and kissing are the norm when greeting one another. But in America, even before mandatory social distancing, we got nervous when someone stood closer than five feet and a two second handshake was an adequate greeting. One outcome of our rapidly changing culture in America has been the demise of the friendly hug between two acquaintances. Today, men don’t hug other men for fear of appearing gay. And a man doesn’t greet a woman with a hug out of fear that she’ll snap open her purse to grab the pepper spray.

A Christian Psychologist once said that, “The persistent cry of the human heart is to hug me and hold me close.” Many people today are overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness. A survey showed that 60% of married people experience loneliness. Many struggle with depression, despair and discouragement. And surveys show that the generation of Millennials (ages 23-38) are the loneliest of all adults today. They've replaced face-to-face relationships with texting and social media, and psychologists have called them the "broken generation."

Touch plays a critical part in healing those psychological and emotional wounds. We are God-wired to communicate and bond through touch but our comfort level with touch is determined early on. If mom and dad didn’t hug and hold us in the first three years of our life, we may become anxious and stiffen up if someone hugs or touches us today. If hugs were lacking in our family culture, we may not welcome the hugs that cement warm, caring relationships. We may even recoil at the healing touch of another and then the hugs we need most are what we are most fearful to accept. 

Some churches like to hug and others don't, but a recent survey showed that even atheists/agnostics touch more than “religious types.” If Jesus came to our church, He would throw His arms around you and hold you tight. This pandemic has created both a craving for human contact and a fear of being close and touching another person. Whether safe loving hugs were your family tradition or not, you may need one of those today more then ever. Get vaccinated. Find someone who is also vaccinated. Give them a hug. Then hug them again. Because each time you give a hug, you get one back... AMEN?

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Are You A Hot Christian?

Burger Wrapper – Rev 3:20
Beverage Cups – John 3:16
Milkshake Cups – Proverbs 3:5
Double-Double Wrapper – Nahum 1:7
Water Cups – John 14:6
French Fry Tray – Proverbs 24:16

Dear Friends,

She and I had just polished off a gourmet meal catered by IN-N-OUT. (Yes.. I know their hamburgers have enough fat and cholesterol to drop a horse, but we really only go there a few times a year.) And so now I’m picking through the wrappings trying to spot the Bible verses. Did you know that IN-N-OUT was established by a Christian family and still today, every paper container has a Bible reference printed on it in tiny letters and numbers? There it was on the hamburger wrapper: Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Do we really know what is being said here? Well-meaning pastors, including this one, have slyly lifted this verse out of context as we use it to encourage non-believers to open the door to Jesus and invite Him into their lives. But while we have applied this verse to non-believers, the truth is that Jesus was not talking to them. Go get your Bible and read Revelation 3:14-22 for yourself. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here for you...

In these scriptures, Jesus is rebuking the “lukewarm church.” We’d love to translate that word “church” to mean the institutional church so that we can pretend it doesn’t apply to us, but the word used is “ekklesia” meaning the assembly of Christian believers. The body of Christ. Us good, church-goin’, lukewarm Christians. The hard truth Bubba, is that Jesus may be talking to you and me. 

Jesus is saying “Your faded faith has closed a door between you and Me,” and He’s talking to Christians who were once on fire for the Lord. Believers whose passion for God once burned hotly in their spirit. The scriptures came alive for them and they were excited when God’s Word spoke to a specific circumstance or a situation with which they were struggling. They were not just spectators at a Sunday service, they were participants in their church’s ministry. They enthusiastically supported their brothers and sisters in the body of Christ with their time and energy and finances. And then the fire cooled and the passion faded. Their Bible was no longer on the table by their chair, but lived in the back seat of the car where it could be easily found on a Sunday morning in the rush to church. And then the Biblical plague-like pandemic closed our church. We missed church but most definitely liked sleeping in on a Sunday and watching a church service while still in our pajamas. But that got old and everything we liked about church, especially seeing our church friends, was no more. And then... we just found something else to do on Sundays. 

A recent survey found that 30% of church-going Catholics will not return now that churches are reopening. It’s estimated that 15-20% of Evangelical Protestants and 35-40% of Mainline Protestants will not return. We’ve been reading about the long-term physical effects related to Covid-19, but what may be even more devastating are lockdown-related, long-term effects of spiritual apathy. And to apathetic Christians who have become comfortable in their complacency, the words of Jesus are disturbing and direct. “..because you are lukewarm..I’m going to vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:16.

But wait a minute! I thought Jesus loves me? Yes He does! And it’s because of His love for you that He wants you to passionately embrace your faith. That’s why He says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent and I’m going to stand right here until you do.” Revelation 3:19-20 (my translation)

Where are you on the “Zealous Scale”? Are you filled with a burning passion for your Lord with a constant desire to be in His presence? Are you immersed in the Word of God daily? Is your prayer life vibrant and alive? Are good works flowing out of your faith? Are you other-centered? Matthew 25:31-46 Do you do all you can to help the poor and needy? Luke 3:11 Or do you roll over and go back to sleep whenever you hear the knock of Jesus trying to wake you out of your spiritual slumber? Thank God that Jesus patiently waits for us. There were times in my life many decades ago when I deserved to be spit out of His mouth, and through His grace, He patiently waited for me. But there’s a limit to God’s patience, even for us believers. Matthew 7:21-23 

God allows us to keep the door to our own heart closed with the deadbolt snapped in place if that’s our choice. But if there is any part of what you just read about being a complacent Christian that resonates in your spirit, then it’s not too late for you. To you, Jesus says, “Therefore be zealous and repent” Revelation 3:19 and then He will persistently knock on that door to remind you that He’s still there and He’s waiting for you to reach out and turn the knob. 

The mystery of God is why He has not already spit us out. The mystery of us is the most puzzling of all. How are we able to remain so complacent in the face of God’s over-whelming love and His goodness to us? But when we do overcome our lethargy and run back to Jesus, He tells us, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." And then He says to us.. "He who has an ear let him hear...” Revelation 3:21-22