Tag Archives: divorce

When life crushes you [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 2]

12 Mar
Photo by Mwangi Gatheca on Unsplash

Have you been there? The feeling of life crushing down on you, and you just want to crawl into a ball. Most of us have experienced that awful feeling, probably numerous times in our lives. We feel we can’t handle life, and wonder if we are failures. In the middle of the pain, we raise all sorts of questions about God and how he feels, and where he is, and if he cares.

In part 1 of this series fact-checking ideas Christians believe about dealing with difficulty, I introduced the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and concluded that the first part of that statement is false. 

But what about the second part of the statement: “More than you can handle”?  What is that referring to?  What is more than you can handle?  That’s the image I mentioned in part 1 when God supposedly gives a person “boxes of pain” like a health crisis or a job loss, but as God keeps giving them more boxes (again, supposedly), the load eventually becomes too much, crashing down on a person, ruining them. In life this is very real. It could be a mental breakdown, it could mean declaring bankruptcy, it could be a divorce, or even death. 

I have two concerns with this.  

First, the statement “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” insinuates that God would never allow a person to go through such an awful situation that they would break down or die.  Look at real life, though, and you see that plenty of Christians regularly go through awful situations where they break down and die.  Think of Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Throughout history many thousands upon thousands have died for their faith.  But we don’t need to go to the extreme of death. People of all kinds regularly go through extremely difficult situations, and they feel overwhelmed by the pain. Clearly God allows people to go through more than they can handle. So this second phrase of the statement is also wrong. 

The second problem I have with “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is that this statement can create the expectation that a Christian should be able to handle everything flawlessly, even the horrible situations in life.  It gives the impression that if we have a breakdown of some kind, whether a divorce or an emotional breakdown or a bankruptcy, then we are failures as Christ-followers. Because God apparently wouldn’t give us more than we can handle, our breakdown is our fault, our lack of faith. Many people have borne that guilt, finding it to be a crushing pain on top of the difficulty they’re already facing.

Is God like that? Does he expect us to be so filled with faith that we should never struggle no matter how bad life gets? Not at all. Therefore my conclusion is that this statement is not true, not biblical, and we should stop using it. 

What is true is that God is with us in the midst of our pain.  He will never leave us.  We can go to him for strength and for wisdom and for comfort.  He is always available.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, the Apostle Paul says that God comforts us in the midst of our pain!  That is the truth we need to cling to. If you have felt the weight of the world crashing down on you, know that God is ready with open arms to forgive if you need to be forgiven, to comfort if you need to be comforted, and to guide you if you need wisdom. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but life sometimes does, and know that God is for you and with you.

Check back in to part 3 when we fact-check the next phrase about dealing with difficulty: “God helps those who help themselves.”

All sins are the same? [False ideas Christians believe about…Sin. Part 3]

27 Feb

This week I’ve started a blog series that will run for 11 weeks, in which we are fact checking ideas that Christians believe that might be totally false or at least partially so. This week we are looking at ideas about sin. Check out the first posts here and here that introduce the series and define sin. With this post, we begin fact-checking these ideas about sin. The first ideas two are contrasts: All sins are the same vs. Some sins are worse than others.

Which is true?  The statements totally conflict with each other.  Using simple logic, they can’t both be true, can they? 

Well, yes and no.  These statements need some explanation and biblical study.  That is what we want to do in this series, asking what does God have to say in the Bible about the topic?  Does God believe that all sins are the same?  Or does God teach us that some are worse than others?

As we attempt to answer these questions, we will seek to base our understanding on God who is the truth.  That is what is so unique and fascinating about Christianity.  We don’t hold to the idea that truth can ultimately be encapsulated in statements conceived and written by humans.  Instead, we Christians believe in the radical notion that Jesus is the truth.  He told us that he is the way, the truth and the life, and we believe in him.  This is foundational to differentiating between what is false and true, isn’t it?  Jesus is the truth!  Our understanding of what is true, then is rooted in our knowledge of him. 

So when we think about sin and whether or not all sins are equal, we have to evaluate this question based on what we know of Jesus. As we study these statements, we will come back to Jesus.

Let’s start with the first statement:  all sins are the same.

Are they? Of course not, because they are so different.  We know this.  Theft of a pack of gum at the store is on a whole different order of magnitude from murder or rape.  That doesn’t make the theft right, of course.  But clearly sins are different.  Different in their impact, in their consequences, and different in their ripple effect on the community and individuals.

So why do people say “all sins are the same?”  Often this phrase comes out of Christian’s mouths in reference to God’s justice.  When I have tried to share the story of Jesus to people, our conversation often comes to the part of the story that refers to Jesus dying for our sins.  Some people are loathe to agree that they have committed sins.  They think they are generally pretty good, and I suspect most are. They haven’t committed murder or rape, so they don’t consider themselves sinners. Sure they admit to telling white lies or doing other wrong things, but to them that is not sin.  To them that is just a mistake or error. In their opinion those occurrences of “missing the mark” are light years away from rape and murder or many other really awful things. 

They have a point, right?  So in those conversations it is important to show them from the Bible that God does count all sins the same in the sense that even what they consider to be a small mistake or error is actually an indication of our essential difference from God.  Whereas God is holy and perfect, we are not, even if we haven’t committed atrocities. 

In that sense it is important that all people understand that they have sin in their life.  This is a big emphasis in Paul’s argument in the letter to the Romans.  Chapter 3 especially: “There is none righteous, no not one.” And, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  There really is a sense in which all sins are the same in God’s eyes, but only when we are discussing the idea that all people are equally in need of Jesus because of our sin.

Sure, the Bible talks about the 7 deadly sins, and the unpardonable sin.  There is much debate about what is the worst sin. We won’t be able to answer that until we’re in heaven and can ask God!  Where we have gone wrong in our culture, therefore, is when we elevate some sins above others.  In the 1920s, it was alcohol, and there was prohibition.  Then for years we made divorce out to be the worst sin.  Christians who got divorced were almost shunned.  My wife’s uncle, for example, was a missionary in Africa, got divorced, and then remarried.  But his church here stateside, even after he was remarried, will not allow him to serve in leadership in the church because he was previously divorced! 

Then divorce gave its exalted status as the cardinal sin over to another.  Think 1960s and 1970s.  What sin became the new worst sin?  Abortion.  For years abortion was put forth as the worst possible thing a person could do.  Rallies and picket lines outside abortion clinics, including worse atrocities, were justified by people who said God was somehow punishing America for this new cardinal of legalized abortion.  But time went by, and it changed again.  What was the new worst sin after abortion?  Homosexual practice.  And perhaps in many minds that one still holds to the top spot today. 

Drunkenness, Divorce, Abortion and Homosexual practice are all sins.  But we are wrong to elevate one sin as somehow worse than any other.  That is another way in which there is a proper sense of seeing sins equally.  For example, we will rail against a person who is a practicing homosexual, but we say very little about our own gluttony or lying or excessive drinking.  Again, all of us are sinners, and we need to see that.

So, yes, all sin is the same, but sins are also very different, which will see in part 4 tomorrow.

Law & Marriage…go together like a horse and carriage?

21 Jan

I am finding Luke 16 to be exceedingly confusing.  As if verses 1-15 and the Parable of the Shrewd Steward weren’t difficult enough (I preached on them this past Sunday…you can read about that sermon here and here), this coming Sunday I’m focusing on verses 14-18 which put Law and Marriage together, and I’m not sure they go together very well!  Last week I had a lot of help from Kenneth Bailey’s studies on the parables of Luke.  Bailey’s awesome study makes great sense of the Shrewd Steward.  This week, well, the scholars are not as helpful.

Let me explain.  My first question is about the placement of verses 16-18 in the passage.  I’ve been reading a number of commentaries, and they have many theories about these verses, most of which don’t even try to see a flow of thought.  They see verses 1-15 and 19-31 as two sections primarily about how to use money.  I get that.  Here’s the strange part: they suggest that the verses sandwiched in between, verses 16-18 about Law and Marriage, are somewhat random.  One scholar, Bock (in the IVP Commentary series), has a theory for the unity of the passage, but I found it unconvincing.

I wonder what you think when you read chapter 16!

Here is a bit more explanation about Law and Marriage, the two topics that we’re going to look at on Sunday:

  1. How Christians should use the OT Law
  2. Marriage and Divorce

They seem like an odd couple of themes to place together, but that is exactly what Jesus does.  Why, though?  What is it about marriage that might relate to the OT Law?  What do we need to know about the OT Law that could help us with marriage?

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to talk about both of these subjects.  There is perhaps just as much confusion about how Christians should use the OT Law, as there is about marriage and divorce.  Randall Balmer points out in his book, Thy Kingdom Come, that decades ago the religious right stopped talking about divorce and marriage because so many of their leaders had gotten divorces.  They needed a new issue to galvanize support for their causes, so they picked abortion.  Balmer suggests that they never should have stopped talking about marriage.  I agree.  Most of us are married or will be one day, but many marriages fail or are painful.  People are hungry for help in their marriages.

Thankfully the pursuit of healthy marriage is something that God loves and encourages, and many people, pastors, churches, and organizations are talking about it a lot.  So will we this coming Sunday.

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, I have to admit that I don’t have this passage all figured out.  I’ve got study to do!  There’s a potential for a big snowstorm to cover our area, so we may need to cancel worship.  But even if that happens, I won’t be off the hook!  I’ll either record a podcast on Monday or upload the manuscript of the sermon for you.  For now, I encourage you to prepare yourself for worship.  Read Luke 16, thinking about that question of the OT Law.  Are we bound to follow it?  And think about marriage?  What does it mean to have a healthy one so that divorce is not even in the realm of possibility?

And weather permitting, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we’ll talk about this further.

When I’m not feeling happy or content in my relationship – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

22 May

happy vs joyAre you feeling discontent in your relationships? Maybe you’re not feeling happy about a relationship?  But are you feeling joy?  Is there a difference?  And what does it matter?

When we are unhappy or discontent, we are very tempted to RUN!  In our passage from this past Sunday, Paul says “Remain in the situation in which you were called.” Over and over he says this. Remain? What if we don’t like the situation?  As I have said before, if it is an abusive situation, this would not apply.  Get safe!

But what about when a relationship is frustrating?  What about when there is a lot of anger and arguing?  In Relationship Month, we have heard clearly from Paul that we should avoid separation and divorce at all cost.  In this section again he says, “Remain.”  Then he adds in verse 19, “keeping God’s commands in what counts.”

My NIV Study Bible notes summarize it well: “There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition in life, but be content at every stage.” There is a tension between being content and keeping his commands. Sometimes keeping his commands means we need to make a change.

My dad, Harold Kime, has taught Corinthians for many years at Lancaster Bible College, and in his notes he says: “Keeping God’s commandments does have spiritual value and worth. The verb, “keep”, that Paul uses here is not a simple obedience. When he says “Keep his commands” it also includes the idea of guarding or preserving. This is not a mere outward obedience but an obedience that guards and preserves the very thing obeyed. We can infer from this that certain types of social condition require a radical change. Certainly Paul would not say, “Were you called being a prostitute, think nothing of it.”

We could summarize like this: Remain in the life state that you are in, but do not sin.  At the root of all this is a heart that is committed to say that “Lord, your way is the best way.”  Keep his commands requires a heart desire that believes that following God’s way is the best! “Find your satisfaction in the Lord”  Paul is not saying that the believers in the church should stay as they are for eternity. He encourages slaves, if they can, to be free. But the focus is to be content in the Lord where they are at. Things may change, but the focus for now is to grow that passionate, heartfelt relationship with the Lord.
We can be so discontent about life. We can start to grow a bitterness about our station in life. Paul says that the Christians should find their contentment in the Lord. And we can grow that deep inner joy without having our circumstances change one bit.

Contentment is being able to be joyful no matter the circumstance. There is a big difference between inner and outer joy. One way to describe the difference is to look at the difference between happiness and joy. I am bit hesitant to use these two terms because they are basically synonymous. But think about them this way: happiness is that outer expression of emotion based in how we are feeling. We like happiness a lot because it means we feel good. Joy is different from happiness because it is a deeper inner state of heart and mind that is trusting in God no matter how we are feeling, no matter our circumstance, no matter our station in life. This deep inner joy, this contentment is what Paul is saying the Corinthians believers need.

There is much about life that we can be discontent about. Paul would say to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

What are you discontent about? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your job? Your finances? The state of the world? Paul is saying that we should be a people who avoid rushing to change, but instead remain as you are, be content, find that deep inner joy in obeying Christ, and commit yourself to grow in your relationship with him. Here’s what’s interesting about contentment. It is okay to allow the deep inner joy of contentment to bubble up to the surface of your life and overflow with emotional outward happiness. We should never confuse that outward emotion for the inner real thing. But it is okay to be outwardly happy. I would go so far as to say that when we are content in Christ no matter our situation, we will see that outward happiness, that outward rejoicing on a more regular basis! And it starts with a contentment in our relationship with Christ.

It is not just in the pain that we can experience deep inner joy. We can also celebrate the joy of the Lord in the good times. We can and should be content in the Lord, no matter if life is difficult or abundant. A friend of mine from my youth group is now a professor at LBC. He and his wife were married a few years ago, it took them some time to start a family. They are now just weeks away from the birth of their son. I asked him this week how they are doing, and he said “Excited, things are going great, but they’re also thinking about those many sleep-deprived nights ahead of them.”

I wrote back and said, “You will get through it. I won’t deny that I had a hard time in the middle of the night. But it is a phase that passes. I think what I have been learning with my kids, though, is that I can yearn too much for each phase to pass. I can be way too focused on “getting them out of diapers” and “getting them out of car-seats” and so one. In so doing, I have found that I can miss out on the wonderful aspects of the present phase. I think this is the message of Ecclesiastes: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Enjoy the moment that God has given you. While the moment definitely can have its hardships, it also has great joy. Be content no matter the circumstances. I would encourage you to revel in each and every one of those nights of seemingly endless crying and feedings.”  (Not that I was the model dad in that regard…)

What will it mean for you to grow contentment in the Lord?

Feeling discontent in your relationships?

17 May

discontent

What would you say has been bothering you?  Anyone been feeling discontented lately?  A change that you are hoping for too long in coming?  A change that you weren’t hoping for came unexpectedly?  Change or die, they say.  Or maybe they say it like this, if something does not change it is dead.  Or, all living things change.  But as much as we claim to embrace change, thrive on change, it can be unsettling, leaving us with that feeling of discontent.  Change too fast, and we feel unprepared, off kilter. Change too slow, and we get impatient, grumpy, disillusioned.

It can be hard to be content.  There is a sense in which discontent can be a very good thing.  There is such a thing as holy discontent, an inner feeling that something is wrong that needs to be righted.  I’m not talking about that kind of discontent. Instead I’m talking about a dissatisfaction with life.

In the church at Corinth, which we have been studying since the beginning of the year at Faith Church, we see a group of people struggling with the realities of change. It is relationship month at Faith Church, as during the month of May we are walking through 1st Corinthians chapter 7, which we have divided up into four sermons about relationships.  We’re covering all sorts of relational ground, and much of it is about changing relationships and the feelings of discontent that we so often have about our relationships.  Perhaps that is the most important question to ask: How do you feel about the most the important relationships in your life?  Could it be said of you that you have feelings of discontent about them?

My guess is that you would be the exceedingly rare exception if you could say that you were perfectly content about the relationships that matter the most to you.  The Christians in Corinth had written Paul a number of relationship questions, as it seems that they were experiencing some discontent.  And so tomorrow at Faith Church we’re going to take a look at what Paul has to say to them about this fundamental issue that affects so many of us.  When we are discontent, what should we do?

There are plenty of ideas out there.  Some say if you are discontent in your marriage, for example, get out.  These people feel that there is nothing worse than being in a sub-par marriage.  Or how about your job?  Are you longing for something more?  Make a change people say.  You deserve better.  Feeling dissatisfied with your church?  Move on, there a plenty of other options.

What do you think Paul would say about that? If you want, check out 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 to get ready for tomorrow’s sermon.

Finding healing for a broken relationship – 1st Corinthians 7:10-16

14 May

broken heart

How many of you have been impacted by divorce?  Separation?  During the sermon on Sunday I interviewed two couples from Faith Church, each of which had one spouse that was previously divorced.  I was so thankful for their courage and vulnerability to stand in front of a roomful of people and talk about the painful past.  There were tears.  And yet, as they shared about the work of God in their lives, there was also joy.  I urge you to listen to the sermon and be encouraged by their stories.  While this was certainly a sermon about the struggles and brokenness that can occur in marriage, it was also a sermon about how God can work his restoration and healing in all of us. It was a sermon that says there is hope, when we put God at the center of our marriages.

It is relationship month at Faith Church, and we’ve been walking through 1st Corinthians 7, learning how Paul answered some questions about relationships, questions that the Christians in the city of Corinth had written him about.

So how would you answer these questions:

  1. Should Christians ever separate from their spouse?  If so, when?
  2. Should Christians ever get a divorce?  Again, if so, when?
  3. If divorced, is it okay to remarry?
  4. Is it okay if Christians marry those who are not Christians?
  5. What does it mean that people are sanctified through their spouses?
  6. How does a Christian parent make their children holy

I introduced those questions last week, and on Sunday we looked at 1st Corinthians 7:10-16 where Paul answers them…kinda.  Those last two are thorny ones, and Paul mentions them, but I feel he could have said a whole lot more to help us understand them!

So our sermon this past Sunday was all about seeing what Paul had to say about these vital questions that have impacted many lives. Feel free to discuss it further in the comment section below!

Separate? Divorce? Remarry? – What to do?

9 May

r-CHILDREN-OF-DIVORCE-large570I’ll never forget a moment at summer church camp when I was in 6th or 7th grade. One of my cousins was with me that week, and we were sitting in the gym for a Bible discussion. Next thing I know, my cousin who is a year older than me was bawling, body heaving up and down in the throes of emotion. His parents had just recently divorced. It was the first time I felt the emotion of divorce touch my life. I had other cousins and friends who parents divorced, but before that day at camp, I don’t remember having seen the emotion up close and personal.

As I share that story, many of you know those feelings in a deeply personal way because you experienced the divorce of your parents, or you yourself had a marriage lead to divorce. Statisticians have been telling us for years that 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and that goes for Christians as well.

That also goes for second marriages. About 25% of children who have not only lived through the divorce of their parents also watched a parent’s second marriage ended in the divorce.

This sermon on Sunday is not meant to present a judgmental attack on people who have been divorced. Instead I want you to hear what God says about something that has profoundly impact on our society.

relationshipstatusMay is relationship month at Faith Church. Last week we looked at marriage and this week separation, divorce, remarriage and couple other related questions. We have been studying the letter of 1st Corinthians, and in chapter 7, the author of the letter, Paul, responds to a number of questions that people from the church he started 5-6 years before had written him about.

He talks about divorce specifically in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

When we studied this in sermon roundtable a couple weeks ago, we identified no less than six different questions that Paul is potentially trying to answer in these verses. Here they are:

  1. Should Christians ever separate from their spouse?  If so, when?
  2. Should Christians ever get a divorce?  Again, if so, when?
  3. If divorced, is it okay to remarry?
  4. Is it okay if Christians marry those who are not Christians?
  5. What does it mean that people are sanctified through their spouses?
  6. How does a Christian parent make their children holy?