Rethinking divorce: What if we started believing Scripture?

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Many churches have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon.

I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.

In the qualifications for deacons (I Timothy 3:8-13), verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.”  That “one wife” business has been interpreted in a dozen ways–everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades), to no one in a polygamous relationship, and so forth.

Likewise, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 which gives qualifications for pastors.  If this refers to the deacons’ wives, shouldn’t there be something about pastors’ wives? But there isn’t. So, many have decided verse 11 refers not to wives of deacons, but to women deacons.  (Argue if you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)

The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.

Why then do our churches insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?

I suggest the answer is found in Matthew 19:9. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  This seems to state very clearly that unless a person has “grounds” for divorce, remarriage amounts to adultery.

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What the bride and groom cannot promise each other

Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.

In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”

But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.

Say what? How’s that?

C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”

But shouldn’t we always be in love?  Isn’t that the goal?

And what does that mean?  How do we define that blissful state?

And how do we nurture the feelings of romantic love so that our honeymoon never ends?

These are questions worthy of hours of discussion between us and our beloved.

Lewis asks, facetiously, “What is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love?”  That question lies in back of our culture’s addiction to divorces and devotion to relationships-that-look-like-marriage-but-without-the-formalities.  If we are no longer “in love,” the thinking goes, then we can put the relationship out of its misery.

Millions of people “put the relationship out of its misery” every year.  And then, far too many find the misery continues, even after the relationship was aborted.

The ways of a husband and wife are mysterious, I give you that.

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Flirting with temptation; playing with fire

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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Why pastors bang their heads against the wall and counselors resign

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.

Some years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten or more years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

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Why some marriages make it–against all expectations

My mother once asked if when couples come to see me with marriage plans, do I try to talk them out of it. She was teasing, but that’s not entirely a joke. If the preacher can, he perhaps ought to.

The problem is by the time they get to the pastor’s office, their minds are made up and no one can talk them into changing their plans. Unfortunately, in many cases, neither can you talk them into changing their mindsets.

But, we keep trying.

We preachers deliver sermonettes to them in the office, counsel them on what they’ve learned about themselves and each other, and hand them books to read, all in an attempt to get some new ideas into their minds and some growth into their relationship.

We give them Gary Chapman’s book, Five Love Languages, and say, “Don’t come back until you’ve read it. We’ll be talking about its insights at the next session.” Once, when the groom-to-be said he had not had the time to read it, I lowered the boom on him. “Remember I told you I’m not charging you anything for my services? Well, if I’m going to sacrifice a little, you ought to, also!” I looked at him and said sternly, “Read the book!”

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Some weddings you never forget. As much as you’d like to.

(I’m in the middle of my “wedding season.” Did one wedding last weekend, this weekend will marry my granddaughter Abigail to Cody, and have a couple more scheduled for this year.  And that prompted the following.)

Most pastors agree we will take a funeral over a wedding any day.

You don’t have to rehearse a funeral. And there are no formal meals or receptions involved. You stand up in front of the honored guest, and do your thing, say your prayers, enjoy a couple of great songs, and go your way.

But with weddings,  you have these rehearsals where a thousand things can go wrong, where the bride and her mother argue, where bridesmaids sometimes see how risque’ they can dress, and the groomsmen how rambunctious they can behave.  You have a wedding director who may or may not be capable. (I’ll take a drill sergeant from Parris Island any day over a lazy director who has no idea all the awful things that can happen the next day.)

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What the pastor should say in the wedding

“…the  two shall become one….” (Matthew 19:5)

The wedding ceremony is a great time–once in a lifetime for most people–for the pastor to get something across to two people in particular while hundreds are eavesdropping.

Not that they will remember a thing you say.

Friday, April 13, 1962, when Margaret and I stood at the altar, our pastor said some wonderful things that I found fascinating and inspiring.  Alas, my mind retained his insightful words for exactly half an hour, so whatever he said is gone forever.

These days, someone is recording your wedding service. So, you’ll be able to listen later when life returns to normal.

Presumably, that’s when the minister’s words are finally heard and begin to sink in.

So, what do you tell them, pastor? What words of lasting value and incredible help can you utter during the ceremony which will make a huge difference down the road a year or two or ten?  Now, you have only so much time, and this is not the time nor place for a full sermon. Still, choose a few great points you wish to lodge in their hearts forever and give it a shot.

Here are my suggestions on what you want to tell the couple….

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What true love looks like

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

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Adultery’s Lies: The unspoken heartaches

A friend in another state emailed that the membership of her church is being plundered and savaged by adulterous affairs. She is asking for prayer.

Let’s talk about how the enemy sabotages the Lord’s people through the lies of adultery.

I recommend J. Allan Petersen’s 1984 book “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” It should be bought and devoured and kept by every married person, particularly those in the Lord’s work. (See the note from this book below, at the end of this piece.)

Here is my own personal list of the devil’s lies concerning adultery. See if any have been dangled before your eyes.

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The room in your home no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A man I know once wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

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