I recently sat with a group of young adults, men and women in their late teens and early twenties, and we spoke about singleness, dating, and courtship. Eventually the conversation advanced to marriage and to both the joys and the difficulties of marriage. We realized together that as these young adults are considering relationships and begin to pursue marriage, they are wondering how they can divorce-proof their marriages. Many of them have grown up surrounded by divorce and its effects. Some are afraid of commitment because they are afraid they may not be able to keep that commitment.
One young man asked how to ensure that a couple does not bring into their marriage a seed that could bloom into divorce. And it did not take me more than a moment to realize that in my marriage and in your marriage and in every marriage, there is already the seed of divorce. In every marriage is an issue, a belief, a habit, a heart idolatry—indeed, many of them—that can lead easily and naturally to the complete destruction of the union. The world, the flesh, and the devil are all committed to the destruction of marriage, and each of those enemies brings its own evil seeds. The question is not whether those seeds are or will be present in a marriage, but what we will do with them.
It may be that in your marriage, you have allowed the seed of divorce to grow. Perhaps it has already put down roots and is digging in. Maybe it has already poked its head through the soil and begun to grow to full bloom. Do not despair. There is still hope for your marriage. A marriage is not ruined by the presence of such seeds but by accepting, ignoring, or embracing them.
The very same seeds that may lead to destruction may also lead to increased strength and growth. Though powerful forces are arrayed against marriage, God is the creator of marriage, and He is far more committed to its growth than Satan is to its destruction.
Each of those seeds that may lead to divorce represents an opportunity for health. Each is an opportunity for a couple to have open and honest discussion, to identify these seeds, to talk about them, and to commit to stand firmly against them. Each represents a matter to take to the Lord together in prayer, to seek God’s strength and protection. And, of course, each represents an area in which the Bible can and must speak. Those seeds of error are countered and overcome by the truth of Scripture.
Stuart Scott says it well: “The more each mind is renewed (changed) by the Scripture, the more similarly a couple will think (Rom. 12:2). One of the worst things a couple can do is work to change one another into each other’s likeness. They are to be changed, rather, into Christ’s likeness.” And they are changed by going together to God’s Word day by day, week by week, and year after year.
I grew up in a church culture, a catechizing culture, and a family worship culture. Each of these was a tremendous, immeasurable blessing, I am sure. I am convinced that twice-each-Sunday services, and memorizing the catechisms, and worshipping as a family marked me deeply. I doubt I will ever forget that my only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own, but belong in body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, or that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I can still sing many of the psalms and hymns of my youth, and I have precious memories of my family bowing our heads around the kitchen table.
What was true of my family was true of many of my friends’ families. They, too, grew up around churches and catechisms and rigid family devotions. In fact, in all the times I visited their homes, I don’t think I ever witnessed a family skip over their devotions. It was the custom, it was the expectation, and it was good. Our church had near 100% attendance on Sunday morning and near 100% attendance on Sunday evening. It was just what we did.
But despite all of the advantages, many of the people I befriended as a child have since left the faith. Some have sprinted away, but many more have simply meandered away, so that an occasionally missed Sunday eventually became a missed month and a missed year. Not all of them, of course. Many are now fine believers, who are serving in their churches and even leading them. But a lot—too many—are gone.
Why? I ask the question from time-to-time. Why are all five of my parents’ kids following the Lord, while so many of our friends and their families are not? Obviously I have no ability to peer into God’s sovereignty and come to any firm conclusions. But as I think back, I can think of one great difference between my home and my friends’ homes—at least the homes of my friends who have since walked away from the Lord and his church. Though it is not universally true, it is generally true. Here’s the difference: I saw my parents living out their faith even when I wasn’t supposed to be watching.
When I tiptoed down the stairs in the morning, I would find my dad in the family room with his Bible open on his lap. Every time I picked up my mom’s old NIV Study Bible it was a little more wrecked than the time before, I would find a little more ink on the pages, and a few more pieces of tape trying desperately to hold together the worn binding. When life was tough, I heard my parents reason from the Bible and I saw them pray together. They weren’t doing these things for us. They weren’t doing them to be seen. They were doing these things because they loved the Lord and loved to spend time with him, and that spoke volumes to me. I had the rock-solid assurance that my parents believed and practiced what they preached. I knew they actually considered God’s Word trustworthy, because they began every day with it. I knew that they believed God was really there and really listening, because they got alone with him each morning to pray for themselves and for their kids. I saw that their faith was not only formal and public, but also intimate and private.
Here is one thing I learned from my parents: Nothing can take the place of simply living as a Christian in view of my children. No amount of formal theological training, church attendance, or family devotions will make up for a general apathy about the things of the Lord. I can catechize my children all day and every day, but if I have no joy and no delight in the Lord, and if I am not living out my faith, my children will see it and know it.
For all the good things my parents did for me, I believe that the most important was simply living as Christians before me. I don’t think
It is tax season again. In just a couple of weeks a lot of us will be writing a check to the government, or, far better, hoping that the government will be writing a check to us. It is this time of year when, more than any other, we are forced to think about taxes, so once again I find myself pondering the first few verses of Romans 13. Paul is writing to the church at Rome and telling them that each one of them is to actively obey the governing authorities in every situation. He makes no exceptions; he simply commands them to obey all the time—”Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” It’s interesting to think about what Paul was commanding here.
Paul was telling these Roman Christians to give honor, respect and taxes to the very government that paid the wages of the men who crucified Jesus
He was writing to people who lived in Rome, people who were under the authority of a government that worshipped idols, that was systematically out to conquer and subjugate the world, that made death a form of entertainment, that promoted slavery, that was utterly ruthless and actively opposed to God. This was the government that was always on the verge of breaking out in persecution against the church. It was the government that had put Jesus to death. Paul was telling these Roman Christians to give honor, respect and taxes to the very government that paid the wages of the men who crucified Jesus, who mocked him, who spat on him, who rejoiced in his death.
And yet the Christians were to obey these rulers, to give them honor, respect and taxes—whatever was asked of them.
Taxes were obviously an urgent issue to people in those days since both Jesus and Paul had addressed it. These people were paying taxes to a government they did not believe in and paying taxes that would go to the soldiers who took advantage of them. Yet Paul and Jesus agreed: pay your taxes. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
I believe that there are at least two reasons that we are to pay taxes to the authorities. There is practical value in paying taxes and there is also a kind of important symbolic value.
Practically, we pay taxes to support the rulers in their work. Without our taxes, they cannot be set aside to do this work of governing us. If we believe in authority, if we believe that God has raised up governors to rule us, we see the need to pay them so they can do the work of ruling. I suppose this is similar to what we find in the church. If you believe in the value of pastors, you’ll be willing to give money to the church to support the pastor in his vocation.
There is also a kind of symbolic value to paying taxes. By paying taxes we affirm that we understand the intrinsic value of authority. Paying taxes is one very practical way that we prove our obedience to God and prove our understanding of the authority he has given to government. It’s a way in which we put our money where our mouth is.
Simple enough. But here’s a way I have to apply this: When I pay my taxes, do I pay them joyfully? It seems inconceivable that I’d be commanded to do something and then be allowed to do it hesitantly and with complaining. And I sure complain a lot about taxes.
If there is a respectable sin in the Christian world, surely it is complaining about government.
I love to complain about taxes, and always feel justified doing so. I love to mumble about it, to grumble about it, to resent it. If there is a respectable sin in the Christian world, surely it is complaining about government. I hate that the government demands a hefty share of the money I earn. Yet with all the authority of God behind him, Paul tells me to pay my taxes and to do so with honor and respect. I have no right to grumble, no right to gripe or complain. Yet too often I react like a toddler who has been told to put away his toys—I do it, but my whole demeanor, my whole heart attitude, screams that I hate doing it, that I’m doing it only because I fear the consequences of not doing it. So I pay my taxes, all the while harboring a deep resentment.
I am convicted by God that if I am to give what is owed to those who govern me, those who have been given authority by God, I must learn to give them the money they ask, but also give them the honor and respect they deserve.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
The “I love you" moment.
You know the words, and you know the weight they carry. Recently Aileen and I were remembering back to the first time we said those words to one another. Each of us already knew how the other felt, but that did nothing to temper the thrill of actually voicing it and the joy of actually hearing it.
“I love you” marks a milestone in a relationship, and not only a romantic one. Friendships also thrive and deepen with the admission and declaration of love. “I love you” says that this is no mere acquaintance, but a true, deep, and meaningful friendship. I hate that our society threatens the love of friendship by the suspicion of homosexuality, and I want us to push back and to declare that we can love one another in the best and purest way.
But as I considered the importance of the “I love you” I found myself pondering three other words that also cause a relationship to grow and to thrive. A friend recently said something or did something he should not have, and later approached me and so-humbly and so-kindly said, “Please forgive me.” I forgave him, of course. Who am I, a man who has been forgiven so much, that I should withhold forgiveness from anyone else, and especially from someone I love? And I know that in that moment our relationship deepened. It grew in the exchange, in the transaction, of repentance and forgiveness. I felt it, and I knew it.
So I thought about those words and I thought about my friendships. And I believe a relationship grows just as much through “Please forgive me” as through “I love you.” One friend speaking to another and saying, “I love you”—this is where love is declared. But one friend approaching another to express remorse and seek forgiveness—this is where love is displayed and preserved.