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Indelible Grace Church Blog

Christian Marriage

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On the radio program, This American Life (you can click to hear the actual story), there is an amusing tale of a woman who in a moment of romantic despair, decided to write her name “Esther” on a dollar bill with the idea that if some guy should give it back to her, it would be a cosmic sign that he was the one she was destined to marry.  A few weeks afterwards it actually happened.  She was dating a guy, Paul Grachan, who by the most remarkable coincidence, happened to find Esther’s dollar while receiving change at a deli and, not knowing the story behind it, thought it would be fun to present it to Esther in a frame.

Years later, they were married.  And the dollar has been the source of much commitment and strength in the relationship.  As Esther explained it, whenever she and Paul experienced difficulties, whereas she might have ordinarily just broken up with him, she would go into her room, take out the framed dollar, and remind herself, “how can I break up with him if he’s the one who gave me this dollar?  How can I walk out on my cosmic soul-mate?”

There is something so very charming about this story.  We can all relate to Esther wanting certainty about who to marry.  But that certainty does not come from some cosmic sign but it comes from a promise – the marriage vow.   How do I know this person is the one God intended for me to marry?  In truth, we don’t know until we’ve made the promise on our wedding day.  And from that day forward, we know this is the one we’re supposed to be with.  So that whenever we experience marriage difficulties (and they will happen), whenever we encounter someone else who seems more intriguing, whenever the love feelings ebb and flow, we can go back to the promise and remind ourselves, “how can I leave him if he’s the one I’ve promised myself to?”  Marriage is ultimately not based on romantic feelings or situational happiness.  Marriage is based on a covenant – a life-long promise to be faithful and true.

You can listen to the two-part Sunday school series on Marriage this blog post is based on here.

Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 09:44
 

Christian Singleness

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The gospel defines every area of our lives, including our relationship status. Therefore, when we talk about singleness we have much more to offer than mere advice on dating and tips on how to deal with the struggles of being single. The narrative arc of the Scriptures gives us a much deeper understanding of what it means to be a single person. If we properly understand what the Bible has to say about singleness, those who are single can have freedom from anxiety in this stage of life. And those who are not single can better appreciate the vital role single people play in the Kingdom of God.

The Old Testament was marked by a number of covenants, including the Adamic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant. Each of these covenants included a component of offspring (which implies marriage and familial relations). In fact, continued offspring was the primary promise of these covenants. Physical procreation was the primary mechanism God used to build up the covenant people. In the Old Testament marriage was assumed for everyone; almost every person ended up marrying. Starting a family, raising children, continuing a lineage and gaining honor for a family name was of utmost importance to those living in the days of the Old Testament. If a person was married and able to procreate, he was considered blessed (in accord with the Mosaic covenant). Those that did not marry or were unable to produce children were considered cursed by God. While this seems harsh to modern minds, we must remember that these things were assumed in light of the covenants Israel lived under.

The book of Jeremiah introduces another covenant that fulfills and supersedes all previous covenants. The New Covenant is first given to Israel and ultimately to all mankind. In this covenant, God promises to forgive sin and open up a whole new relationship with people that is marked by deep acceptance and intimacy. This relationship is not brought about by keeping the rules, but by the work of God alone. The book of Isaiah speaks of a man who has no family but will have offspring (Isaiah 53:8-10). How is this possible? The man the prophet speaks about is Jesus the Messiah, and it is Jesus who sheds his blood to make the New Covenant possible. He fulfills the law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) by perfectly obeying God’s commandments and living the life that we could not live. And we find in the New Testament that the promises of offspring in the Old Testament covenants are finally and fully fulfilled in Jesus. It is ultimately Jesus who the covenants were promising when they promised offspring.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

And it is no longer physical offspring that make up the covenant people of God, but the Church.

And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:29)

Marriage and children are no longer necessary to continue God’s work in creating a covenant people as it was in the Old Testament. The implications of these truths for the single life are many:

• It means that we are all children of God’s promise and that all the blessings of God fall on us. It means that our season (or life) of singleness are not an indication of God’s curse upon us. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us something incredible: singleness is a good thing (1 Corinthians 7). Christianity is the only religion that affirms both marriage and singleness as good. That is because the gospel says we are already blessed and already have everything we need because of what Christ has done for us.

• It means that even in our moments of deep sorrow and loneliness as single people we never have to wonder if God has forgotten us.

• It means that the family we long for is found in the Church, whether or not we ever have a biological family of our own.

• It means that because we are free to be single, we are free to direct our time and energies toward serving the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) rather than be anxious about our relational status. The command to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) is much easier for someone who does not have the responsibility of caring for a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife.

• It means that while our desire for relational intimacy in a romantic relationship may go unfulfilled, our deeper desire for relational intimacy with a better and truer Lover will never go unfulfilled.

In the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, Jerry Maguire tells his romantic interest, Dorothy Boyd, how much she means to him and caps off his mini-speech with the famous phrase “you complete me.” That phrase articulates what so many people want someone else to do for them. They hope for someone who will complete them. But the gospel tells us that we are already complete if we are in Christ (Colossians 2:10).

It is not wrong to want and actively seek a romantic relationship. This is a good and godly desire. But while we wait for God to intersect our lives with those of whom we will eventually end up with, we can know that we already have everything that we need. For the believer, every relational stage in life is an opportunity to showcase the goodness of God. For those that are waiting for the right person to come along, we can use our season of singleness to tell people that even though the loneliness of singleness hurts deeply, Jesus is enough. And even though we are unsure if we will ever find marital bliss, we know for certain that we will one day know an eternal joy that even the best romantic partner cannot compare to.

You can listen to Pastor Wade’s two-part Sunday School series here.

For an extensive yet accessible exegetical treatment on the topic of singleness, check out Redeeming Singleness by Barry Danylak (Crossway, 2010).

Last Updated on Saturday, 13 April 2013 00:06
 

Easter 2013

The parents and children at our Easter service:

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Skeptics Night

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This past Saturday was our second Seminar for Skeptics.  The goal was to address an objection that keeps people from considering the plausibility of Christianity.   This time, we looked at the question: Isn’t it narrow-minded for Christianity to claim to be the one true religion?  Here, in brief, was the presentation given by Pastor Michael:

(1) Religious pluralism (the idea that relativizes all religions as equally valid) logically contradicts itself because it positions itself as The Truth over all other truths.

(2) Religious pluralism is itself intolerant because it doesn’t respect the integrity of world religions as they are.

(3) Christianity is the most inclusive exclusive-truth because its exclusive-truth is a man dying for his enemies.  This exclusive truth creates compassionate, loving people.

Several other questions were also asked, which keep coming up at each Seminar for Skeptics.   Here are the top three:

(1) Isn’t it unfair for God to send people to hell for all eternity just because they don’t believe in Jesus?

Our culture typically thinks of heaven and hell in material/experiential terms: heaven is like a great day at the spa, hell is a fiery torturous pit.  But Christianity describes heaven and hell in relational terms: heaven is to be in the presence of Jesus, hell is to be away from Jesus.  Therefore, understood in this light, those who reject Jesus are already experiencing hell in this life, and this trajectory will continue for eternity after death.  Therefore, no one will be in hell against their ultimate desire.

(2) How can a good and loving God allow for evil and suffering?

God has a good and loving reason for the suffering he allows.   We just don’t know what that reason is.  But we know what the reason can’t be.  It can’t be that God doesn’t love us.  Because on the cross, God took evil and suffering into his very heart.  Therefore, we can trust him.  And one day, at the Resurrection, all evil and sadness will be swallowed up into glory.

(3) Isn’t it bigoted for Christianity to say that homosexuality is a sin?

Christianity has always taught that sexuality is to be practiced only in the confines of marriage.  This excludes pre-marital sex, prostitution, infidelity, divorce, polygamy and pornography.  And homosexuality – because the purpose of sex is not ultimately for our personal happiness (though that is a wonderful by-product), but to image God, and therefore, there must be complementarity in marriage: male and female.  And therefore, Christianity is not particularly focused on homosexuality as the uber-sin, as our culture makes it out to be, but Christianity is at odds with all modern notions of sex.  Christianity asserts that sexuality, like all aspects of the human condition, is subject to broken desires.   But there is forgiveness in the gospel.   And therefore, Christianity embraces our gay brothers and sisters to experience grace and reconciliation in Christ.

You can also hear the audio recording of the evening here.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 March 2013 09:24
 

A (Modest) Case for Cessationism

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The debate between Cessationism (the argument that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit have ceased: prophecy, tongues, miraculous healings) and Continuationism (the argument that all the gifts of the Spirit continue today) is a minor debate among Christians.   It should not be a source of division, but more of a friendly in-house debate among brothers.  So with that in mind, here are two positive arguments and one negative argument for Cessationism:

(1) In Ephesians 2:20, Paul describes the church as "built on the foundation of the apostles."  The structural metaphor of a foundation means that the ministry of the apostles was a once-and-for-all period in redemptive-history.  To this apostolic ministry, there are "signs and wonders" associated (Acts 1:8, 2 Cor. 12:12).  Therefore, by logical necessity, these signs and wonders have ceased with the ending of the Apostolic Age.   These signs and wonders are prophecy, tongues and miraculous healings.

(2) Revelation is God's Word.  Revelation in the New Testament era is restricted to the Apostolic Age. Thus, the New Testament is a closed book because the Apostolic Age has ceased.   Prophecy is also revelation (Eph. 2:20, 3:5).  So too tongues (1 Cor. 14:21-22).  All revelatory gifts have ceased.

(3) Continuationism proposes that all the gifts of the Spirit continue today, including all the signs and wonders described in Acts.  But inevitably, certain concessions must be made.  The NT writings have ceased; the apostles have ceased; infallible prophets have ceased; tongues as the gift of foreign languages have ceased; people rising from the dead have ceased; the intensity and amazingness of signs and wonders have ceased.   Therefore, Continuationists must concede a kind of partial-Cessationism.  In other words, there are no truly principled Continuationists – only varying degrees of Cessationists.  Which means the Cessationist argument is essentially correct.

(You can read a full paper-length version of this argument here. We also covered this topic in Sunday school, which you can listen to the three-part series here.)

Last Updated on Monday, 12 January 2015 20:18
 


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