Men, Women, and Marriage

Much can be learned about how God intends for men and women to relate by looking at passages about marriage. Confession: I have found it difficult to read these passages without reading my culture into them. A close and careful reading of some basic passages about marriage has left me surprised and somewhat disturbed that the passages do not say what I have always been told they say. We must be careful not to read our cultural biases into the passages. This is difficult to the point of being almost impossible and is best done in community.

Has scripture or culture been the primary shaper of our view of marriage? Has our idea of what Christian marriage looks like been more heavily influenced by scripture or Leave It To Beaver?

Jesus’s response to the Pharisees’ questions about divorce is formative to my understanding (Matthew 19:1ff). The Pharisees want to talk about divorce. Jesus seems to be more comfortable talking about marriage. And when Jesus talks about marriage, he calls them back to Genesis 1 and 2 as teaching how God intended for marriage to be lived out. We need to remember that Genesis 1 and 2 present the humans, male and female, living: under God, over the earth, and side-by-side in unity with one another. From the beginning God intended for humans to be one-flesh in marriage.

But sin enters the picture in chapter three and everything changes. The humans are no longer living in unity with God and one another as God had intended for them to live. They are bucking God’s authority and battling with God and one another for rule and control. But Jesus reminds us that was not how it was intended to be. We need to remember, as Dallas Willard says, “The Bible doesn’t begin in Genesis 3. The fall of man is not the beginning of history.” In discussing marriage, Jesus calls us back to the beginning, Genesis 1-2 rather than Genesis 3.

In response, the Pharisees raise a good question: If God never intended for there to be divorce, why did the law of Moses include divorce law? Jesus explains that divorce is not God’s plan for humans, divorce is a concession to the hardness of human hearts. God understands humans are hard-hearted and will not always live in the unity that comes through submission to God and one another. So God provides for humans knowing their hard hearts. And so Jesus introduces us to the idea that some things you read about in scripture are not representative of what God wills, but are representative of how hard-hearted and self-willed humans can be.

Jesus holds up Genesis 1-2 as foundational to our understanding of how men and women are to relate in marriage. Firmly bonded. One flesh. Unity. May we not grow hard-hearted. May we remember God joins a husband and wife in marriage. “Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart” (Matthew 19:6 MSG).

Before Jesus Met Mary

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'” (Matthew 26:39).

Jesus knew the the hour was near. The cross was looming. The long anticipated time of transition was upon him.

So Jesus and the disciples go to Gethsemane. He takes Peter, James, and John along with him to a place of prayer. Jesus is troubled. Jesus is sorrowful. Overwhelmed with sorrow. Sorrowful to the point of death.

Jesus goes farther into the garden and prays. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He returns to find the disciples sleeping. He asks them to watch and pray before withdrawing again for more conversation with God.

“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

He returns to find them sleeping again. He withdraws to pray a third time.

The same words flow from Jesus’ heart and mouth. “Father….”


As I ponder the emotions of Jesus in the shadow of the cross and the prayer that flowed from those emotions, I wonder about another occasion when Jesus was facing a transition.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Did Jesus have an emotional response before he “met” Mary — before his transition from heaven to Mary’s womb? Did Jesus talk to God about that transition?

I know about the emotions of Jesus in the hours before the cross. I know the words Jesus spoke in conversation with His Father.

I wonder about the emotions of Jesus in the hours before the conception. I would love to know of any words spoken in conversation to God.

Based on what you know of God…

What emotions do you think Jesus felt prior to “emptying Himself” and taking on flesh?

Do you think Jesus talked over this transition with God?

What would that conversation have been like?

**Thanks to Scott and Jack for sparking my imagination in pondering our great God.

After the Sermon

reflections on Matthew 8-9

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth” (Matthew 9:9).

When Matthew’s account of the sermon concludes, the crowd is amazed at the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was different. The sermon was different. This was not the kind of teaching they normally heard. You get the sense they were not only amazed, but refreshed as well.

This morning I have been watching Jesus as he descended from the mountain. I am struck by what catches Jesus’ eye. Jesus doesn’t seem affected by the large crowd that followed, a crowd that might be described as “adoring.” In fact, Jesus seems to be taking evasive action to escape the pressing throng. Clearly his words directed at them are more challenging than pandering.

Jesus had taken time to address the crowd as he preached, but after the sermon something else caught his eye. People. Individual people caught the eye of Jesus. And the people catching the attention of Jesus were those many would consider a distraction, maybe even a burden. People with problems. People with messy lives. People with needs. People who were not lined up to tell Jesus how amazing he was, but people who were lined up to get something they needed from Jesus.

Jesus may have made an evasive move to escape the adoring crowd, but here he walks right into one encounter after another with needy, messy people. A man with leprosy, that disease. A soldier of that army. A sick mother-in-law of that impetuous friend. A group who wanted a relationship with Jesus, but didn’t want to make that tough decision. A couple of violent demon hosts who lived in that graveyard. A paralyzed man on a  mat being watched by that bunch of religious watchdogs. A tax collector who domineered for that government. A disciple of John with that list of questions. A dead girl from that family of oppressors. A sick woman with that disease of uncleanness. A couple of blind man who want stop that yelling. A mute with that demon.

Jesus saw them. Jesus saw them all. Jesus saw them as individuals. Jesus saw them as people. Jesus saw them not as a distraction, but as the creation of the Almighty.

Today they will be all around me, too. People. Hurting people. Messy people. Distracting people. Interrupting people. People that have been marginalized. People that have been neglected. People that have been shunned. People that have been labeled hopeless. Yes, they will be all around me. They will be in my path.

Jesus saw them. The question is, will I?

A Prayer for My Heart

Matthew 15:15-20(MSG)
Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”
Jesus replied, “You too? Are you being willfully stupid?
Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated?
But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart.
It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing.
That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.”

Jesus was teaching. The disciples were having a hard time understanding. Peter wanted to understand. So he asked Jesus to explain.

When I spend time with God, Jesus teaches me. Like the disciples, I am frequently thick-headed. Sometimes my heart is open and, like Peter, I ask for explanation and meaning. In those moments of openness I am blessed by the Holy Spirit who patiently helps me grasp truth.

Jesus wanted them to understand that walking with God was more than just observing traditional rules governing externals. It was much deeper. Walking with God was a matter of the heart.

God wants me to understand that, too. Jesus teaches me. The Holy Spirit explains. What I am deep within my heart controls what comes out in my life. What I say begins deep within my heart. How I respond to others begins deep within my heart. My words, thoughts, and actions all begin deep within.

Now I see clearly, I understand what Jesus is teaching. Now it’s time to pray.

Father in Heaven,

Thank You for being truth.
Thank You for sending Your Son to teach.
Thank You for gifting me with Your indwelling Spirit.
Thank You for creating me with a heart.

Forgive me when I substitute rules for heart-relationship.
Forgive me when my “spirituality” is only skin deep.

Don’t let me settle for empty tradition.
Don’t let me be fooled by the seeming wisdom of external rules.

Search my heart.
Clean out my heart.
I offer my heart to You as a throne.
Be enthroned in me.
Rule my heart, God.

May my thoughts, words, and actions flow from Your presence in my heart.

In Jesus’ name,

Victim Treats Mugger

NPR recently had a story about the mugging of a 31 year old social worker named Julio Diaz.

You won’t believe how the story unfolds.

You can read the story or listen to it by following this link.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Jesus in Matthew 5:38-42

Playing to Heaven

Today I am reading Matthew 6 as if it were a personal conversation with Jesus. And in this conversation He’s probing my heart, helping me sort through my motives. He reminds me that whatever I do needs to be done for Him rather than to impress the watching eyes of those around me.

My giving to the poor should be done to honor Him rather than efforts to call attention to myself. My prayers should be for Him rather than efforts to impress those who might hear. My fasts ought to be for Him rather than efforts to make myself look better.

Jesus asks me, who is your audience, who are you playing to? Are you doing what you do for yourself or for Me? Who applauds when you finish giving your gifts, saying your prayers, breaking your fasts? Do you hear the applause of the people you have managed to impress? Do you hear the applause of heaven?

As the conversation comes to an end, Jesus reminds me there are treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. In doing so He asks me the same question in a different way — what are you living for?

Jesus tells me that the way I answer this question, however it is posed, can be seen in whether or not I am worrying. Worry indicates I am not living for or trusting in Him who is unseen. Worry indicates I am all about the here and now. But when I am trusting Him who is unseen, I am living by faith. The here and now matters little. The applause and approval of men loses its appeal.

And it becomes about me living for God and to God.

Annoying Christians

A recent survey has findings that provide a much-needed slap in the face to me and other Christians. I read of the survey, which was conducted by LifeWay, the research department of the Southern Baptist Church in an article in USA Today.

The survey was conducted among U.S. adults who are “unchurched,” a term they define as someone who has not been to a church, synagogue, or mosque in the last six months.

Check this out —

72% say “God, a higher or supreme being, actually exists.” But just as many (72%) also say the church is “full of hypocrites.”

Indeed, 44% agree with the statement “Christians get on my nerves.”

You might be surprised to know that one these negative reactions to the church doesn’t bother me so much. I have no problem with people saying the church is full of hypocrites, because one, that’s true (realizing that most people confuse imperfection with hypocrisy) and two, I can’t think of a better place for hypocrites to be than in church.

The statement that slaps me is that which indicates that a whole lot of people find Christians annoying. More than ever I want to be focused on what Jesus said was most important — loving God and loving people.

May God forgive me for the times when I have made church into a organized religion machine rather than as a refuge for the hurting, a healing center for sinners, a safe place for open and honest fellowship, a hub of vibrant worship, and an outpost of loving interaction with the community. May God help me learn from those who find me and my Christian family annoying.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Building Credibility

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Seems like everywhere you turn you find conflict. Look at some recent reports of incidents from around the world.

Police called to fight over toilet paper. Two hotel maids in South Carolina got into a brawl over a roll of toilet paper. The weapons of choice in this fight were a mop and a plunger. Try not to picture that scene!

Melee breaks out at Crossroads Mall. A fracas involving 30 young people recently broke out at a West Virginia shopping mall. The news account I read called the conflict “a potato-related dispute.”

Tennis father accused in opponent’s drugging. A man in France has been accused of drugging athletes his son and daughter were about to play in tennis matches – on 27 occasions!

The message of Jesus could make such a difference in the world. Embracing the teachings of Jesus and adopting His lifestyle would put an end to so many of the disputes that put people at odds and divide them. Oh, how we need Jesus! Think of how He changes our thinking and actions.

Valuing peace means some things just are not worth fighting over (Romans 14).

Walking away from potential conflict is sometimes the best approach (Proverbs 26:17).

Winning the fight to get your way is often the result of self-centeredness (James 4).

Bullying is the way of the world, but not the way of His kingdom (Matthew 20:25 ff).

Sure, we need to take the message of Jesus to a world in desperate need. But before we start our efforts to coach the world in peacemaking skills, we first might want to build up some credibility by learning to be a peaceful people among ourselves. Outsiders view some of our intramural church skirmishes to be about as important as fighting over toilet paper. They perceive our methods of fighting about as silly as waving around a plunger. They consider our zeal for superiority as misplaced as the infamous tennis father. And they are right.

May God help us model peace to the world, and thereby build up the credibility we need to become a peacemaking people.

Two Faces

Surgeons have been using bodies donated for medical research to experiment with face transplant surgery. The proposed surgery has raised the hopes of potential patients whose faces have been severely disfigured in accidents while sparking an intense debate among ethicists.

Recent breakthroughs in transplanting skin have opened the door for face transplant research. However, questions remain about the surgical procedure:

  • Can drugs successfully reduce the potential for rejection of the new skin?
  • How will the new face look after being transplanted onto a face with different bone structure?
  • What criteria should be used in choosing recipients of the new faces?
  • How will transplant recipients adjust emotionally to their new faces?

While we marvel at the medical breakthroughs and wonder about the future ethical problems, lets not forget the members of the religious community have been experimenting with face replacement for thousands of years.

In fact, the Pharisees perfected the art of face transplants way back in the days of the Christ. There was no need for surgery. They found the only medication needed was some strong anesthesia for the heart. Once the heart was deadened, they could put on a new face with few complications.

Jesus called them out about their face-replacement lifestyle. “How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup, and then the outside will become clean, too. How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. You try to look like upright people outwardly, but inside your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

New face transplant surgery offers new hope to those whose faces have been disfigured. While the ancient religious face replacement procedure disfigures those who have misplaced their hope.

God save us from two-faced living.