An Introduction to Marriage

From Jan Horjus’ Message on Sunday May 5

Marriage is a Relevant Topic

For the next four weeks we are going to be giving a series of messages talking about the love of God and the purpose of God in human relationships.  More specifically we will be talking about God’s love and purpose in romance, marriage and forming and sustaining families. 

In addressing marriage, one of my first concerns was that I didn’t want to give a message that was only relevant to one group of people.  However I believe that if we address it properly, marriage actually is a very broadly relevant topic. 

First, it is relevant to most single people because it represents a desire and a hope that statistically, the majority of single people have for their own futures.

Despite the fact the percentage of American adults who are currently married has been steadily declining for over 50 years (from nearly three quarters in 1960 to just about half today), the percentage of people who say they hope to be married one day has not seen a similar decline.  I know that when I was single, I loved to hear preachers talk about marriage – precisely because it was something I hoped to participate in one day, and so I wanted to know all about it, so that I could be really well prepared and do an awesome job, when (I hoped), I finally got my chance. (I don’t think all single people share that attitude, by any means, but I believe it’s not uncommon either.)

The topic of marriage is also relevant to married people, of course, because it describes a critical piece of their present calling and purpose. Those of us who are married entered into that arrangement with certain attitudes and ideals, and it behooves us to periodically examine ourselves to see if our attitudes, our ideals, and our words and deeds are in alignment with the way Gods calls us to act and think as we pursue His calling side by side with our spouse. 

The topic of marriage is definitely relevant to Christians, because as Christians we need to know what the bible says about what marriage is, what it can be and ought to be and why, both so that we can have accurate biblical convictions and practice biblical principles in relation to marriage, singleness, romance, etc., and so that we can explain these principles and convictions to others articulately.  

This topic of marriage is also relevant to non-Christians, because marriage and pretty much all its accompanying and adjacent topics - romance, dating, sex, family, parenthood - are of extremely broad, universal human concern. Everyone has to navigate these topics in our society.

If you’re not a Christian then I’m willing to go out on a limb and say…that I think you’re curious to hear just exactly how Christianity will give an account of itself in this area. Hopefully what I say here today will be helpful and encouraging to you, and you will at least give me the benefit of seeing how it stacks up against the truths you’ve come to hold onto as a result of your own background, culture, and life experiences.

So, marriage is a highly relevant topic.

Marriage is a Dangerous Topic

But marriage is also a dangerous topic. I think there are dangers inherent in focusing attention on the topic of marriage. Why? Well because of what I’ve already said – that more and more adults in our society have never been married, but at the same time the proportion of those who want to be married remains well above 50%. So there is frustration and disappointment and uncertainty going around.

And there is a real danger, in focusing a lot of attention on marriage as a topic that we set it up as an idol at a time when many, perhaps especially within the church, are already desiring it too much.

I think that as Christians, we – and I think not intentionally, or maliciously, but nonetheless we do stigmatize singleness.  In the church, subtly, implicitly, and without necessarily even meaning to, we stigmatize singleness. An unmarried person is thought of as less mature; the opinion of a single person, I think, often is given less weight than that of a married person. You are less likely to be singled out for leadership if you are single. This should not be the case.

And in secular culture similar stigmas against singleness exist.  In 2017 the census bureau found that 45% of people thought that marriage was a key part of becoming an adult – much lower than in decades past, but still a very sizable minority.  And although marriage itself doesn’t have the same clout it once had, the stigma of being dateless or (God forbid) celibate is still strong.  Today dating relationships carry an incredible amount of cultural weight, and in many cases also carry a lot of expectations that in the past were primarily associated with marriage.

So the church stigmatizes singleness and the world stigmatizes celibacy. But you may be surprised to know that the bible validates and even praises both.

Let’s look at what Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians chapter 7:

1 Corinthians 7:26-35

Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

(What a ringing endorsement of marriage!  Paul continues to explain…)

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided.

 

Marriage is a Calling

These verses are not usually what we think about when we think “oh, a sermon about marriage.” We probably think of Ephesians 5, which I’ll read later.  But I want to start here, because I think one of the most important truths we need to hear about marriage is that it is a calling and not everyone has the same calling.

Paul is going out of his way to tell the church that getting married is not a sin, but that there is a very good chance that getting married may reduce the effectiveness of your ministry because you will have many more responsibilities, many more distractions, and your spouse and family will take up a lot of energy that otherwise could have been invested in the kingdom of God. 

Gods plans for his children are for their good, to make them like Him, to help them follow Jesus’ example. But there’s no such thing as an easy calling if your calling includes becoming like Jesus. Jesus didn’t have an easy life and Jesus was never married.

He suffered and died a virgin – to the hedonistic side of secular culture, that’s like the worst thing that can happen to a person. To die without having fully experienced every pleasure life has to offer; that’s seen as a tragedy.

But we know that the cross was not a tragedy, it was a triumph. Because this life is not all there is. In his death, Jesus accomplished something eternal - eternal forgiveness, eternal salvation, eternal life, people reconciled to God forever. That's no tragedy. And your life, if you happen to be called to singleness for your whole life, will not be a tragedy, it will be a triumph.

Marriage is also not “your next step toward maturity as a Christian.” Marriage is a specific calling, not an achievement, and not everyone is called to it. And it’s not a superior calling to the alternative. I was discussing this with my wife Emily as I was planning this message. She has several single friends who would liked to have been married by this point in their lives and struggle to one degree or another with being content in their current situation.  And as we were discussing marriage as a calling, she suddenly said “You know what, that’s right! Because Shadrack Meshack and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace... But Daniel wasn’t thrown into the furnace.”

And I think I said “Wait.” And then sort of paused…to make sure I had it right.  It’s very true, Daniel was not thrown into the fiery furnace.  He was thrown somewhere else.  And I said “Are you saying…that marriage is a fiery furnace…and singleness is a lion’s den?” Is that what we're going with here??

I want to say, Yes, that's what we're going with here. Out of everything I say today this might be the one thing you remember. Marriage is a fiery furnace, singleness is a lion’s den. Neither of them is a walk in the park.  Both of them are difficult, dangerous, God-honoring callings that when lived out faithfully produce an eternal reward.  And God will be with you wherever he calls you to go. 

This is point number one: Marriage is a Calling. 

And the purpose of this message is to make people clearly aware of what marriage is so that they can have discernment about God’s calling in their life.  It is important to be aware of what the Bible says marriage is and isn’t so that you don’t MISS God’s calling in your life right now by chasing an idol of what you think your life is supposed to be.

Marriage is a calling, but what exactly does this calling look like?

Marriage is a Covenant

The second point I want to make, then, is that marriage is a covenant.  Covenant is a word that we don’t use or hear very often, outside of church. If you look up the word in English it now just means a contract or agreement, but the biblical idea of a covenant is significantly more than that. 

A covenant, briefly, is a relationship in which the relationship itself is incredibly important – more important, even, than the benefits either party receives from the relationship. 

So in some ways the opposite of a covenant relationship is a consumer relationship.  If you are in a consumer relationship, say with Comcast, that relationship exists only because of the benefits both parties get from one another.  You want internet, they want money, so you have a relationship where both of you can get what you want (...hopefully).  And if that relationship stops being worth it for you, or if you find a better deal elsewhere then you have no obligation to stay with Comcast.  You’re free to end the relationship and move on. 

And there have always been consumer relationships, but there have also always been covenant relationships. In our society, I think it’s fair to say that the consumer model is extremely dominant. But, for instance, the relationship between a parent and a child is still seen as covenantal. The idea actually of severing that relationship is shocking to us.  A parent disowning their child – saying “you’re no child of mine; you’re dead to me; this relationship is over,” is shocking to us, because we still understand that parent child bond as a covenant: something that can’t or at least shouldn’t be broken. Even if that relationship were costing you financially and emotionally, and you were getting nothing in return, people would still be disturbed by the idea of just saying “I’m out, it’s over,” without it being a really extreme circumstance. 

That’s one aspect of what it means to be a covenant.  The relationship itself has immense value, value that can even outweigh all the ordinarily expected benefits of the relationship for either party. 

It’s a relationship that we expect to survive through thick and thin, and within which self-sacrifice is expected – if the chef at your favorite restaurant gets sick and can’t cook for you anymore, the odds are on Friday night you will just go to a different restaurant instead of visiting him in the hospital – and no one will think you’re a terrible person for doing that.  Consumer relationship.

But if your wife or mother gets a terminal illness and can’t do anything for you anymore, there’s an expectation that your relationship should survive that – because it’s a covenant relationship.  In other words, it’s a relationship based on love

Because, love is the key to understanding covenant. 

But not just any kind of love – because you can love the food a restaurant serves to you, you can love the sex a girlfriend has with you, if someone has an attractive face you may feel some natural affection and not mind giving up some small things for them. 

But covenantal love has a very particular character – which is a willingness to lay down its own interests, and to make costly sacrifices for the one it loves.  In fact, it has the character of the love of Jesus. 

Luke 22:20: “In the same way after supper, Jesus took a cup of wine saying “This cup is the new Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” 

Covenant love is love that will pour itself out for the one it loves, even to death. And in the bible this kind of love is exactly the kind of love that we are commanded to practice in the context of marriage.   

Ephesians 5:22 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” This is a command to practice covenant love.

The Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is not romantic passion, but rather sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. 

Of course this kind of love is not limited to marriage – in the Bible we see covenants being made between friends, between nations, and most significantly between God and his people. 

This brings me to the last thing I want to say about covenant: A covenant is grounded in love, motivated by love, but to make a covenant is actually to make a binding promise. The colloquial definition of covenant as contract isn’t actually wrong in this sense.

A covenant then is a combination of love and law, that isn’t often seen in a world dominated by the idea of the market place. Love and law together, enhancing one another, protecting one another - passion expressed in a promise.

Again and again, in the bible, when God makes a covenant with his people, he makes a promise:

Genesis 9:15 God said to Noah, “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

Genesis 15:18 “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”

There is no covenant without promise.  In fact, when we fall in love romantically with someone, there is a natural inclination to make promises, to say something like “I will always love you.” That’s the language of covenant.

But instead of the language of covenant, unfortunately, it’s the language of the marketplace that tends to dominate our thinking about romantic relationships.

We even talk about someone looking for a partner as being “in the market.” We size people up according to what they bring to the table. We’re in some ways obsessed with romantic love – unlike ages past, the idea of marrying out of expedience – for the sake of money, or social position, or family connection--  is abhorrent to us.  But in other ways, we commodify relationships just as much as any generation before us – the currency of the relationship marketplace is now physical attractiveness, sexual and emotional chemistry, excitement and enticement, support toward self-actualization and achieving our individual goals, and above all what we call “compatibility”.  Surveys have found that the most significant meaning of “compatibility” in our generation is “someone who won’t ask you to change.”  who “fits into your life” as it is. 

Comparing Cultural Views

In his book “The Meaning of Marriage” Timothy Keller describes what he sees as a striking idealism and simultaneous pessimism in the way our culture approaches marriage.  The statistic that somewhere in the neighborhood of half of all marriages end in divorce is now a decades old statistic – as old as many of the adults now contemplating their marital futures.  Of younger adults, Keller writes, “They believe their chances of having a good marriage are not great, and, even if a marriage is stable, there is in their view the horrifying prospect that it will become sexually boring. As comedian Chris Rock has said, ‘Do you want to be single and lonely or married and bored’ Many young adults believe that these are indeed the two main options.”  Keller notes, however, that this pessimism may actually come from “a new kind of unrealistic idealism about marriage, born of a significant shift in our culture’s understanding of the purpose of marriage.

He quotes the legal scholar John Witte Jr’s book about marriage titled “From Sacrament to Contract.”  Witte writes, “Historically there have been several competing views of what the form and function of marriage should be.  The first two, the Catholic and the Protestant perspectives, though different in particulars, both taught that marriage was a solemn bond designed to subordinate individual impulses and interests in favor of the relationship, that its purpose was to be a sacrament of God’s love (the Catholic emphasis) and to serve the common good (the protestant focus).  In particular, marriage was seen as providing the only kind of social stability in which children could truly thrive.“

But in the Enlightenment, Witte says, as the ethic of collective duty gave way to the ethic of individual freedom, this brought about a contrasting view of marriage, in which it was redefined as “finding emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization.”

In short, the enlightenment privatized marriage, taking it out of the public sphere and redefining its purpose, from “greater goods” like producing character or raising children to individual gratification and growth. And slowly, over generations, this new view has come to almost completely supplant the old.

So who’s right?  The old culture or the new?  Is marriage all about serving the common good, raising children, being part of the public sphere?  Or is it all about private individual growth, about finding happiness and helping one another achieve personally valued goals? 

I don’t think either one is completely right.

 

Marriage is about Sanctification & the Church

Let’s look again at how Paul describes marriage. 

Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

Sacramental symbolism, the idea of marriage as an analogy for God’s covenantal love for the church, is the main thrust of this passage.  But personal growth is also there – not self-actualization, but sanctification

Once again we see that the bible teaches the essence of marriage is not romantic passion, but rather sacrificial commitment to the good of the other.

It’s two flawed people coming together in mutual sacrifice and submission, with the explicit goal of sanctifying each other – bringing each other closer to God, and helping each other grow closer to the example of Jesus.  It’s walking through the fiery furnace together, with a shared, common purpose. 

Actually, marriage isn’t supposed to be “happily ever after.”  Marriage is supposed to be “together on a mission.”  Just like the church is together on a mission.

God places people in families - birth families, church families, and new families created by marriage. And he wants those families to be together on a mission with him.

The Bible refers to the church both as the body of Christ and as the bride of Christ and as the family of God. Our mission as a body is help each other live like Jesus, to become more like him, and to act out the love of God towards one another and the world. That’s the process of sanctification.

So even though we’re going to be focusing on the expression of God’s love in a particular context over the next few weeks, I want you to keep in mind that marriage is a picture of the church. A family unit that grows out of marriage is kind of like a miniature of the church - God puts people together with different gifts in order to build one another up and to work together and demonstrate God’s love as a team. Although marriage is a distinct calling, in a way the principles we’ll talk about also apply to the church as a whole.

So as I close I want to just summarize what we’ve said to introduce the topic of marriage:

•       Marriage is not the only calling, but it is a calling. 

•       Marriage is not the only context for covenant, but it is a covenant.

•       Marriage is not the only context in which God sanctifies us but it is a place of sanctification. Not a relationship with a compatible soul mate who won't ask us to change, but a fiery furnace of sanctification. 

May God give each of us wisdom to discern and pursue our calling.  Whether as single people or as married, may we love one another - working and sacrificing together as a community and being transformed to the image of Jesus.

1 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/14/as-u-s-marriage-rate-hovers-at-50-education-gap-in-marital-status-widens/

2 http://stateofourunions.org/

3 Dafoe, Barbara & Popenoe, David “Why Men Won’t Commit”

4 Keller, Tim “The Meaning of Marriage” https://www.amazon.com/dp/0525952470/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_EZX0Cb3VSG347

Focus for 2019

After finishing our fall semester focusing on discovering how we can find our way back to God, what will our focus be as we start a new year and continue to seek to help each other live like Jesus?

2019 - Three Focuses

1) Mobilize our Church to Pray

The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray continually. (1 Thes 5:17) We want to be a praying a church. A church that is touching heaven’s heart together as we ask for heaven to come on earth.

Paul prayed this prayer for the Thessalonians, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else.” (2 Thes 3:12) Let’s start there this year.

2) Share our Story

We have the best story in the world - the story of Jesus! It’s a story that added another amazing chapter when Jesus changed your life. In 2019, we are going to be aiming to help each other learn to share that story. It’s those stories that introduce hope, healing, and power into our world.

Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray this way, “That the message of the Lord (Jesus)… spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thes 3:1) More on this focus to come.

3) Love Those on the Edge

We all know people who are living on the edge - of our communities, their mental health, etc. People face some real difficult circumstances and challenges. This year, we want to be there to love, welcome, and care for these neighbors who may be living on the edge.

Paul told the Thessalonians to, “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thes 5:14)

Make the aim of 2019 to love those on the margins. Learn their name, listen to their story, offer an encouraging word… meet a need. Live Like Jesus.

May God’s grace abound to you as we start a new year. In Jesus’ name.

David W., Paul McFarthing, Jan Horjus

5-Fold Gifts

How can we as the church be the "light of the world" Jesus intended us to be?  How can we reflect Jesus to a world that is desperate what he has to offer?

When the 5 Ephesians 4 gifts Jesus gave to his body are in operation in a local community (church), that church will literally be Jesus to the neighborhood and city around them.  At City Church, our mission is to "Live Like Jesus" because we believe when Jesus said, "You are the light of the world" He anticipated his follower demonstrating who He was to the world around them. The reality is that we will never be able to do that unless we learn to walk in the 5-fold gifts Jesus gave to his church.  What are those vital gifts Jesus gives?

He... gave gifts to his people... - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers to equip people for the works of service... until we... attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  (Ephesians 4:8,10)

Apostles and Prophets, Evangelists and Shepherds, Teachers.  Gifts Jesus gave to the body.  Gifts that equip us to live like Jesus (work of ministry) and be like Jesus (maturity and stature).

Jesus himself embodied each of these gifts as He was - The Sent One (A), Truth Teller (P), Story Creator (E), Caretaker (S), and Mind Opener (T).  Jesus enables some of his children to embody these gifts in exceptional ways as He did.  The body of Christ is meant learn from them how to live out those aspects of who Jesus was.  Each of member of the body (church) has the capacity to embody these gifts in some measure as we are created in Christ's image.  When we reflect the fullness of the APEST, we reflect the fullness of Christ himself.

A local church that is learning to identify and activate these gifts in its membership and leadership, that is committed to equipping ALL of the body to live like Jesus, and that believes each one of us has this potential because the Spirit of Jesus lives in us will be well on its way to seeing the power of Jesus and his gospel transform a neighborhood and city.

Revival

Will You not Yourself revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? - Psalm 85:6

The Israelite people could look back and remember times when God showed up.  He appeared to Abraham and promised him a nation.  He appeared to Moses in a burning bush and promised his people deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Their history was filled with stories of God's faithfulness to appear even in the darkest of times.  In fact, a whole book of the Bible, Judges, is just story after story of God visiting his people through the likes of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and more.

In more recent times, God has continued the trend.  R.T. Kendall (author of one of my favorite books, Total Forgiveness) writes about one such occasion:

In 1802, in an area called Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky a Methodist lay preacher stood on a fallen tree on a Sunday morning before 15,000 people, taking his text from 2 Corinthians 5:10 – “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of things done in the body, whether good or bad”. As he spoke hundreds fell to the ground by the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the beginning of the camp meeting phenomena. The Great Awakening lasted for over 20 years. The Cane Ridge Revival lasted only four days.

Last Friday more than six churches gathered to pray in our city.  It felt as if God was there.  Blessing the unity of the body and speaking to us about humility and repentance.  If revival is about God reviving his people, we were experiencing that very thing.  Our hearts were not only being drawn close to Jesus and one another but also towards the city we live in as we were moved to pray for our neighborhoods, friends, and those who found themselves in challenging and distressing situations.

Churches Praying Together - January 19, 2018

Churches Praying Together - January 19, 2018

Revival often begins when people remember what God has done in the past and begin to long for Him to do it again.  This desire revives hearts forming in us a desire for more, a desire to see God as he truly is.  It involves humility as we acknowledge who God truly is.  It involves repentance as realize the ways are lives are not in line with God's purposes and ask him do do the necessary alignment in us.

At City Church, we want God to do that heart work in us.  Our vision to live like Jesus is only possible to the extent that God aligns our hearts with his heart.  As we continue to pursue God together in worship and prayer with churches across the city, I believe our hearts and minds will more fully see the greatness of Jesus.  As we do (and respond appropriately), we will experience the reviving of our own hearts and the awakening of our city that we are hoping for.

Why Fasting?

Why Fasting?

God uses fasts to increase our hunger to spend time with Jesus, to give us more time to spend in prayer, and to remind us that this world and its desires are passing away. I find at the completion of these fasts I am often more focused on God's kingdom and more filled with God's power simply because I have been spending more time with him!

Many heroes of the faith fasted including Moses, Elijah, Esther, and Jesus.  We follow their example!  Jesus expected his followers to fast knowing how good it would be for them, "They will fast in that day." (Mark 2:20)

Our fasting symbolizes are longing for God's kingdom to come on earth  and for Jesus' return.  It is a prophetic statement, "This world/food is not what satisfies it is you and your kingdom, Jesus." It reminds us we are living in the times between Christ's first appearance and the time he will return to finish the renewal of all things.

In Acts 13, we see the early church praying and fasting.  In fact, it was a key to their success in seeing kingdom expansion.  Paul and Barnabas were called to to church plant across the Roman world in a time of prayer and fasting. As we model their lifestyle, we will see similar breakthroughs.

What Does a Fast Look Like?
First, please remember that if you have certain health issues a change in diet or a fast can be medically dangerous and should be avoided. As always, remember to drink lots of water especially when fasting.

Fasting works best if you replace the meal(s) or activity you are skipping with times of prayer, mediating on scripture, and worship.  Otherwise, it becomes a mere physical ritual instead of life-giving experience in which you are learning to transform your physical hunger into a hunger for God.  The Spirit will help us in our weakness - Romans 8:26!

A Fast
The phrase "fasting" in our context is typically used to mean fasting from all foods for a meal, day, week, etc.

A Water Fast
A water or juice fast involves abstaining from all substances EXCEPT water or juice. This typically should last for no more than 3-10 days.

A Daniel Fast
The idea of a "Daniel fast" is found in Daniel Chapter 1 where Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king's fine food and instead embrace a diet of vegetables during their time of training in Babylon. A "Daniel fast" for me consists of not eating any meats or sweats or fine foods (define that however you want :). I generally eat fruits, vegetables, some breads, beans, rice, and grains. Some keep a stricter diet than that. I have used a "Daniel Fast" for when I am doing fasts of more than 2-3 days.

A Media Fast
A media fast can involve abstaining from some type of daily entertainment - such as Facebook, tv/movies, internet, video games, etc. - for an extended period of time. I have found these to be very helpful for me when I have done them.

In fasting it is not the diet that matters, it is a heart that wants more of God and less of the world. Prayerfully, consider fasting and praying corporately with other members of our church. It changes us and the world around us.

America Has A Fundamental Problem

When will we realize it?

 

Tragedies like the shooting being relayed to us today in which as of 1:25PM 58 people had been killed and over 500 had been injured are devastating.  For all those who lost loved ones, their lives will never be the same.  My heart goes out to them and all others affected.  It is a time for mourning and grieving.

It is also a time for deep reflection.  The news cycle will move on the, the number of Facebook posts asking us to pray for Las Vegas will decrease, and we will again grow numb due the comfort of modern living to the pain and horror of what happened.

I fear this reality.  Why?  I believe America has a fundamental problem.

 

I believe it lies deep at the heart of America’s origins, and it has reared its ugly head throughout our short history.  It is a problem that has refused to heed the cautionary warnings of a Rabbi many years ago who said, “Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

It is worth stating here before we consider further that I am in no way ascribing (and neither was the Teacher) individual blame to the victims of these types of heinous shootings.

Instead, I am asking us to reflect more deeply on the condition of our own hearts and on the history of our nation.

 

The United States was founded through an armed up rising resulting in a revolutionary war.  It expanded its borders through more wars fought against England, Mexico, and Native Americans.  It eradicated slavery at the cost of a civil war that claimed 620,000 lives. In modern times, it has participated in two world wars and initiated and maintained military conflicts in the Vietnam and Middle East (ongoing).

I would imagine most of these conflicts were seen by the majority of Americans at the time as justified (and surely some may have been to some extent).  America seems to have always been willing to stand up for itself and protect itself against perceived threats both domestically and abroad.  The question is at what cost?

What are the results of a human heart being discipled by an ethos that asserts one’s fundamental rights to bear arms AND pursue one’s own happiness?  Stop. Think about that one more time. The right to possess violent weaponry and the right to pursue your own property. Then consider this reality - homicide rates in the United States are seven times higher when compared to other high income countries across the globe.[i]

Is any human heart capable of being granted both the ability to kill AND the permission to pursue one’s own life, liberty, and happiness?  It is a dangerous cocktail, and one that those who drink from seem to fail to control.

 

Those that study the scriptures should not be surprised.  The ancient texts state the following:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“From within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” (Mark 7:21)

Given the condition of the human heart and reality of these tragedies and the weapons used in them, we may be quick to discern gun control is necessary step.  I personally believe that may well indeed be a measure worth implementing, but the reality is that restraint cannot heal the root of the problem.  It will not deal with the fundamental problem America faces – pride.  

 

Pride is the attitude that says, “I will ascend… I will make myself like the Most High.”[ii]  It is the prideful heart that desires the power to choose one’s own destiny and future, to sip from the dangerous cocktail. 

It wishes to be the creator and pursuer of life rather than the recipient of it.  Pride demands the right to follow its own definition of good (think back to the first garden) and the power to take life for one’s self.  Is it possible we live in a nation that was founded with this desire (knowingly or unknowingly) at the core of its DNA?

With this question in mind, I am left to openly wonder if the rights and privileges American’s demand are compatible with the way Jesus offered.  A way that demands we choose humility over pride, poverty over riches, service over comfort, and grace over our rights. 

A way that welcomes those who mourn and offers them an alternative, swordless kingdom.  A way that opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. A way that promises healing for those that humble themselves and pray and discern their own fundamental problem.

 

Of course, it is easy to say that others need to attend to this process of re-orientation and repentance, that our nation would be better if those on the “other side” were more “enlightened.”  However, we’d be ignoring other warnings from the Rabbi if we did so.

Instead may we heed his warnings, take the time to reflect discernibly on our nation’s past and present, and therefore by God’s grace have the ability to see the true condition of our own hearts. It is this personal reflection and action that may awaken the conscience of a nation to realize its own fundamental problem.

 

[i] http://time.com/4206484/america-violent-death-rate-higher/

[ii] Isaiah 14:14