Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Power of Committed Marriages

This is the text of a talk that I gave at the final session of the Marriage Course at our church in Anchorage.

For the past seven sessions we have been taking an inward view of marriage. We’ve been talking about how to make a marriage work, and how to make it work well. All of us on the team hope that your marriage has been impacted and strengthened. It’s more than a hope; the team has been praying for you by name as we have gone through these months together.

Tonight I want to finish this marriage course with a look at marriage from another perspective. What I am going to demonstrate tonight is that committed marriages have power. Not only do they have power in individual families, they have power in communities and they have power in nations. In fact, we could call it four dimensional power, because not only do committed marriages impact the world around them, they have an impact through time.

What is a committed marriage? It’s a marriage that stays together for a lifetime. It’s a marriage that is going the distance, no matter what. It’s a marriage working to be more than just two people living in the same house. It’s a marriage like yours and mine where a couple is working to make a successful union of man and woman.

Now, let me stop for a moment and speak to those of us who have had less than perfect marriages in one way or another. Some here are working on a second marriage, or perhaps a third.

Please do not hear anything I say through the filter of condemnation. There is no one in this room who has achieved perfection -- certainly not me. We are all on a journey. Through Jesus, we have the great gift of reconciliation with the God of the Universe.

The book of Romans says it this way: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Where we have sinned or fallen short, we have the gift of forgiveness and starting over. If your marriage has been short of perfection, you can start fresh today. If you are in Christ, the old path is covered by the blood of Jesus.

Our society today is full of messages that marriage is a disposable contract. If you don’t like the terms, society says, you can just tear it up and throw it away.

That’s not the way the God of the universe looks at it. Let me read from the Gospel of Mark

Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

This was a message with an impact. It stunned the disciples and it must have stunned those who asked the question.

Marriage before the coming of Jesus was a disposable item. A husband was permitted to write a certificate of divorce and send his wife away. It sounds a lot like today. Get a certificate from the court, and the deed is done. The marriage is over.

But listen again to the words of Jesus: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

The message here is that God takes marriage seriously! Jesus is quoting from the book of Genesis. From the beginning, then, it has been God’s plan that man and wife become one inseparable unit.

A contract is an agreement between two or more parties. Contracts are common in our world today. They are important in business because they spell out expectations. Contracts often have provisions for what happens in the case of non performance. In this case the contract is nullified, and the parties are no longer bound by it.

But is a marriage a contract? I suggest to us that marriage is not a contract. Remember Jesus’ words? “They are no longer two, but one.” How can two who have become one nullify their contract? Marriage is not a contract, it is a covenant. It is not like the agreement between two business partners, it is more like the covenant relationship between God and Abraham.

If we are called to marriage, God designed us to be complete through marriage. He designed us to complement our different giftings so that together we are stronger than the sum of our individual parts. He designed us to be strong together to build functional families. He designed two to become as one.

Nations are built of communities. Communities are built of families, and families and nations can be no more functional than the marriages that form their foundation. Good, functional families build good, functional communities. Good, functional communities build strong nations.

America has been a strong nation for many reasons, but foundationally, it has been strong because the strong communities that make it up, and the strong families that comprise those communities have been built upon the foundation of strong marriages.

We are all painfully aware of the great social problems that face today as a nation. Even in Anchorage, the problems are immense. In study after study social science tells there is nothing that drives these problems more than family breakdown. It is not racial discrimination that drives these problems. It is not poverty that drives these problems. It is the breakdown of families that drives them.

If family breakdown is the driver, we can kick that driver out of the car, one family at a time. If my wife and I sow into our family by making our marriage strong, and if you and your spouse sow into your family by making your marriage strong, and if the husbands and wives of our community do the same, we are going to see a harvest of righteousness growing in our society.

There is only one more thing more powerful that you and I can do for our children, our community and our nation than to build our marriages and make them strong, vibrant and alive.

Do you want to build a legacy that will last beyond your lifetime? With our marriages God has given us the gift to reach through time into the lives of our children, and our children’s children and even beyond. Think of it this way: by the good seeds we sow today in our marriages, future generations can reap a harvest of joy.

But it’s not by our power that good marriages are possible. I said a minute ago that there is only one thing more powerful in society than a good marriage. That is the power that makes good marriages work. It is the power of husbands and wives who acknowledge Jesus the Christ as Lord. It is the power of men and women who live their lives through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

If you are not yet a believer, I want you know I am not talking about joining Anchorage City Church or any other church. I am not talking about lighting candles and any of a hundred other forms of religious behavior.

What I AM talking about is meeting Jesus in the stillness of your own heart and mind. He is waiting just outside the door of our hearts, and the Bible says this:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

We don’t have to do anything religious to open the door; we just need to quietly let him in. We can do that in the silence of our own homes, on the top of a mountain, in a church meeting, or even right here and now.

There is strength in a real relationship with Jesus. That relationship with Christ makes the glue of marriage into an epoxy that is stronger than the materials being joined.

Watch this.

At a Marriage weekend that Linda and I attended a few months ago here in Anchorage, we heard a startling statistic. Half of American marriages end in divorce, and whether people are members of a church doesn’t seem to make any difference. We have heard this many times, perhaps. But here’s what made me sit up in my chair: There is a group of people in this country who have a better than 99% lifetime commitment rate in their marriages. It is those believers who pray together and study their Bibles together. It is those believers who have made their faith the center of their lives together.

If your marriage or mine is not perfect today, it won’t be tomorrow either, but we can start right now on the path to lifelong commitment.

Committed marriages have the power to change communities and nations. They have the God-given power to reach into the lives of generations not yet born. Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to take control of our marriages and watch the blessings grow.

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