FAITHFUL | 40 Days of Focus, Day 14


“You shall not commit adultery.”
(Exodus 20:14)

We’ve all heard the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Actually, that’s a myth. First, in no way does that mean your particular marriage only has a 50% chance of lasting a lifetime. It simply means that at one point in our nation’s history (a couple decades ago now) for every 2 marriages in a given year, there was 1 divorce. The divorce rate was half that of the marriage rate.

This phenomenon occurred on the heels of court rulings that gave women more authority and control in filing for divorce proceedings. When women were given the chance, they were finally able to end a bad marriage. Imagine being stuck in an abusive marriage, or knowing your spouse is sleeping around, and not being able to do anything about it.

In reality, however, the divorce rate has been on the decline – dropping around 18% over the past decade? Why? Because newly married young people are staying together longer. True, fewer young adults are currently married than ever before (functioning under the mindset of ‘if it’s just going to end in divorce, then why bother?’). But those who do choose to get married are remaining more faithful to each other than comparative couples of previous generations.

This may come as no surprise, but infidelity is still listed as the top specific reason for divorce at nearly 30%. Unfortunately those statistics are not much different for couples inside the church.

The positive intention behind the prohibition is to uphold and honor the covenant of marriage. God railed against the apathetic treatment of wedding vows in the prophetic book of Malachi.

Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.
(Malachi 2:15-16)

Did you catch that line? The man who hates and divorces his wife does violence to the one he should protect. This is where we need to speak wisdom into the subject of adultery, unfaithfulness, and divorce. Adultery does not JUST mean sexual immorality. Adultery is not JUST about sex. Adultery is about breaking a covenant. Israel was often called an “adulterous” nation for breaking their covenant with God by worshiping other gods, mistreating the poor, abusing the sacrificial system, taking advantage of people through unbalanced weights and measures, etc.

Israel was in a covenant with God. They broke that covenant and were labeled “adulterers.” Marriage is not just a financial or social institution. It’s a covenantal arrangement between a man, a woman, and God. To break that covenant is to commit adultery – by sleeping around, by abusing your spouse, by neglecting them, and by “doing violence against the one you should protect.” Marriage is so much more than sex. So is adultery.

In the days of Jesus there was a great debate on this issue. Some took the side of Rabbi Hillel who taught that a man could divorce his wife for basically any reason. He emphasized the phrase “who becomes displeasing to him.” Others took the side of Rabbi Shammai who taught that marital unfaithfulness was the only legal grounds for divorce. Whose side did Jesus take?

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘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 flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
(Matthew 19:3-9)

Even though Jesus wasn’t married, he upheld the importance of marriage. Faithfulness to one’s spouse goes hand in hand with one’s faithfulness to God. That’s why Jesus said such radical things as this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
(Matthew 5:27-30)

In other words, don’t even think about cheating on your wife. Don’t even think about sleeping around with men who aren’t your husband. Because eventually thoughts will become actions. People often leave their partners in the head long before they leave them in the bed.

You can see why these commandments are so important. God wanted to ensure a thriving society for his people. When cultures fail to honor their family commitments, when they treat human life as expendable, and when they cease to uphold their wedding vows, society begins to break down. Life, marriage, family – these things should be honored and kept sacred for our own good and the good of society. This is why I try to live up to Jesus’ standard and put into practice the words of Paul in Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
(Ephesians 5:25-33)


Have you heard people toss around the “50%” statistic in relation to marriage and divorce? How does it make you feel about marriage? Is it worth fighting for? Or is it not worth bothering?

Do you think that healthy marriages are a vital part of a healthy society? Why or why not?

In what specific ways can you embody Christ’s sacrificial love in your marriage?

Let No One Separate

On Wednesday one of our students, Lauren Woods, read a monologue that I had written for our class on Mark 10. It’s one thing to read and discuss what Jesus says about marriage and divorce. It’s another thing to imagine what kind of real world impact his words had – and continue to have today.

The monologue is based on Mark 10:1-12. The full script is below if you want to follow along or read it on your own.

Performed by Lauren Woods
Written by Daniel Lee

I remember it like it was yesterday. Every new bride is nervous in the beginning. Will he like me? Will he think I’m beautiful? Will I be able to satisfy his needs? How many children will I give him? What will our life be like? Could he ever possibly love me?
All these questions and doubts were swirling through my mind throughout the entire wedding ceremony. He seemed a nice enough man. My father had made all the arrangements with his family. He was ten years older than me. I was barely a woman – only thirteen. He had completed his training in rabbinical school. He was an expert in the Law, set to join the sect of the Pharisees. This was a BIG deal for my family.
Would I bring honor on my family through this marriage? Or would I be a shameful disappointment of a wife? Hope and fear battled within me as we were pronounced husband and wife.
Life started out like a dream. He was gentle and caring. He treated me respectfully. I did my best to tend to the household duties while he was away with the other rabbis and teachers of the law. He took his study and research very seriously. He also took our marriage seriously. He was a good man.
But one year had passed and I had not yet conceived a child. Another year passed, and then another. He was growing resentful and even angry at times. He began treating me more harshly. I couldn’t focus under all the pressure, so I began to burn the food and became more accident-prone around the house.
My worst fears came true when he first uttered the phrase, “I divorce thee.” My cheeks flushed. Tears ran down my face. I ran off to my living quarters and sobbed into my bedding. I had to do better. If he said this twice more, that would be the end.
The next day when he returned home I tried to make everything perfect. Dinner was set. The meal hot and ready when he walked across the threshold. His face softened as he reclined at the table. The tension was released, and I let out a sigh of relief. But in a moment of lapsed concentration I accidently knocked over his wine glass right onto his newest cloak.
“I divorce thee!” he shouted, swiping all the remaining dished off the table and onto the floor. He stormed out of the house and back into the market place leaving me to clean up the mess.
I had never felt more alone and scared in my life. If I messed up one more time, he could send me back to my father, bringing disgrace upon me and my entire family. What if my father refused to take me back? I would have to resort to begging…or worse.
The next morning my husband was gone before I even woke up. No note or explanation of where he had gone or what he was doing. I spent most of the morning doing the household duties through a steady stream of tears. Noon came and went. It was time to prepare his dinner. It had to be even better than before.
I made all his favorite dishes. I pulled out the best wine. Everything was perfect, an attempt to cover over my own imperfections.
I heard his voice and his footsteps as he approached. My whole body was tense as I held back more tears. I was on the verge of shaking or collapsing. This could be my last night in this house. This could be my last night as a married woman.
As he entered the doorway, I was taken aback. His whole demeanor had changed. He did not look angry or the least bit irritated. He had a charming smile across his face – the same smile he bore as he pushed back my veil for the first time. His features were softer, and there were tears forming around his eyes.
I started to direct him to the table for his meal, but he stopped me before I could say a word.
“My bride. My wife,” he said. “I…. I love you.”
I nearly fainted. He had never uttered those words. I don’t have any friends whose husbands had said that, either.
Both of us now had wet cheeks from the streams flowing from our eyes. I was stunned, unable to move. He moved first, though, sweeping in and grabbing me into his arms.
“I love you,” he whispered before his kissed me.
He set me back down and I repeated the words back to him, trembling, “I…love you, too.”
After a moment, he let go of our embrace and reclined at the table, inviting me to recline and eat with him – another first.
As he began sipping his wine and tearing off a piece of bread – which he handed to me – he broke the silence.
“I met the most amazing teacher today. You may have heard of him. The call him Rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth. My colleagues and I were in a heated discussion about marriage and divorce. I promise, I was not the one who brought it up, nor did I contribute much to the discussion. My mind was swimming. I did not want to divorce you, but it was all I knew to do. This is how I was taught. I can still hear my father’s voice, ‘The wife belongs to her husband, and he can do with her as he wishes. If she doesn’t please you, get rid of her and find a new one.’ Now I know he was completely wrong.
“In the middle of our discussion, Rabbi Yeshua came near. We wanted to test him, to see what side of the debate he was on. So, we asked him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’
“He answered by asking us what Moses said. We all knew. That was an easy one. The Law of Moses does permit a man to divorce his wife by giving her a divorce certificate. But then he said the only reason Moses permitted this was because our ancestors’ hearts were hard. He pointed us back to Genesis. When God created humankind, he created male and female. It was God who joined the first two humans together, and it is God who joins us together still today. If God has joined us together, then who are we to cause a separation?
“Rabbi Yeshua really challenged the way I thought about our marriage. It’s not just a social or economic arrangement. It’s a covenant between you, me, and God. I’ve been concerned about myself and what you can give me. But Yeshua says we should all serve each other and take care of one another – and love one another.
“So, I’m sorry about this…” He reached into his cloak and pulled out the certificate of divorce. “I already had the papers drawn up before Rabbi Yeshua came.”
Then he did the unthinkable. He tore that certificate to pieces right in front of me and tossed the remnants into the fire.
“Never again,” he said, “will I think of separating what God has joined. It’s you and me together for life, and death alone can separate us. I love you.”
The rest of the night was a blur. We still have no children, but he treats me like a queen. We do not have a perfect marriage – I don’t believe there is such a thing. But I no longer have to live with the fear that he might grow tired of me and send me away.
Not long after he met Rabbi Yeshua, the Romans arrest and crucified that great teacher. There are some who say he was raised from the dead. We did not see him, but we believe. There was never a teacher like him. We believe he is the Messiah, the Son of God. We have begun to meet weekly with the believers to pray and share a meal. Rabbi Yeshua showed us what love is, and now we try to show that to others.
I thank and praise God for Rabbi Yeshua, for saving my marriage, for saving me, for saving my husband, and for changing the way we see the world.

You don’t know me?

On Monday I will be celebrating my third wedding anniversary with my wife. It’s crazy how time flies. It’s even crazier how much has happened during those three years.

But even before we were married, we dated for 4 1/2 years. So really, we’ve been together for 7 1/2 years. We’ve been friends for 8 years.

And I would say we know each other pretty well.

We may not be able to read each other’s mind every time. And I still drop the ball on what she really wants sometimes. But she knows me better than anyone else on the planet and vice-versa.

And I definitely know her well enough to know she’s not a killer.

A couple years ago a guy known as the “Craigslist Killer” was arrested for murder, robbery, and some other charges. All the while he was living with his fiance in a small apartment in the city. They had been together for over four years, and she didn’t have a clue. She swore that he was the sweetest man she knew and that he could never hurt a fly.

She was wrong. She didn’t really know him at all.

In John 14, Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father and that would be enough for him to believe what Jesus is saying. Jesus responds, “You’ve been with me all this time and you still don’t know me?”

Philip and the disciples had been with Jesus for at least 3 years. Day in and day out — traveling, eating, witnessing miracles, listening to his teachings, attending feasts and parties. They had left everything behind so that they could follow Jesus wherever he went. They knew Jesus better than anyone else on the planet.

But they didn’t know him at all.

They still didn’t get who he was or what he came to do.

However, the same question could be asked about the reader of John’s gospel. “You have been with me for so long and you still don’t know me?”

The main purpose of John’s gospel is that people may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in his name (John 20:31). Jesus makes 7 bold I AM statements, using his words to reveal who he is and what God is doing through him. Jesus also performs 7 miracles. John calls them “signs.” Each of these sayings and signs were meant to point the audience to the true revelation of God in Jesus.

The disciples were with Jesus for 3 years. The reader (that’s you) has been with Jesus through the length of the gospel.

Have you seen Jesus? Then you’ve seen God. Do you know Jesus? Then you know God.

Place Prepared

Once again, human calculations and predictions about the end of the world, the return of Christ, the parousia if you want to sound fancy, have amounted to nothing more than hype and media coverage.

And this Sunday I’m preaching on John 14. How fitting.

Jesus has just dropped a bombshell on the dinner conversation. He’s going to die. He’s going to leave them and they can’t come yet. What’s more, Peter, the confession-giving, water-walking, sword-slinging disciple was just told that he will deny the very Christ he proclaims to defend. If Peter’s faith will fail, what chance do the others have?

But Jesus reassures them. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled; don’t fret; don’t worry; don’t let all this confusion and doubt stand in your way. You believe in God, right? Then believe in me, too. My Father’s house has many room, plenty of dwelling places, and I’m going to prepare a place for you. Yes, you. So if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you back with me. That way, where I am there you can be there, too. But until then, you know the way to where I’m going.”

We read that, and it seems like a nice sentiment. It’s heartwarming to know that Jesus has promised to come back and get us one day.

But what impact would this have had on the disciples?

The imagery Jesus uses is actually that of a man and woman who are to be married. In Jewish custom, there is an engagement, a betrothal, and marriage. The engagement is the initial “we’re going to be married one day” phase. Following that is the betrothal. During this time, the bride and groom would be separated for as long as a year while the groom made all the preparations for his future family. This would often be done by adding onto the home of the groom’s parents. Jewish families were very patronistic in that multiple generations would be living under the roof of the father.

After this betrothal period–after all the carpets were installed, all the curtains were hung, all the walls painted–the groom would come again, get his bride, and bring her back into the home. This would begin the official marriage.

Do you notice what Jesus is doing here?

There were some dangers involved in such a long separation period. For instance, the woman, left on her own, could end up falling in love with some other man. This would certainly bring a halt to the impending marriage. On the other hand, the man could never return. In the BC era (before cellphones), someone could get sick or injured without family ever knowing about it. There was the potential risk of something tragic happening to the groom as he is making preparations. If he were not to return, the woman would be left as essentially a husbandless married woman.

But Jesus gives us the reassurance that he WILL come again and bring us home. The ball is in our court. Are we going to remain a faithful bride eagerly awaiting the return of her groom? Or will our eyes begin to stray as we look for other people/places/things to fill our desires or loneliness?

Don’t be afraid or anxious. We will not be left as a widow. Our groom will come again one day. They are now saying this will happen in October. If so, great! But if not, I’ll continue on my journey along the way to where Jesus is.

God hates….?

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Westoboro Baptist Church, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so. In which case, stop it! There are much more comfortable places to live.

This small group of mostly relatives “worships” in Topeka, Kansas, and protests, well, just about everywhere else. There is a documentary I watched recently, Fall From Grace, which follows and interviews members of this church. The travel around the country protesting and picketing at different events (including military funerals) and places (including synagogues and other churches). One of their most common three-word-signs is “God Hates Fags.” And I hate using that word. It pains me to type it.

That’s a strong accusation. They blame homosexuality for most of the catastrophes and hardships that befall the US, such as Katrina and 9/11.

The most unfortunate thing is that these people are not the only so-called Christians who have bought into the lie that God hates homosexuals. I have heard the same rhetoric from televangelists, evangelical pastors, even some of my own brothers in Christ.

But does God really hate homosexuals? In fact, does God hate anybody?

Not according to the Bible.

I did a search for any passage in which God specifically says that He hates something/someone. I could only find the phrase “I hate” spoken by God in the prophets. And who are the prophets mostly railing against? The corrupt religious leaders and complacent followers.

Most of the things God hates include festivals, worship assemblies, and sacrifices which are carried out by people who mistreat, oppress, and exploit their fellow man. One thing we can be sure of is that God hates the worship of those who practice injustice.

The only other thing I could find that God specifically says that he hates is…divorce. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He hates it when men mistreat their wives. They are unpleased by their wives, so they dump them on the side of the road without a penny to their name and no way of making a living. God hates divorce.

He doesn’t hate people who are divorced. He simply hates to see His covenant taken lightly and then broken.

If the Westboro Baptist Church wanted to picket and protest divorce court, I think they would have a more biblical basis for their actions. But only if they preached and worshiped while practicing justice and righteousness, which I don’t see them doing any time soon.

God loves covenental relationships. Marriage is the first covenant established between God and man. And God hates to see his covenants tossed aside as if they didn’t matter.

Huh…Who Knew?

I just read this interesting NY Times opinion article about the importance of monogamy in America. The author is not necessarily pushing for the religiously conservative save-yourself-for-marriage type of monogamy, but he points out a surprising trend occurring in the sexual lives of teens and young adults.

Stats show that in 2002 only 22% of those age 15-24 were virgins. That percentage rose to 28% in 2008. He goes on to say, Successful abstinence-based programs (yes, they do exist) don’t necessarily make their teenage participants more likely to save themselves for marriage. But they make them more likely to save themselves for somebody, which in turn increases the odds that their adult sexual lives will be a source of joy rather than sorrow.”

Across the board, teens are not exactly saving themselves for marriage, but they are waiting longer and being more choosy. This also correlates to recent finds that show, a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression.”

Is everything perfect? No. And it never will be. But mankind has a tendency to learn the hard way what God has already told us.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:18