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Isaiah 55 & 1 Corinthians 5:9-12

We’ve had a wonderful celebration of family here today after a VBS week of over 400 kids and many dozens of workers being together and learning that Jesus has power: to provide (Hold on!), comfort, heal, forgive, and love forever. It was great week. But, at the end of the week, a big decision came down from our nation’s Supreme Court about marriage and family that we really cannot ignore as we gather this weekend. We need God’s power to guide us through these coming days, months and years.

It was a decision that the constitutional definition of marriage is to include not only a man and a woman but also people of the same sex. I believe that I should let you know my perspective as your Senior Pastor on this development. Simply stated: I want us to honor God as a church by following God’s Word while at the same time calling all people to faith in Jesus and offering them loving welcome into the church. But, let me tell you with as much humility as I can muster: We’ll need some time to work through how both of these things will work out in our world. After millennia of history in which every culture and every society has thought about marriage as including both a man and woman, we now have to come to grips with the fact that our nation’s Supreme Court has declared that marriage will be viewed constitutionally in a different way.

I’ve been here in Southern CA long enough to know that we who reside here have very differing opinions about that decision. And I’m quite sure that not everyone who attends LAC agrees about how we should view this decision. I’m guessing that some are angry or afraid and want to run to the North Pole (or some such place) to get away from the things happening in our world. Others are rejoicing and thinking that at last you or someone you care about will find acceptance in our nation. And still others are simply confused about what you should think. Maybe, you even came to church hoping I would say something worth saying about the institution of marriage and what’s happened in our nation.

So, where do we start? I believe that Jesus’ greatest command can help us: We are to love God -- and that means in the Bible that we love God in such a way that we want our lives to keep his commands. And Jesus said we are to love people – as Jesus loved. But how do those two things fit together? So, with all that said, let’s begin.

#1: My Priority: I am going to seek to trust and obey God and call us as a church to do the same.

Those who follow Jesus always start our reflections by looking to God. And, on matters like this, I find help in Isaiah 55 in which God says: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.”

So, I must ask you: Do you believe that? Really? Are God’s ways better with regard to how you use your money? The occupation you study for? The way you spend your time? The way you practice sex?

When we begin a complex and controversial discussion like this one, I must always ask about whether you truly believe that God is good – that when he says, “Live this way and not that,” he is to be trusted?

I wrestle with this question almost every day – yes, even though I am a pastor. In the most difficult times of my life, e.g., when Chris and I lost our daughter, and then later when I lost my only brother because of a drunk driver running into him, or even later when my Mom developed Alzheimer’s disease, I looked at John 14 and read Jesus saying, “Don’t let your heart be troubled. You trust God. Trust me. I know where I’m going and I’m going to prepare a place for you. I know what I’m doing and I’m doing it for you. Trust me.” I had a decision to make in such times, i.e., whether to live by faith in him or not.

In case you don’t know, that’s what being a Christian is all about. It’s about faith – trusting Jesus. When I face a temptation to do something I know the Bible says is wrong, I’m faced with a choice. Everything inside my being might feel, “Greg, you’ll really enjoy it if you do that!” But, I read the Bible and God says, “At the end of the day, you won’t. I love you, Greg. Doing that thing is not how you should live.” When that happens, I’m faced with a choice, i.e., will I trust my own cravings or will I trust God?

In my whole life as a Christian, I have been growing in my confidence that trusting God is good. He created you and me and knows how he made us to live – and I’m going to seek to obey him and trust him and, as Sr. Pastor, I’ll call you to do the same.

Now, back to the Supreme Court decision: I cannot get away from the fact that God created marriage to be what my brothers and sisters in Christ have always said it is, i.e., including both a man and a woman. I love Jesus and, if you’ve read about him, you know Jesus loved people – especially those who felt marginalized in the world – he welcomes all ethnicities, all backgrounds, all occupations, etc. But, that same loving Jesus would always insist that we find our lives by making him Lord.

So, let’s look at what Jesus said about marriage in Matthew 19:4-6: Jesus was in a discussion with some religious leaders who were undermining the way God wants marriage to be lasting and faithful commitments. The issue Jesus dealt with was a bit different from what’s being discussed in our society right now but the basis of his answer was the one I’m starting with, i.e., God created marriage to be lived out in a certain way as a part of his “higher ways”. But, many in Jesus’ day were finding it too hard to be sexually faithful to one person in a marriage and were trying to make it easy to get a divorce. Listen to Jesus’ words:

“Haven’t you read,” Jesus 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.”

This is how Jesus envisioned marriage. Of course, the kind of marriage Jesus envisioned has fallen on tough times in the world (and that’s been true for many centuries). Many things attack Jesus’ understanding of marriage:

• Most of us – perhaps all of us – have experienced divorce ourselves, among our friends and/or in our families. I find that no one who has stood before the altar and made marriage vows is thinking, “I hope this doesn’t work out.” But, for so many, the vows are broken and about ½ of the “traditional marriages” in the US end in divorce.

• Most of us – perhaps all of us – have experienced strong temptations to be unfaithful to God’s teaching in our sexual practice. The Bible is clear that sex is to be a part of the marriage covenant. But, let’s be clear: Many who show up at churches this weekend have engaged in – and probably are currently engaging in – sexual practices that are not in keeping with God’s higher ways.

• And, of course, the major reality we are dealing with now is that our nation’s Supreme Court has rendered a decision that has taken away the necessity of a marriage including the diversity of both a man and a woman as a part of the legal definition of marriage.

Here’s our situation: What has changed in the Supreme Court decision on Friday is the legal definition of marriage in our nation. So, increasingly now, in public usage, the term marriage will probably mean something quite different from what the Bible means when it uses that term. So, in a Bible-guided church like ours, we’re beginning a process of figuring out how to navigate that.

I believe that we get some help from the early church on this matter. The early Christians had to figure out how to speak about moral matters in Bible times when the Bible’s moral positions were very different from society’s. And, what happened was that the distinctive quality of Christian marriages in the Greek and Roman world was one thing that drew people to the Christian faith. That might help guide us. If we have strong and growing marriages in our churches like the Bible calls for, then we have evidence from history that many in the world will see it and long for it.

But, something new is happening for us with the recent court decision that was not true of Bible times. We now live in a society that is increasingly post-Christian while the early Christians were living in pre-Christian societies. In our nation, things like the meaning of a marriage were once influenced significantly by the Bible and by the church – but no more. What do we do in a nation that is increasingly post-Christian? These are unnavigated waters for the church. How do we live lives that show our love for God and our love for people in the world as it now is? Again, those two commands are clear to me: We must love God – His Word will guide us. And we must love people. That’s what we must do. So, let’s think about those:

#2: Loving God: We will follow Scripture – not culture – in our understanding and practice of marriage.

We’re involved now in a process of how to hold onto biblical marriage while we live in relationship with those who have a different understanding. Let me show you briefly parts of two documents that apply here:

• Statement of Faith, Article 2: The Bible is... the ultimate authority for what we believe and for how we live. Therefore, the Bible is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

• LAC Marriage Document: We believe, based on the teaching of the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments, that marriage is an institution ordained by God from the foundation of the world and intended as a lifelong union of one man and one woman... Therefore, the policy guiding the practice of this local church will be to view "marriage" as an institution involving a covenant between a man and a woman.

I’m sure this policy doesn’t surprise you. This is what Christians have always held to – everywhere in the world and throughout all time. It’s been on our website for years! Now, note this: We’ll need to keep coming back to Scripture to make sure we are reading the teaching correctly – because it’s the Bible and not our policy that ultimately guides us. But, as far as we can understand what the Bible teaches, we will obey it. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And I do love him.

#3: Loving People: We will seek to reflect the ways of Jesus in how we relate to people in the world

This is going to be quite a challenge. How do we know how to obey God’s Word and love a world that disagrees with it? I’ll give you two principles to begin the discussion and then see how God leads us.

Principle 1: We will hold one another to God’s moral standards without taking negative shots at the people in our world who do not know him.

A passage that is of tremendous importance to us in this is 1 Corinthians 5:9-12. It’s one that I’m afraid some churches have ignored as our churches have grown to be quite big over the centuries. Paul was speaking about how to deal with those whose moral views differ from those in the church. He knew we had to call people in the church to live according to God’s morality. But how do we speak of those who are not Christians? This is what Paul says:

I wrote to you not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (from 1 Corinthians 5:9-13a)

I find Paul’s words to be remarkably relevant to our current situation. When we give our lives to Jesus, all of us say we are ready to “deny ourselves, take up our crosses him and follow him fully.” Then we have to help one another to do that in a loving church family. But we don’t take shots at those who are trying to find life without God. People who are not alive to the goodness of our God and who do not have his Spirit dwelling within cannot be expected to accept God’s definitions and to live ways counter to the ways of the world. It just won’t happen. But, if we live God’s way and it is beautiful, then people will be drawn to the beauty of Jesus and to the abundant life found in him. Paul’s words here in I Corinthians are very clear. We confront one another’s sins in a loving Christian community and hold one another accountable as we grow in our faith. But, we don’t bunker into our communities and shout judgment out to a world that is not yet alive to God.

Principle 2: The Life of Jesus Shows Us How to Live for God in a World that Does Not Know Him and does not agree with us.

I summarize this way of Jesus with four phrases: 1) be ready, 2) enter in, 3) call to and 4) walk with.

Four Parts of Jesus Interactions across Society’s Divisions

1) Be ready – Nail down what you believe and find words to express it.

2) Enter in – Be with people who disagree with you, respect them, and listen. This requires:
* Incarnational listening – we have to be there ready to listen.
* Intellectual hospitality – others must know that we truly are interested in their perspectives.
* Humble curiosity – This is Gary Haugen’s of the International Justice Mission’s term for the humility to say, “I have some deeply held convictions about this – but I really want to hear what you have to say.”

3) Call to – A time will come when you will have to ask people to follow Jesus as Lord.

4) Walk with – No one can grow to live for God in this world – on their own.

God has placed us in this world for such a time as this. We are to give witness to him in this world. What an opportunity! Those who follow Jesus and the Bible’s teaching have a heightened opportunity to demonstrate the attractiveness of loving Christian marriages and families. We must renew our commitment to the sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness to which Jesus calls all husbands and wives to demonstrate.

Let’s also recognize that if we’re right about marriage, and I believe we are, many people eventually will be disappointed in getting what they want. Many of our neighbors believe that a redefined concept of marriage will simply expand the institution (and, let’s be honest, many will want it to keep on expanding).

As Washington Post columnist, Russell Moore wrote last Friday following the Supreme Court decision:

“There are two sorts of churches that will not be able to reach the kind of world we are in with the good news of God’s love: 1) A church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality, and has nothing to say to a fallen world. And 2) a church that screams with outrage at those who disagree with us.”

So, this is our challenge: We must live in our world both with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our biblical views and love those who may hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with the confidence, courage and compassion of Jesus – and we must practice what we preach. We must say what Jesus has revealed abut marriage, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life to all – yes, to all who will follow him by faith.

To His glory,

Dr. Greg Waybright
Senior Pastor

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Greg Waybright • Copyright 2015, Lake Avenue Church