Let’s Redefine Marriage… the Right Way

In America, we come at marriage the wrong way. We assume that marriage legitimacy depends upon a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper, which often gets tucked away in a drawer, serves as proof that we have, in fact, said some vows.

But at the first wedding, there was no paper. There was God, a man, and a woman. No one signed a sheet of paper, got a notary stamp, or surrendered money to a clerk. And when Isaac married Rebekah, there was also no solemn, sealed piece of parchment necessary. (There wasn’t even a cake.)

You see, the biblical view of marriage dispenses with paper altogether. And that’s not because it’s somehow lesser than government-sanctioned unions. In fact, this lack of paper means that God intended more.

A marriage the Bible way is about covenant, a promise that only ends when hearts stop beating. Paper marriages can get tossed out by the same legal machinations that set them up. Covenants are serious. So serious that God gets involved.

We too often get this backward. When we think of marriage, we think ceremony and paper and tax benefits. But God’s intention for marriage is a three-fold cord—with a man and a woman joined together in Christ.

When we say that the government is destroying the sanctity of marriage, this isn’t completely accurate. Civil marriages are not God-marriages. They’re legally recognized unions. An “evolving view” of civil marriage simply means the government is altering what it does and does not accept for tax purposes. They’re changing forms and paper.

But no government can change what God made. A true covenant marriage has nothing to do with taxes, and everything to do with God revealing Christ through us, through the joining of the husband and wife. Covenant marriage points to Jesus like this: husband + wife = Christ + Church. It’s a big deal.

Let’s be blunt here. The governments of this world have long condoned marriages that had nothing to do with covenant, nothing to do with what God meant. When two unbelievers marry, for example, they’re not revealing the mystery of Christ and His Church. The supposed “redefining” of marriage isn’t new; it’s old. Since Noah’s day, according to Jesus.

Things called marriage have existed for thousands of years. But not all things called marriage are true covenants with God involved.

We need to put this in the right perspective. Covenant marriages have nothing to do with a government. The justification is higher—way higher. Governments like to get involved so that they can gather the profits and regulate such unions, but they can’t change what God intended.

So, no matter what presidents (or even priests) say marriage must be, they’re only commenting on civil, temporary, and earthly matters. They’re changing what can be allowed on a piece of paper. Paper that may one day be shredded or burned or stuck in a birdcage.

But God’s definition for the covenant of marriage never stops being the same. It’s continued through floods and towers and rising-to-fall empires. It’ll stand through “tolerance and equality” just the same. We’d do well to remember that.

Marriage doesn’t start with paper. True covenant marriage starts with God.

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A Variation on Psalm 1: Like the Rain

You let rain bead down your nose and don’t
Wipe it away. You like the taste. That Word
Sits heavy in your head, falling out when you
Talk—or don’t. You’re good crazy, the kind
That doesn’t lock the door when it’s cloudy.
You planted a pumpkin in the flower box
On a Sunday afternoon, and now it’s
Growing. You feel like that, growing in
Unexpected places and still—somehow—making
Pumpkins. You God-please.

But a decade ago, you huddled inside away from
The November rain. And yet it still beat against
The window nonstop. You hated it. It hated you.

God didn’t stop the rain. He made you like it.

Go Away, Lord!

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

Here’s the truth. There have been times in my life when I’ve wanted God to just go away. Now, don’t act shocked. I’m no different than Peter … or Isaiah before him … or Adam and Eve before him. Like all of those God-dodgers, I’ve been exposed, naked before my Creator, and I don’t like it.

The reason why is simple: being exposed means seeing my dirt. I look down and suddenly God’s showing me what I really look like. There’s narcissism splattered on my chest, little white lies running down my arms, and impurity gunking up my legs. I’m tangled and tattered, twisted and torn. And all of this because God’s pure awesomeness shines right through the things I’ve put up to cover all that.

He’s not fooled.

So, I do exactly what most of us do … if we’re honest with ourselves. Instead of asking Him to draw closer and peel off the layers of grime, I try to block out the light and withdraw. You see, that whole draw-close-to-me-and-I’ll-draw-close-to-you thing works. Maybe it works too well. Because when it works, God does more than just hang out. He points out. He speaks out. He makes us miserable about the sin we hide or ignore.

It’s no wonder Isaiah cried out in anguish when He saw God and God saw him. His filthy mouth couldn’t be ignored anymore. And it’s no wonder Peter asked Jesus to go away. His lifestyle could no longer be justified with deity in his boat.

I love that the Bible doesn’t try to prettify these flawed people. God’s Word lays it out there with all the grit and grime intact. I love that because it makes Scripture seem immediate, in my face. I can’t pretend that my flaws are nothing to worry about when God makes sure I see theirs. In all their cowardly glory. Just like mine.

So, what’s God’s response to all this … to my hiding, to my wanting Him to go away? Really, it boils down to this: “Get some courage, man; I’ve got work for you to do.” Or, if you want to be technical, here’s what Jesus said to the cowering Peter: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you’ll catch men.”

I’m flawed; I’m fickle. Sometimes, I just want God to leave me alone to wallow in my filth. But He’s not so easily put off. Just like with Peter, He stands me up and sends me on my way. My humanness doesn’t keep Him from using me to share His good news—scars, bruises, and all. Even if sometimes I’d rather He not shine so much light on them.

Mind Blown

Thinking about God sometimes pushes me to the limits. Wrestling with a Being who is everywhere at once, eternal, uncreated, three-in-one, one-in-three—such thoughts reach the limits of what gray matter can do.

And I love it.

I love not being able to put God in a box and slam it shut. I love not having a full picture of our Maker because no one can. The stress of it pushes me forward, compels me to keep digging and learning. It’s like the tension in a novel that moves the plot. I have to keep turning the pages because I need to know who God is.

If His attributes make my mind reach its limits, grace blows it wide open. This unfathomable Creator loves a limited, weak, flawed, failing, messed up, complaining human. That’s enough to destroy every dendrite I have.

Consider my mind blown—and I hope yours is, too.

How to Find Rest

Unlike the things around us, rest is not humanity’s default state. We don’t fall back into rest after we’ve accomplished something. Instead, we move to the next thing that distracts us.

By rest, I don’t mean kicking up our legs while we watch football. I mean time spent focused on God’s Kingdom and not our own. I mean when we give up on the busyness of this world to recharge. In that way, it’s essentially a fast—giving up our stuff for a time to take up God’s stuff.

Rest doesn’t just happen. You don’t accidentally fall into your room, turn off your phone, and just listen to God. If you take that approach, you’ll never experience true rest. You’ll spend a few moments praising God—and then you’ll be thinking about what update you’re missing or what you need to do later.

But you need rest. When we rest, we let God show us exactly where He needs to work. We let God speak to the hurts we’ve been trying to ignore in our an update-a-picosecond culture.

Getting into the rest mentality is tough, but here’s how you can make it happen:

  • Schedule times of rest. If you don’t put it on your calendar, you won’t do it. Something else will bump it off. Tell people you’re busy, and let only real emergencies intrude. Make these times ongoing and regular if possible.
  • Prepare yourself. Before you go into a time of rest, leave a buffer. If you enter into a prayer time or Bible study right after you’ve just checked your Mint.com balances, you’re going to be thinking about that. Take a walk or spend some time clearing your mind before you go in.
  • Go in with a plan. Unfocused quiet time can often lead to meandering thoughts. I suggest making a list of things to pray about or read.
  • Watch yourself. Thanks to the Internet, your brain has been conditioned to multitask. You’ve got to make it a point to bring your mind back to what you’re doing in the present. That’s why a plan can be helpful.
  • Leave time to listen. It’s not all about talking. Sometimes you just need to wait and see if God speaks. No, I don’t mean audibly, but I do mean pointing something out to you.
  • Do something about it. If God does show you an area to work on, take notes.

Rest isn’t optional. God calls us to do it for our own good.

Seeking Adventure

At thirty, Jesus strode out of the desert and got a jolt of clarity. The Holy Spirit flashed down in the form of a dove. God spoke illuminating words of confirmation. And Jesus immediately found Himself doing exactly what He was supposed to do.

I’d take something more subtle.

The angst of entering my third decade has nothing to do with dissatisfaction or disillusionment. Unlike the mopey protagonists of literary fiction or the sullen heroes of popular fare, I have no desire to live someone else’s life or to grow fangs, sprout wolf hair, or sparkle in the sun. I love my life.

Like other Millennials, I make family time unimpeachable. I grew up with microwaved pasta in front of the TV; my kids get a dinner table and homemade bread. We spend all weekend together without someone rushing off to work, and I probably love VeggieTales as much as my two year old—maybe more.

So, what’s the nagging sense that there’s more?

Before God yanked me out of the mess I called my life, I yearned. The great adventure is stumbling under the weight of a daily cross with a gleam of white in the distance. I know that now. But I remember believing that the yearning should stop after salvation stormed in. It hasn’t.

If anything, my pursuit of the ineffable “it” has only become more intense. When I finally stopped covering my eyes so that I could see Christ, the immensity of a God-filled universe slammed into me. Instead of a mote in the vastness of space, I became a mote with the Creator’s attention. It’s an immense shift, but not one the removes the scale of all things.

I seek Him, and that’s an adventure that never ends.

Pale Blue Dot

In the image, you’re hard pressed to find the pale blue dot. Dusty bands of gold and green and crimson streak across the black background. A hazy glow mutes and granulates the picture quality to the point of distortion. For those of us living in the day of cell phone cameras with megapixels to spare, missing a tiny speck of blue in this reconstituted and magnified image isn’t that surprising.

But it’s there, a wan glimmer near the right side, a few specks of blue in the gold band. That dot, which could easily be mistaken for an imperfection of the film, is something familiar and bizarre at the same time—familiar because we live there, bizarre because we rarely get such a view of Earth.

When the Voyager 1 spacecraft turned back from roaring out of the solar system in February of 1990, it found our tiny planet to be at such a distance that barely anything showed up on film. A single blip was all that proved we exist—our lives, our buildings, our cities, our world—all in a dot.

What about God? Is His vantage point like that of Voyager 1? When He sits enthroned above our blue globe, does He simply see an insignificant speck that’s easy to ignore? To Him, are we simply a nameless mass of people who swarm and crawl over the earth?

Many people live that way—Christians and non-Christians alike. They think of God—if He exists—as some sort of white bearded being that glances impotently at our puny blue dot and generally ignores whatever’s there. God is a watcher, a powerless observer who flips through channels of Earth TV.

But when Isaiah pictures God as sitting above the circle of our world, the prophet does not reveal a passive eavesdropper more interested in Himself than our pain. Instead, God is the One who created each star and knows them all by name. That’s not impotence. That’s big.

It’s easy to think, “Yeah, He’s big. But does He see me?”

The people of Israel hoped He hadn’t in Isaiah’s day. They figured He couldn’t be troubled with a sin here or there. Unfortunately, for them, He doesn’t get tired or sleep or miss things. They couldn’t hide. Neither can we. And that’s good.

Living on a tiny planet that easily disappears in the blackness of space can seem deflating. But God’s not like us. Our most distant spacecraft can barely make out the rock we call our home, but He has no such trouble. He sees each of us with perfect clarity.

More amazing is that He loves what He sees.

He doesn’t sit and stare or get a kick out of human suffering. He gives power to the faint, strength to the weak, and flight to the fallen. And at one point in human history, He zoomed in on this pale blue dot, getting close enough to walk over the dust and taste the sting of death.