|The Ring | Knockdowns|
|August 25, 2012|
The Ring: Week 6
Nicki and I have been married 15 years. We celebrated our 15th anniversary in June. I wasn’t what the traditional name for #15 was, so I looked it up. I knew that the 25th anniversary is the silver anniversary. 50 years is the golden anniversary. I wasn’t sure about #15, so I looked it up. It’s crystal. That’s not too bad, I guess. Nicki and I just celebrated our crystal anniversary. That could be worse.
In case you’re wondering where you are in the traditional anniversaries, I found a few others that I thought were interesting. If you’ve been married one year, you have reached your paper anniversary.
2 years is your cotton anniversary.
3 is your leather anniversary.
If you make it all the way to five years, you are celebrating your wood anniversary.
10 years is tin or aluminum.
And then, if you go all the way to the other end of the spectrum, like to your 90th anniversary, stone.
That seems kind of anti-climactic, doesn’t it? At 25 years, you were silver. At 50, you were gold. Now, at 90 years of marriage, you’re a rock. Something seems a little off there.
Like I said, Nicki and I are now crystal. We’ve been married 15 years. But no matter how long it’s been, I will always remember our trip to the Brown County courthouse to get our marriage license. We were young. We were in love. And we were oh so ignorant. We have no idea what we were doing. We just wandered aimlessly into the courthouse. Not knowing where to go, we wandered up a flight of stairs.
We finally ran into a courthouse employee and I asked her, “Is this where we get a marriage license?” She smiled and said, “No, that’s downstairs. We marry ‘em down there. We divorce ‘em up here.”
I left thinking, “Has it really become that easy? Divorce is as easy as walking up a flight of stairs?”
Our culture and our court system may want us to believe it’s that easy, but anyone who has been divorced will tell you otherwise. It is a lot of things, but easy isn’t one of them.
Today we’re tackling the toughest message in this series. This is the sixth message in our series called The Ring. We’ve been talking about marriage for over a month, and there has been some tough stuff. But nothing tougher than what we’re tackling today.
We’ve called this series The Ring because that’s what it seems to feel like so often. In so many marriages, there are fights and disagreements and strife. A lot of people feel like they’ve been really beat up because of this thing called marriage.
Today, we’re getting to the toughest part. What happens when marriage knocks you to the mat and you’re not even sure you can get up again?
What happens when trust is destroyed? Through infidelity? Or addiction? Or deception? And what happens if things have already completely fallen apart and divorce is now the reality that you’re living with?
What happens when you get knocked down in the ring? That’s what we’re talking about today. It’s going to incredibly intense today, so let me pray for us as we get started.
Let’s begin at the beginning, because that’s always a good place to start. When we’re talking about marriage, we have to start with this: God designed marriage to be a lifelong, one-and-done proposition.
In Mark 10, Jesus Himself said, “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 flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:6-9, NIV)
This is God’s original design for marriage. But obviously things got all messed up once sin made its entrance into the world. When you read the Bible, you read about all kinds of people involved in polygamy. There are stories of incest and rape. There are stories of adultery and divorce. It sounds like our culture today, but we’re talking about stuff that is in the Bible. It didn’t take long for God’s original design for marriage to fly out the window.
That’s why Jesus takes us all the way back to the beginning. To the Garden of Eden. To Adam and Eve. And Jesus reminds us, “This is the way it was supposed to be.”
Any discussion of marriage has to start with that premise. If you don’t start there, you’re not starting anywhere. Marriage was designed to be a faithful, monogamous, lifelong relationship.
In Malachi 2, the Bible says, “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 2:16, NIV)
God equates marital unfaithfulness and divorce to violence. It is the violent ripping apart of what God has joined together, and it hurts.
And let’s be honest…there is more than one kind of unfaithfulness. Sexual infidelity is obvious. But you can be unfaithful in your finances. Unfaithful in your devotion and affection. Unfaithful in your parenting. Unfaithful in any area of your marriage that you can imagine.
Regardless of the form that it takes, it is a violent assault on what God has joined together. And there are a lot of people in this room who know that all too well, because you’re wearing the scars from this violent encounter. You stepped in the ring, and you got knocked down hard. It hurt then. It still hurts now.
It hurts because things have happened that went against God’s plan and design. When we rebel against the will of our Creator, pain is a guarantee to follow. It’s just a fact. When you rebel against the Lord’s will, you will hurt.
But just because hurt is present does not mean that hope is absent. To believe that hope is absent is to disbelieve the Bible.
I want to be as honest as I can with you about your situation. If you are divorced, if there has been marital unfaithfulness, if something huge has happened and your marriage has been knocked to the mat…I’m not going to sugarcoat things. But I’m also not going to try to distort what the Bible says. According to the Bible, hope is still available.
We explored this verse last week, but we’re going to bring it back out again today. In Romans 15, the Bible says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NIV)
Look at how the Apostle Paul identifies God in this verse. Who is God? He is the God of hope. Hope isn’t what God gives…it is who God is. He is the God of hope. This is His identity. Unfortunately, when it comes to God, for a lot of us it’s a case of mistaken identity.
Last month our family vacationed in Tennessee. One day during our vacation, I took Ryan tubing down a river in the mountains. It was awesome. We had an absolute blast.
But one thing that did make me a little uncomfortable was the fact that I couldn’t keep up with Ryan. We would go through this shallow parts of the river and I’d drag the bottom and get stuck. But because Ryan is so light, his tube wouldn’t hit the bottom and he kept cruising right along.
This happened several times. And one of the times when it happened, I almost went out of my mind for a split second. Ryan was ahead of me and I was paddling like crazy to catch up to him. Ryan went around this little bend in the river and I lost sight of him. When I came around the bend, I immediately saw it. Ryan was only a few feet away from a big black animal.
Now, keep in mind where we were. On a river in the mountains of Tennessee. When you see a big black animal, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? A bear!
Ryan was actually floating backwards, so he didn’t know the animal was there. He was only a few feet from this animal. And I was pretty far behind him, so there was nothing I could do. For that split second, I freaked.
Then I figured out that the big black animal was a cow! There was a farm right on the back on the river and this cow had come down for a drink.
But for that split second, I felt totally helpless and hopeless…and it was all because of a case of mistaken identity.
When we have a mistaken identity about God, it causes us to feel helpless and hopeless. To know who God truly is, we have to look to the Bible. And the Bible clearly says that He is the God of hope.
God is not the God of divorce. He is not the God of marital strife. He is not the God of unfaithfulness or abuse. He is the God of hope. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then He can resurrect you. And if you allow Him, He can resurrect your marriage.
Rick Warren said, “God never wastes a hurt.” Maybe the hurt was done to us. Maybe it was self-inflicted. But God is in the business of using our hurts, not wasting them.
In Romans 8, the Bible says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)
I’ve pointed this out before, but I want to say it again. Notice that this verse doesn’t say that all things are good. It doesn’t say that all things we experience are good. But it does say that God works all things for our good.
Whatever has happened in your life, whatever has happened in your marriage, God can bring something good out of it. But we also have to understand that if we’re going to fully receive those good things, we have to partner with Him. We have to be obedient to Him. We have to repent and turn to Him.
In Acts 3, the Bible says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19, NIV)
In this one verse, we see what God does and what we do. What we do is repent. And this verse very conveniently defines what repentance is. “Repent and turn to God.” That’s repentance. To repent means to turn around. To do a 180°. To turn away from our destructive sinful lifestyle and turn toward God.
A lot of Christians only focus on half of that equation. It’s all about turning away from sin. These are the Christians that have their guns loaded with guilt and judgment and condemnation. Whenever they are in the presence of a “sinner,” they are lightning quick on the draw.
When it comes to repentance, it’s important to know what we turn FROM…but it is infinitely more important to know who we turn TO.
We turn to the God of hope. We turn to the One who gave His life for us. We turn to the One who overcame the grace to give us a new life. We turn to Jesus. And when Jesus is part of the equation, there is no such thing as a lost cause. The word “hopeless” gets ripped right out of our vocabulary.
But for this to happen, we have to turn to God fully. Completely. Absolutely. Nothing held back.
And it’s amazing how much that doesn’t happen. To repent doesn’t just mean saying, “I’m sorry.” That’s remorse. Remorse is not repentance.
Repentance means, “God, I’m turning to You. I’m fully submitting to you. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. Whatever you want me to leave behind, I’ll leave behind.”
Now, let’s apply that to the huge marriage problems that some of us are facing. I personally know of marriages that have survived seasons of unbelievable, devastating pain. I know of marriages that have survived financial ruin. I know of marriages that have survived infidelity. I’ve personally witnessed marriages that made it through stuff that, by all accounts, they should have never made it through. But every one of them had one thing in common…true, complete brokenness and repentance. These marriages survived because they were willing to do whatever it takes to turn to God and to turn away from sin.
In the case of infidelity, that meant breaking every single tie with “the other man” or “the other woman.” The spouse who committed adultery was bound to never see, speak to, email, text this person ever again. EVER. Anything short of that isn’t true repentance. It’s not turning fully to God. You have turned TOWARD God, but that’s not enough. You have to turn TO God. Anything short of a complete 180° turn isn’t repentance because you can still catch a glimpse of your former lifestyle. Even if you can see it in your peripheral vision, that’s all it takes.
I’ve seen broken couples whose marriage was saved through counseling. But it only worked when both of them was fully committed to the process. If one of them had to be dragged there, they might as well not go. True, full repentance hasn’t happened.
I’m completely serious when I say that I personally know of marriages that should not have made it. But I’m also completely serious when I say that the only reason they have made it is because of the commitment to absolute repentance.
If you are in danger of losing your marriage, this is the only way it will change. Both people 100% committed to turning to God. All the way. Nothing held back. They don’t even want to have a glimpse of their former life. They turn completely around. They turn completely to God.
And when true, complete repentance happens, look at what God does. Read this verse from Acts 3 again. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord...” (Acts 3:19, NIV)
When we completely repent…when we completely turn to God…our sins are wiped out. And times of refreshing come from the Lord.
I’ve seen this verse play out in a lot of troubled marriages. You look at what they were then…in trouble, hurting, seemingly hopeless…and then you look at where they are now…thriving, alive, refreshed. This verse isn’t just words on a page in our Bibles. This actually happens in real life. It happens in real marriages.
It can even happen after a divorce. A lot of times when people are divorced, they are blackballed by a lot of Christians. And I’m not trying to minimize what the Bible says about divorce. I showed you some straight, hard-hitting stuff from Scripture regarding divorce. Divorce does dishonor God. It does hurt people. It is a sin. But nowhere does the Bible say it’s an unforgivable sin. Nowhere does it say that if you’re divorced, there’s no hope left for you.
If Jesus can’t forgive the sin of divorce, then the cross was an utter failure. Because if the blood of Jesus isn’t enough to cover that sin, then His blood isn’t enough to cover my sin and it’s not enough to cover your sin. If that’s the case, then the cross was completely worthless.
The truth is that, if there is total, complete repentance, your life can be restored and renewed. You can be forgiven and free.
In Psalm 103, the Bible says, “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — [pay close attention to this] who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…” (Psalm 103:1-4, NIV)
How many of our sins does God forgive? All of them. He forgives us completely. He heals us completely. I don’t see an exception for divorce in these verses.
Because of Jesus, there is life after divorce. There really is. His grace is sufficient to cover ALL your sins…including this one.
But, we also have to realize this. Grace doesn’t mean that there are no consequences. Yes, there is life after divorce. Yes, you can be forgiven. You can receive a second chance. But in the case of divorce, even more than most other sins, it is a hellish journey to get there.
Grace forgives us and frees us…but it doesn’t always erase earthly consequences. Things like infidelity and divorce are examples of this. You can be forgiven. You can have a second chance. But you will still pay a steep price.
In the Old Testament, David learned just how true this is. David was king of Israel. One day he was out walking on his rooftop when he saw a woman named Bathsheba taking a bath. He could have immediately turned away and that would have been it. But he lingered. He watched. He lusted. And then he summoned Bathsheba to his bedroom and he slept with her. Never mind the fact that she was married to a man in David’s army. He wanted her. He had the power to have her, so that’s exactly what he did.
Later, he found out that he had gotten Bathsheba pregnant. So he devised a battle plan for his army where her husband would be killed, which he was. David then took Bathsheba as his wife, figuring he had gotten away with everything. That is, until a prophet of the Lord named Nathan showed up.
Nathan confronted David with his sin. David was broken and repented. Full, complete, total repentance. Go home and read what David wrote in Psalm 51. Tell me he wasn’t totally repentant. David repented. He received a second chance, but that doesn’t mean there still weren’t consequences.
In 2 Samuel 12, the Bible says, “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the LORD, the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14, NIV)
Was there grace? Absolutely. Was there forgiveness? Absolutely. Was David given a second chance? Absolutely. Were there still harsh consequences? Absolutely.
When we rebel against God’s plan and design for marriage, there are consequences. If you are divorced, then you know how true this is. You know the pain. You know the burden. And you know it doesn’t ever fully go away. And the reason is that what God joined together has been pulled apart.
Every sin carries eternal consequences. If we’re not forgiven by the blood of Jesus, all sin separates us from God and all sin earns us an eternity away from God.
But it’s different in this life. In eternal life, sin all carries the same eternal consequences. But different sins have different earthly consequences. And divorce is a sin where the earthly consequences are steep. Two lives are shattered, and that’s not even taking into account the devastation that happens if there are kids involved.
That’s why the Bible doesn’t softball divorce, and it’s why I won’t softball it, either. The stakes are too high. If your marriage is in trouble, you need to pull out all the stops. Whatever it takes, you need to put absolutely everything you’ve got into saving your relationship. Every bit of time you have, every dime you own, and every prayer you can pray should be invested in saving your marriage. There has to be complete, total, absolute repentance.
But maybe the damage has been done. The trust has been shattered. Divorce is already a reality. You will endure lifelong consequences. You just will. But you also need to own this truth.
In John 10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10, NIV)
Jesus came to give life. Full life. New life. An there is no sin or struggle or shortcoming in our lives that can short-circuit that mission.
If your marriage is really struggling, maybe just barely hanging on, Jesus came to give you life.
If you are divorced, Jesus came to give you life.
For any of us…we have sinned, way more often than we could ever remember. We have missed the mark badly. We have fallen so short of God’s standard. We are broken. Jesus came to give us life.
And Jesus is telling all of us, “If you want the life that I’ve got in store for you, turn to Me. 100%, completely, absolutely…turn to Me.”
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