Grace Changes the Storyline

 

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We cheapen grace when it’s only received, but the value of grace is exponentially maximized when we give it away.  Grace will always change the storyline because it changes everything it touches, especially in marriage.  The closer the relationship the deeper the risk for pain, but this is how we bring the greatest results, for everyone.

Joseph changed his storyline the day he forgave his brothers (Genesis 37-50) when it was within his power to retaliate.  David changed his storyline by showing respect and kindness to an enemy that was trying to destroy him (2 Samuel 9), instead of going to war.

Jesus didn’t change our storylines so that we could take His grace and only receive it for ourselves, but rather so that we could share it with each other.  He gave us a real life demonstration at the cross of how this grace changes outcomes:  He showed us how to capitalize on it.

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THE POWER TO CHOOSE

Unity is the common thread that is weaved over every story where grace touches.  Grace bridges us from separation because of offence to unity and in the process makes us spiritual heroes in God’s eyes.

God gave me the power to change my own storyline from retaliation to forgiveness through the power that was bestowed on me when I received Grace.  Grace has a power that the world just doesn’t get.  It isn’t until you exercise it through giving it away that you can increase its strength and feel its empowerment.

I hear over and over again how difficult it is to step out of the euphoria of the wedding day into the reality where marriage is lived out.  I agree completely:  With some marriages, it is impossible to do – in human strength.  But when you bring a supernatural being into the picture, the view changes.

God has good plans for our marriages (Jeremiah 29:11), plans that we cannot even begin to understand (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Plans that He ordained from the beginning (Ephesians 2:10 ).  He knew all this before we were born (Psalm 139:16).  He then spends the rest of our lives renewing our minds (Ephesians 4:23) and changing our hearts (Romans 2:12) to come onside with His plan of grace.

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The Grand Design of Marriage

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I’ve heard it said that the main purpose of marriage is to drive us closer to Christ.  And although that sounds like an epic and beautiful sentiment, I don’t see how I can get any closer to Christ than His presence inside me.  Also, what about the people not married yet, or the ones that never marry?  With this application that would mean they don’t get driven closer to Christ?  No, that can’t be right.

Ok, there is some truth there:  Marriage does maximize pressure on people because they live in close proximity to each other, day in day out.  This pressure in life pushes sin to the surface and in turn, our actions affect those closest to us, but that’s far from being the grand purpose or design of marriage.  Having teenage kids or a difficult roommate, or any number of stressors in life can drive you to seek Christ.

In order to find the main purpose of marriage, we have to be transported beyond our own circumstances into the bigger grander picture.  If we allow this to happen, we quickly learn that it’s not about us at all, but about God and what my marriage says about Him?

There are many positive results and benefits of marriage but the singular reason is that marriage is the demonstration in the natural world of the supernatural unity that Paul calls the mystery of Christ and His church.  The more a marriage mirrors this unity the more it fulfills its grand purpose.  And only then does it become truly beautiful.

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The more I indulge in entitlement at the cost of my spouse, the less I represent God’s unity, making my marriage useless because it’s not fulfilling its intended purpose.

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Adversity

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This analogy has a great application for marriages.  It’s only in the storms that weak spots are exposed.  When they are exposed the builder doesn’t scrap the whole ship as a failure and start over.  Rather, now that a weakness is exposed it can be fixed and made stronger.

The storms in marriages reveal weaknesses in both people, not failures; areas that are still unhealed, unhealthy and incomplete.  Every marriage is a one-flesh ship, so to speak, and will face storms.

Weakness or Failure?

The design of marriage is for support during weakness – not condemnation in failure.  Storms will happen, you can’t live in this world untouched by them.  The Message describes the world as squalid and polluted and it makes sense, Satan owns it.  So we need a ship-mate who’s got our back if we are going to make it through.

God chose you to be your husband’s wife the day you met him.  You agreed to be his team-mate on your wedding day and sealed the deal on your wedding night.  In this, God invites you in on His plan: to witness Him renew your husband’s mind and change his life.

It’s in these storms that God does His best work.  It’s in these storms that we get to demonstrate our authenticity of faith; whether the storm is a simple rain shower or one that reaches extreme levels of intensity that beat and pound against the hull of a marriage for years.

Victors Are Selfless

Sarah gives us an example of how to handle ourselves in a storm.  When Abraham requested that she allow herself to be taken into Pharaoh’s harem, she saw the request not as a failure of a husband but as a flaw that was being exposed.  The sin of fear that needed healing before it got any worse.  In her example we see that she didn’t:

  • Take it personally – she didn’t see it as an attack on herself, or
  • Make it her business to set him straight or fix the circumstances– she didn’t believe she could do a better job of healing him than God.

Her spiritual maturity is confirmed by her ability to put him first.  His emotional damage was obviously worse than hers, she was stronger.  She didn’t say, No way, Abe.  You are not going to drag me down with you just because you are afraid.  She knew he needed her strength and power, not her criticism, and used this opportunity to intercede for him rather than go on a faultfinding mission.

It appeared as though Abraham was giving up on her and their marriage by choosing himself over her:

[…] they will kill me, but they will let you live.

Sarah was able to rise above our human propensity for selfishness by choosing the view of her life in eternity rather than the view of what was temporarily happening.  We cannot look at people from an earthly perspective.  We are to look beyond ourselves and our circumstances.  She gave us the amazing example of living for someone else and Paul put it into words this way, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves.

We need to accept that we’ve married fallen sons of God, not angels and not saints; they are going to sin.  Sometimes that sin is going to spill into marriage … against a wife.  It’s not fair, but it’s going to happen.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it right, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

There will be adversity so Paul tells us consequently:  Your husband has received the same Saviour you have.  Your sin is not less than his, just different; but forgiven equally.  Consequently, view him from God’s point of view:  in progress.

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Loophole

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Loophole:

an error in the way a law, rule, or contract is written that makes it possible for some people to legally avoid obeying it (merriam-webster.com)

I didn’t think of myself as a quitter, but when it came to our marriage I wasn’t so sure anymore.  Marriage had turned out to be more than I bargained for.  It was too hard and I wanted out.  There had to be a way, something I’d overlooked or read wrong that would give me the loophole I wanted.  Little did I know that in my search to get out of our marriage, I had inadvertently started a wrestling match with God.

It was in Matthew 19 that I saw a loophole forming, right there in verse 11:

Not everyone can accept this statement, only those whom God helps. 

And the more I thought about it the clearer it became …only those whom God helps.  Right.  If God was for this marriage it would be easier.  There would be peace.  I began to see hope.  Yes, divorce is a hard process but afterward, life would improve for everyone.  It had to be better than what we were presently experiencing.  I could see my loophole getting larger.

… Until God asked me if I was a eunuch.

Wait?  What? …. A what?

Have You Not Read?

When God asks you a rhetorical question, you just know He’s got your number.  We’ve seen this line of questioning before. Jesus did this with the Pharisees back in verse 4:

Jesus answered, Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female?

… have you not read …?  Obviously, they had read it – they were the religiously educated, Jesus knew that.  Yet, the intent of his question indicates they missed something. … just like I was missing something too.

I missed it because, like the Pharisees, I was looking for something that wasn’t there.  Fishing for an excuse, any excuse to twist God’s Word to my benefit.  Any excuse that says it’s ok to give up on marriage, on a spouse … on a person.

To challenge the Pharisees, Jesus began with an overview from way back in Genesis, as though they really hadn’t read from their own scriptures.  But before He could finish, they interrupted Him with another question.  Then the disciple’s interjected with a comment of their own.

Misfire From Both Sides

On the one side of Jesus, the Pharisees are saying they should be able to break the marriage contract whenever they choose.  And on the other side, the disciples are emphatic about not even venturing into a marriage if it’s going to be a covenant situation.  Both sides had different reasons but both groups were missing the bigger picture in order to avoid doing the hard work that marriage sometimes demands.

First:  The Pharisees want to be able to trade-in for a new partner:  Jesus tells them their focus is all wrong.  Their reasoning is that if they have all their Ts crossed and Is dotted through a contract of divorce, dissolving the marriage along with the contract is clean and tidy: sanitized.  The paperwork is all in order.  But Jesus wants them to look back further than their own relationships, beyond themselves, back to when marriage was established and grasp its original purpose:  Not a contract; rather, a covenant to stay together.  But they won’t have any of it, instead, they shot back in rebuttal:

“If that’s so, why did Moses give instructions for divorce papers and divorce procedures?”

Jesus tried to be a teacher and help them but they resisted with technicalities.  So He responds with more deliberate words, You are the stubborn, hardhearted ones to pursue divorce in the first place.  But if that weren’t enough Jesus pushes back with more, So you want to play hardball with technicalities?  I have a technicality for you.  You thought you could just divorce by saying your spouse cheated so you could find someone better?  It doesn’t work that way.  You want to leave your marriage?  Alright, but you cannot ever get married again because you will only bring your hardheartedness into another marriage.

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Apparently, there’s no trading in, or trading off.  Only trading out.  The technicality is too much for them, they got more than they bargained for.  They came out to play Jesus for the fool, but instead He bested them at their own game!  And they just quietly disappear before the end of the chapter.

And then:  The Disciples don’t even want to start without an escape clause.  Jesus recalls Genesis 2 in an effort to draw our attention to the original purpose of the male/female design of creation:  so that they would covenant in marriage.  No escape clause is the whole purpose.  Remaining single because there’s no escape clause goes against the intended design.  The only pure motive for choosing to not marry is to serve God.

At this point in the conversation, Jesus had turned his attention to the disciples and was directly addressing them.  The only people that don’t have the capacity to accept the covenant of marriage are eunuchs, everyone else does.

“Not everyone can accept this statement,” Jesus said, “Only those whom God helps. Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

I wasn’t a eunuch (as God rhetorically reminded me) which put me in the category of everyone else.  It applies to …everyone …else?  I didn’t like that very much.  “God, You’re not actually saying that it does apply to everyone else, are You?  Just that it doesn’t apply to eunuchs.”  OK, that was wrong, I knew it.  I had tried the same trick that Pharisees had: a technicality.

Although there was less confusion about my own heart, I was still disillusioned about our marriage. It didn’t seem fair.  What about him?  Why am I the one with the hard heart towards him?  I could feel God’s hand pull me out of my self-pity pit:  “No, it’s not Darrell you will become hard hearted towards … it’s Me.”

This was my game changer:  It’s not about my spouse and me, but God and me.

Accept it, if you can

If I left our marriage my faith would weaken because I wouldn’t have given God the chance to come through for me.  To demonstrate His power through me … through our marriage.

To leave Darrell would be to not trust God to work out all things in our marriage. Leaving him would also be saying to God that Darrell is such a lost cause that even the Creator of the universe isn’t able to do anything in him.  I would be saying that God is not able to finish the good work He started on our wedding day.

And if I didn’t trust Him in this area of my life, what would be the next area that I would withhold from Him?  And then the next?  God is everything He says or nothing at all.  I don’t get to pick and choose the areas of my life that He gets dominion over.

So.  I’m not a eunuch, clearly.  My only other choice was to seek a divorce with a hard heart towards God.  Or, stay in admittance that Christ’s teaching on marriage was for me to accept.

With that thought, my loophole vanished.

 

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