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Common Issues: Uncommon Perspective
03/30/2003
Scripture: Mark 10:1-31
Track 13 of 19 in the Encountering a Changing World series
Running time: 40 minutes, 52 seconds.
Two common issues. Marriage--divorce and riches are cast in the context of discipleship. Our relationship with Christ determines our attitude to these concerns.



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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.


Sermon for Sunday, March 30, 2003
"Common Issues: Uncommon Perspective"
(Mark 10: 1-31)
G. Charles Sackett

For as long as I can remember I have been using these rather standard vows. You've probably heard them a hundred times in weddings. Maybe you actually used these yourself. They sound pretty familiar. I take you to be my husband/wife; to have, to hold, from this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part. I have a standard practice as well, that when I do a wedding, one of the things I insist, though I recognize you can insist all you want but you can't necessarily make anything happen. I insist that the couple commit to me that they will get help before they will give up. It's easier said prior to the wedding than it is after, obviously.

I did this particular wedding here just a few years ago. Not long ago I received this letter. I'm only going to read just a brief portion of it to you.

It's hard to imagine I hesitate writing this, not because it's bad news for me, but because I don't want to be judged concerning something I'm happy about. Like I mentioned earlier, I know already that you disapprove and I don't want that to spoil something that I'm happy about. I know that you don't need any explanations for what I'm doing and I know I really don't need to justify it to you, because we will never agree as to the decision I've made.

She's absolutely correct. We will never agree with the decision that she's made, nor her choices. What intrigues me about this particular situation and this particular letter is this emphasis on, I am happy. It's the consumer mentality of an American culture. My choice to be happy. You can consider this a bit unkind if you'd like. I think she did.

My response to her letter was a letter in return, that in essence said this; You know in all our conversations that we had prior to your wedding, you never did hear me talk to you about being happy. I talked to you about being holy, and I'm far more concerned in this world about being holy than I am in being happy.

Let me put this on pause for just a second, because I want to make sure we put this in the context of the text that we're looking at. We're looking at the first part of Chapter 10 in the Gospel of Mark and I forewarned you two or three weeks ago, we'd be talking about these rather common things; marriage and money. But I'm intrigued by where they occur in this text because the text is so clearly a text of what it means to be a disciple. And outside of that discipleship context I'm not sure that the Christian can ever fully understand what God has in mind for both marriage and money.

So think about the fact, that back in Chapter 8, here was the basic perspective that he laid out. If you want to be my disciple, you have to do things my way. He said in Chapter 8, that Peter was not thinking like a person thinking about the things of God, but rather, he was thinking like a person thinking like the things of man.

We skipped over text that we're really not gonna go back to; but, if you look at the end of Chapter 9 there is this rather radical discipleship statement at the end of Chapter 9 that says; If your eye offends you, pluck it out. If your hand offends you, cut it off. If your foot offends you, rid yourself of it. That's about as radical a discipleship statement as Jesus makes any place in the gospels. I think it's hyperbole. I don't think he's literally wanting you to do that. He's wanting you to understand that if you're gonna be his disciple, it will call for some radically hard decisions. Not the kind that make you happy, but the kind that make you holy.

So, let's look at this opening paragraph of Chapter 10. Here's what I'm suggesting you're going to hear in this particular text. That uncommon disciples, disciples like you and me, know what to hold on to and what to let go of. We know what's important enough to sink our teeth in to and we know what's unimportant enough to allow to slide to the side. And it's important for you to understand that if we're ever going to get a grip on what it means to really be Christian, we're going to have to understand that life is not a set of pockets into which these things fit nicely and neatly, like we do most of our "stuff". You've seen this illustration before. It's not new to you. My wallet belongs in my left rear pocket. That's where I always keep it. Just where it goes. My pocket change is over here in the right hand pocket. I never have any in there during Sunday mornings because if I do I play with it and it makes noise. What little folding money I have is always in my (I shouldn't tell you that should I?). What disturbs me is so often life is viewed like that, that we have a pocket for this and a pocket for that and unfortunately what occurs in American culture so often is that we have a pocket over here for our Christianity, and we have a pocket back here for our marriage and we have a pocket where we keep our folding money. And quite often those things never quite get together. And what you're going to hear Jesus say is that Christianity is not a pocket. Christianity is your suit, and your marriage pocket and your money pocket and every other pocket have to be impacted and influenced by your discipleship. That they are a part of that discipleship. They are not separated from it. And as soon as we fall prey to separating our marriages and our money, or any other element of our life from our discipleship, we have fallen prey to a major problem.

So why this topic? Well, for one reason; cause it's in the text. It came next and I tried to avoid it. In fact, I asked the staff to figure out a way that I could just skip this text altogether. I couldn't do that. Why this particular sermon? Well, how many hundred reasons do you want? Your marriage, that's one reason to preach the sermon. Your children, that's one of my primary reasons for preaching this sermon. My grandson, that's a really important reason for me to preach this sermon. Why preach this sermon? Coincidentally, providentially, I got this out of my mailbox this morning when I walked into the building. According to Barnard's recent poll, people who are Christians are more apt to divorce that people who are not. That's why this sermon! Will it address every issue? It won't even come close. Will it offend some of you? I hope not, but probably. Will it hurt you? That's been my prayer all week long, is that it won't. Because I'm not out to say anything that I want to be hurtful. I'm out to talk to those of you who are Christians, who are married, about your life before Jesus. Because it is such a critical issue and because Jesus addresses it in this context.

Three times He says, I'm gonna go to Jerusalem and die. Three times He points the audience attention to that cross and in that context of pointing to the cross, He says, let me talk to you about your marriage and your money as if they're somehow connected. So, if you can, allow me, though I'm nervous enough this morning. I can't get this off (wedding band). So we'll pretend it came off and I'm just gonna put my wallet and pretend to put my ring over there, which won't come off right at the moment, at the foot of that cross as a visual reminder of what we're trying to do.

Mark, Chapter 10: Jesus left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him and as was His custom, He taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" "What did Moses command you?" he replied. They said Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and send her away. "It was because of your hard hearts he says, that Moses wrote you this law. 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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

When they were in the house again His disciples asked Jesus and He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery against him."

The point is, the disciples hold on to what's important and here comes this test. Verse 2, it's a test. Probably because Jesus is back in Herod's territory and they're trying to get rid of Him and you know what happened to John the Baptist when he raised the issue of marriage. Right? His problem was, he got Herodias and Herod in conflict over the marriage that was illegal between the two of them and they ended up beheading him because he addressed the issue. I think that's why their testing him, so that Jesus will say something that will get him in trouble and He will be eliminated. The question, "is divorce legal?" Here's the question, "what can I get away with?" And the frustrating question about that is, that the real issue is not what can I get away with, the real question, the real issue, in this text is about rights versus responsibility. They want to know, what are my rights? And Jesus wants to talk about responsibility. And when it comes to marriage and a relationship, that's the only kind of thing you can talk about. You have to talk about responsibility, not rights! Christian marriage, in fact, places you in a position where you will become responsible, by its very nature.

It's interesting to me, in a poll done by a magazine called Divorce Magazine, of all things, when asked this question, Do you believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment that should only be ended under extreme circumstances? Nineteen percent (19%) of the women who had never been married said "Yes, that's the ideal". Twenty-nine percent (29%) of divorced women said "that's the ideal". Isn't it intriguing that divorced people feel more strongly about marriage lasting forever than the un-divorced do? That trend held true for the male answer as well.

Jesus' answer is very, very simple. Divorce is not God's idea. He didn't plan it that way. If you look at Verses 7 and 8 in Chapter 10, here's the statement:

'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'

Genesis 2:24 is the quotation that He's using. From the very beginning that text is referred to at least two or three times in the New Testament as the standard by which God had designed relationships. A man leaves his father and mother, joins to a wife, the two become one and they become this new unit which is inseparable, Jesus says. Ideally inseparable!

Evan Horner, our resident counselor and marriage and family expert, has a section in his doctoral dissertation, which is now in our Library, on this text in Genesis 2:24. It is a brilliant piece of writing where he talks about the leaving, being an indication that we are accepting our responsibility to act with integrity. We leave that previous family to set up a family of our own and that, by its very nature, says I will behave differently because I have now assumed a new level of responsibility. We cleave to this person that we are marrying. We become united with this person, in fact it's a word that is used in the Old Testament to talk about the scales on a fish sealing so tightly that air cannot get through. It's an image of loyalty. It's an image of having become this person's mate and to be loyal to them - FOREVER - and they become one. And I don't know how you illustrate that, except to say - They become one! They're ONE. You know how we do that at a wedding? We walk up to altar and we take two candles and we light one in the middle and we blow the two side ones out. We call it a unity candle and what happens when the marriage falls apart, is that somebody takes a chainsaw and tries to cut that candle in half and keep it lit. Now, some people are a little nicer about the way they do it - they use a surgical tool instead of a chainsaw, but no matter how you do it, it still violates the very principle that He's trying to suggest. The two become ONE and it's about as possible to separate the roots of a plant without damage as it is to separate a husband and wife without destruction.

Divorce is a concession He says to man's hard hearts. That's Verse 5. It's Jesus statement. It was because of your hearts that were hard that Moses wrote this law.

Deuteronomy 24:1 does, in fact, say that it is possible for a man to give a woman a rit of divorce. It was written, not in order to allow divorce, but in order to protect women from becoming totally helpless. It was a male world. A totally male world and if a woman didn't have a husband, she had no rights, she had no means of support, she had no way of making a living, she had no way of getting to the Temple, she had no access to God, she had absolutely nothing. And just like the law of retaliation, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, was never intended to be a proactive kind of statement that says go and get an eye for an eye, it was a way of saying don't do any more than an eye for an eye. The rit of divorce was an attempt to say, don't let our world fall into absolute chaos. So if you are going to divorce, then protect the person that you're divorcing.

In Malachi Chapter 2 - just back up, if you have your Bibles, about two books. Go through Matthew to the other side and you'll find Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. There is this intriguing passage in Chapter 2 of Malachi. I'm going to start reading in Verse No. 13.

Another thing you do. You flood the Lord's altar with tears, you weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offering or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" Here's the question, why is it the Lord is not receiving our gifts, why is the Lord not blessing us, why is the Lord displeased with our offerings. Here's the answer. Because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one. In flesh and spirit they are his and why one? Cause he was seeking Godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel, and I hate a man covering himself with violence as well as with his garments. So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith." God literally says, "I hate divorce."

Now why? Because of the damage it does to his people.

Here are some statistics you're gonna hate and that's why I'm going to give them to you.
Fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicide.
Fatherless homes account for 90% of homeless runaway children.
Fatherless homes account for 85% with children with behavior problems.
Fatherless homes account for 71% of high school dropouts.
Fatherless homes account for 85% of youths in prison.
Fatherless homes account for well over 50% of teen mothers.
That comes from Divorce Magazine.

On the other hand, if both parents are active in church, 93% of their children will be active in church. If one parent is active in church, 73% of their children will be. If only one parent attends, i.e. is not active, 53% will be active. If both are only borderline, only 6% of their kids will be faithful to the church.

When my daughter divorced, my grandson was about three years old. I was hearing the same kinds of logical stuff that everybody else always says about little kids in divorce. Don't worry, they're resilient, he'll be okay.

There are two books out there, one written after ten years and the other after twenty-five years of following children of divorce. Same children, both studies, ten years and fifteen years later, twenty-five years apart. Not a single child in the entire study came out okay. I couldn't finish reading the book. It broke my heart to think that's what my grandson faces. Why does God hate divorce? Because he doesn't like you! No, that has nothing to do with it. Because he doesn't want to see you get hurt! No, in fact, that is just the opposite, he doesn't want to see you get hurt. He loves his people too much to see them get in that situation where they're going to get hurt.

See, I would like you to come to second hour worship sometime and just sit back in a cubby hole and listen to the prayers of our elementary age kids while they pray for some of you who are sitting in this room. "That my mommy and my daddy will not get a divorce." Just sit and listen to their prayers. Listen to the broken-ness in their voice and then ask, does this matter? So what am I trying to say? I'm trying to say this; Uncommon disciples, disciples who really care about Jesus and their life with him, hold on to their marriages. They fight for them. They believe in them. They will do whatever they will have to do to rekindle the relationship so that, that marriage can not only survive, but thrive. If they need it, they'll go for help. But they won't give up. Now - maybe it's just because I'm stubborn. Maybe it's because I listened, night after night, to my alcoholic parents argue. But I buried them married for 47 years because they understood, that even fighting was not as bad as divorce.

If you're already divorced, please - I'm not talking to you. There's not a thing you can do to undue what's gone on in the past. I do not intend this to hurt you. If it's still possible for you to reconcile, with a spouse, well that's possible - do it. I know couples who have done it. It's great work. It's hard work, but it can be done. But I'm not here to suggest anything other than for you to, in your current marriage, which ever one it is, be faithful and work at it as if this thing has to last. If you're in an abusive situation, I'm not suggesting you stay there. Don't hear me say that. That is not what the Bible means. If you're in an abusive relationship, get out! And get out today, and you'll have the blessing of the church, for getting away from that abusive situation, we'll do whatever we have to do to try to help you. Now what we would hope would happen would be a change of heart in both parties where things could be reconciled down the road somewhere. But don't stay there. Seek change!

But for Christians, for those of you who are Christians, and what Brian said on Wednesday nights in our Bible study in this room, that should a Christian ever feel a divorce is the only answer, it had better be for a significant reason. Not just because I'm not happy!

And what does that mean for the church? It means that we need to become dads and moms to the kids in this building. It means that we need to become mentors to other people who are struggling in their relationships. It means that we have to build the kind of relationships that we can say to one another, I'm hurting and I need some help! It means that we need to offer the kinds of classes and retreats that will enable us to strengthen marriage and I hope that you see in the future, very proactive kinds of things about how we can stabilize marriage in our own church, if not in our country and in our culture.

It means that we will offer things like divorce care to help those people who have suffered from divorce, to try to get back on their feet so that they don't have their life turned into a spiral that goes constantly downhill. It means that we will provide counseling for those people who know that they need it. It means we will do whatever we have to do to try to help you be the person that God needs for you to be; who understands that your marriage is in the context of being a disciple.

It's intriguing to me what comes next in this text, because the very next paragraph of this text, is about children. I don't think that's by accident that Jesus immediately turns from marriage to children.

People, it says in Verse 13, were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms and he put his hands and he blessed them. Jesus cares for the children and he knows the children are the ones who suffer the most.

We have a video clip for you to watch about a family in our church and their children. It's not a divorce situation. It's a wonderful testimony. I hope it will serve as a transition from marriage to money.

Video - - - -

The Apostle Paul uses the marriage relationship as a model of what it means to be Christian, Christ and the church. And what people see out here in the community, in the way we relate to one another, is the way their going to see Christ and the church. It's why marriage is such an important issue.

Jesus makes the transition into the next statement about this rich, young man who comes concerned about money. I don't know if he knew that marriage and money were so closely tied in the 21st Century. That in the top two or three issues that show up in every divorce proceeding, money is one of the keys

But here's what he says starting in Verse 17. Jesus started on his way and a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him, "Good Teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered, "No one is good except God alone." You know the commandments: 'Do not commit murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.' " "Teacher, he declared, all these I have done since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack, he said; go, sell everything you have, and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come and follow me." At this the man's face fell, he went away sad because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, "Who then, can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With men this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you." "I tell you the truth, Jesus replied, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields and, with them persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

This is not a test. It's just a straight forward question. What do I have to do to be saved? It's not unlike the question any disciple would ask. What do I have to do to be in a relationship with the Father? What intrigues me is, if disciples are in fact, intentionally wanting to grow, why it is such a troublesome thing when the preacher starts talking about this?

It is, after all, the thing that takes most of your time. You spend more time earning and spending your money than you do any other single thing in your entire life. So why would you even think that the Bible wouldn't have something to say about that, or that it wouldn't be an important issue in your discipleship? And since it's going to become a part of future preaching, I'm not going to spend much time on it now, but, just to highlight some things in this text to tie these two things together. Do you notice what happens in this text? The man says what do I have to do to be saved? Jesus turns the question around. You know the commandments, and he lists the commandments. But did you notice the one that he omitted? The command that he omitted is; Thou shalt not covet. I wonder if that's intentional? And then he says, you just go and sell everything you have and give it. . . . (but it's interesting that he doesn't ask that of everybody). He just asks it of this rich, young man. He gives different answers to different people. Maybe because, what we need to remember, is that, not every body struggles in the same way with the same issues. So it would be unfair to just assume that Jesus expects all of us to sell everything we have and to give it to the poor. Maybe what he wants us to understand is, that those of us who possess great riches have a far harder time than most. Of course, that eliminates all of us in here, because we know in here nobody is wealthy. Because the line of wealth is just a little more than what you and I have.

Do you recognize that since 1974 real, or since 1957 real income in the United States has doubled. I don't mean by inflation, I mean we actually have more real spendable income by twice what we used to have and yet one-third of the people in America still say they're unhappy! That percentage hasn't changed! How much do you need? A little bit more. . . .I've been saying that since I started in the workforce thirty-five years ago. I'll probably be saying it when I retire twenty years from now. How much do I need? Just a little bit more.. . .cause it's human nature. . . . it's in us. The intriguing thing about looking at anything that has to do with giving in the United States is that one thing you'll discover is that most of us don't. As generous as Americans are, we are not very generous. We only average about two percent of our income going into any kind of, any kind, of any kind. We just don't give to anybody. Even the major outpouring after September 11th, did not radically alter the face that Americans only give about two percent of their income to charity. And Christians are far more likely to give than any body else.

But only eight percent of Christians tithe, give ten percent of their income, which is the Old Testament standard. The average Christian gives about 2.5 percent of their income. The median gift to a church, (half of all the gifts are below it, half of all the gifts are above it) is $100.00 a year. You're probably above average, if I know you. We have a very good giving church in this place, and yet, we only account for approximately one-fourth of our potential.

Four years ago we did a survey of our church. Our budget was about $500,000 a year and our tithing potential was almost 1.6 million dollars. We were doing about a third of what we could do if we took seriously that injunction. I'm not here to tell you that you have to tithe. I don't personally believe in tithing. I don't think it's enough. But you don't want to hear that until May. So what would I suggest? What I suggest is that disciples want to grow in their discipleship. They want to grow in their stewardship and stewardship is a part of that discipleship process and Christians just never use their money in any other way than to be a good disciple. So I'm suggesting to you that it's tax time and that means it's time for you to evaluate how well you did last year. Just take a look at the percentage and ask yourself, did you give more this year than you gave last year? That's a good way to find out if you're growing.

But, here's a recommendation, give systematically. We recommend that you use envelopes. But just get in the habit of giving regularly. Give with a system of some kind. It will improve your discipleship. Give sacrificially. Give in such a way that it costs you something. If you can still do absolutely everything that you could do yesterday, then you really haven't given a sacrifice, because it hasn't cost you anything yet. Give increasingly. I would highly recommend that as just a part of your discipleship, just as you would like to read your Bible more or pray more, desire to give more. I would suggest that you give generously. That, there is nothing quite like a generous spirit. And once you discover you have a generous spirit with your pocketbook, you'll probably also discover you have a generous spirit with your time and your energy and your influence.

We're going to do some things to try to help you with that. There will be some classes offered. There will be some encouragement from the pulpit. There will be some kind of a financial campaign. In fact as you walk out the doors today, you will be able to pick up at the doors, the plan for the remodeling of our building and some other things that are coming up and it's going to show on there that it will cost us about $150,000. And the plan is that we want to take up a one-time offering next fall of a $150,000. We're going to ask you to start thinking about that now. Maybe putting some money aside along the way so that you'll be ready to participate. Now, we don't want anybody to give us a $150,000. If you're sitting there thinking, well, I can do that, don't! We don't want it! We don't even want you to give $25,000. We'll ask for that later. But we do want you to get started in this process of understanding that the kingdom is about generosity.

I confess to you that as I read this text and stewed over this sermon, I hoped and prayed I would not say something that would be offensive to you. Because there are two issues in our world that seem to be more tender to our hearts than any two issues; marriage and money. And all I'm asking you to do is make a commitment to both. To know what to hang on to and to know what to let go of. And your marriage is worth hanging on to and your money isn't. It's just that easy. And if you try to hang on to the one instead of the other, you'll get to keep neither. So. . . .did you hear his question? What must I do to be saved? Can't do anything except just trust. Can't earn it! Can't buy it! Can't be worthy of it! You just have to trust him for it.

Well, what you can do in response to today's message is, that you can reach over and take your spouses hand and you can hold on to it while we sing and you can say to her or to him or to yourself, I will do whatever I have to do to make this thing last.

You can look across the room and catch the eye of one of your children and you can give them that visual look that says your mother and I will be here and you can count on us. You can look at your life and say I'm going to be a disciple no matter what it costs me but this is not about my happiness, this is about my holiness. This is about standing rightly before God. Yeah, they're tough issues, and yes I may have walked all over your feelings and, I apologize. But we invite you to join us in trying our best to be the people that God needs us to be in this world. With marriages that are wholesome and generosity that pours itself out for the sake of other people. And that my friends would pass these things in the life that Jesus passed them in the context of discipleship, where the one who died on that cross did so cause he wants to spend his eternity with you. And there was nothing too expensive to give for him.