Does anyone else find it annoying to check comments on my multi-thousand word posts, especially when I write them back to back to back? I sure do.
Maybe this post will be short. Relatively short? It could happen - really, it could. :-)
But it didn't. Sorry.
The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'
29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "
I think this passage holds mountains of significance. There are several little points hidden in its compact story that it seems most people miss. For our purposes, though, I think we can limit ourselves to the obvious.
The saved and the unsaved grow in really close proximity to each other. They are both in the same churches. The very servants of God cannot be trusted to remove the unsaved from among us until the end of the age. And yet, we expect hormone impaired children to reject really attractive weeds and pick wheat every time.
Are you wondering why the Christian divorce rate is the same as the world's?
I see 2 causes. 1) We're just human, and products of our society, and 2) we marry people who are not as well and truly converted as they seem to be.
(Some of you will believe that those people were saved, and then fell away. OK. I have no need to argue that here. That interpretation works just as well for my purposes. The parable teaches that the wheat were wheat from the day they were planted, and the weeds were weeds from the day they were planted. So, while it might mean either, I will go with the theory that they were never saved. Just mentally substitute, "fell away" where appropriate.)
It's not easy to be a Christian in America. Nope. It's dead simple, mind-numbingly easy, and it's almost hard not to be Christian. Even our atheists use nominally Christian phrases in their arguments against the God in Whom they don't believe. Unless you go out of your way somehow, everyone is going to believe you are a Christian. 76.5% of Americans identify themselves as Christian in some meager way. 44% of Americans identify as born-again.
This ain't the world Paul planted his churches in.
And we have glorified a proofless faith. When the phrase, "... I will show you my faith by my works ...," is read out loud (by accident, usually) a chorus of voices rises to explain how James wasn't really trying to undo anything Paul said. As if Paul ever said that we were saved for licentiousness.
Attend a church, feel some sincere feelings, say an emotional prayer, believe you are saved, and suddenly you are among the faithful. Jesus taught His disciples the truth about the faith.
Matt 13 (again, just a little earlier)
The Parable of the Sower
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear."
Put these two parables together, and you get a sobering picture. Only a fraction (hopefully a sizeable fraction) of the seed will fall on good soil, and even after that happens, the enemy will come and sow false seed in with the good. It is desparately easy to unwittingly marry an unbeliever in America, especially under the intoxicating influence of human attraction.
Given this, what can the church do to prevent divorce?
1) Tell the truth about marriage to our children.
It was fruit that made the difference between the weeds and the wheat, and between the good soil and the rest. We need to start teaching about fruit. And preach to our youth that enthusiasm does not equal fruit. We all look good on missionary trips. Meeting a really cool person in YWAM is a good thing, but does that person still look as verdant and committed to Christ when they get back home?
When we are young, the world looks all sunny one day, and all gloom the next. Today the world is a shopping basket of wonderful choices in a mate, and a sahara of rejection tomorrow. The truth eludes the young, and our churches ignore their need. Many of the beautiful people around them are verdant weeds, and many of the rejections they receive are blessings from God their Provider.
Our children grow up believing in the eHarmony approach. You have to search out someone with whom you are compatible on 70%+ the 40+ relationship scales. You have to be constantly looking. You have to find your soulmate.
I don't doubt eHarmony is right, but soul-mating ain't cutting the mustard.
Teach our children that mating about pulling in a yoke together. There's time and opportunity for play aplenty in marriage, but every bit of the profit to be had from marriage comes from pulling in the same direction together. They will be pulling in that harness together long after they quit looking like rock stars - if they choose wisely. If they choose poorly, then they will be looking for a mate all over again, without the obvious benefits of youth to aid them.
Do you know who can help them decide whether their current infatuation is worthy of love?
The gray heads.
Teach our kids to seek out advice from seniors who know the young men and women in question. Even if that means going to another church to seek these people out. Even if that means restructuring our churches so that our old people get to know our young people. Especially if it means restructuring our churches so that our young people have a motivation to impress our old people.
2) Save troubled marriages
At some point it occurs to everyone that they need counselling.
I think this point occurs between 1 and 5 years after the last counsellable moment is dead and buried.
I don't know what the numbers are, but once the love is gone, receiving counseling is like chewing on sand and washing it down with vinegar. One spouse will probably be all for it, but trying to get the other one to play along at that point is not a recipe for success.
I doubt that counseling is all that medicinal anyway. I was greatly helped by counseling after my divorce, but he really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. The difference was that I believed him when I could no longer believe myself. In a golden past, one that even our grandparent still remember, people got along just fine without counseling. They had another resource. Wisdom.
We need our old folk to step up to the plate for our middle-agers going through the wringer.
We subdivide our people off into seniors' and parents' and youth groups, and wisdom hardly crosses the divide. I think that when I've got another 20 years under my belt, I might be able to smell a husband with thoughts of leaving on his mind from the foyer to the baptismal! But really, if I don't know him, he'll just smell like another suspicious, cow-licked kid.
We have to give that hoary head with wisdom a chance.
Consider how much easier it is to expose your weaknesses in front of a senior than a peer. Consider how much more likely it is that a senior might know what to say!
Brotherhood and sisterhood are necessary, too. I am not slighting peers helping peers. I might even agree that we have a large weakness in that area. But, if we are weak on our peer to peer relationships, we are crippled in our senior to middle to youth relationships. Most of our seniors have seen the bottom side of life at some point, and learned a thing or two.
After 60 years of fire and flood, the best of them don't panic, don't overreact, and don't underreact.
Someone who's been through fire and high water can handle talk of adultery, despair, and abuse. Someone whose been there might even be able to confront lovingly on any of those subjects.
Too many of us try to figure these big things out alone.
I know I did.
We listen for good sermons, read good books, and keep the Christian radio on, but sermons don't fix marriages. People fix marriages. The Holy Spirit could, but He doesn't. You see, years ago He gave the wisdom the church needs today to those people who meet in room 107, and now He wants them to pull it out of their store houses and share it.
Bring in the gray-heads.
3) Rescue those who fall.
There's some good people out there who are questioning everything. Divorce makes you do that. We "divorced" are a people who have some seriously teachable moments!
But only grace can take advantage of those moments. A person going through that kind of trauma is a moving target. One day they're too depressed to hear anything, and the next they're too bouyed up by a beautiful scripture to hear anything.
On those days, remember the words of some old cowboy somewhere, "Never miss a good chance to keep your mouth shut."
Weep with them. Rejoice with them. Take notes. Take very good notes (on paper if you must) because some day you are going to have a wide open door. You have been weeping and rejoicing with them along the way, so when that day comes, you will know what to say. It will seem like a miracle because you'll know exactly what they needed to hear all along.
We all love to be listened to, but to hear exactly what we need to hear, exactly when we need to hear it, is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
I don't know a divorced person who doesn't want to feel "worth rescuing". Keep reminding them that the Shepherd leaves the 99, and rejoices when He finds that one that was exploring the wilderness.
Oh, and our seniors are really good at this. :-)
Prevention is better than cure, and cure is better than healing, but the church is ideally equipped for all three. We only need to intentionally restructure our churches to allow our people to support each other.
And that requires leadership.
I hope to return to the subject of leadership some time this week.