So last week Ken kicked off a brand new series that I am really excited about and I will tell you why.  It’s because what we are doing is taking all the God principles that we talk about here at MRC, and we are pulling them into our practical lives.  That is awesome!  Ken was introducing us to the idea last week of integrity…the idea that who we are matters.  This is very important, because our culture today is screaming the opposite.  So many people are different people depending on where they are and what they are doing.  Our young people today are learning through social media, and TV that what you look like matters most, which is not it at all, but I believe in the world of selfie’s and filtered pictures and really superficial social media friendships, it is becoming people’s reality.  In case we are just thinking I’m picking on the next generation to come, I think our young people can also have this message reinforced by us parents, if we are different people in church, than we are at home, than we are at work…you see the reality is, who you are is the key.  Just saying that makes me think of something God said to Samuel.

1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NIV

It’s what is going on in your heart that matters.  And believe me what is going on in your heart is absolutely coming out in your life.  People may not see it, but they feel it…regardless of how much you smile when you walk into the church building on a Sunday morning, and regardless of how positive your posts look on Instagram or Facebook.  It is who you are that matters…and I think in a world of selfie’s and Snapchat filters, we can make ourselves look good, but it’s just not real.  This is something we really need to look at and we will spend the next several weeks doing just that.  Pushing in on who we are, and helping you see just how important it is that we are the same person in every environment of our lives…and even more than that is just how important it is to be a man or woman of God in all of these environments.  This is something that always excites me because it really helps us understand just how real this spiritual thing actually is.   So many people compartmentalize their spiritual life to Sunday mornings, then they get up Monday and go to work and are completely different people, then they come home and put on the husband or wife hat, or the parenting hat, and they are different people there…and we want you to see just how important it is to be the same man or woman of God in every area of your life and we are going to take time to talk about some really important areas of life from work, to family, to church, to your friendships…and today we are going to talk about, who we are in our marriage and why that is so important.  Outside of your relationship with God, your marriage is the most important relationship you will be in, if anyone will know and feel who you are behind the smiles in the church lobby or Instagram posts it’s your spouse.  And I want to let you know why it’s so important that you are pulling God out of Sunday morning into a personal relationship so His love can flow into your marriage.  We need God in our marriages because relationships aren’t easy and we need God’s help to strengthen, encourage, and to make this thing work…is that ok to say here on a Sunday morning at church?  Marriage isn’t easy?  I mean marriage with God in it isn’t easy…so imagine not having God central in this most essential of your relationships.

You know Mashawn and I celebrated our 18th Wedding Anniversary this year.  We have actually known each other since we were kids, so Mashawn and I have been in relationship for around 32 years…in fact the first time she ever asked me out was through a note at Roxbury Holiness camp around 1987…while I didn’t exactly know what “going out” meant at that time, I was all in…and it’s been that way ever since.  So sitting there on our 18th wedding anniversary we had a pretty cool conversation that went something like this; “So 18 years…is this what you thought it would look like going in?”  And we both laughed, and we both agreed…it doesn’t look like what we thought it would look like, and we both agreed it is a lot harder than we thought it would be going in!  Frankly I don’t know what I thought going in…but I know  I wasn’t picturing how challenging life can be with 4 teenagers, and 6 humans under one roof!  We had a good laugh but I’m not sure we realized (probably a good thing) how hard life can be in those dreamy dating and honeymoon phases of life and just how challenging relationships can be as life stages pile on top of each other over time!  Maybe this is why Jesus gave this rosey little warning about marriage here…

Matthew 19:11 But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. MSG

So maybe we should start with this…where would that grace and aptitude come from I wonder?  Yeah, God in you, flowing out of you into your marriage.

Ok, Sam, this is sounding a little negative or gloomy for church so far right?  I mean we really don’t want to hear about the challenges of something that is supposed to be so beautiful and romantic right?  It’s funny when we grow up and find that special someone we begin to dream of what life would look like and the last thing we would want to hear is that marriage can be tough, right?  We certainly don’t want to hear that this marriage thing may not go as planned.  Especially at church!  I mean if I want to hear something negative about marriage I can just go to work and listen to the guys on the jobsite complain about the “old ball and chain” or I can just go hang with the girls and hear all the things their husbands aren’t doing for them but here at church I don’t want to hear anything negative about marriage.  We just want to hear about the good stuff!  Well here is the deal, when I was engaged I think I would have wrote a very different sermon on marriage, but 18 years into this thing I think it’s important to be real…and to understand how much we need God in this essential area of our lives.  Listen, there is so many life giving and amazing parts of marriage…and when you put God first in your marriage it is the greatest thing that could ever happen to you.  But there are a lot of things that can be challenging too, especially when you bring two imperfect people together who have spent most of their lives living for themselves, then you add stress, financial challenges, children, busyness, and well just life in general and things can get complicated pretty quickly!  I want you to hear something today.  A Godly Marriage is a beautiful and amazing thing, and something that can be so rewarding.  Believe me it will teach you a lot about who you are as a person!  It will reveal your own heart condition along the way.  You know what, marriage is an amazing gift from God that really started all the way back at the beginning of time…

Genesis 2:20 But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. 23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. NIV

So there it is, marriage is an absolute gift from God that we see created at the beginning of all living things!  It’s a big deal!  So marriage is God intended, it is a gift.  So it can be a huge blessing in our lives but and it is a pretty big but, over 50% of marriages inside and outside of the church today fail.  So it isn’t all happy time, do you see that?  The reality is that marriage can be hard, which is why we need God’s help…and why we invite God into our hearts, and lives, and relationships.  God in us changes the game for the good, and it’s why we don’t just leave our spiritual journeys in church on Sunday mornings.

Listen, two very different people living together will take work.  You see we live in a culture today that tends to skew our view of marriage and there are some real misconceptions about it that I want to show you today, but before we do that did you see how I just blew by a pretty incredible scripture there, with Jesus talking about marriage…can we just take a moment and look at that for a second?

Matthew 19:11 But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. MSG

Isn’t that interesting!  Jesus would say that not everyone is mature enough to live a married life!  Well why would maturity be so important to make a marriage work?  The idea of growing up actually comes up a lot in scripture.  Here’s just one example where Paul pushes in on the idea of growing up…

Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.  (MSG)

So Paul tells us that God wants us to grow up and I want you to really see something here…Paul says that we grow up healthy in God, robust in love through Jesus!  We are to take our lead in Jesus, who is the source of everything we do.  He keeps us in step with each other!  Basically we are to allow Jesus into our life, and we are to follow his model of relationships with God and others…when we do, we stay in step with one another…meaning we get along!  I find it really interesting that just one chapter later Paul explains that Jesus models to us what marriage should look like in his relationship with the church!  Which we will really dive into here in a little bit but I think we are really on to something here!

So God wants us grow up.  His primary goal for you and I is that we become mature and complete not lacking anything.  And we know from scripture that our pathway to maturity will not be easy all the time.  God’s not necessarily in this for you to have happy moments!  Now don’t get me wrong He wants you happy, but happy moments come and go…it is so much bigger than that.  God wants us to grow up and this happens as we begin to give control of our lives to Him.  It is a process that starts with asking Jesus into our lives and is shaped and molded for the rest of our lives through our relationship with God.  That is the goal!  That we grow up and what is cool, is that Paul shows us what growing up looks like…this is beautiful!

Galatians 5:22 What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, 23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. MSG

So as we grow up, and live God’s way we start to see some really important things come out of us.  We have a love for others and a compassion in our hearts!  Can you see why that would be a big deal in your relationships?  We also develop a willingness to stick with things, sounds pretty important in our marriages.  We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, which really is what marriage is all about!  We also see ourselves not pushing through life but being able to focus and direct our energy wisely.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to live this way?  I will tell you in my 40’s with four teenagers, I’m really interested in directing my energies wisely!  I don’t think they make a powerful enough Flintstone vitamin to give me the energy needed to get through a week with four teenagers!  I try to work smarter than I do harder these days!  Which you and I can admit is a challenge for me!  These are very important gifts that Paul shows us that begin to come out of our lives as we grow up.  Interesting that we would all say these are good things to have in our lives but if you thing about it, none of these things are really popular culturally are they?  Think about the culture of today.  Do you see a lot of people out there loving others?  Having a genuine compassion in their hearts for those around them?  This is something that bothers me more and more today and I don’t see it getting better but getting worse.  No one seems really to care about anyone other than themselves, which hurts my heart.  How about this one…do you see a lot of people out there today developing a willingness to stick things out?  No!  More and more it seems like we are looking for the easiest way through everything.  The moment something gets hard we just move on to something else!  I see more and more youth growing up not understanding that they actually have the ability to overcome things and should push through adversity from time to time!  Young people today talk of anxiety, and stressful situations like they are a bad thing to be avoided and frankly the things that are stressful to them today aren’t half of what will be stressful down the road!  It’s like we are afraid to feel weight, and here’s the deal, pushing through difficulty is not only a good thing but at times is a necessity!  Leading us back to the idea of growing up!

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

We live in a culture that says the moment something is hard, we should move on and sadly that has translated into empty relationships and a lot of broken marriages because marriage is going to take work, and there will be some hard times in it because again, you are two imperfect people having to try to grow up and live for someone other than yourself…it’s messy.  Culturally we have lost the idea of stepping into loyal commitments!  I find it amazing that all these qualities that Paul show us that come out of our lives as we grow spiritual are just so opposite of the way people live today.  It is just so counter cultural to live God’s way, right down to Paul saying that as we grow spiritually we are more direct with how we live, and are wise about where our energy is going…think about that culturally today.  Do you see a lot of people with strong boundaries, living out true priorities in their life?  No we are busier than ever, with little to no margin, unable to focus on anything as we run, and run, and run our way through life.  We can’t focus on God at all, let alone our marriage or our own heart condition…and all of these things really show us something really important.

Our Spiritual Maturity will have a large say on our relationships and our marriages do a great job of squeezing a lot of things out of us!  There truly is no better place to learn how to grow than through your relationships especially when you live with someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for years and years and years.  While it does seem a little gloomy if you are sitting in here thinking of getting married someday, there is something you just need to have your mind wrapped around going into your marriage, and that is that it’s hard at times.  Marriage takes some work on your part.  Marriage can be a challenge which is why we must bring God into with us…because we need help!  God’s help!  We need love!  God’s love!

So today I wanted to show you somethings that I think make marriage so difficult.  We live in a world today where over half the marriages fail.  If you are tracking with me, we are in a series about Integrity and looking at the idea of who you are really mattering in the most essential areas of your life…and here I am talking about marriage and what have I really been pushing in on?  Your heart, and you growing up and facing life’s challenges with God’s help.  You tracking with me so far?  Do you see what I’m trying to say?  We need God’s love in us.  We need His help to engage our marriages, and if He isn’t in it…I’m not sure how it’s going to work.  Because we are imperfect people, and life is stressful and challenging, and life just keeps adding weight to our shoulders, and we need His help and His love pouring in and out of this relationship or I think we end up adding to what is already staggeringly sad statistic about failed marriages.  Remember God’s love is the key…

1 John 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love…12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. NIV

When God is in us, we can love as God does, and it’s this love that shows up in our relationships to help us as things get challenging along the way.  This is needed and important as we walk through life together.  When God lives in us we love, forgive, and can move through life united and together.

Anytime I talk about marriage I also like to point out some stuff…yes marriage is awesome.  Yes it will be challenging.  Yes we need God’s help, but I also want you to see the message our culture sends about marriage that I don’t’ think is really helping either.  I want to talk about some real hot button words today that are very much a part of marriage and relationships, and those words are “commitment” maybe the word “sacrifice” and the word “leadership,” not quite as scary, and a word that can bring a lot of tension for people…that word being “submission.”  We don’t like that word when it comes to our relationship with God…and I know we aren’t going to want to bring it in to our marriage but it is so important…and I don’t think our culture has helped us understand the truth about this beautiful sacred commitment that we call marriage.

Hot Button Word – “Commitment”  As I talk to young people about getting married, or take part in different wedding ceremonies from time to time, my advice always comes back to this one very simple phrase; “Be Married.”  The best thing you can do is stop looking over your shoulder and “Be Married.”  I know it doesn’t sound like the most profound thing we can say but this really is a big issue.  I think one of two things happens to people today and it centers on this word commitment.  We either feel like life is over when we get married and the fun ends…or we just keep living as we always have with no respect for our new commitment to each other which leads to danger, temptations, and many other problems.  Listen, marriage is a big step, and it is a loyal commitment to that person…so we need to take a mentality that from that point forward we are going to “be married.”  There are so many marriages that get into trouble because one or both of them just can’t stop living the life they lived before…they continue to put themselves in positions they should not be in, because they don’t find themselves in those loyal commitments that we saw come from us growing up as God intended.  We must take the mindset that from that day I stepped into the marriage covenant I am going to “be married.”  Just like when you have children, you need to decide to “be parents!”  Not just have kids, for someone else to raise but to actually be parents!”  Bu that is another talk for another time in this series.  Life isn’t over when you get married it actually begins…and it is an amazing ride.  But you need to commit to it, and live it out.  You must be married…stepping into this commitment is about growing up as we read in scripture earlier and when we grow up and commit, it’s a very rewarding way to live but we need God’s help do to so!

Hot Button Word – “Submit”  Ok, so I am not going to make fun of us who believe we live in “The Enlightened Era” or anything like that but we have come to this place where Biblical Marriage is something archaic or for cavemen and I want to look at this today, because people take something from Scripture and really twist it up here and I will say this text is something that most women don’t want to look at, and frankly neither do the men for reasons of their own!  So this should be fun, but again I think we need to look at this and see the beauty of the truth of God’s word here…so everyone take a deep breath, because we are going to hit a scripture that has become a touchy subject here so stay with me!

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Can anyone else feel the tension building here?  Well I think it’s time we see the beauty of this relationship for what it is and stop worrying so much about this whole chauvinistic mindset that people place on Paul here.  Check out this same verse in the Message…

22 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. 23 The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. 24 So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. MSG

Now I know ladies I’m treading on thin ice here but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I know we don’t like the word ‘submit.’  We don’t like the idea of submitting to God let alone your husband (which could lead us into a whole other sermon on woman’s curse from sin in Genesis 3 but we don’t have time!) I really want you to see something here, look at the way it’s worded in the Message version.  Wives, support your husband the way the church would show support for Christ!  Ladies are you frustrated that your man won’t step up and lead?  Can I ask you, are you supporting him to do so?  It’s an important question ladies.  The scripture then tells the husband to lead as Christ leads the church which we will come back to in a moment…and then Paul comes back to the wives…saying just as the church submits to Christ’s leadership, wives should submit or allow their husband to lead.

Now I want you to think through this, what is the illustration Paul draws this comparison to? Husband and wife to Jesus and the church.  So this idea of submission needs to be understood.  This is the calling of the wife to honor her husband’s leadership AND to help carry his leadership with her gifts, her strengths and her intelligence!  Just as the church carries forward the leadership of Christ on its mission!  Please hear me…That is very different than this idea that a wife has to submit meaning she is bare foot and pregnant and in the kitchen, and unable to think or use her intelligence or strength that God has given her!  Think through it from Paul’s imagery, does Jesus dominate the church and not allow us to use our skill sets to carry out his leadership?  No!  He empowers the church through the Holy Spirit to engage his mission!  So ladies when you understand the beauty of the relationship between Jesus and the church, this isn’t about a male dominated world, this is a beautiful thing.  The challenge for you ladies is often allowing the husband to lead part…and supporting him in it.  Let’s face it everything in our culture tells us that men are complete idiots unable to lead or do anything other than eat, drink, and watch TV.  I mean we can just sit and watch a sitcom or movie today.  Maybe your husband isn’t a buffoon…maybe he needs you to bring your strength to him.  Ladies you are strong, you are intelligent, you have so many gifts, and no one can build your man up or tear him down faster than you can.  With God in you, you understand the truth of that hot button word submit, and you see and feel what could and can be in your marriage when you do what Scripture asks of you.

Hot Button Word – “Lead” So while we are here, let’s look at the husbands role now, Paul has a lot to say to us men.

Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior…25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”   32 This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  NIV

Men, let’s look at some of this in the Message version as well…

Vs 23 The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing…25 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church — a love marked by giving, not getting. MSG

So again when we understand the relationship between Jesus and the church this becomes a beautiful thing.  We are not called to push our wives around and lord a leadership position over them, not allowing them to think or use their gifts…NO!  It’s amazing how focused we humans are on positions and rankings…and it can even show up here in our marriage if we aren’t careful.  We are called to take primary responsibility for “the Christ-like servant leadership of the home!”  And husbands…and wives hear me now…that is not easy.  Just as Jesus took that servant leader spot for the church!  We are to go all out in love for our wives, exactly what Jesus did for the church.  Now here is where what the man is asked to do really becomes a challenge.  Your love is marked by giving and not getting.  I want you to think this through husbands.  That means we are to love our wives regardless of what comes back to us in return.  Jesus loved the church and the church didn’t exactly love Him back did it?  No it didn’t.  Jesus gave up his life for the church.  He sacrificed His life so that the church could be made pure again, regardless of how they responded to Him.  So Jesus goes all out in love for the church and the churches response is what?  Was it to love him back?  No, it was to kill Him!  Loving your wife regardless of what is returned is a challenge.  Men this is not for the faint of heart!  You will need God’s help here.  You are to love your wife regardless of what you get back from her…and ladies you are to support his leadership with your strength and your love and your gifts too!  This is not some goofy man vs woman thing, is a beautiful relationship that as you engage it, it draws you closer to God.  It helps you understand the Gospel in a whole new way!

You know there are so many things that make marriage difficult and I find it amazing how hard it is to live out the principles so clearly laid out for us in scripture that would allow us to enjoy marriage in a whole new way.  Marriage can be such a beautiful thing, and I really wanted to paint a real picture for you today of what it is, and what it could be.

Listen marriage can be hard and it’s hard because we all need to grow up enough to live for someone else!  But here’s the thing, it is also so rewarding and will teach you so much about who you are, and so much about the Gospel and who Jesus is but none of that happens until we begin to live out our own personal relationship with God.  You see without God in you, moving through you in all areas of your life you can’t develop the kind of life giving relationship with your spouse with the kind of depth and life and love that could be with God in it!  Without God’s guidance we will listen to the popular ways of the world that seem so right, but lead your marriage down the paths you’d never want it to go.  You see it all through scripture, that as we grow in relationship with Christ we grow up spiritually and we develop the ability to love others, to commit to someone and something bigger than us, and to have the kind of focus necessary to live wisely.

So yeah marriage is hard, but it’s hard because we are selfish people living for ourselves who have promised to now live in a relationship with another imperfect person.  This is why who we are on the inside really matters, because our hearts come out and our spouse feels it the most.

We need God’s love pouring in and out of us to make this thing work.