Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Who Wants to Be Poor?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:3

Ask any Christian what the most important verse in the Bible is, and more often than not they’ll answer, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That verse beautifully summarizes the fact that we can never EARN our salvation. Salvation is a gift from God. And the key to receiving that gift is faith. We must believe—truly believe—in Jesus.

But somewhere along the way, many Christians have bought into the crazy idea that Christianity is ONLY about holding the right beliefs. As long as I believe right, I will be right with God. As long as I believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, as long as I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, I can call myself a “good Christian.”

But there’s just one problem with this notion: It’s not true. Jesus never taught us that Christianity is only a matter of BELIEVING right. Christianity is also a matter of DOING right. We are not just believers in Jesus Christ. We are believers and followers of Jesus Christ.  And nowhere is that made more clear than in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

The first type of teaching Jesus uses in this great sermon are known as the Beatitudes, which we find in Matthew 5:3-12. The word “beatitude” is taken from the Latin word “beatitudo”, which means “blessed are.” Many pastors and Bible teachers translate this word simply as “happy.” But “happy” is far too narrow a translation. “Blessed” means so much more than happy. Years ago, one of my Bible college professors, Knofel Staton, did an in-depth study of this word “blessed,” and he learned that it means two things beyond “happy”:

1: Congratulations. In his Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t just saying that those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn and those who are merciful will be happy. He is also saying “Congratulations are in order for my followers who are poor in spirit and those who mourn.”

2: Buoyed up. Jesus is also saying, “In this sinful world we live in—no matter what hardships or insults come your way—the world will never be able to sink your faith or drown your relationship with Christ. God will see to it that you will always bounce back to surface. You are buoyed up in Christ. Neither this world nor the armies of hell can sink a faithful follower of Christ.”

Let’s focus on the first Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). Someone once asked the evangelist Billy Graham: Why doesn’t Jesus tell us to be rich in spirit instead of telling us to be poor in spirit? Reverend Graham answered: “If you put the word ‘humble’ in place of the word ‘poor,’ you will understand what [Jesus] meant. We must be humble in our spirits. In other words, when we come to God, we must realize our own sin and our spiritual emptiness and poverty. We must not be self-satisfied or proud in our hearts, thinking we don’t really need God. If we are, God cannot bless us. The Bible says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).” So, “poor in spirit” means humble in spirit and empty in spirit.

If I am serious about being in Christ’s heavenly kingdom, I must begin by confessing that by myself, I can’t ever get there. By myself I will never get to heaven. By myself I can never be right with God. By myself I can never ever be saved. If you don’t fall in line with this truth, you CAN’T be blessed by God.  So, if you can’t live out this first beatitude, there’s no point moving on to the other seven.

Some of us come to Christ with notions of our own righteousness. This first beatitude knocks us off our high horse. Some of us come to Christ thinking we’ll impress Him with our religious heritage: “I grew up in a good Catholic home.” “I was baptized as a baby and confirmed as a teenager.” “My wife and I were married in the church.” But this beatitude makes it clear, not only that our religious upbringing doesn’t impress God, but that it actually turns Him off when we hold it up like some sort of trophy. If you puff out your chest and brag to God about making it onto the religious honor roll, Jesus Christ will flunk you out of class. Religious pride is repulsive to Him. But He is drawn to spiritual poverty.

At the heart of this first beatitude is a humble recognition of my weakness and God’s strength, an understanding that I offer God nothing yet God offers me everything. Spiritual poverty is attractive to Jesus because it’s honest, it’s real, and—most importantly—it gives Him plenty of room to come in and fill us with more of God. The biggest problem with being a religious snob is that we’re so full of ourselves, there’s no room left for Christ. But when we are spiritually humble, spiritually empty, there is plenty of room for Jesus to come in and fill us with Himself. So, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Follow me humbly, or you won’t follow me at all.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His latest book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.).

Monday, February 7, 2022

What Does God Say About Divorce?

“They are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 
– Matthew 19:6

A married couple had their first big fight. They got so mad at each other that they started giving each other the silent treatment. Both of them were pretty stubborn, and this silent treatment went on for days. But then, three days into their standoff, the man realized he needed his wife’s help. He had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to catch a flight to Chicago, but he had a bad habit of sleeping through his alarm.

But he still didn’t want to be the first one to crack and break the silence. So, the husband wrote a note to his wife and set it in front of her: “Please wake me at 5 a.m.” The next morning the man woke up, looked at the clock, and saw that it was 9 a.m. He’d missed his flight! He turned toward his wife, about to yell at her. Just then a Post-It note fell from his forehead and fluttered into his lap. It read: “It’s 5 a.m. Wake up.”

That’s an example of a marriage that needed a lot of work. But is it ever okay to give up on a marriage? What does God think of divorce? In the book of Malachi, He’s as direct as He could possibly be: “‘I hate divorce,’ says the LORD God of Israel” (v. 16). Three different times in this chapter, God speaks of the sin of “breaking faith with the wife of your youth.” He says it most clearly in verse 14: “The LORD is acting as a 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.” You see, when a man and woman get married, they stand in front of God and each other and forge a covenant—a binding, lifelong commitment—promising to love, honor and cherish each other for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. And that covenant is binding until one of them dies.

So in essence, God says in Malachi 2, “Husbands, when you divorce your wife, you are shredding your marriage covenant. You are abandoning your marriage partner. You are breaking the trusting relationship that you promised to her on your wedding day. And when you break your relationship with her, you break your relationship with Me. And I hate it!”

Fast forward 400 years. When the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce in the book of Matthew, He takes His listeners back to the very beginning—Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” And then in Matthew 19:6, Jesus adds the words that have been repeated millions of times in Christian wedding ceremonies. “So, they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus’ critics ask a follow-up question in verse 7: “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (As a side note, they’re twisting God’s words. Neither God nor Moses ever commanded a husband to divorce his wife in the Old Testament law.) Jesus responded, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (vs. 8-9). Why? Because in God’s eyes, he’s still married to his first wife. Their divorce might have been LEGAL, but it wasn’t BIBLICAL.  It might have been sanctioned by MAN, but it wasn’t sanctioned by GOD.

In Matthew 19:9, Jesus goes on to offer us only one reason for a divorce that is acceptable to God: marital unfaithfulness (aka, adultery): “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” You may ask, “Does Jesus give a divorced Christian permission to marry someone else if there WERE biblical grounds for divorce?” If you look very closely at what Jesus says in verse 9, the answer appears to be, “Yes, He does.” If a husband commits adultery, God gives his wife permission to divorce him. God doesn’t command it. God doesn’t even encourage it. But He permits it. And if, after the divorce is final, she chooses to marry another man, God doesn’t command it. God doesn’t encourage it. But He permits it. She is not committing adultery with her new husband, because in God’s eyes she is no longer married to her first husband.

There is only one other acceptable reason for a divorce according to the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul writes that a Christian spouse isn’t “bound” to a non-Christian spouse who physically abandons him or her. He seems to allow divorce in such situations, but he doesn’t address the question of whether or not re-marriage is permitted by God.

However, if in some way your marriage is struggling or broken, it’s not enough for me to just tell you, “God hates divorce, so don’t do it!” With good counsel and God’s guidance, I believe struggling Christian couples can build a brand new marriage. One that works. One that God has always wanted the two of you to enjoy together. I urge you to seek that guidance. God HATES divorce, because God LOVES marriage. So, you’d better believe that He is willing to roll up His sleeves and work with you to make your marriage better than ever. For marriages that are hurting, unhappy or broken, I highly recommend Dr. David Clarke’s book, “I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage.”

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

Can Sex Be Holy?

  “Make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” – Ephesians 5:26

One night an elderly couple was lying on opposite sides of the bed. The wife was unhappy about the distance between them. She reminded her husband, “When we were young, you used to hold my hand in bed.” He hesitated a moment, then reached across the bed and grasped her hand. After a few moments, she said, “When we were young, you used to cuddle right up next to me.” The husband hesitated a bit longer this time. But eventually, with a few groans, he laboriously turned his body and cradled her in his arms as best he could. She still wasn’t satisfied. She said, “When we were young, you used to nibble on my ear.” Giving a loud sigh, he threw back the covers and bolted out of bed. Somewhat hurt, she asked, “Where are you going?” The husband responded, “To get my teeth!”

Physical intimacy can be an awkward topic. But it may surprise you to learn that the Bible doesn’t shy away from the subject of sex. In most cases, it’s tactful and discreet—but the Bible DOES have a lot to say about sexual intimacy in marriage.

When it comes to understanding true physical intimacy, we as 21st century Christians have two strikes against us. First, our culture is obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere. It’s in our TV shows; it’s in our movies; it’s in our music; it’s in our commercials; and in its most perverted form, it’s plastered all over the internet. But there’s a second strike against us: Churches tend to ignore the topic of sexual intimacy. Some churches ignore it because it’s uncomfortable. Others ignore it because what God has to say about it is unpopular and politically incorrect. Still other churches ignore it because they really don’t understand how important sexual intimacy is to God. Therefore, far too many Christian couples begin dating relationships and get married without having learned what God has to say about true sexual intimacy. And as a result, our dating relationships and our marriages suffer.

Well, I don’t want our relationships to suffer. So, allow me a few moments to point out a few insights from God’s word. Many Christians wonder if God has a specific list of “do’s and don’t’s” when it comes to sexual intimacy within marriage. Well, the quick answer is, No. God doesn’t give us a specific list of do’s and don’ts. But He does give us some wonderful principles in Ephesians 5:25-33 that serve as a guide for Christian husbands and wives. Chances are you’ve never viewed this passage as God’s guide for you in the area of sexual intimacy, but it is. It boils down to these three points:

#1: True sexual intimacy must be grounded in “agape” love, not selfish lust (v. 25). Guess which Greek word for love is used throughout this passage. It’s “agape”—unselfish, unconditional, Christ-like love. When sexual intimacy isn’t grounded in agape love, it can be like a hurricane sweeping through a mobile home park. It leaves a whole lot of damage in its wake.

#2: True sexual intimacy involves self-sacrifice—giving yourself up for the good of your spouse (v. 25). According to God’s word, your main focus during sexual intimacy should be pleasing your spouse, not pleasing yourself. I love the way theologian Warren Wiersbe says it: “Sexual love is a beautiful tool to build with, not a weapon to fight with.” Far too many wives use sex as a weapon to manipulate their husbands. And far too many husbands give their wives guilt trips about sex. That’s not conducive to intimacy. True sexual intimacy involves self-sacrifice.

#3: True sexual intimacy is holy and cleanses your spouse (v. 26).  According to God’s word, all sex outside of marriage is perverted, regardless of whether it’s heterosexual or homosexual. It’s dirty, and it makes both sexual partners dirty. You see, God created sex to be like the water in your washing machine. If it stays inside the machine, it makes your clothes clean. But if you toss it in the dirt, it will just make your clothes dirtier. Within a godly marriage, sexual intimacy can help cleanse your spouse of lustful thoughts. It can help cleanse your spouse of discouragement and insecurities. And it can help cleanse your spouse of feelings of rejection. No, sexual intimacy can’t cleanse your spouse of sin. Only Jesus can do that. But there is cleansing power in sexual intimacy, and that is by God’s design. So, is there such a thing as holy sex? Yes, there is, when we allow God’s word to be our guide.

One final insight: Sexual intimacy provides a living illustration of how passionately Jesus Christ loves us and desires to be close to us. Listen to what Paul writes in Ephesians 5:31-32 as he’s giving instructions to husbands: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” You see, the very best marriages are a living illustration of Christ’s love for the Church, which in the New Testament is often called the Bride of Christ.

When we are intimate with our spouses and experience that agape love, we are closer than we can ever be to any other human being. Could it be that God designed this intimacy for us to better understand how much Jesus loves us … and how much He wants us to be close to Him?

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.

What Makes a Compatible Marriage?

 “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” - 2 Corinthians 6:14

Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you probably know who Shaquille O’Neal is. Shaq was one of the most dominant NBA centers of all time, helping to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three NBA championships. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But have you ever seen a picture of Shaq standing next to his girlfriend? She’s a lovely woman—but Shaq looks like a giant standing next to her. The top of her head comes up to the crook of his elbow! I guess when you’re 7-foot-1, it’s hard to find a girl your height.

Have you ever looked at a couple and thought to yourself, “They just look mismatched?” You might see a woman who’s much taller than the man she’s with … or who’s so stunningly gorgeous that you might be tempted to say, “She’s way out of his league!”

My point is this: There are certain couples that we look at and say, “They’re just not compatible.” Sometimes we’re proven right when they have a bitter breakup six months later. At other times, we find ourselves 10 years down the road say, “Huh! I never thought that relationship would work, but I guess I was wrong. They’re still together and they seem happy enough.” Of course, we’re not the best judges of anyone else’s relationship—or even our own. So, let’s take a close look at what God’s Word teaches us about compatibility.

When we talk about compatibility in Christian circles, we usually quote 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”  When the apostle Paul wrote these words, he was speaking to Corinthian Christians who had allowed false teachers to come into their church and persuade them to water down their teaching. So, first and foremost, he was warning the Christians not to get so chummy with false teachers who could lead them away from Christ. However, this verse provides a timeless principle that applies to every relationship Christians are in—including business partnerships, dating relationships and marriage.

So, let’s take a closer look at the term “equally yoked.” When Paul used the term, he was referring back to Deuteronomy 22:10, where God gives the Jewish people the law, “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” You might wonder, “What the heck kind of a law is that?” But as any third-world country farmer who doesn’t own a tractor can tell you, teaming up an ox and a donkey is a really bad idea. The average donkey weighs about 500 pounds. The average ox weighs about 2,000 pounds. How can you plow a straight furrow if you’ve got an animal on one side of the yoke that is four times heavier than the animal on the other side? You can’t. God knew they could not work together in harmony. So, He said, “Don’t yoke them together. You’re asking for trouble.”

Interestingly, there was one other problem with yoking an ox and a donkey together. According to Jewish dietary laws, an ox was a “clean” animal. The Jews were allowed to eat it. But they weren’t allowed to eat a donkey. It was an “unclean” animal. So, this obscure law about being unequally yoked wasn’t just for farmers.  It provided this timeless principle for all God’s followers: Those who are “clean” should never be yoked together in close relationships with those who are “unclean.” Or, to say it more simply, those who LOVE God should never enter partnerships with those who DON’T LOVE God.

When a believer marries an unbeliever, a game of spiritual tug of war begins, because they are unequally yoked. And guess who wins the game nine times out of 10? The unbeliever. Why? Because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s just easier for the believer to cave. It’s like the Old Sunday school illustration. One child stands on top of a chair while the other one stands on the floor. They join hands and start pulling. Who almost always wins? The child who’s pulling the other one down. What’s true of kids on chairs is equally true of Christians in marriages that are unequally yoked. The believer has already compromised by choosing a spouse who has turned their back on God. So, it’s pretty easy for that believer to compromise a bit more by turning his or her own back on God. Remember, it’s always easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up.

There is no doubt that when it comes to choosing a spouse, God commands us in Scripture to choose a fellow believer. Now, if you are already in an unequally yoked marriage, you’re probably wondering what God wants you to do. If you were a Christian on your wedding day and you knew your fiancĂ© wasn’t a Christian, you need to humbly admit to God that you sinned and ask Him to forgive you. And regardless of whether you were a Christian on your wedding day or became a Christian at some later date, you need to follow what God tells you to do in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Long story short: Don’t divorce your unbelieving spouse. Husbands, pray for your wife’s salvation. Wives, pray for your husband’s salvation. And ask God to open opportunities for you to lead your spouse to Christ so that you CAN be equally yoked.

Ultimately, a marriage is most compatible when we follow the principles established by God—the Creator of marriage. According to God’s Word, compatibility boils down to three things: values, beliefs and goals. The most successful, happy Christian marriages are those where a husband and wife are on the same page with their values, beliefs and goals. That’s what it truly means to be equally yoked.

Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. His new book, “Buoyed Up: Jesus’ 8 Steps to an Unsinkable Life,” is available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audiobook. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on Facebook Live or YouTube. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.