Friday, May 11, 2007

Marriage Retreat...for the Glory of God (1)

This past weekend, Kimberly and I had the privilege of attending a marriage retreat hosted by our church in Orange Beach, AL. Our speaker was Jason Allen, who is the Executive Assistant to Al Mohler at Southern Seminary and also is the interim pastor of a small church in Louisville. It was a joy to hear from him and his wife, Karen, rejoice in the things of God and His goodness that He has displayed towards them in their uncommon union. I was impressed with his ability to communicate biblical truth in a real, practical way and to seek to see the glory of God in all things. I was doubly impressed when I discovered that he dwells at the tender age of thirty.

Probably for my own posterity and the need to continue to reflect upon the truths that we discussed, I decided that I would provide a basic outline of each of his sessions based upon the notes that I took. I’m sure that I will not do his Christ-exalting preaching justice, but the attempt will be made nonetheless. The session headings were not given by Mr. Allen himself, but are also my attempts at summation. Here goes…

1st Session: The Sovereignty of God in Marriage
Jason chose as his text Romans 8:28-30 to begin our retreat and I found this remarkable to say the least:

Rom 8 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.
Jason chose this text because, in his own words, "This is a touchstone passage for the entire Bible, paradigmatic for all of Christianity." It is from this passage that we learn that God indeed has a plan even when life seems to be falling apart. When life simply can not be calculated we rest in the knowledge that God’s nature is good and that His plan is also good. As stated previously, I considered this to be a remarkable foundation from which to build a marriage retreat, for it is from this same foundation that Christianity finds its base.

If God is not 100% sovereign then He is not sovereign at all. He can not be 99.99% sovereign for this would indicate that there is some realm of nature (even the most minute) that does not operate under his control. For philosophers, this is where the Law of Non-contradiction comes in to play. In brief, the Law of Non-Contradiction says that something (whether or a person, place, thing, object, idea, etc) can not “be” and “not be” at the same time. That is to say a “table” can not “be a table” and “not be a table” at the same time. True, the table may function in different manners at different points in time, however, the table is still the table. In the same way, God can not “be sovereign” and “not be sovereign” at the same time, He is either one or the other, not both. Therefore, and moving all of the logic aside since Scripture teaches that God is sovereign over all of His creation, then we must also affirm that He is sovereign over all of creation.

Jason adds: “God, in His absolute sovereignty, absolute power, and absolute control, has a specific plan for this universe, His Church, and for my life.” This thusly includes (but is not limited to) my family, my job, my daily routines, my church fellowship, my suffering, and my marriage. I had a friend who once said that everything is “Father filtered,” meaning that nothing comes into our lives without first being ordained and approved by God. (The question is then begged as to the concept of evil and the fallen nature of humanity. This will have to wait for another post, if I wish to not clog the blogosphere. I will come back to this at a near point in the future, however, as this is also one of the “problems of philosophy” that I have been wrestling with from a Christian worldview perspective.)

Mr. Allen then included that a few points to take away from God’s plan is that it provides “assurance, confidence, sobriety, focus, and joy.” Assurance because we might rest knowing that the world is not dependent on man and his fallen ways, but on a God who is perfectly holy, perfectly just, and perfectly true in all His ways. Indeed, even the angels in Heaven who are predetermined to carry the bowls of God’s wrath gather around the holy throne and
“sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:3-4 ESV)
Our confidence is therefore found in knowing that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). God’s plan also provides sobriety as we remember that there is indeed a coming judgment, and even before that, there is a day that has been appointed for every living creature to die. None of us will die one half-second before it was intended before the foundations of the world were established when the plan existed only in the mind of God.

This then, should lead us to focus as we understand that our days are but few, and that as image bearers of God, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and in submission to His Spirit we ought to seek to live each day for the fullness of God’s glory and for the praise of His name.

All this leads to what might be known as our everlasting joy. When a life is lived for God’s glory, the life will experience joy triumphant and interminable. We can live with the confidence of knowing that God’s plan is intended to result in my greatest joy, that is, the endless joy of knowing Him, the One who created us and saved us by bringing us - who were once far off - into an eternal covenant through His provision which accomplished our redemption.
“Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise You with the lyre, O God, my God.” (Psa 43:3-4)
He is to be our eternal, everlasting, ever-increasing joy as we understand the unfolding nature of His plan.

Allen then sums up the goal of God’s sovereign plan with this purpose: God’s sovereign plan exists for “the greater glory of God and the holiness of His people.” Too often, I attempt to separate this statement into two parts. The first part, “the greater glory of God” I affirm because I understand that all things exist for God’s glory. God is glorified when sinners come to Him in repentance seeking to trust in Him alone for salvation. God is glorified when His children repent of their known sin as well in hopes of purifying their relationship and growing to be more like Christ. God is even glorified, dare say I, when non-believers continue in their sin, for their sin will always stand in stark contrast to His holiness and ultimately His glory will be revealed (here on earth or at the day of judgment and beyond, but it will one day be revealed). However, the second part, “the holiness of His people” I tend to shrug. Yes, this may be awfully unspiritual of me to confess, but I too often do not truly seek to be sanctified by the washing of the word. I do so in theory, of course, but how often do I truly submit myself to the sovereignty of God’s lordship so that I might be intentionally made holy. The only way in which a sinful man such as myself might be made holy is through the cleansing of the sin which so easily entangles. Thus, I must be made aware of my sin and truly repent of it if I am to be conformed to His likeness. My sinful nature rebels against this process, but I admit, that once on the other side of the fires of sanctification I am thankful yet convinced that I have still yet to arrive.

Up to this point, on might have supposed that he had arrived at the wrong conference. This was to be a “marriage conference” right? Yes, it was, and that is precisely the point. Although this was the first marriage gig that my excellent of wife of two years and I have attended, I can only presume that most marriage conferences begin with “Communication 101”, “Roles of the Husband/Wife”, or “What to Do When Your Children Leave Home”, or the like. To be sure, all of these are important issues to discuss and items that need to be addressed sooner or later. However, if we do not have the bedrock of God’s sovereignty then we have missed the point altogether for not only our marriage, but our entire Christian life. As mentioned above, God can not be 99.99% sovereign if He is to be truly sovereign. But when we come to grips with the awesome reality that God is indeed 1,000,000,000,000% sovereign then we can be illumined to the biblical truths that:
I. God’s plan is for my good.
II. God’s plan is for my holiness.
III. God’s plan is for His glory
Jason gave these three truths and then wonderfully brought the idea of God’s sovereignty into the context of our marriages.

I. God’s plan is for my good.
“…all things work together for good.”

Because God is sovereign, I can trust that He is working His plan for my ultimate good. I may not agree with what that “good” is because my sinful natures prevents me from fully grasping the concept of God’s goodness, however, this does not negate God’s goodness nor the goodness of His plan. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psa 136:1). Jason then follows that this means “that although my wife or my husband is not perfect, she or he is perfect for me.” What a marvelous thought! True, Kimberly is not perfect and neither am I. (I am a lot “less perfect” than she – that’s for sure!) However, we do trust that God’s plan is perfect and that we have not been brought together by a cosmic accident of time plus chance. I trust fully, because the Scriptures affirm this, that God, in His sovereign plan, before the foundations of the world were established, knew my name, knew when I would come into being, knew the path that I would take, and knew who my wife would be long before I had the concept of “girls.” This is not to say that God saw the choices that I would make and then chose to operate His plan in accordance with my choices. Rather, in His sovereignty He gave me the freedom to freely choose the choices that I did make all the while in accordance with His plan that caused me to be in position with exactly where He wanted me to be. And He did the same for Kimberly. Therefore, we are not permitted to ever entertain the idea “maybe I should have chose differently” or “we should have never been married” or “since this isn’t working out we should just divorce.” NO NO NO! To do so would be to deny the goodness of God and the goodness of His plan! This sin must be avoided at all costs.

II. God’s plan is for my holiness.
“…to be conformed to the image of His Son…”

Because God is sovereign, I can trust that His plan is for my holiness. As stated previously, my sinful nature tends to attempt to buck this truth and kick against the goads when it comes to my holiness. However, rest assured, no matter how much I buck or how much I kick, God’s truth abideth still. It is important to note here, that even in our post-modern society, truth is still truth whether we adhere to it or not. Truth is still truth whether we agree with it as truth or not. Truth, real truth, is fully independent of any human validation. It is along this line that we read in the truth of Scripture that His children were intended to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Thusly, we can note that everything that comes into our life has been “Father filtered” for the purpose of conforming us to his image. More specifically, my job, my marriage, my finances, my children (if the Lord chooses to bless us with them), my possessions, my achievements, my _________(fill in the blank) is intended to conform me into the image if Jesus Christ. Moreover, in light of God’s sovereignty, this proverbial argument that we are having is intended to produce an opportunity for Kimberly and I to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be like Christ (to steal from Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker. Even more specifically, my wife is one of God’s chosen agents of sanctification in my life. Again, oftentimes the agent receives the brunt of what is an individual who does not wish to be sanctified. But I am increasingly thankful for the ministry that the Lord has given to Kimberly to point out faults in my character or areas where I am not living in a Christ-like manner. Notice I did not say that I am always immediately thankful, but prayerfully, I am moving towards that direction. She has the ability, the authority, and the responsibility of no other individual on the face of this earth to carry out this ministry, and I do in kind for her. Dennis Rainey wrote in his book The Christian Husband that I should be more concerned with my wife’s holiness than her happiness. I believe this to be true and the vice-versa applies to her as well.

III. God’s plan is for His glory
“…in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Because God is sovereign, I can trust that He works all things not only for my good and my holiness, but ultimately for His glory. This is the reason that all things exist anyway – for His glory. For, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”(Ps 19:1) and even we as individuals should consider “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). Jason exhorted each of us to “live life in such a way that Jesus Christ gains first place in everything.” He is to have preeminence in every aspect of our lives. Our jobs, our marriages, our finances, our _______(fill in the blank). He is to have first place everywhere! This is especially true in our marriages. For, if at ANY time I seek to usurp His position and desire that I be first place in our marriage, we are destined for a sinful situation. When I believe that all of my needs are to be considered before Kimberly’s I am obviously putting myself before not only her, but before the One who sovereignly brought us together in the first place. It is He who foreknew, He who predestined, He who conforms, He who calls, He who justifies, and He who will one day glorify. Sure, man is responsible for the sinfulness of his own actions, but none of us come to God on our own terms. He sets the stage and draws us to Him. This is a part of His sovereign grace to conform us to His image for His ultimate glory. He does this so that He might be the firstborn and preeminent among all. Come to terms with this truth, and all of life will seem to coincide.

This first session was indeed incredible and set the stage for each session that would follow. What an incredible place to start! God is sovereign and we are not, a truth which also must be understood before our marriages are to be successful for His glory. Failure is not an option, so we seek to rest and trust in the truth of His sovereign grace that plans and redeems from eternity past until eternity future. What a mighty God we serve!

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