Yesterday’s message, which concluded the One Sixty Seven series, also ….
- got its title from a Bon Jovi song;
- began with a shout out to Star Wars as the names of celebrities caught up in the Reckoning that followed the #MeToo movement scrolled on the screens, complete with musical accompaniment;
- shared the biblical bookends that I first learned from Matt O’Reilly;
- showed people that when Jesus COULD HAVE redefined marriage, he reinforced it instead;
- emphasized the global, historic teaching of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage;
- landed at this bottom line: You’ll give love a good name when your desires yield to his design.
This: Either LIST OF NAMES, hopefully on a moving screen like Star Wars OR pics of the people … will decide Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Judge Roy Moore, Mr. Richardson, even a president or two …
Quite a list, isn’t it? These are the guys who, collectively and individually, gave love a bad name. A really bad name. It started out a few months ago as a novelty and then it became a cascade and ultimately turned into an avalanche. #MeToo unleashed what is now called The Reckoning and it involved people some of you despised, others of you liked, many of you follow, a bunch of you respected, and most of you were surprised. And something tells me the list is far from complete, and we might even include some women on it. These are people whose movies, shows, and interviews filled a lot of our 167 & I know first hand of the level of shock, outrage, and sometimes even perverse fascination with what these guys thought they were getting away with. They had what felt natural, they had desires, and out of this combination of position & power & wealth & cultural movement felt entitled. Like the 70s said, “If it feels good ____ ___.”
And I want to suggest on this final Sunday of One Sixty Seven that this rather unprecedented American moment has actually done the church a great favor. Because at the very least it shows that maybe the sexual revolution – and the steroids that Rev took once it got on the internet – wasn’t such a great idea after all. Maybe God has had a better design and a better idea all along. Maybe there is a higher calling on our lives that what feels natural to us. And maybe since the hyper-sexualized content of the 167 has seeped in and brought so much confusion into the ONE (the church), maybe it’s time to bring some clarity.
Because one thing (of many) that is incredible about the biblical library is the way it begins and ends. The bookends of Scripture. Inclusio if you want to know the technical term. Look at Genesis 1:27-28
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
This is the creation of humanity in the grand sweep of the creation of creation. Then look at Genesis 2:24, where it’s narrowed down to a particular couple:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Man, woman, garden, married. Tuck that away. It’s the first institution God makes – before government, school, Facebook, or even church, he creates marriage. And note the order that’s there because it, too, is not by accident: leave, cleave, become one. Well, sweep over to the end of the library; the other bookend at Revelation 21:1-2, 9:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband . . . 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Now Revelation 22:2:
2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
The imagery is moving at kaleidoscopic speed, but one thing is clear: there’s a bride, a groom, and a garden. The end is the beginning. The last things are a return to the first things. The final plan is the initial plan.
So if we are bible lifters, if we believe that God has a design in both the composition and compilation of Scripture, then much of what happens in between has to be seen through the lens of the inclusio. There is a grand design in the library. There is a grander design for the man and for the woman. The bookends set the parameters not only for the “book,” but for how we see the content in between.
And then – and please note this – towards the middle of the library in Matthew 19:5, Jesus is asked about marriage and divorce and everything in between and is answer is absolutely stunning:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When he could have REDEFINED marriage, he REINFORCED it instead. When he could have modernized God’s design for family and intimacy, he doubled down on what had already been revealed. Don’t let people tell you that Jesus never spoke on such modern subjects as SSM and gender identity (as if we are so much smarter than anyone who has ever lived before); no, he did, with clarity, it’s just that the people these days don’t like the answer he gave. And the influence of the 167 is so relentless & so persistent – if it feels good to you it must be good for you; you are defined by your desires – that people either reinvent Jesus or disregard him. And, honestly, I don’t know which is more dangerous.
So at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end there is a DESIGN to sex & intimacy. And it’s God’s design. And I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of it this way or not, but this bookend, this design, this connection between marriage & intimacy … all served to remind us that God invented sex. Yes! He did! There was a time, apparently, when sex did not exist and so God must have said, “Let there be sex!” And the people were like, “Now THERE’S a commandment we’ll obey!” He invented it, he’s not ashamed by it or embarrassed of it, and – get this – he is glorified by it when it happens according to his design. Sex, breathtakingly, points to God himself. It points to his creative powers because we co-create as we procreate (you realize, don’t you, that all of us are here as the result of sex that went one sometime and somewhere? The only exception is here in spirit but not in body.)
But sexual intimacy also points to him in that the way a man and a woman who are different are nevertheless complementary. They are two & yet they become one. And what is the Trinity? He who is at the same time distinct (F,S,HS) and yet ONE. And sex as God designed it points beautifully to his faithfulness. So his design, as revealed in Genesis 2, reinforced in Mt. 19, and restored in Rev 21 & 22, points to his character and his purpose and his glory.
And then, and then, it bumps up against what feels natural. Against our desire. It’s so interesting to me that the designed gets unveiled in Genesis 2 … what happens in Gen 3? Sin. Twisting, breaking, disordering, an elevation of ME far, far above THEE. And suddenly, what we want takes priority over his design. Every orientation becomes disoriented. Love gets a bad name. And the influence of the 167 takes this disorienting, this disobedience, and makes it sound right & tolerant & freeing. This is true whether it has to do with your own life – if you’re not sexually active you’re not really living! – or, how you think and process major issues like divorce, SSM, and gender identity. Love is love is love. And at every step along the way what feels natural TO you must be good FOR you. And when that mindset (and body response) you get co-habitation, pregnancy w/o marriage, cultural rot, sexual anarchy even in church leadership, and a whole slew of men giving love a very bad name indeed.
All of which is why I am bringing you the design revealed, reinforced, and ultimately restored. Whew! Glory! We have a GIFT to give to a world that is discovering to its dismay that random sex overpromises and underdelivers. We can give love a good name again! How? When as individuals and as a community, your desires yield to his design. When, instead of surrendering TO, you surrender. When you take the design and use it according to the specs of the designer. What results is not punishment but beauty! Not buzzkill but life give!
Because have you noticed that when you use things they way they were designed they work so much better? Like you don’t use THIS (golf club) to hit THIS (tennis ball). (DEMO.) It doesn’t work! By mutual design, to hit this you gotta have THIS (tennis racket) (DEMO) Ah, that’s the way it’s designed to be used and when used according to design, the results are … spectacular.
Listen: God’s design includes boundaries. Because he knows the vulnerability of sex requires the safety of marriage. He’s not surprised by the studies that show a higher level of sexual contentment among marrieds than among sexually active singles … because that’s the way he designed it all along. He invented it and he won’t be mocked by its mis-use; he will always have the last word. And that’s why the same library that shows his design lets us know repeatedly that the foundation of that design is nothing less than celibacy in singleness & faithfulness in heterosexual marriage. Nothing less. Nothing else. His design points to his beauty and results in your wholeness. Your desires yield to his design.
What feels natural to you? As a single, is it that desire for financial stability that will come with moving in with that guy or that girl? Or are you honest to say that finances are way less important than hormones? Feel natural to you? As a married person, does it feel natural to you when that girl or that guy who is not your mate touches your arm, makes you feel young, makes you feel desired? As either a married or a single, is what is feeling natural to you these days someone of the same sex? And it is so no big deal anymore you don’t have to worry about the social pressures, thank God? So enticing, so easy, so accepted, to do what feels natural to you. God would never let you have a desire he didn’t want you to meet, would he?
And the only reason you ask that question is because of the power & persuasiveness of the lies of the 167. So: what do we do with this. When the message of the 167 is so different and so persuasive, when our bodies & our impulses tell us otherwise, what do we do? Because I know I am speaking to people all over the spectrum: many of you scarred, some of you skeptical, and a lot of you knowing from painful experience how right I am. You know what? For those of you who sometimes (or often) engage in cultural conversations regarding The Reckoning or SSM, all you need to do is say, “I believe we in the church have a gift to offer to the world. It’s not about what we’re against; it’s about the beauty we are for. The Sexual Revolution & Internet Sex are not quite what they are cracked up to be & here’s why:” REFRAIN
And for those of you who have been beyond the boundaries and know better than anyone how true this is (or if you haven’t learned it yet, I suspect you will): your urges are not your friend. They are a signal to surrender to God. To remember that you are a human being well before you are a sexual being. That a whole lot of what feels natural TO you – whether gay or straight – is ultimately not good for you or those around you. What a relief to be able to say, without emotion or anxiety, “Yep, I have urges that I don’t have to follow. I have desires that I don’t have to satisfy. God’s design is always better. For me and everyone else wrestling the same way.”
And for singles or single agains: your purity is precious. I have never been in marriage counseling with a couple where they said, “Whoooo! We both had so many partners before we met and married. And compare notes all the time.” Nope. Never. Keeping the marriage bed pure starts before you ever get married. All across the spectrum I just long for the people of this church to admit you DON’T KNOW BETTER THAN GOD and join the passionate ranks of the sexually restrained. Your friends will think you’re weird. You will be. I remember being in a meeting where a single again told how her friends reacted to her decision to remain celibate til that time when she married again: “they think I’m an alien.” Heh. We ARE. We are citizens of the kingdom and merely residents on the earth. Your desires yield to his design.
A truth, a reality, that the guys in our Hall Of Shame at the beginning never quite got. And look at all they lost. Reputation, income, respect, family. They lost all that less because what they did was immoral and more because they elevated DESIRE over DESIGN.
Because here’s another list. It’s a list of people, famous and anonymous, who’ve lost it all – respect, reputation, family – because they were celibate in singleness and then faithful in heterosexual marriage: BLANK SCREEN