What exactly is the “gospel”? We use the word around the church all the time, but what is it? John McGee walks through three things the gospel teaches us to do in both life and marriage: initiate, forgive, & commit.
Sunday, June 7 Watermark Fort Worth Service
“Races” Don’t Reconcile, People Do: How to Love, Listen and Live like Christ
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Where in your life can you do a better job of taking initiative, offering forgiveness, or being committed? Share this with your community group, and ask them to help you come up with one way to improve.
What exactly is the “gospel”? We use the word around the church all the time, but what is it? John McGee walks through three things the gospel teaches us to do in both life and marriage: initiate, forgive, & commit.
Suggested Scripture study: 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 5:8; Revelation 2:5; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 22:20; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 10:28; Matthew 19:6; Psalm 15:4; John 13:34-35
* Ministry: re|engage
* Sermon: The Motivation to Forgive
* Sermon: Commitment is the Key to Change
All right. Watermark, how are we doing? It is great to be with you. My name is John McGee. Twenty years ago, week seven of this church, my wife and I walked in here for the first time. We had one child who wasn't able to walk, so we walked in here with a little car carrier, and here we are 20 years later. We have two in college, two at home. This is the only church they've ever known, and it has been a blessing to be here.
I came on staff in '02 and started the marriage ministry here at Watermark. God brought us some really gifted people, and we started Merge, Foundation Groups, and re|engage, if you've heard of those before, and had a really fun run. The last three years, what I've been up to is helping other churches…basically, leveraging any of our learnings, any of our resources to help other churches make disciples in their community.
So I'm doing some really fun things. We have the Church Leaders Conference coming up. We have Awaken coming up. We have the Church Leadership Podcast. We have books and articles that are coming out. Last fall…really fun…we made our entire staff available so churches could just call in and book an appointment with someone else on our staff if we could serve them in any way. Then we're exporting our ministries…Merge, Foundation Groups, re:gen, and re|engage.
Just to highlight that one for a second, it's really fun. Re|engage, which is one of our marriage ministries here, is in 365 churches now around the country. You should be encouraged if you invest here about the way your investment is being multiplied. I've been in these churches, and the same things we see here are happening there…people coming to Christ, people walking in with divorce papers in hand, and now they're leading in the marriage ministry. It's really, really fun.
I hope that encourages you. Keep praying that we would be faithful here first. We want to be the church before we go and help others do the same. Pray for that. It's really, really exciting. So, having been around here for 20 years… Like anywhere, if you've been somewhere for a long time, you realize you have a lingo and a language in your little subgroup. Watermark and Christians in general are pretty funny.
We have words that sometimes we say and just sound odd from the outside: fellowship, doing life together. We unpack things, which has nothing to do with moving. We talk about loving on each other, which sounds a little creepy if we're honest. All that means, if you're new, is just encourage. That's all it is. We're just encouraging each other. Or investing our treasure, as if we had sacks of gold we drag around these days.
One of the words I've noticed an uptick in is the word gospel. What's interesting is you can actually go out to Google and map word usage across books and articles and things like that. Good news. The gospel is making a comeback. It's on an uptick in usage. We use it a lot here, but I wonder if we even know sometimes what it means. If you have your Bible today, open up to 1 Corinthians 15. I want to start with the question…What is the gospel? Paul tells us, as he's talking to the Corinthians in chapter 15. We'll start in verse 1.
"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand." This is really important. Paul had preached the gospel, which means good news… Paul had preached the good news to the church at Corinth before they were even Christians. As they were exploring the faith, Paul preached the gospel, and now that these guys are Christians, he wants to come back and preach the gospel to them. It's both for nonbelievers and believers.
In verse 2, Paul says, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." Verse 3: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…" Paul is saying, "The most important thing, the central thing for the Christian faith is the gospel." Let's be crystal clear about that. You say, "Great, Paul. What is the gospel?" He goes on and explains it from here. "…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…"
So, what is the gospel? It's that Christ who was the perfect God-man, second member of the Trinity, came to earth and died for our sins. The penalty of sin is death, and Christ took it upon himself. Rather than you pay it, he paid it, and he went into the tomb. Three days later, Christ was raised, which signifies, first, that he is God; second, that he conquered sin and death; third, that God accepted this payment by Christ on our behalf. That is the gospel.
If you've never heard that before, that's really good news. You don't have to pay for your sins. Christ has done that for you if you accept it. If you're a nonbeliever, the gospel is great news. If you are a believer, the gospel is great news. Paul was so eager to preach it, not just to nonbelievers but to believers. In Romans 1, he said, "I am eager to share the gospel with you, to preach the gospel again." He's like, "Guys, you need to hear this," because not only for our salvation but also our lives it has so many implications.
So today I want to talk about the gospel. I also want to talk about marriage. "John, why would you want to talk about the gospel and marriage?" I'll tell you. After working with couples here for almost 20 years, I saw this over and over and over again. A couple would go to a marriage conference, and they would enjoy their marriage more. They would both say, "We like being married more than we did before this conference."
What would happen is it would revert back over time, and then they would say, "Well, great. So now we're going to read a book. We'll read a book, we'll learn some new what or some new how techniques, and we will enjoy our marriage better." And they would. Then they would revert back, and then they would take a retreat or read another book or go to another conference, learning a new what, a new how, and they would always revert back.
But I've seen this over and over again: couples that are locked down on the why leverage those, but they don't have to depend on any book or any conference. I want to talk about this why, and I want to see marriage through the gospel lens. My hope is that later today you're talking about this with the person you came with and one of you says, "That was a great gospel message" and one of you says, "No, that was a great marriage message." "Gospel message!"
You can get in a fight, and I'll tell you how to resolve it as part of this today. That would make me really happy if that was a raging debate, because we're going to talk about both. Now, I know some of us in here are married and the applications will be very, very apparent. Some of us aren't married and want to be, and I think this will be an encouragement to you. Some of you aren't married and have no desire to be, which can be a God-given gift, Scripture says.
Some of you have been married and aren't, but all of us are in relationships, and all of us need to be reminded of the gospel, and I think all of us should walk out of these doors in a few minutes just kind of having our breath taken away about the way God loves us and the way God responds to us. So, today, we're going to talk about three things the gospel teaches us about marriage and how the gospel should be both our model and our motivation in relationships.
1 . The gospel teaches us to initiate. I think about verses like Romans 5:8. Many of you know this verse. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Christ came to us. He didn't wait for us to get to him. All man-made religions are all the same. You work your way up to God, and once you reach his standard, then he will respond or then he will reciprocate, which makes sense, because that's how we think as humans.
We're really good at responding or reciprocating. We're pretty lousy at initiating or going first. We need a reason to do that. We need a model, and what Christ did in the gospel is our model. Pam and I have been married almost 25 years (25 years this summer), and the last three, we would both say, probably have been some of our hardest times as a couple. We love each other. We're looking forward to 25, but they've just been hard.
Our oldest went off to college a couple of years ago, which is always hard on Mama, and Pam also had some health stuff we couldn't figure out and some relationships that were tough. My normally peppy, happy, joyful, "make the lights burn brighter" wife was kind of sad. She kind of got through that period, and at the same time, I blew out my back and herniated my disc. Man, it just sidelined me. For about nine months, I was just lying around the house, lethargic and kind of grumpy. My wife had to be thinking, "What a catch this guy is."
By God's grace, I think both of us, in our best moments there… We didn't have a lot to give each other, but the other one, whoever was in the position to do so, would initiate. I can literally remember… I didn't have this message in mind a couple of years ago, but I can remember my wife going back to bed earlier than she would have normally, and I'm in the living room going, "Well, she hasn't given me much today. I don't feel better. I'm not happier. I don't have energy because of what she has done to me."
I remembered Romans 5:8, and I just thought to myself, "If God were here… He has always initiated with me. For me to love my wife the way Christ loved the church is to initiate with her." I just went back and said, "Hey, do you want to talk? Is there anything I can do for you, anything you want to pray about?" On our best days. I didn't have that thought in and of myself. I didn't have the motivation in and of myself. It was in those moments a gospel response.
I would just commend that to you. Some of you are going, "Okay. Let me get this straight. So, God has initiated with us regardless of what we've done, and we're supposed to do that to others? Are you saying that if they're in a bad mood, rather than wait until they snap out of it I should be kind; that even if they haven't proposed anything fun to do in a while that I should; or if there's a chore that needs to be done, rather than waiting to see if they would do it that I should?
Are you saying if there has been a void of physical affection that I should initiate or if we haven't prayed together as a couple that I should initiate? Are you saying that in my Community Group I should reach out even if others aren't and I'm beginning to get frustrated? Are you saying that if there's conflict that needs to be addressed I should initiate by being kind and saying, 'I think this is something we should talk about. Whenever you're ready, I would love to own my part first'?
Are you saying I should initiate a friendship with a person at the office who seems sad, mad, anxious, never says 'Hi' to me, or that even though my spouse completely forgot it was Valentine's again this year that next year, rather than make them feel bad, I could initiate something fun? Is that what you're saying?" Friends, I think that is exactly what God is saying to us. The gospel gives us a model of initiation, and it also helps us with the motivation to do so.
Now, back to the physical initiation. I've watched couples kind of lock down and not know how to move toward each other. If that has been something difficult, I'm going to give you a quick win you can put on the scoreboard today. There's a lot of great research about the power of a six-second kiss. When you kiss for six seconds, oxytocin levels go up (the feel-good stuff) and cortisol, the stress hormone, goes down, and you feel a sense of bondedness.
Six seconds. That's all it takes. So I would encourage you, if you're stuck physically, for one of you to initiate that. If it goes more than six seconds, congratulations. Anything after that even, great. Don't send me an email. I don't want to know. To be clear, that's for married couples, not students, if you're here. But God initiates with us, and we're to do the same with our spouses and in all relationships.
2 . The gospel teaches us to forgive. If you've been married for any length of time, you found out pretty quickly you didn't date each other; you dated each other's PR departments, and you're like, "Oh, shoot! This is a bit of a bait and switch. These things keep happening, and I have to continue to forgive them for these things. How many times do I have to do that?" We've all wondered that.
Well, it turns out that is an age-old question. "How many times?" Peter asked it in Matthew 18. If you have your Bibles, we can go there. Matthew 18:21. Peter comes to Jesus and says, "'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'" What we might not understand is that Peter is kind of showboating here, probably. In Jewish culture, you were responsible to forgive three times, and after that it was on them.
So, the disciples have been hanging out with Jesus. They know he likes to level up commandments and things, so they're kind of going, "Hey, let's impress him. Double it. Add one. He'll love that." "Jesus, seven times. What do you think?" He says, "No, guys. There's no limit to…" Jesus is not answering a math with a math answer. He's saying there's no limit to the number of times we're to forgive.
Jesus answers the "How many?" question, because that's what Peter asked, but then he goes on as if he's trying to say, "You know what, Peter? You asked the wrong question. I answered that, but let me help you out here. Let me answer the why question, because I think that's really going to help you here…if you understand why you forgive. That's going to help you in your relationships. That's going to help Christians who come after you for centuries to come."
So in verse 23, Jesus begins to tell this story as a parable, which is a story with a point. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold…" Or "ten thousand talents" in some translations. "…was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt."
That number, ten thousand talents, is kind of hyperbole. If you wanted to run the math, it would be like $6 billion, but it's really like the biggest number that would have existed then. It's the way we would say, "That guy is a bajillionaire." It's a made-up, ridiculous number. This guy owes a bajillion dollars to the king. The king sees him in the ledger and goes, "We've got to get this guy in here."
He calls him and says, "Hey, you're going to pay for this. You need to pay me back. You've rung up a debt." Think about that in an agrarian society where you were just trying to scrape along the next day. "You owe me a bajillion dollars, so we are going to put you in prison. We're going to sell off your wife. We're going to sell off your kids. You have just now gotten a death sentence."
Verse 26: "At this the servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.'" Which he couldn't. Check this out. Here's the gospel, right here. "The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go." In one fell swoop, one declaration, he said, "Your bajillion-dollar debt goes to zero right now." He took out his kingly quill and just zeroed it out.
Can you imagine what that would have been like to see that, to be a part of the king's court or to even receive that yourself? I don't know what that was like for him, but in my mind, I have him walking right out and getting an awesome bagel, because I think that's what you would have done in that time to celebrate. You get a bagel, and the sun is shining. This guy went from a death sentence to zeroed out. No payment plan. No terms. No reduced settlement. Just zeroed out.
Verse 28: "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins [a hundred denarii] ." Think a third of a year's wages. "He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him…" Remember this phrase. You heard it before. "Be patient with me, and I will pay it back."
This guy has been forgiven a bajillion dollars. He goes out and sees one of his peers who owes him about a third of a year's wages, and he begins to choke him and say, "Pay back what you owe! Pay back what you owe!" His fellow servant, his peer, says, "Have mercy on me. I'll pay you back. Just please be patient." The exact same words the servant said to the king.
Then verse 30. This is who we are. "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged…" They were furious. They could not believe it. "…and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."
The king called back in the debt he had so freely forgiven because this servant who had been forgiven everything all of a sudden wasn't reciprocating, wasn't passing on the same forgiveness. The gospel is that we get off scot-free. There are no payment plans. There's no penalty box. We owe our very lives. We owe a death sentence, and Christ has forgiven us everything, yet it's very, very clear who we are in this story. We're the unmerciful servant, because we go out with our spouses, with our friends, with our kids and say, "You will repay me. I will make you pay. You owe me something."
Not too long ago, Pam and I were in our bedroom and we were talking, and I just fired off some mean comment. I saw these little tears coming down my wife's face. She wasn't angry. Just little tears. I just thought, "Oh my goodness. Pam is not only my wife; she's God's daughter, and here I am just being a jerk." So in real time: "Hey, babe, I am so sorry. Uncalled for. No excuse. Will you please forgive me?" She said, "Yeah. I forgive you."
We went to bed that night, and it was kind of quiet. I woke up before her the next day, and I remember feeling so terrible. I was like, "Dude, why would you do that?" I'm in the bathroom brushing my teeth. Pam walks in behind, and I catch her. I'm like, "Babe, I'm so sorry. I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?" She was walking, and she just kind of stopped right behind me. She's 5'5" so she's right behind me and I can't see her behind me.
She reaches out with her little 5"5" arms, you know, little T. rex arms, and puts them around me. She gives me a big hug, and I still can't see her. Then her head just pops out. She goes, "Hey!" I could see her through the mirror, and she said, "Hey! I said I forgive you. We're good. Next." She just kind of went bouncing around to her next little thing. I just thought, "Oh man, that feels good."
My wife knows how deeply she has been forgiven, so she's not asking for a check from me anytime I fail her. She knows that unforgiveness is like drinking poison expecting the other person to die. She wasn't going to drink it that day. Some of us are drinking deeply today, hoping the other person experiences the pain we're putting on ourselves.
Pam and I were talking. We can't ever remember looking back at seasons of unforgiveness, either with each other or with other people, and going, "Man, that was smart. That was a really good strategy for our joy. I'm so glad we held on and didn't forgive. That turned out really well for us." Said no one ever. We understand how deeply we've been forgiven. We just want to freely give it here. Now, I wish I didn't have to insert this, but I do, just to serve our body well.
What I'm not talking about forgiving or being okay with or making light of is any type of abuse. If you're in a situation, God forbid, that there's abuse going on, I would say: get out, let your community know, call the police, but don't you ever let someone use a passage like Matthew 18 and say, "You have to forgive me and condone what I'm doing." That has never been okay with God, and it will never be okay at this church. We still can forgive, but we may not be reconciled and we may not be whole immediately.
I bet you're tracking and saying, "Okay, I get that. So, you're saying God is the King. I owe a debt. I've been forgiven everything, and I'm supposed to extend that to my spouse?" You're going to have some questions. Like, "John, are you saying that I should forgive my spouse for their insensitive comments, just like Pam did you, for the times they haven't kept their word, the times they've looked at porn, misspent our money, or given their best energy at work instead of at home?
That I should forgive the person in our Community Group who just seems to come after me every time we're together and harp on my smallest little flaws? Should I forgive the people who teased me mercilessly when I grew up? How about the business partner who cooked our books or the boss who has been unfair? Are you saying I should forgive my parents even though they hurt me deeply as a child?"
Friends, I think that is exactly what God is saying. The gospel is that you've been forgiven everything. A proper response from that model, the proper response with the motivation is to extend that to our spouse, to our friends, to our coworker. Anything less is completely incongruent for us as Christians.
3 . The gospel teaches us to keep our commitments. If you read your Bible cover to cover, you understand that God is a covenant-keeping God. He starts with Abraham who was nobody special, and he says, "Abraham, I make a covenant with you and your kids and everyone who comes after you."
Then he picks David out, who was just a shepherd boy, nothing special, and he says, "David, I make a promise, an irrevocable covenant to you, and it will not be just to you; it will also be to everyone who comes after you. Someone from your line will always sit on the throne, fulfilled ultimately in Christ."
So then we get to the New Testament, in Luke 22:20, where Jesus is there with his disciples having the Last Supper. They're celebrating the Passover. Jesus grabs the cup, and he makes a new covenant. He holds the cup up and says, "This is the new covenant in my blood, which will be poured out for you very shortly."
Jesus is saying, "I'm going to make a new covenant, a new irrevocable promise. This covenant is amazing. You're going to get a new heart, and you're going to get a new spirit. You're going to get the ability to obey God, and rather than the Spirit living somehow in the temple, the Holy Spirit is now going to live in you. This is an amazing covenant I'm about to cut with you. It's going to be unconditional."
Ephesians 2:8-9 says it is by grace we have been saved, through faith; it's not of ourselves. It's not by works so that we can somehow boast. God is going to give us this covenant as a free gift, and it's going to be irrevocable, and he is going to keep us. John 10:28. Jesus is talking about himself as a shepherd, and he says, "I give eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."
If you are in Christ, he has got you. He has got you, and you can't get away. He's going to keep his promise to you. So, when we take our wedding vows, this isn't a pragmatic move for tax benefits or making child-raising easier. We are mirroring the covenant God has made with us, and these are holy commitments we make. We're making an irrevocable promise. We say, "Till death do us part."
Matthew 19:6 says it is God who joins us together. We think we choose our spouse, and we do, but something happens in that moment, where God joins us together as we make a covenant with each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. We have no idea how it's going to go, but it doesn't matter. We're to keep our commitment, just as God has kept his commitment to us, regardless of what we do or how that shakes out.
There are two kinds of commitment I want to talk about just for a second. The first one is called constraints. Those are the things that keep us in the relationship, keep us in the promise. We've used this metaphor with couples before around here. Being married is kind of like being in a room with a lot of doors, potentially, that would lead out.
There's the door of giving yourself to your hobbies, giving yourself to your work, looking at porn, having an emotional affair, just thinking about being married to someone else, or walking out the door and having an affair or leaving the marriage. As long as any of those doors are open, we're always going to wonder what it would be like to be outside, and we begin to give some of our energies and best efforts over there.
Guys, the best way to keep any of that from happening is just to walk around to each door, lock it, lock it, lock it, lock it. Get to that last one, lock it from the inside, and chuck the keys so you can never find them and unlock it, which leaves you and your spouse in the room. You can look at each other and say, "I don't know the how, and I don't know the what for, but I know the why. I'm locked down on the why.
We're going to covenant with each other. We're going to keep our commitments the way God has kept it with us. I will bet you, as we do that, as we try to honor the Lord and follow his example, we're going to figure out the what. We're going to figure out the how." I've seen it over and over and over again. Some of you single friends in here are like, "Dude, this is serious. I think I'll stay single." I get it. I do want to talk to you for a second.
Those of you who are single and want to be married kind of shake out in two groups. The first one is someone who's just getting tired. They've seen their friends get married. They've seen their friends get pregnant, and they're hanging on, going, "I think I might just lower my standards." That's just natural. That's the way we think. I would just plead with you, as someone who has seen others lower their standards and seen the carnage that can take.
We also have beautiful stories here in this church of people who lowered their standards and somehow it worked out. I just wouldn't recommend it as a strategy. If you go, "That's me and I'm married," stay married. We'll work with you. Lock the doors. But, friends, do not lower your standards; lengthen your patience. Wait for God. Honor the Lord as he's doing whatever he is he's doing.
Some of you are on the other side. I'm watching this one tick up. It's, "I just kind of like doing my own thing." There's that one or this one feels like it's spiking now with all kinds of social media. "I'm looking for the perfect person. I have this perfect spouse or mate in my mind I'm looking for." I'll sit with a gal, and I'm like, "Tell me what you're looking for," and she's like, "Oh, I'm looking for kind of a titan of industry. He has sold one or two companies already, and he has a ministry that kind of puts Billy Graham to shame. And great hair. Great hair and abs. Abs. He's got abs."
The guy's list is way more ridiculous than that, always. He's like, "Oh, I'm looking for the retired supermodel, gourmet cook. She started a couple of orphanages in Haiti. She loves to hunt, loves to fish, and loves to watch college football." My answer every time to those guys is, "Dude, if that woman existed, she would not marry you."
Hear me come back and say, I'm not talking about lowering your standards. I'm not, but I think some of the things we're looking for in a spouse are pretty crazy. I think two of the biggies are someone who loves Jesus more than they love you and someone you can cherish. "Could I cherish and commit to this person for the rest of my life?" I think that's what we're after. Some of us just have work to do to get ready, and I would encourage you to do that work.
I'm not trying to be funny, but if we don't have a job, get a job. Start paying down our debts. Do work on ourselves. If there are hurts, habits, hang-ups, take steps toward that. One of my favorite weddings I ever did was a couple, and as we got close to the altar, it became apparent that he had a pretty significant pornography struggle. It was his idea, not mine, although I fully supported it. He said, "You know what? I'm going to wait until I can get a handle on this."
So we called all of the close relatives and said, "Hey, we're going to postpone the wedding." He went to re:gen and had this really, really long period of sobriety, and I got to do that wedding. It was so fun. Everybody in the first few rows knew exactly what was going on. People in the back probably didn't. With integrity, I could say, "This is a great idea. I'm so for this marriage. This man has proven to be honorable and God-honoring, and he wants to fear God and obey everything that's written in Scripture. My money is on these guys, right here, because of this guy."
For some of us, those are some of the steps we need to take to get ready. Again, these aren't cheap shots. I'm not being funny. Guys, the woman God has for you is probably not playing Xbox online right now. That's probably not how you're going to meet her, and she's not on Tinder. She's not. Delete it if you have it or anything like that. She is not there. You're asking me? Odds are she's here, and she's humbly serving somewhere, and she's dressed modestly.
I would look for her here, and I would look for that woman who fears the Lord and who you can cherish, not someone who's putting themselves out there. Part of holding up marriage high, honoring it as we're supposed to as a body, is encouraging our unmarried friends about the beauty and wonder of marriage. I love being married. I highly recommend it, but don't lower your standards, but don't look for something ridiculous that doesn't exist out there, and become the kind of person that it would be a good idea to get married.
So, there are the constraints. These are the promises we make. We lock all of the doors. That's part of commitment. Another one is just the fun part. It's the investment in our marriages. It's the things we do to bring life. Some of our marriages are pretty dead, and it's because we've not been investing in them, which is what you do when you see yourself in the future with this person for the rest of your life. You begin to invest in it.
Several years ago, we were in our front yard looking at our flower garden out front. It was a disaster would be a way to say it. It was a blight in the neighborhood. We're looking out there, and I got the kids together, and I said, "Hey, guys. We're going to win Yard of the Month sometime soon." We all laughed, because we looked and there was no way that was going to happen. But that summer, we got out there, and we just pulled weeds.
We pulled bushes that were all mangled together. We had to get saws out, literally, and cut some of the roots that were all mangled together. We busted the sprinkler system and had to put that back together, and we put little bushes in. The kids made fun of me because I bought the little bushes. I was like, "Guys, they'll grow. These are three times as much. Let's buy the little bushes." We bought the little bushes, and we put flowers in there.
The next summer, it really was amazing. We had all of these flowers that were popping, and people were stopping in front of our house, like, "Wow! What a turnaround. Your garden looks amazing." I was thinking we were in striking distance, but the end of the story so far is that we got a fungus in our flowerbeds and we're tracking down. We're going to make a comeback, but we're not in the running this year, I can assure you.
Marriages are a lot like that flower garden. They're a perfect reflection of the amount of effort we put into them. Some of us don't like our gardens, candidly, and we're mad, but it would just be crazy for me to go out with a cup of coffee in the morning and yell at my garden for being dead or not looking well. We all know how this happens, and we all know what needs to happen. It's the same thing in our marriages.
I asked Pam yesterday, "Hey, what are the things when you think about investments that you appreciate?" She goes, "A lot of times it's not the big stuff, John. It's the walks where we just talk, and we walk over to the store and get whatever it is we need. It's the fun little dates. Not the extravagant ones but just the simple ones. Or sometimes when we learn something new, we learn to sling pottery or cook something." She's like, "That's really, really fun to me. And the big stuff too. The big trips, or whatever it is. All that's really fun, and it makes me like our marriage more and makes me look to the future."
One of our goals on our twentieth wedding anniversary, as we were thinking about the next 10 years, is that we wanted to be best friends when our kids left. So we've told our kids, "Hey, we love you, we are going to miss you, but we've got really big plans when you leave. For the first time in a long time we're going to have money and time. We've got stuff to do." We're really, really excited about that.
As we think about commitment, some of you are like, "John, it's just hard. It's hard to commit. It's hard to invest." I know. I know it is. I think about Psalm 15. In verse 1, God said, "Who is it that can come into the sanctuary?" In verse 4 (this is great), God says, "The one who can come into the sanctuary is the one who keeps an oath even when it hurts and does not change their mind." Even when it hurts. That's what our covenant-keeping God did for us. It hurt him, and we're to extend that to our spouse.
So, you're asking, "John, about this whole unconditional commitment thing. Are you saying that even though someone at work makes me feel amazing, not like my wife, that I should cut it off or that even if my spouse won't have sex with me I'm supposed to keep my vows, even if they're not making me happy or they've let themselves go physically or they've been less than honest about their past?
Are you saying that if my spouse divorced me I should slow down, not date, see if the Lord, over time, would move us to a place that it would make sense to remarry? Are you saying I should think long-term about my spouse even though I don't like them now or that even though our marriage feels dead I should invest in it? Or in my small group. They're just a little flaky. Are you saying I still should let my yes be yes?"
Friends, I think that is exactly what the Lord would have us do. It's a proper gospel response from his commitment to us. We have a model of commitment, and it should motivate us to commit to our spouse first and to our friends. Anything less would be incongruent as believers.
Friends, I'm really encouraged about many of the marriages in this body. I think a lot about John 13:34-35, the last thing Jesus said to his disciples. He said, "Hey, guys, I want you to love each other the way I've loved you. When you do this, everyone is going to know that you're a disciple, you're a follower of me. They should be able to spot you because of the way you love."
I will tell you, in this city and even around the country, people are marveling at the relationships in this church. As encouraged as I am, I think there's so much more for us. I truly believe Dallas could have the lowest divorce rate in the country because of the ways you guys love each other, the way we encourage other people to keep their commitments and live out a response to the gospel.
Part of the fun part of this job is seeing a lot of stories. I have a lot of favorite stories, but I'll tell you one of my favorites. Friends of ours, Sarah and Tom, were not doing well, and by "not doing well" I mean, like, train wreck. It would take way too long to go into all the carnage they had caused. Tom gets a new job, and he's going to move, and he asks Sarah not to come with him. He doesn't want her and the kids to come, and she's not sure what to do.
She kind of grew up in church, had a little bit of a said faith but nothing to really fall back onto, so we're trying to encourage her and challenge her. Pam was there with her two days before the move, and she's like, "Should I go?" and Pam was like, "I think you should. I don't have the answers for the what and the how, but you made a covenant to that man, and I think you should go." So we prayed, and she went.
The end of the story is they're doing amazing. I mean, amazing. They're leading in their church. They're helping other couples pursue oneness and move past infidelity and all kinds of other carnage. She came through town and sat at our kitchen table, and we were asking her, "Just tell us. How did that happen? Tell us some of the things you did. Tell us some of the things you learned along the way."
We would sit there, and she would just throw out a concept, and I would go, "Oh! So you read such-and-such book." She'd go, "No, I've never heard of that," and she would write it down. She goes, "Do you think I should read that?" And I go, "Really? You've never read that?" She goes, "I've never read it." She would tell us something else, and I'd go, "Oh, you've read this book." "No, I've never read it," and she would write it down. "Do you think I should?" Three, four, or five times.
"So, you've been to this conference, Sarah, because I know that's what they talk about." "I haven't." Over and over and over again. I was like, "Well, how in the world did this happen?" She said, "John, all I know is I got around God's people, and I opened up my Bible every single day and read it. I realized how much God had loved me and that it was incongruent for me not to love my husband the same way. I would just try to read the ways God loved me, and I would try to extend it to my spouse."
It was all the what and all the how that you would learn in 50 marriage books, and she had just figured it out because she had modeled the love of God to her spouse. Friends, it's our best play. Whether you're married or single, whatever relationship you're in, our best play always is to receive and extend gospel love to our neighbors. I hope that's who we become. It's who we are becoming. I hope we continue on this path. Let's pray.
Father, your kindness, your love, your forgiveness, your initiation, your commitment to us are astounding and definitely undeserved. I pray today we'd be reminded of that gospel love; we would let it take our breath away; as we go about our jobs, our marriages, time with our kids, we would not only remember it but we would extend that to our spouse. Would you help us become that kind of people who not only receive the gospel but also live it out? We pray these things in Christ's name, amen.