Selected highlights from this sermon.
Communication is important in relationships. If you don’t have openness and honesty, you cannot love because you can’t truly love a stranger.
But with the forgiveness of God, you can create an environment where sharing can take place. Shame, fear and rejection can all be covered by the grace of Jesus Christ so that your secrets can be revealed and love can finally flow.
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What do you think about Jennifer Wilbanks? She’s the bride that got cold feet. She decided to concoct a story about abduction to get out of marrying someone. She did get part of it right: if you are unsure as to whether or not you should marry a given individual, be sure to not walk down that isle. Leave the 600 guests in the pews but don’t walk down the isle.
Here at the Moody Church I ended a wedding on a Wednesday that was to take place on a Saturday. A woman came and she began to tell me about whom she was going to marry and she told me that he was abusive. So I called the man who was going to perform the ceremony. It wasn’t anyone on our staff but someone else from the outside, a Christian minister. I told him, “Do you know what? This marriage isn’t happening.” He agreed and said, “If that’s the case I won’t. I didn’t counsel them well.”
She responded and said, “I come from a shame culture and people have already given gifts and they are already on the way. This is Wednesday and the wedding is Saturday.” I said, “That’s okay, blame me. Tell them, ‘That Pastor Lutzer, do you know what he did? He’s not letting that wedding take place.’” Months later she met me in the lobby and she gave me a hug and said, “Pastor how will I ever thank you enough? I knew that I shouldn’t marry him but I didn’t have the strength to say ‘no.’ Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Marriage is something like flies on a screen door: those that are in want out and those that are out want in. So Jennifer Wilbanks did get part of it right. Don’t walk down the isle; just throw the fish back in the lake and keep walking. However, try to do it in such a way that you will not become a household name.
Most women who get married think of three things on their wedding day: walking down the isle, standing at the altar and the person they are marrying. But actually it is isle, altar, him. Take this from my heart to yours – you won’t! Every one of his flaws is going to get worse. His good points aren’t going to seem that good after you are married. Just accept the fact that God might change him, the church might change him, his friends might change him, the Spirit might change him, but you won’t. You officially give up all authority to change him when you walk down that isle. So if you have doubts don’t get married.
What is the family going to look like in the future? This is an old article written long before we were talking about the possibility of same-sex marriages. According to Time magazine, “It will be inter-racial, bisexual, divided by divorce, multiplied by remarriage. The concept of illegitimate children will vanish because the nuclear family will have vanished. In fact, the nuclear family that was so popular during the 50’s will be thought of as having been abnormal.”
“There will be serial monogamy, which is one partner at a time but several partners during a lifetime. You may get married and write into the contract that you are marrying this person for your college years and then you have a career. During that period you are married to someone else. Then you decide to divorce that individual and retire with someone who is finally compatible,” yeah I’m sure, “and children will have to divide their loyalty between step-mothers, birth mothers, biological fathers, step-parents and ex step-parents. Schools will have to have 24 hour support structures for children and sanctuary for abused children.”
Aldous Huxley you remember in his book, Brave New World said, “There will actually be baby hatcheries staffed with nurses who will do the rearing for people,” and I might add that everyone is going to be happy and well adjusted and life is just going to be wonderful. Talk about a nightmare! Imagine all of the depravity, imagine all of the emotional baggage, and imagine all of the pain even if just a part of what I read comes true, if you can imagine it.
Today I begin a series of messages on the family. I know I have a habit of saying that this is the most important series that I’ve ever done. I am going to revert to habit and say, “This is the most important series I have ever done.” The key verse for the whole series is actually coming to us from the book of Nehemiah. You need not turn to it but I shall simply read it. It says, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and for your homes.”
That is what we are going to do. We are going to fight for your marriage, we are going to fight for your children, and we are going to fight for the strengthening of the family. We are going to reclaim the family – that is what this series of messages is called, “Reclaiming the Family.” This is God’s priority and God’s home.
Today we are going to begin first on the topic of communication. Communication has to do with the giving and the receiving of messages. Communication is important so that we might understand each other. There are all kinds of stories about people who miscommunicate, like the person who said, “I know you think you’ve understood what I’ve said. But what you’ve heard is not what I meant.”
Or the little girl who said, “My Sunday school teacher said that if I am not more regular in attendance she is going to be dropping me down the furnace.” The mother was aghast and then discovered that the Sunday school teacher had really said, “If you’re not here more often I’ll drop you from the register.” Communication is important.
The reason I am speaking on it today is because it is important to communicate in order to love. Unless you allow someone else in your life and open your heart to them, unless there is a sense in which somebody knows all about you, the good, the bad and the ugly and they accept you nevertheless, unless you are that open with the person that you married there will never be love. It is not possible to love a stranger. You can have a sexual relationship with a stranger but you cannot love a stranger.
What people do is they have walls in their life and they take these walls and put them in firm foundations and they dig them very, very deep. They live within these walls and the wall may be guarding them from people who would come to know them. Within those walls they may experience deep depression, anger, or a secret addiction and that is the way they live. Their outer persona is something totally different from that which is going on in their inward life. Today we are going to talk about those walls and with God’s help we are going to see them demolished.
I remember a woman saying to me, “I am married to the great stone face. He comes home, gets a newspaper, gets buried in it, and watches television. There is no communication, no mutual understanding, there’s no comradery, there’s no sense of harmony and connection.” Another woman said to me, “My husband has put a sign over his heart and the sign says, ‘Do not disturb.’” What we’d like to do is to remove those signs today and we’d like to turn that stone face into a face of flesh.
We don’t have time today to go into the story in Genesis chapter three where it all began. You know the story all too well about how Adam and Eve sinned. What we are going to do is talk about the consequences of sin. It says in Genesis chapter three, verse seven, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin clothes. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.”
“But the Lord called out to the man and said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman who you gave to be with me – she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me and I ate.’”
What are the walls that keep us from communicating? Why can two people go down the isle with the best of intentions? I have preformed many weddings and I don’t ever remember a couple saying, “We have one great goal and that is to make one another really miserable.” Now if they were thinking that in their hearts they never told me that was their one big goal. And yet we think of the misery that exists and the lack of communication.
There are three walls and then we will see how God comes to demolish them. First of all you have shame and guilt. God says, “Who told you that you were naked?” Sin brings shame and shame is one of the most powerful emotions that we can ever experience. What do they do when they are filled with shame? They try to hide from God as best they can among the trees of the garden. But you can’t hide from God. So they begin to hide from one another. Shame is going to produce a barrier that is going to make communication very difficult even in the best of marriages.
There are two kinds of shame. One is imposed shame. Some of you grew up in homes that were shame based. A number of years ago I spoke about the shame based home. In that home there was abuse, alcoholism, and all kinds of secrets that you had as a family. Or maybe your parents shamed you when you misbehaved. I am amazed at how naïve and wrong some parents are, even when it comes to sexual matters, how they use shame and destroy a child and drive them into secrecy. That is imposed shame.
Also there is actual shame, shame for which you and I are responsible because all of us have done things of which we are ashamed. You know the power of shame. Could you just imagine what would happen if all of our thoughts, actions and desires were public knowledge? We’d never gather together in a group like this. We would all run for the hills because of shame. That’s the first barrier.
The second barrier is fear. You’ll notice that the man said in verse ten, “I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.” Fear of what? Well, fear of rejection, fear of being exposed, fear of knowing that if the people around you knew exactly who you are they would be shocked and they’d want to befriend someone else? That kind of fear tied in with shame is deep and debilitating.
Then of course sometimes relationships only increase the fear. I remember receiving a phone call from a man who said, “My wife always told me that if I ever committed adultery she would leave me and it would be the end of the marriage. Well now I have, so how do I go back and make things right? How do I come clean when she’s told me that so many times?” Now undoubtedly she did so with the best of motives thinking, “If I tell him that it will prevent him from some kind of a sexual relationship.” Unfortunately it didn’t. What it did do is make it very, very difficult for him to come back and to admit what he had done so that their marriage would no longer be built on a lie but would be built on reality.
What do rejected people do? First of all, they create circumstances in which they will perpetuate their rejection. You and I have met people like that. They are rejected and they are angry so they say to themselves, “I’m going to make sure that nobody is ever going to accept me.” If they ever have a friend they will suck the life out of that friend until the friend has to reject them because they can’t take it anymore. Then they will say, “See, you are just like everybody else. Nobody loves me. My parents didn’t and now you’re rejecting me too.”
Or they go into deep isolation and they live within their walls. What they are doing is they are saying, “No one will ever penetrate these walls. Here I will live and no one will ever hurt me again.” So you have rejection.
There is something else in this text which is defensiveness or self protection. This is big. Throughout the years I have become very interested in human behavior because I know something about my own heart. I am endlessly fascinated at all of the different ways that we have to self protect ourselves.
As a matter of fact, two days ago I took a book from someone else’s shelf that he willingly gave me. I read it and I read about five or six different ways that you and I will not reveal who we really are. All of the different fence mechanisms, because nobody is to really understand who we are. The image must always be better than the reality.
One of the ways people do this is to blame others for what they’ve done. In fact, if you’re an addict you’ll actually get to the point where you will not accept any responsibility for what you do. It will become automatic. It’s your employer’s fault, it’s your wife’s fault, it’s the kids’ fault or it’s the cat’s fault. It is somebody else’s fault because you have made yourself immune from blame. The very same can be said about those who have destroyed their conscience. Sociopaths take no blame and no responsibility. They see the evil in their hearts as belonging to someone else; it is not theirs.
We can already see this here. God comes to Adam and says, “Have you eaten of the tree that I commanded you not to eat?” Adam should have said, “Lord I did and I’m guilty.” That’s not what he said. He said, “Well, the woman who you gave me, Lord it is this weak-willed woman whom you gave me. She took of the tree and what is a man supposed to do when his wife misbehaves? He has to do it with her!” I want you to know that the man blamed his wife even though there wasn’t a chance in the world that he had married the wrong one. However, you can marry the right one and still have problems.
So he says, “It is the woman whom you gave me.” So God says, “Oh, it’s the woman? Fine, I’ll go talk to the woman.” So He talks to the woman and what does she say? “It’s the serpent Lord, the serpent.” So the man blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
That’s the story of the human race up until now. We refuse responsibility, we are very anxious to protect ourselves, we tweak everything and we are basically dishonest. What we want to do is to make sure we look better than we are. All of us do that! But when we hide from our mates and when we hide within those walls we can neither love nor be loved by someone else.
Now what does God say in the midst of this? The Lord already begins to give a solution. He says in verse fifteen speaking to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
This is the earliest promise of the Gospel, that there would be deceit of the woman, namely Jesus. Satan would try to destroy Jesus. The best that he could do was to nip Jesus Christ’s heel. It would not be a mortal wound; it would be a very temporal wound. But Jesus in turn the scripture says is going to crush the head of the serpent.
You’ve heard me describe this before, but just imagine taking a very sharp heel and you come across a serpent and you take his head and you grind it into the pavement. That’s what Jesus is going to do to the serpent and Jesus is going to win the victory over the devil. Praise God, isn’t that wonderful?
You say, “That’s wonderful, but that took thousands of years to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, what are they going to do? Are Adam and Eve just going to have to wait?” No. God says, “I have something for you right now that is going to help you. I have something for you in anticipation of the fact that Christ is coming.”
You’ll notice it says in verse twenty-one, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” God says, “No longer do you need to wear fig leaves because fig leaves don’t cover enough. What you need are clothes to put on so that your shame is hidden and it’s covered.”
That’s what Jesus Christ does for us. He takes the shame that you and I experience and He covers that shame. He takes the messy trails of our lives and He brings a snowfall to cover the trails and the ugly ruts that show the times we have fallen into the ditch. He cleanses it and covers it. When Jesus died on the cross the scripture says that, “He despised shame.” In other words what He said is, “I am going to shame shame.”
I love what Rodney Clap has written: “Does shame bind us? Jesus was bound. Does shame destroy our reputation? He was despised and rejected of men. Does shame reduce us to silence? He is led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before his shearer is silent, so He opened not his mouth. Does shame expose our apparent weakness? They said of him, ‘He saved others but himself He cannot save.’ Does shame lead to abandonment? He said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Does shame diminish us? He was crucified naked and exposed for gawkers to see.”
Jesus comes and rectifies our relationship with God and He covers the shame. The skins of the animals that God used in the Old Testament show that clearly He must have killed animals to cover Adam and Eve. Those animals in their death, by the blood that was shed and the death that they died prefigured the coming of Jesus who would cover our sin so we could be free from shame.
One day I was riding in a car with a friend of mine who had a series of adulterous relationships and ruined his family. It’s a tragic story because he was so gifted and in many ways so blessed. But I remember as we were riding along he played on the stereo, “Calvary covers it all, my sin with its guilt and shame, my guilt and despair, Jesus took on him there, and Calvary covers it all.”
You say, “Well what does this do to our relationships? That’s fine for our relationship with God to be restored, but what about my relationship with my wife?” Like one man said, “If she knew who I really was she’d leave me!” I’d like to suggest that it is the forgiveness of God that enables us and gives us the strength and the enablement to create an environment where honest sharing can take place.
Rodney Clap again says, “The cross creates a community of people who are no longer afraid of being defined and destroyed by shame and can admit their failures and allow their neediness.”
I have another story about two people. Their names are Tim and Anne. The names are fictitious but the story isn’t. Both of them were raised in Christian homes, married one another and had every indication of a happy marriage. But Anne became bored with the housework and was spending a lot of time watching the soaps on television. She began to think to herself, “There’s a whole world out there that I’ve never experienced.” In order to experience it and to get rid of the boredom she had an affair.
Now suddenly she was faced with the tremendous difficulty of, “What do you do now? How do you live the lie? How do you position yourself in such a way that your mate will not find out? How do you go to church on Sunday and sing the songs of Zion? How do you pray with your children all the while knowing that you have betrayed your husband?” Her conscience began to trouble her.
Her husband knew that something was wrong, obviously, but he didn’t know what it was. They attended a meeting where people were coming forward to pray and to commit to seek God together as couples. They went home and they got on their knees. And before they prayed Tim said to Anne, “Anne, I know that there is something and I want you to know that I have forgiven you in advance no matter what it is.” That’s grace. There you have the cross of Jesus Christ applied to a human relationship. “No matter what you share I choose to forgive you, even before you tell me what’s there.” Tim began to share his problems as well and they talked all night.
Six years later I wrote about their story and they said, “Jesus is the best marriage counselor because in His presence we can be honest, we can be open and we can share.” All of the secrets can be revealed and love can finally flow.
Now let me tell you another story which is more recent. I spent an hour some time ago with a couple where the man was bisexual. He was involved in all kinds of relationships with other men. I can’t begin to tell you the pain of trying to put a marriage like that together. You know of course that it is one thing to forgive but another thing to be reconciled.
Yet I saw in that relationship the love and the forgiveness of Christ and the genuine desire to say, “Whatever it takes, God’s grace will help us.” If He can forgive the shame then we can forgive one another and marriages can be restored. I believe that the restoration of a failed marriage is as great a miracle as the raising of the dead, causing the stone deaf to be able to hear and causing the blind to be able to see.
The human heart is so filled with determination, self will, self protection and self justification. Who can possibly overcome all that in our sinful hearts except God by His word and by the Spirit? There are some couples here, you ought to go home, get on your knees in the presence of God and talk – talk to God and talk to one another.
Remember that book that was popular a number of years ago? I think it was by Robert Fulgham entitled, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He says that when they were kids they used to play in the leaves and that there were huge piles of leaves. He says there was one kid who always hid in such a way that nobody could ever find him. He said, “We explained to him, ‘There’s something about hiding, there’s something about being found and you’re not supposed to hide in such a way that nobody will ever find you.’”
He said that as an adult he was looking out the window one October and noticed these huge piles of leaves. There was one kid who always hid in such a way that nobody could ever find him. “Since the pile of leaves was close to the window I leaned out and shouted, ‘Kid, get found!’ The kid ran out of the leaves, started to cry and ran all the way home.” Now you and I are alone, nobody else is here except God, who knows the real “you.” I’m telling you, get found, get found!
Let’s pray. “Father we pray for those relationships that are frayed, some of them between husband and wife, some of them between parents and children. Sometimes the parents have to humble themselves and go to the child and ask forgiveness. We think Father of how shame binds us, how fear binds us, how self protection binds us. God we are just such deceptive sinners. Come to us today Lord, come to the men who have been listening, to the husbands, to the fathers. Come to the wives and to the mothers. We pray today that these walls that have been so carefully dug might be demolished in your blessed and holy presence.”
Now you talk to God if God has talked to you. You talk to Him right now. “Father we are asking that the dead be raised, that the blind see and the deaf hear. We are asking for the change and transformation of the human heart, something over which we have absolutely no control. You have just pushed us to a place of utter, total dependence upon what you can do and not what we can do. Do in us God that which is well pleasing in your sight we pray, in Jesus name, amen.”
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