Category Archives: Love

As Christ loved the Church…

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Eph 5:25)

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (1Pe 3:7)

There is a growing problem among young men today. Pornography is so available that a large majority of men are not able to love a real woman, even physically. A young woman is simply an object, whose sole purpose of existing is to cater to a man’s whims and moods. A real woman is to be understood and loved, and this is too much to ask for today’s young man.

It is easier to drop out of reality, turn on the screen and love a fantasy, which is simply another word for loving yourself.

This is not love.

Men have become perpetual children, demanding and petulant. A woman is seen as an impersonal collection of various body parts, designed to be used until she has no more to give – and then discarded.

A child demands sex; a man longs for intimacy. A child refuses to give anything; a man gives his heart.

So the streets and the clubs and the bars are filled with children, demanding satisfaction, searching for their next toy to use and destroy.

Some young men seek marriage, but are unwilling to give their heart. They play with a woman’s heart until they “find the right one” and then they inadvertently “fall in love” – Cupid’s next victims. But a victim of Cupid is a victim, not a man. He was not strong enough to choose a wife; he was not strong enough to love the one he chose. He simply allowed the currents of desire to carry him this way and that. He falls in love. He falls out of love. He leaves behind him the wreckage of broken and hurting young women who were naïve enough to believe him when he said, “I love you”.

This also is not love.

The question that I have for you is this: Are you strong enough to love a woman?

Are you strong enough to love your wife as Christ loved the church?

Are you strong enough to live with her with understanding; or do you simply wish to never be inconvenienced, smashing the vessel of her heart on the floor like a cantankerous child?

Are you strong enough to protect her heart? To never do anything that would damage her reputation?

Would you rather die yourself than do the least thing to damage the soul of the one you love?

Are you strong enough to ask forgiveness? Courageous enough to call her lovingly to repentance?

Are you bold enough to reconcile?

Are you strong enough to turn off the television and listen to her?

Do you understand her fears, her desires, her longings? Do you have the courage to hear her?

Do you have the courage to open up your heart to her?

Do you have the courage to talk to her about your fears, your desires and your longings?

Do you have the courage to admit that it is not good for you to be alone?

A child desires a mother. A man seeks a wife.

A mother is a tremendous blessing for a child. She nurtures, feeds, cleans, bathes and provides for the child’s every need.

But a mother is not a wife.

Are you strong enough to leave your mother and your father and cleave to your wife?

It is a great calling – but most are not strong enough, courageous enough or man enough to take a wife.

It is easier to turn on the computer and fantasize about pixels of ink, rather than love a woman, so most choose the fantasy.

They do not know that it is for their life.

But a woman desires a man.

A man is strong enough to give himself for his wife. He demands nothing; gives everything.

He is strong enough to make her place in his heart safe; he is strong enough to win her heart and trustworthy enough to keep it.

He is courageous enough to hear the question “What are you thinking?” and actually understand it and answer it.

He is courageous enough to hold her in his arms and wipe away her tears.

He is strong enough to see when she is at her end, and cook a meal, do the dishes, watch the kids, clean the house and still have enough left to hold her and pray for her and know the right things to say.

He is strong enough to understand her, without resentment, bitterness, impatience or rage. If he is a man, the understanding will come in time.

He is strong enough to forsake all others and cleave unto his wife.

He doesn’t whine and complain when there is dust on the windowsill or dinner is late – these are the actions of a child, not a man.

He has nothing to prove; he will not hide behind a façade of bluster and words; he never has to be the “man of the house” nor the “king of the castle”.

He is strong enough to take the lowest place; be the servant of all; wash the dirty feet himself.

For he is strong enough to know that being a leader doesn’t mean being the boss.

A child tells everyone what to do. A man leads the way by being the servant of all.

A man is strong enough to set his wife as a seal upon his heart, as a seal upon his arm:

For a man knows that love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. (Sol 8:6)

A man is strong enough to keep the flame going; bold enough to never play with a woman’s heart; courageous enough to never use a woman as a toy to be discarded at whim.

A man is one who trusts the Lord with his whole heart. He therefore does not seek proof of his manhood on the earth, for it is safe with his Lord.

The man who trusts the Lord is ready for a wife; for a man who trusts the Lord has nothing to prove to anyone.

Only then he is ready to love a woman.

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Filed under Love, Marriage, Men and women

I wanna know what love is

Yes, I know. A ridiculous song, and an even worse pick-up line.

That was my work-out music this morning, and then – because, you know, Valentine’s – Susan and I listened to my new Ed Sheeran album.

In one of his songs, he says something like “I can’t love you unless I love me first” or some such thing.

Whatever it was, it was the same sentiment as “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all” which plagued the airwaves in the late 80’s. I am not sure if it was more offensive philosophically or aesthetically, but that is neither here nor there.

It goes back to 1 John.

I just finished preaching through 1 John. You can’t preach through 1 John without meditating on the nature and definitions of love. I like precision, and as a minister I believe we need to be precise in our words. I strive for precision, not sound-bites. So I think about words.

John tells us that “God is love.” Love is an essential attribute of God. God cannot be divested of love any more than God can be divested of Godhead. God’s attributes and his essence are identical, to put it into theological terms.

If you would like to learn more about this (and I think you should) I would recommend this excellent book by James Dolezal.

This means that there was never a time when God didn’t know what love was, for God is love, and God’s knowledge of himself is perfect.

Which leads to the next question – if God is love, and this is identical to his nature, then whom did God love before he created the heavens and the earth. We, of course, do not believe that creation is eternal. There was a time before creation where there was only God – before time and space and angels and men. God is the eternal I AM.

So whom did he love before he created? Love must involve a lover and a loved. There must be more than on person in order for there to be love. So whom did God love? The answer lies in the Trinity.

Jesus prayed,  “For thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

So here is where my mind is going after Ed Sheeran and Whitney Houston: is self-love possible? By the very nature of love, the subject must reach out to an object outside of itself. To say that one must love oneself is to say that one must somehow divide into knower and known, subject and object, lover and loved, and turn love back on itself. Is love simply dissociation made into a virtue?

I think we must be precise in our language. Love, by it’s very definition, needs a lover and a loved. Two parties, at a minimum. Narcissus staring at himself at the pool is a mental disorder, not love. He has divided himself into subject and reflection, and has become an object of pity rather than a healthy human in God’s image.

In the words of Dylan – “He worships at the altar of a stagnant pool and when he sees his own reflection he’s fulfilled.”

So what should we call it? Dylan’s image certainly wouldn’t make a good valentine’s card. I don’t think “love” is the right word. It is a mental disorder, not love.

I think I know what they are getting at when they say, “love yourself”. But I would ask for more precision. I think that the world has enough narcissism. But at the same time, a person filled with shame and self-loathing is stuck unable to reach out of themselves to fully love another being.

So there is some truth to saying, “Love yourself”, it is just that the language is wrong.

How did Jesus put it:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
(Matt 22:36-40)

And there, I think, is the key. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. But, it might be asked, how does one do that without first becoming a narcissist?

The answer, I believe, is in the first commandment. Love God.

If you love God, you also recognize and acknowledge the good gifts that God has given you. You refuse to despise and loathe your body, for God made it. You don’t reject the abilities God has given you, but understand that you have many good gifts given to you by your good Father in heaven.

You also know that Jesus came into the world to bear your sin and shame, so that is taken away and you have been born again. You are no longer the “worst sinner you know” but a child of the king, cleansed, sanctified, and in the process of being conformed to the image of God’s son.

This means that you are in the process of becoming more and more beautiful. You are chosen by God, loved by God, given every good gift by God.

So perhaps instead of saying “love yourself”, you should say, “loved by God.”

We love him because he first loved us, after all.

What this does is nip arrogance in the bud, condemn narcissism, and lifts our head above our own reflection to see that there is a whole other world besides the one in our head. There are people out there who need your kindness and love. There are people who need the glass of cold water from your hand and the meal from your larder. There are empty seats at your table. And you can only fill those seats in your heart when you look up and see the beauty and goodness and bounty of our loving God.

Correct perspective also nips shame in the bud. Forgiveness wipes the record clean and the new garments of Christ’s righteousness are made perfectly for you. A bespoke suit.

You are dressed for reception in the halls of the great king, who loves you and gave himself for you.

Isn’t this far, far better than “learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”

I apologize for getting Foreigner stuck in your head.

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The Death of Death

4 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.
6 Now when He said to them, “I am,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
(John 18:4-6)

Jesus had just spent an agonizing night in Gethsemane. It isn’t just that he knows that he is about to be beaten to a bloody pulp and nailed to a cross to die. It isn’t just that he knows that he is despised and rejected of men. It isn’t just that he knows he is about to be numbered among criminals and reduced to a slave.

It is that he knows that he will bear the sins of the world. He knows that it is the Father’s will that he take the infinite blackness and ugliness and hatred of sin upon himself and be forsaken by God. He will experience in his soul the pains and torments of hell, the forsakenness, the pain, the immense suffering of the wrath of God. He who was righteous was made sin for us. And he willingly bore it.

He knows that God’s wrath against sin is infinite, fixed, unchanging. And he is about to bear the full brunt of it. God will consider Jesus to be worst than the worst. Jesus will take the full weight of God’s wrath against idolatry, murder, blasphemy, rape, torture, adultery, cruelty, oppression, slander, wicked speech and wicked actions, and drink the cup to the very bottom.

And the soldiers come to arrest him.

Jesus says, “Whom do you seek?”

They say, “Jesus of Nazareth.”

He says, “I am”. The same answer the God gave Moses when Moses asked his name. The same name that God gave to his covenant people. The name above every name, the name that the Jews considered so holy that they wouldn’t pronounce it. “I am”.

And then the divine majesty of God shines through the form of the servant. This weak, tired man…Jesus of Nazareth…speaks “I am” and the ray of uncreated light breaks through the dark night and the soldiers fall flat on their faces. This is the majesty of God revealed.

This is not what it seems. It seems as if Satan has won. It seems as if Jesus is about to lose control of everything. It seems as if there are events that are taking place that will carry Jesus along like a tidal wave and end up with his death. It seems as if Judas, the soldiers, the Jews, and the Romans are in charge and Jesus is about to be eliminated.

But then Jesus says, “I am” and God’s majesty shines forth. The Word was made flesh, and for a moment that flesh was pulled back and a tiny glimpse of the infinite beauty, majesty and power of almighty God was revealed.

“And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth.”

And with one word, the soldiers could not even stand in His presence.

Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For us and for our salvation he became flesh for this very reason – to drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very bottom – so that we might be called the children of the living God. This is why it is not fitting to pity him. He was not an unwilling victim. Instead, we worship and adore, we bow before him in wonder. We fall to our faces in astonished silence and then cry, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him forever and ever!”

This is the great exchange – his righteousness is mine. My sin is his. And he bore it away, he drank the cup wrath to the bottom. The majesty of God is seen in the suffering of Gethsemane, the cross of Jesus, the empty tomb.

The majesty of God is revealed in the death of death on the cross of Christ. It was not the soldiers in charge that day. At any moment, Jesus could have put an end to all of it.

The human tendency to flinch at a whip was overridden by the majesty of God and the infinite love of Jesus. He willingly bore every stroke, every nail, every spit, every mocking word. He hung on the cross while the sun refused to give its light and bore God’s wrath. In the darkness, God hid from our eyes his judgment against sin for we could not have borne to even see it. But Jesus bore it.

Every splinter, every thorn, every drop of the wrath of God.

The majesty of God, the infinite beauty of God, the infinite holiness and justice of God, and his infinite love came together that day. Find it there, or not at all.

“Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God shouldst die for me?”

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Sin and Grace

The Pence Rule and Wisdom

This topic keeps coming up. Again, I want to stress this. I do not at all care, nor have any issue whatsoever with what Mr. Pence does. As a high powered politician, he might have many reasons not to eat with a woman alone.

My greatest concern is with false teaching. As Christians, we all want strong marriages. As Christians we despise sexual immorality, and seek to flee from it. For these reasons, false teaching sounds appealing and it is hard to put a finger on what is wrong with it. It isn’t that it is completely wrong. It’s that it is almost right, which in many ways is far worse. Almost right is more deadly than completely wrong.

For example, here is a post today from Beautiful Christian Life: Why the Pence Rule Shows Wisdom. These five reasons listed are purported to be Biblical. But are they?

Lets look at them:

1. It helps men and women to avoid sexual temptation.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13)

I don’t see the connection. If a man meeting with a woman alone leads to sexual temptation, then there is a serious problem with the heart. It is the heart that must be addressed.

I think that this is often an excuse. A pastor gets caught in adultery. The facts are that he selected his victim, singled her out, met with her, groomed her, and then seduced her. When he is caught, he says, “I made some poor decision.” Which sounds far better than, “I’m a predator and got caught.”

But let’s not be foolish. A pastor committing adultery is a predator, not someone who made poor decisions concerning the Mike Pence rule.

Quit giving predators this excuse.

If your commitment to righteousness is so thin that being alone with the opposite sex puts you in danger, then you need to examine your heart, rather than add a rule.

I am afraid that this reason simple adds pride and will-worship to the gospel, making it of none-effect.

2. It seeks to honor the marital union.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (Heb. 13:4)

I would say that a far better way to honor the marital union would be to love, honor and respect your spouse. It is absolutely true that a man who honors his marriage will never allow another to cause his wife pain. But, again, I fear this is an excuse.

I knew a man whose wife was jealous of him, for just cause – as it turns out. He spent many hours dining alone in romantic restaurants with another woman. His issue wasn’t that he violated the Pence rule. His issue was that he was committing adultery. Let’s call it what it is.

So, yes, absolutely go home and love, honor and respect your spouses. But don’t think that adding a man-made rule is the same thing as honoring your wife or husband.

I would suggest that we let scripture define what it means to honor your spouse, rather than a rule imposed from on high.

3. It recognizes the battle within all Christians between the flesh and the Spirit.

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom. 7:22-23)

Paul’s whole point in this passage is that the battle is fought and won with the gospel (Romans 8:1), not the law. If the law of Moses is of no effect in the battle against the flesh, how on earth can the law of Pence do that which the law of Moses cannot do?

Who will deliver us from this body of death? Only the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for me and rose the third day! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

By all means, if it is wise in your job to protect yourself then do so. But please do not pretend that the law can deliver us from the bondage of the flesh. Not even Moses could do that.

4. It shows respect for one’s family by keeping boundaries.

Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart. (Prov. 11:29)

I love that verse. It has nothing to do with the subject under consideration. A man troubles his family with pride, arrogance, abuse, adultery, pornography, tyranny, abdication, abandonment, hatred, violence – and on, and on, and on.

A man who does those things certainly doesn’t care about what people think when he goes to a bar with whomever he wants. But the problem is not the Pence rule. The problem is that the troubler of the family is a child of the devil.

He needs converted, not another rule to thumb his nose at. Are there not enough laws in the Bible about honoring your family without adding another one? If he keeps none of the ones there, how can adding another one change anything.

5. It strives to bring glory to God.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Again, a great verse. I love it. It has nothing to do with the Pence rule. In fact, this one bugs me the most. It equates being alone with a woman with sexual immorality.

Really? If this one is true, then Jesus himself sinned when he was alone with the woman at the well, and the woman taken in adultery.

By all means, flee sexual immorality. But have a little bit more respect for our sisters in Christ. You may have a lot of reasons not to meet alone with a woman, either in church or at work. But if your reason is that you are afraid that you might commit adultery with her, then you are an adulterer, and perhaps a predator. You don’t need the Pence rule. You need to be born again. Let’s quit minimizing sexual immorality by equating it with meeting with a woman. It’s degrading to you and to your sisters in Christ.

We need far more than sound bites and twisted scripture. We need the Spirit of God poured out on our hearts. We need wisdom, which only comes from God (Proverbs 2).

Wisdom does not come from the law. The ability to keep the law of God comes from the wisdom of the heart, which is a gift of God. It only comes through the gospel; never through the law.

The difference between almost right and right is the difference between the gospel and another gospel. I fear, whenever we speak of the Pence rule, we aren’t speaking about the gospel anymore. We are adding the law into grace, and pretending that having begun in the spirit, we are now made perfect by the flesh.

It’s time we stopped.

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Filed under Gospel, Love, Marriage, Pastoral ministry

Does God Like Me?

8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. (Jam 3:8-9)

How many of us have been attacked by the tongue? How many live at home with a reviler and are subjected to the lash of ugly words?

You’re fat.

You’re stupid.

No one even likes you.

You are worthless.

If it wasn’t for me, no one would even tolerate you.

There are millions who were raised by cruel and harsh men and women who have never known a kind word; who have never known what it is to be accepted or loved.

And there are also millions who scoff and say, “It’s only words. I just get angry sometimes…” To you, I have just one thing to say: Please read carefully Matthew 5:22 and meditate on how you use words. You are in danger of hell. If you have ever called one of God’s children ugly, fat, stupid, worthless, unlovable – who shall deliver you from the wrath to come? It is a dangerous thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Your words do not come from God. They are lit on fire from hell.

These are not the words that we have learned from Christ Jesus. He taught us to use words of truth and grace, seasoned with salt, edifying to the hearer.

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Eph 4:29)

There are so many ways to tear people down with words. One of the most insidious is to never revile out loud, but just simply let your victim know that they really aren’t very likeable. Perhaps they are weird. Perhaps they do things differently. Perhaps they think a little…not like you. This is the classic passive-aggressive bully. God hates it.

This one is close to my heart, because I am…let’s face it…weird. I cannot small talk for anything. I have no idea what is going on in any sporting event. I say weird things at weird times. I don’t have a clue what “guys do”.  At my bachelor party, two of my friends picked me up from work and said, “This is YOUR NIGHT. You can do whatever you want!” I sat on their couch and stared at them for two hours until they let me go home.

I’m weird. There is no situation where I am not awkward, no conversation that I can’t stop by saying something very weird.

And most of my life, I was absolutely convinced that most people would be far happier if I just went home. So I usually did.

It occurred to me the other day that I have a hard time believing that anyone likes me. And then it occurred to me that I carry this belief to God himself. Does God actually like me?

It is an interesting question. I think that question is particularly difficult for those who have been attacked with the tongue. How can anyone like me? Does God like me? Does it matter?

It isn’t the same as “Does God love me”. We know that God does love us. He loves us with perfect, infinite, unchanging love in Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. We also know that nothing separates us from his love.

But does he like me?

I’ve heard of parents who say to their kids, “I love you, but I don’t like you very much.”

I’ve heard husbands say that about their wives. “I love her, but I sure don’t like her at times.”

And our greatest fear is that God just barely tolerates us. He loves us in Christ, but really just wishes we would go away. Can you think of anything more shameful than hearing God say, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you much.”

Do you see what I am getting at? I’m trying to make the doctrine of God’s love practical, and looking at what it actually means. What does it mean to love someone that you don’t really like? I guess I just don’t get that.

Does God think I’m weird? Does he think that church would be better if I didn’t show up? Does he roll his eyes and sigh when I cry out to him yet again?

Yes,  I know that God hates sin and calls me to repent. I also know that he has cleansed me from sin. I know that he does not tolerate sin. I’m not talking about sin. I’m talking about the fact that I really like colored socks and don’t know what to say to strangers I’ve just met. I’m talking about the kind of clothes that I wear and the kind of music I like. I wear waistcoats and hats and say weird things.

Does God like me? I am not speaking about the independence of God. I know that God does not need his creatures, including me, for anything. I do not add to his blessedness, for in him are all the perfections of holiness. I add nothing to God. I get that.

But does God like me?

Here’s why I believe this question is important. We were created to be social, in fellowship. We were created to be loved and have friends, to walk with God, to speak with him in the cool of the day. We were created to live in harmony with one another. We were created to be accepted and to love and be loved and to belong. To know and to be known.

And we still have that memory of Eden. We still have the need to belong. My heart still cries out to belong, to fit in, to be acceptable. The human heart cannot abide being outcast. No one can live thinking that everyone wishes they would go away, that everyone just thinks they are stupid, fat, smelly, ugly and weird. We cannot live thinking that we are totally unacceptable. This is the insidious nature of abuse. It tears down and destroys what the heart longs for the most. The words of a spouse can hurt and destroy and kill far more than any weapon imaginable. To be unacceptable, banished from love, and undesirable is intolerable to an image-bearer of God.

So the question is very important. Does God like me?

If God does not like me, then I must seek acceptance elsewhere. The stupidest, most shameful things I have ever done I did to try to be accepted. I sought the approval of men, and failed all the way around. I still blush when I think of it.

But if I do not seek the approval of men, whose approval do I seek, if God does not like me?

Do you see what I am getting at?

What do I do to be accepted? I am loved because of Jesus Christ, but does God accept me? Does God like me? Do I need to wear more acceptable, “god-like” clothing? Use more Christian-like phrases? Do I need to change my personality to something more acceptable to God?

Once again, I am not talking about sin. I know I need to confess and flee from sin. I am asking what I need to do for God to like me. Does God like me? Am I likeable?

And when I asked that question, scripture after scripture after scripture came to my mind and I felt free at last.

5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Eph 1:5-6)

God chose ME because he wanted to, and he made me accepted in the beloved. God DOES like me, and I am accepted by him!

As for my body and my face,

14 I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works, And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from Thee, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.
16 Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written… (Psalm 139:14-16)

He put together my frame, my form, my face. He gave me my hair and my eyes. he gave me this belly and these feet. He doesn’t think of me as defiled, ugly, unclean, untouchable, for he made me. He gave me these parts, and behold they are very good.

Get thee behind me, Satan! God gave me this face and said it was very good! How dare you insult the frame that God gave to me! I’m not dirty and untouchable and unlovable!

As for my gifts and personalities,

18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now there are many members, but one body. (1Cor. 12:18-20)

(Read the whole chapter!) See how God has chosen ME and has given me the gifts that he gave me. He gave me those gifts on purpose. He knew what he was doing. He gave me my weird personality, he gave me my strange quirks. In fact, it is because I am different that I am valuable to the body of Christ, according to this text. If we were all an eye, who would do the hearing?

Look around your church, look at your fellow believers. God gave each of them their gifts, their looks, their abilities, their perspectives, their cultural and social background. And he did it ON PURPOSE.

It is his good pleasure to give you all the kingdom.

Does God like us?

17 “The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zeph. 3:17)

And here,

Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psa 100:3)

Our God, thrice holy, infinite and almighty, the creator and sustainer of the earth made ME, and made me on purpose. He gave me my personality, my background, my gifts. he gave me the body that I have, and even the flaws are counted – like how many hairs fall.

And he said it was very good. He redeemed me in Christ, and calls me to put off the old man with the fears and the doubts. He told me not to be a man-pleaser, but to seek to please him.

Because of the work of the Lord Jesus, and because I belong to him by faith, I am accepted by God. And because I am loved, God has given me his spirit, and given me gifts.

And when I am kind, when I use my gifts to his glory, when I rest in him, when I trust in him, when I cry out to him, he accepts me. He delights in ME.

ME!

I am not just barely tolerated by God, but accepted in the beloved. He loves ME, and, yes, if I may say so, he likes me.

And so let’s all put aside our doubts and our fears and run this race together, shall we? Let’s quit trying to lift ourselves up by tearing one another down. Let’s quit trying to one-up each other, bragging and boasting about our accomplishments. Let’s quit worrying about whether anyone else likes us or not. If God is for us, who can possibly be against us?

Be kind, courageous and faithful, for your God is with you!

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His Banner Over Me

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. (Sol 2:4 KJV)

Here’s an astounding thought. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. We are all his workmanship, and he can do with us as he pleases. He has every right to command, to exact obedience and even to kill and destroy. He is a just God. He is a holy God. He cannot dwell with sin. He hates the wicked with eternal, unquenchable fire. And we are all sinners.

But it is God’s will to be merciful. He longs to restore fellowship with his people. But in order for God to restore relationship with His people, his people must put away their evil deeds and obey. They must be cleansed from their sins. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and he calls all of us to obey, to submit, to “circumcise the foreskins of our hearts and no longer be stiff-necked.”

But here is the problem. God’s law requires us to love him with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our minds. And the relationship between God as a holy lawgiver and his people as sinners is not a relationship that is conducive to love. The more we try to appease a holy God by external law-keeping, the more we invoke his wrath. For he is beautiful and good. He alone is worthy of love and he desires that his creatures love him. Anything less is an affront to him, and he is just and holy.

In the Old Covenant, God loved his people and exercised his holy right to command and expect obedience. His people broke his covenant, even though his banner was over them. They bore his mark; they were his people. they were circumcised, and to them were committed the oracles of God. But they broke his covenant and rebelled against them, even though he was their master and husband.

He cast them away, and he was just and good to do just that. But God promised them a new covenant. In the new covenant, God said,

And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali. (Hos 2:16 KJV)

The King James wisely just left these two words untranslated, because the English doesn’t quite have words to capture them. Both words can mean “my husband”.  But Baali is “husband” in a legal sense. The head of the home, the boss.  This was God’s relationship to the Old Covenant people. He indeed loved them, but was their commander and master. God said that the new covenant would not be like the old:

Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: (Jer 31:32 KJV)

Here the word for “husband” is also Baal. A legal husband – one with the rights of the husband under the old covenant.

But Hosea said the new covenant would not be like that. Instead, God would be “ishi.” Ishi means “my husband”, but the first time we see the word “ish” is used is in the institution of marriage in the garden of Eden:

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. (Gen 2:23 KJV)

`Ish here has the meaning of “man”; and it is contrasted with `ishshah (woman). It emphasized NOT the legal and headship/submission aspect of marriage, but the aspect of lovers becoming one flesh.

God would become “one flesh”, a lover, to His people, and this would mark the difference between the old covenant and the new.

Eternal, almighty God, who dwells between the cherubim, who commands the earth and the sun and the stars in their orbits, who tears down rulers and sets up rulers, who so governs the earth that all the nations are as grasshoppers in his sight – this God – became flesh in the womb of Mary so that we would no longer know him as Baali, but as Ishi.

His banner over me is love. The law could only make slaves. But the gospel makes lovers. He unites us to himself by his Holy Spirit so that we are truly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, as Paul writes,

30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:30-32 KJV)

A banner is a standard, a flag marking the nation or tribe to whom one belongs. We bear the mark of our Lord Jesus and that mark is the mark of his love. His banner over us is love. He loved us, and gave himself for us. He loved us and washed our feet.

He had every right to command us and to expect obedience. He could justly have committed each one of us to hell forever and ever and would not have diminished his love or his goodness one bit to have done so.

And yet he chose, in his infinite love, to put his mark of love on us. What the law could never do, God did, by sending his only begotten Son to bear the sins of many.

The law could never change a heart. You can lock a murderer up and keep him from committing another murder if you have a strong enough cell, but locking the murderer up can never change a heart.

And God desires hearts that love him, not serve him out of slavish fear.

And, you husbands, this is what Christ requires of you. Your example is Christ. Your banner over your home is to be a banner of love. This is how the gospel of Christ is shown in your home. Not by your “right to command and expect obedience”, but by your responsibility to love, as Christ loved the church. And, no, these aren’t the same things.

I always puzzled over why a man would want a wife’s slavish obedience rather than her freely given love. Perhaps because of the blindness of sin. Whenever I write on marriage, someone will always say,

“But doesn’t a husband have the right to command his wife?”

Is that how Christ treats us? Commands never create hearts of love, and God desires hearts that serve him out of love. For this reason, he became our man, our lover, our friend. His banner over us is love. Christ does indeed have the right as our creator to command us. He is the king of kings. But it is not kingship that we are commanded to exercise in the home, but love. Love has power that nothing else has – it was the love of God that changed the world, and this is what we are to show in our homes.

This should mark our homes. We should have homes where those outside say of us, “That guy really loves his wife!”

If you do not know this kind of love, I would urge you to come to Christ and be reconciled to God. Come to the one who so loved the world that he laid down his life for his sheep. Come to him in repentance and faith. Learn at the foot of the cross what love truly is. You cannot truly love anyone else until you learn to submit yourself to the love of Christ. So come and learn. His yoke is easy; his burden is light.

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I Am Dark, But Lovely

I’m feeling quite blue today. I am very tired. My wife has had a very painful weekend, which doesn’t seem to let up. I am feeling very unlovely.

In the middle of my blues, I am also studying the Song of Songs for the class I am teaching tomorrow, and I was struck by this passage (as well as my studies in an excellent commentary by Iain Duguid):

5 I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!
(Sol 1:5-6)

The girl is dark because she works in the vineyards all day. She is poor (therefore working) and socially inferior. A mark of wealth and status was fair skin. Only one who had servants to do the hard work in the sun had fair skin, so that was what was considered beautiful. Beautiful socialites in ancient Israel did not sun themselves on the beach.

This girl had neither status nor wealth. And she did not meet the standards of loveliness in her culture. She was used to being “gazed upon” with contempt by the social elite in Jerusalem.

But she was loved by her beloved. And her beloved thought her beautiful. And her beloved TOLD her she was beautiful. So she WAS beautiful.

And this thought brings to mind another thought. Our God also loves us and thinks us beautiful. When we are unlovely, broken, discouraged, and bitten by the sun of tribulation, our beloved calls us his bride, and he longs for the consummation as much as we do! (Eph. 1:23)

Isn’t that an astounding thought? Our God, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, considers himself incomplete until His bride is by His side. He calls to us. He sanctifies us. He loves us. He considers us beautiful!

Therefore we are beautiful and loved. We are chosen by name and loved by the one we love. He calls us beautiful, and adorns us as a bride for her husband!

17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zep 3:17 ESV)

Amen! Come quickly, Lord Jesus. How our flesh and blood and souls cry out for the Living God!

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To the Newly Married

There is a fascinating verse in Deuteronomy. It isn’t marriage advice; it is a marriage command.

When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.1 (Deu 24:5 KJV)

The command is for a newly married husband to refrain from anything that takes him away from his home for a year. And the purpose of this command is so that he can “cheer up” his wife.

That’s an unfortunate translation. It means something in English that it doesn’t mean in Hebrew. In Hebrew the basic meaning of the word is to rejoice, to exult. In the form that the word is in, it means to cause that state in someone. In other words, the husband is to “make his wife rejoice.”

This is where it gets endlessly wonderful. Women are fascinating creatures; each one created just a little different. They are almost like a puzzle to be solved. God created men and women in such a way that you can’t really learn about your spouse through a how-to book or even a class. Of course, everyone wants a shortcut, especially since we now live in a cursed world. But God didn’t change his creation because we became short-sighted, self-absorbed narcissists. The rule still applies. If you want a blessed and beneficial marriage, learn how to make your wife exult. What makes her tick? What does she fear? What does she dream of?

Do you know?

Peter wrote that we are to live with our wives with understanding (1 Peter 3:7), which is also what Moses is saying. Learn about your wife. Understand her. Think of it: God made marriage in such a way that you can only truly be blessed and happy if you learn to get to know someone other that yourself, and there are no shortcuts. You actually have to take the time to do it.

But, contrary to millions of self-appointed marriage gurus, it isn’t “hard work”, any more than sanctification is hard work. Rather, it is growth, joy, love, pressing toward the mark with uplifted head. We aren’t slaves drudging through mines, but children on our way to glory! What better way to picture this great truth than the marriage of two lovers, learning to exult in one another.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “Women aren’t meant to be understood; they are meant to be loved.” But this is the raving of a narcissist who thinks very highly of himself. Guys, do away with the jokes about not understanding women. You are commanded to do just that. But to do that you have to put off your own self-absorption, and figure out how to listen. Listen with your ears, with your eyes, even with your finger-tips. She’ll let you know what causes her to exult, but you have to tune in.

The Bible says that you have a year. I always counsel newly-weds to turn the TV off and hole up together as much as possible for the first year. Don’t try to learn about your wife from stereotypes, books (especially of the “women’s place is in the home” variety) or locker room gossip. This is your wife you are learning about and she is the only one who can show you what causes her to exult. You are on a wonderful journey of discovery together.

In this day, one of the most prevalent ways to destroy the mystery and delight of loving a woman is pornography. If you cannot tell the difference between the sexual assault that is pornography and a loving relationship that is marriage, then please do not get married. Instead, repent and deal with your own abuse issues before you inflict yourself upon an unsuspecting wife. Marriage won’t cure your pornography issues. Only repentance will. You cannot learn how to cause a woman to rejoice by watching pornography. God did not create either you or her that way. There is no shortcut. you must put off yourself and your own lusts and actually learn to care about another person, namely, your wife.

The fascinating thing about marriage is that the learning never ends. Love and friendship and even romance blooms and grows more intense each year – once you learn how to listen.

If you have been married for a while and find your love growing stagnant, it is probably because you didn’t heed God’s command. Repent and ask your wife’s forgiveness for failing to understand her. Then start your year now. Turn the TV off. Give up boys’ nights out, and learn how to cause your wife to rejoice. It may not be too late.

Isn’t Hebrew fascinating?

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Does the cross glorify passive acquiescence to violence?

From Donald MacLeod, Christ Crucified.

But if the cross does not quite glorify violence, does it not glorify passive acquiescence in violence? This is a serious issue, particularly if it can be shown that part of the message of Calvary is that victims of abuse should endure it silently, soak up the pain, offer no resistance and demand no justice.  The charge gains plausibility from the fact that too many Christian men have seen meekness as a distinctive feminine virtue and quiet submission as the crowning glory of womanhood, and too many Christian women have accepted this role definition. Even where they have not been abused and violated, they have taken it for granted that they exist to serve their husbands and children, and should sacrifice their own personal fulfillment to those objects.

The cross certainly commends non-violence and non-resistance to the extent that it portrays Christ as one who went like a lamb to the slaughter and who suffered without any threat of retaliation (Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:23). This fits in with the great kenotic perspective which Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-11. Far from insisting on divine rights, Christ made himself a no-person, devoid of rights, and there can be no doubt that the apostle lays this down as the paradigm for all believers. But that is precisely the point. It is the paradigm for ALL believers, above all for the powerful, who must renounce their own rights and strive for the rights of others. No man who takes the cross as his paradigm can make it an excuse for demanding that women acquiesce under his authority and submit to servility and abuse. Christ has exactly the same destiny in mind for the woman as for the man, and in the meantime, each of us, male and female, is called to do everything in our power to encourage the other in his or her journey towards that destiny. At the foot of the cross, the husband is bound to subordinate his own interests to those of the wife no less than she is bound to subordinate hers to those of her husband. It is patriarchy, not the doctrine of atonement, that needs to be redeemed. (Page 192-193)

When asked for the secret of a happy marriage, the answer is the same as the secret to a blessed and happy life. “Take up your cross, and follow Jesus.” I would add that the responsibility to put to death our old nature belongs to every Christian, as MacLeod so admirably teaches. But it is doubly laid upon the husband when Paul also writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

Perhaps it is because God knows our pride and our demands and our desire to be kings in our homes that He commands us twice: first as Christians, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus;” and second as husbands, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church.”

It is time to put to death our lusts for power, and put on the love of Jesus in service to our families.

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Because she mattered

Luke 8:43-48

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched. And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had begged Jesus to come to his house to heal his only daughter, who was dying. Jesus agreed and they began to make their way through the crowd. The crowd pressed him from all sides. It was slow going. A jostle here, an elbow there. Besides the regular crowd hassle, Jesus was also quite famous at the time. Everyone wanted to touch him, to be near, to see him.

He makes his way. Suddenly, he stops. Everyone else stops. Jesus is looking around at the crowd.

“Who touched me?”

A silence descends. Maybe they didn’t hear the question right. It was a strange question. They were in the middle of the crowd, shoved and jostled from every side, and Jesus says, “Who touched me?”

When Jesus persists in looking around and asking, Peter finally wonders. “Jesus, we’re in the middle of a crowd. Everyone has touched you.”

Jesus continues. “No. You don’t understand. Someone touched me. I felt power go out from me. Who touched me?”

We know that Jesus is true God and knows all things. We know that the grace to heal is not accidental. Jesus healed this woman and did it on purpose, knowing what He did. So why did he say, “Who touched me?”

Jesus also told us to pray, and said “You Father knows what you need before you ask.”

So why pray? Hold that question a moment. Let’s go back to the crowd.

We have the advantage of the readers. We know who touched him.

A woman with an issue of blood for 12 years touched him.        Under Moses’ law, a woman in the time of her cycle was ceremonially unclean. She could not enter into the congregation of the Lord until her time was over and she was cleansed. Further, anyone who touched a woman in the time of her cycle was also ceremonially unclean and could not enter into the congregation of the Lord. She had been ceremonially unclean for 12 years.

12 years.

12 years of being able to touch no one. 12 years of spending every penny she had on doctors and being told that there was nothing to be done. 12 years of being excluded from her family, her friends, the worship of the Lord.

12 years of loneliness, isolation. She was an outcast, unclean. She was used to the look. You know the one. “Stay away from me. You’re unclean. You’re not worth my time. You’re not even worth God’s time.”

The rabbis had a prayer. “I thank God that I am male, Jewish and free.” No one else was worth the time.

Especially not this woman – an endless flow of blood. Outcast. Unclean. Stay away.

If you have ever experienced being an outsider, you know how this woman felt. She was excluded from every circle, every gathering, every fellowship. If you have always been in the circle, you have no idea.

You don’t know what it is like to never be welcomed, never be accepted. To always be the odd one out, the “outsider”. It’s our worst fear come true. That we are no good. Not fit for company, either with God or man. Weird. An outsider. “She’s just not ‘our kind of people’”

She had had this for 12 years. Not our kind of people. An outsider. Unclean. Outcast.

12 years.

By now she had given up. She was now used to being alone and outcast – at least, used to pretending and surviving. But she hears about Jesus. She truly believes that he has the power to heal her.

But she has been an outcast for 12 years, and those habits do not easily turn themselves off. She would not again risk the contempt and scorn of the included, the clean. She would not speak. She would not draw any attention to herself. She would just sneak through the crowd and touch his garment.

And she reaches out, touches his garment and the whole world stops.

The first thing that she notices is that she is completely cleansed. She feels the power. She feels the healing. Everything has changed. She is like a schoolgirl again!

The next thing that she notices almost immediately is that everything is silent. Everyone is looking around. And Jesus is asking, “Who touched me?”

It like the worst nightmare for one who has been a pariah for 12 years. She is used to the shadows and now the spotlight is on and pointing right at her.

She shakes her head and tries to slink away. But the Master persists.

Now he is looking right at her (see Matthew 9:22). Who touched me?

Why? Why didn’t He just let it go? He had already healed her and given her life back! Why is he persisting on saying “Who touched me?”

The answer is here: this woman had been an outcast – filthy and unclean for 12 years. Nothing will make you feel more filthy than actually being filthy. There wasn’t anything that she could do about it. But Jesus came to collect his sheep. He came to call out a people for his name. He came to deliver His people from their sins – so that they might KNOW the Lord.

Think of this: God doesn’t just save us from our sins. He doesn’t just heal our iniquities. He actually delights to call us his bride, his people, his children, his sons and daughters!

But this woman has been unclean for 12 years. What she has to say isn’t wanted. Isn’t needed. She isn’t’ worth the bother. People quit listening to her years ago. People quit caring years ago. All she had left was sneaking through the crowd and touching the hem of the garment. If she could just be healed, she would go away, no one would be bothered, and everyone could go about their lives.

But Jesus came to call His people home. He wouldn’t let this one get away. She needed to know that HE had the time to listen. That he cared, that he would stop just for her. That she mattered to HIM. That her life was redeemed from the grave and it was important to him.

To Jesus, she wasn’t a nobody, she wasn’t an outcast – for He had taken that away.

This is the beauty of the doctrine of election. God chose ME. He doesn’t love everyone in general, for that would mean that He loves no one. He loves ME. He chose ME to be His bride.

This is what the woman needed to know. Not only did Jesus heal her, but Jesus loves her, hears her – has betrothed Himself to her forever.

She needed to know that His blood would take ALL of her sickness and weakness and uncleanness and nail it to the cross forever so that she could live, so that she could know the Lord.

And how can you KNOW the Lord if you don’t talk to him?

So He looks this unclean, outcast woman in the eye and says “Who touched me?” And she falls on her knees and tells him everything.

That she has had this horrible uncleanness for 12 years.

That it hurts; that she is weary and desperate and helpless.

She tells him her pain and her hurt and her losses.

She tells him what it is like to be outcast and alone.

How it feels to spend every penny on doctors and they can’t help.

We were created to be in fellowship with God. We were created with ears because God hears. We were created with tongues and breath and mouths because God speaks. And we were created with the gift of speech so that we could talk with God Himself – a God who speaks. And a God who loves to listen! He delights to hear our prayers!

Jesus didn’t suffer the pains and torments of hell so that we could just touch his robe and slink away. He won’t let it happen. He will say, “Who touched me” until he is looking right at us. He redeemed us from our sin and misery; He calls us His own; He has betrothed us to Himself forever – and He desires that we talk to Him.

Think of it! The Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe offered Himself for ME because He loved me and wants me back in fellowship! He wants me to talk to Him. He wants us to always and forever acknowledge that we have absolutely nothing apart from Him; every good thing comes from His hand alone.

And further, He desires that we know that He is willing to save, being our heavenly Father, and able to save, being almighty God.

And He keeps saying, “Who touched me…” looking right at us until with fear and trembling we fall down on our knees before Him and finally tell Him everything.

Everything. Our pain, our longings, our frustration, how many years it has been, what it is like to be despised, outcast, unclean…

What it feels like to spend our last penny on doctors who can’t help. What it is like to struggle against sin and misery and how we long to overcome it. How much we long to be in His presence, clean and whole and healed. We tell him of those who persecute, of those we long to be reconciled to. We tell Him of our hurts and the hurts that we have caused others. And as we are telling Him we learn a little more about what it means to KNOW the Lord

Notice also she tells him how she was healed immediately. We pray because it is the chief part of thankfulness. Jesus did it. Not her. There wasn’t anything she could do. She didn’t deserve His kindness and mercy, but He was able and willing and actually healed her.

He redeems our life from destruction and crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies, so that we might know Him. So that we might talk to him.

As Calvin says, we enter into holy conversation with God Himself. And in this conversation we also hear the voice of God in the holy Scriptures: “Go in peace; your faith has made you whole.”

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