More Things Near and Dear

As my last two posts, “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Lean On Your Lover,” dealt with the topic of our temporal and our eternal marriages, I thought that the next few posts should deal with something else that is also near and dear to our hearts, children.  Many  experienced teachers and counselors are available that far outweigh me in the area of advice on raising children.  The raising of children is not my area of expertise so I do not intend to offer my two cents worth on that topic.  The only weight I carry is that, like many of you, I’ve been there done that, and  I claim no certification.  Also, as many of you have already raised your children, these posts and my two cents may seem passe.  However looking backward without vain regrets is heathy for us all.  As some of you may only be children and far from being parents, you can benefit by reading these posts from which you may see a need for reorientation of your views toward being children of God.

I’m not a big fan of self-help books or programs.  You know the type.  The author usually has a bunch of letters before or behind his name and he is eager to let you know that he is an expert and you are an imbecile.  They go around promoting their work speaking at conferences and selling their potions like the snake oil salesmen that they usually are.  Hind sight is usually your only defense against their snares.  Quite often, only time will tell that they nor their advice were particularly effective at solving your problem.  Remember there is nothing new under the sun, just repackaging.

When we started our family, I remember the popular books and programs that were recommended to us.  How we were raised wasn’t right, so here’s how you fix how poorly your parents messed you up.  I was always mesmerized to hear and see how these plans resulted in all these perfect little angels who walked in lockstep to their parents direction.  One plan in particular, let’s call it, “Raise Your Children Our Way” by Godly George and Saintly Susan, promoted having your children voice there concerns over the justness of your directions to them by giving them the opportunity to appeal your decisions.  Literally the child was taught to say, “May I appeal” when you ruled on matters of behavior .  For example, Dad comes home and the child’s bike is in the driveway and he has to get out of his car and move it.   The child had been told not to leave their bike in the driveway.  Dad would then go to the child and say, “I told you not to leave your bike in the driveway and therefore you will not be able to ride your bike for two days.”  The child could then say, “May I appeal?”  Dad could then grant an appeal to the child but he would qualify the appeal request by stipulating that the child must introduce “new information” in his defense. In other words, stuff Dad couldn’t have possibly known, due to his self absorbed awareness of only that which was Dad stuff.  For example, the child could make the argument that the fact that a terrible electrical storm arose out of nowhere as he was riding and as he raced home he crashed into the fence and fell causing great bodily injury, and by the time he regained consciousness he was so disoriented that he could not locate the garage, and when he finally did get his bearings, he found that  the power had been lost due to a tree falling on the electrical service connection, and the garage door would not open, and after locating his mother, who was diligently making bread in the kitchen, sewing  new clothes for the other fifteen children, singing hymns and oblivious to the hurricane outside, she was unable to manually open the garage door, due to the fact that pulling the red handle on the cord hanging from the latch was a “man” thing and out of her sphere of wifely responsibility, he was providentially hindered from completing the duty of putting his bike away.  The child would then sum up his defense in a closing argument that due to the totality of the circumstances he did not feel as though he was guilty of the crime of negligent bike putting away and was therefore suing for mercy.  Dad would then evaluate the “new information” and make his ruling.  Everyone could then have a group hug.

What a wonderful system this is. We should by the six DVD set and accompanying book, workbook, quick reference guide and charts to stick on the refrigerator,  take it home and try it out on our little brood, right!  This will solve all our problems!  We will have perfect little children too and everyone at Church will think we are the super sanctified duo.  They might even let us teach the parenting class next season.  We still laugh about that one.  I’m pretty sure that my wife saw through that scam but I bought it hook, line, and sinker. There were several along the way and I do not disparage anyone who has a successful plan that works for them.  However, there is no one size fits all system developed by man.

My chief point in all this is to say, in God’s plan for parents, he assumes one fact that we don’t often factor in.  His plan is perfect and was implemented before the dawn of time, specifically suited for your individual good and His triune Glory.  Your successes and your failures were predetermined by the counsel His will.  Your weakness and dependence upon his sovereignty in raising your children is for His Glory.

That’s why the series of posts forthcoming will not be about raising our children.  Rather it will be about the nature of God’s raising His children.  I plan to use examples of God’s sovereign grace, righteousness (promise keeping),  justice and truth to make the case for our trusting in him.  Stay tuned.

“Lean On Your Lover” the Song of Songs

Yesterday’s post “Some kind of Wonderful” seemed to really hit the mark, resulting in the highest number of hits in the blogs history. My wife and Jesus as the main characters obviously had a lot to do with its success.  They are my favorite topics as well.  As things go, I normally don’t post again for a few days.  However, in the providence of the Lord, that really weird thing happened this morning where God puts before me, without any effort on my part, more information on the same theme I had been thinking about.  God continues the conversation to make sure I get the message.

If you have been following me you know of my relationship with Thomas Boston.  Well at least posthumously.  As God would have it, the sermon I read this morning, delivered  to his Congregation in the summer of 1721, fell perfectly in line with the topic of yesterday’s post, marriages, both humanly and spiritually.  He preached a series that summer on Song of Songs 8:5 “Who is this coming from the wilderness leaning on her lover?”  The summer sermon series in rural Scotland in the 18th Century was the highlight of preachers efforts.  Good weather and long days meant that everyone in the congregation could attend, because they would not generally be hindered by bad weather or sickness.  Unlike today, the pastor nor the congregation were taking vacations, so the pews were full.  Now I wouldn’t expect to see this verse on the marque of the typical Church building you drive by today, with the catch phrase “Lean On Your Lover.”  For Boston, however, there was much to unpack in this fragment of one verse.

The ancient customs of the Jews had some traditions about the wedding ceremony that we might find a little strange today.  The betrothed would go out into a field, or woods or some place away from the eyes and ears of attendees and express to one another their nuptial-song.  Something like the exchanging of that sappy stuff where modern couples make up their own little “I love you because” spiels and say them to each other nervously in front of the very uncomfortable spectators, at least from the men’s pespective.  Not my cup of tea, but each to his own.  In this culture that stuff was done privately.  Their return to the wedding guests signified that the marriage was official, in that the bride would be physically leaning on and being led by the husband as they walked back from the wilderness..  They would walk straight to the house of the bridegroom’s father and not return publically until the next day.  I suppose I left out what they would be doing there, but you get the idea.  He was leading the bride to her new home, her new family, under his care and responsibility, and she was going willingly, dependently, faithfully, and permanently.

Do you see the beauty of this?  Do you get the significance?  I’m afraid this ancient near east tradition gets lost in translation today.  Spiritually this is the picture of Christ leading us home as his most treasured possession.  He has said his nuptial song to us by his word, the gospel, and being applied by the Holy Spirit.  His covenant cannot be broken.  We are betrothed, wed, vowed to by him, and sealed in his blood.  As his bride, like the bride at this wedding, we should not be looking back at the world we are leaving and not blindly following behind him like a train of servants trailing some earthly prince.  Rather we should lean on him, being supported, and never wanting to fall behind.  Our home now is his father’s kingdom, a place he has prepared for us full of our new relations, the Church.

God speaks to us often in scripture in the framework of marriage.  The prophet Hosea, speaking for God about the reconciliation of the children of Israel, says, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.” (Hosea 2:19)  A betrothal was a contractual agreement, typically involving the paying of the bride-price to the future father in-law.  Do you get the picture?  Christ paid the bride price to our adoptive Father, and bought us for himself and the promissory note was his righteousness, justice, love, and compassion.  We are given to Christ to be his bride because of his covenant made with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  This is no partnership, where we share responsibility to uphold the contractual agreement or the contract becomes void. In fact partnerships are not biblical.  Abraham did not form an LLC with Lot.  He gave him the land he wanted and he took what was left.  No chance of falling out over who profited most from which fleece.   Do you even see where we, the bride, even play a role in the negotiations?   We are responsive to the contractors, in that their faithfulness to uphold the terms elicits our loving devotion.  Isn’t that convenient because we are by nature contract breakers and our signing the contract would be no guarantee of surety.  We have no dowery. I love the legalese of Scripture.

Practically, is this the picture you get of marriage today, even “Christian” marriage?  I think, more often than not, marriage today doesn’t even resemble biblical marriage.  For example, the picture of this ancient Jewish wedding, with the bride leaning on the bride-groom, her lover, as Solomon puts it, is only symbolically reproduced when the bride takes the arm of the groom as they recede down the aisle.  How does any of this square today?  Why is she leaning? She is trusting where he’s leading her. This is how the scriptural command of submission by the wife is defined. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Wives submit to your husbands.” (5:22) A commentary on this passage defines submission as living in grateful acknowledgement of her husband’s care and leadership.  The picture in the Jewish wedding is not the husband dragging the bride by her hair, nor is she blindfolded and gagged.  In contrast neither are they holding hands skipping down the isle.  She is allowing herself to be gently led and willingly walking.

Recently I found out that someone I knew was in the process of a divorce.  I attended this couple’s wedding and witnessed their vows.  When the minister got to the bride’s vow, he led her to promise to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death do us part.  Wait, did my ears deceive me? Did their Pastor have a senior moment? Something was missing. A four letter word was left out. Was it intentional?  It should have been right between the cherishing part and the death part.  Did you catch it?  What happened to the “obey” part.  Me being me, I had to find out.  Later on I cornered the unsuspecting padre and asked him about his omission.  “I’m a little curious,”, I lied to him, I was a lot curious.  “Did you mean to leave out of the vows for her to obey her husband?”  The Pastor’s response floored me.  He said that the vow to obey was not required “anymore.”  I had to bid him adieu before I came unglued.  Where did he come off saying that God no longer required, as if the scriptures had an appendix, the wife to obey her husband?  Wasn’t this a Protestant and evangelical denomination?  How did we come to this point?

For one thing, it’s just plain bad theology.  The Roman Catholic church has never required the obedience vow. Don’t call yourself a protestant if you’re not willing to protest the Roman Catholic traditions. The Roman Empire brought about mutual consent marriages. That is, they did away with betrothal for commoners.   Anyone could marry anyone and if it didn’t work out they could have a do-over. They allowed the publicans to do about anything they wanted as long as there allegiance to the emperor was maintained.  Well you know what happened to the Romans.

A poor definition of obedience is another reason for the deletion of the vow.  Go back to the picture of the Jewish ceremony.  Does that look like oppression or tyranny?  The definition of obedience is even more clearly explained by Paul when he tells the Ephesian wives why they must submit.  “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” (Ephes. 5:22) I’m obviously not a wife.  I tread on dangerous ground here as I am quite aware that yesterday’s post was mostly read by my wife’s facebook friends, and if you are following with this post you may be ready to click off.  Just hang on I’m coming to the best part.

In Paul’s reasoning for the wife’s required obedience he says more to husbands than wives. Husbands you must be Christ to your wife.  What does that entail?  In simple terms, when Paul goes on to husbands in verse 25 he says to love your wives as Christ loved the church.  You know the story.  You are to sacrifice yourself for her up to and including death.  Do you know what that entails?  Read the gospel accounts of Christ’s life.  From birth in a dirty animal pen, to an agonizing death at the hands of his oppressors, as Christ you must love her actively by your willingness to sacrifice. You must be willing to live a life of a man without status, tempted by Satan and the world, rejected by men, even your own family, for the sake of your wife.  You must even be willing to endure the scorn of those who you are sacrificing for as Christ endures our scorn manifested in our disobedience. Why did Christ give up a throne in heaven, to condescend to human form?  Not for himself but for the Glory of the Father and the good of his bride.  Are you willing to make her obedience easy?  Christ did ours.  Her ability to obey you is directly dependent on your willingness to love her. We love Christ because he first loved us, and gave himself as a propitiation , a covering to shield us from the wrath of God.  You are her shield.  In fact you are to love her in spite of her obedience. Now man up!  Ok ladies. You may now share this post with your husbands?  They can hate me more now than yesterday.

For those of you who are old hats at this marriage thing, you know what I’m saying.  You know the lows and highs of it.  For some of you this may all be new and overwhelming.  For some of you God may intend that you not be distracted by living in union with another sinner, but rather he intends for you to live as his bride only.  Regardless of your situation, the picture of marriage in the Song of Songs, the prophets, the histories and law, the visions, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the gospel accounts, and the epistles all apply to you and me.  I am not qualified to counsel you on this topic but God is.  Use the word of God to guide you through this pilgrimage in this wilderness and lean on you lover, Christ our Lord.

God willing, I rest my case.

God’s Favor Grounds Us

My life has been relatively free from trouble and pain.  I say relatively because when I compare my issues with many other people, I don’t have much to complain about.  One might say I am blessed.  Well, from the true meaning of the word, as it is used in the scriptures, often defined as made happy or blissful, I’m not certain that the word applies to me.  Though it certainly should,  my self esteem gets in the way and causes me trouble.  My old self is constantly informing me of what I “deserve.”  I suppose you might say I get conceited.  We deserve easy passage in this life, right?  However, God does not abandon me when I start thinking like this.   Before long he brings my feet right back down to earth.

God sometimes uses a most effective means of helping us with conceit.  Paul called it a thorn in the flesh.  2 Corinthians 12:7 is where Paul says, “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.”  I won’t begin to deal with some of the difficulties of this passage like what his thorn was or who or what the messenger of Satan was.  That really doesn’t matter for now. Whatever they were, they were given by God for the purpose of regulating his self-esteem.

In a sermon on the topic of a Christian obtaining favor from God, Thomas Boston points out that sometimes God’s favor is not what we would call a gift.  You’ve heard it said “Don’t do me any favors” when someone does something for you or to you that they deem good but appear bad to you.  We say that very same thing to God when he meets out to us that which we determine to be one of those frowning providences.  Here is how Boston puts it.  “It is no small favor to the Christian to have a thorn of uneasiness put under him while he is here to keep him from lying down in a lions den.  Every rub that a Christian meets with in his way through the world is a memorandum for him that this is not his rest.”  At times God will chasten you by his very obvious works of providence.  When you dabble in ways directly contrary to God’s commands, he may smite you harshly.  Other times he may simply give you the nagging sensation that something is just not right.  Sometimes he may cause you to feel no pleasure in what others find enjoyable.  Most commonly God just causes you to take little comfort in the things of this world.  All of which are blessings because your joy must come in Him.

Spend some time today applying the Haggai technique.  Meditate on how God uses a thorn of uneasiness or lack of ease in your life.  Ask God to show you why.  Look to Christ who is the author and finisher of your faith to help you identify these lions dens he wants you to avoid and to find where your help comes from.  I’m certain you will see his favor towards you.

The Haggai Technique for Finding Christ

The Great Commission is a passage in scripture that we often attribute to evangelism, the telling of the good news of Jesus Christ.  Most often it is attributed to Christ’s parting instructions to his disciple’s on a mountain in Galilee.  However, there is so much more in his parting words.  This once lost but now found God tells you he will not be lost again.  God’s final words given in Christ’s human form are, as recorded by Matthew, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(28:20b)

As aliens in a foreign land, these have to be the most comforting words we can be given.  They are the words that should be in the forefront of our thoughts at all times for our comfort and strengthening.  However we lose those words so easily that our faith is weakened and doubt enters in.  To contemplate that we have lost Christ or have never even found him is common among believers.  I often run across those who, not wanting to share the depths of their experience in this dark venture, simply say they are not growing spiritually or in some lull.  If the truth be told they too are having an episode of losing Christ.

Even if we have been saved we are still fallible creatures prone to periods of spiritual illness.  We, while following our Savior, tend to look away, admiring the sights along the roadside.  When we look up again Christ seems to be nowhere in sight.  Did you ever get lost when you were a child?  I have a vivid memory of losing my mother in the Family Dollar.  Now that’s pretty pathetic as most Family Dollars are not very large.  Anyway I did and it was terrible.  I recall the horror looking down isle after isle unable to find my comfort.  I’m sure she was looking for me at the same time on the other end, but we were missing each other.  The key here was that we knew where to look, where we had last seen each other, and knowing that Mother would not leave the store without me, gave me some comfort that on one of the isles we would reunite.  If you were to lose sight of Christ, do you know where to find him?

Happily for us, Christ has left us very obvious clues as to his whereabouts.  Physically Christ, the Son of God, is in heaven.  Spiritually he is everywhere.  Sometimes he is more present than in other times.  But according to his instructions he may always be found in differing measures by his means of grace.  Typically, the revealed means of grace are prayer, the scriptures, his ordinances such as worship services, preaching and the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and communal fellowship.  However one place where he is to be found and we often overlook, is in ourselves.

Now for those of you who know me, don’t think that I have been picking magic mushrooms in my pasture this morning.  Though in this July humidity they grow quite abundantly amongst the manure.  I am in no way referring to any charismatic experiencing of Christ.  What I am advocating is meditation.  No, you are not required to assume the lotus position, I couldn’t if  I tried,  or burn incense.  Though if these things help, and you’re into that stuff, go for it.  What I am suggesting is the Haggai Technique.  Hmm, you say, haven’t heard of that one.  Well don’t google it, it’s my invention.  At least the catchy name is anyway.  You may need google to find the book of Haggai though.  Sandwiched between Zephaniah and Zechariah, the prophet Haggai tells the leadership of Judah to do some meditation, he tells them to THINK.  “Now this is what the LORD almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways.”(1:5)  The prophet is telling you to evaluate what you are doing.

There is a fine line between healthy and harmful introspection.  If you spend all of your time considering yourself it is definitely not healthy.  The entire book of Haggai is only two chapters.  If you only took half the time “considering your ways” in light of the word of God, as it takes to read Haggai, I’m certain you will relocate Christ.  This practice of meditating on your ways is exactly what Paul tells the Corinthians to do prior to coming and partaking in the Lord’s Supper.  He says “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.”(1 Cor. 11:28,29) Basically, if you expect to find Christ in the ordinance and you haven’t confirmed his presence in yourself, by realizing that your sin requires his sacrificial body and blood, then the Lord’s Supper is not going to provide for you the nourishment it is intended to give.  Meditate on your relationship with Christ before you come to the observance of the Sacrament. The Haggai Technique can be used anytime.  Psalm 4:4 tells of David’s anger over his betrayal.  God tells him to meditate.  “In your anger do not sin.  When you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.”(4:4)  The Prodigal Son meditated in a pig pen.  When he considered his ways he saw himself starving, not even eating as well as the pigs.  Christ said that he “came to his senses.”  Meditation will do that.

Whenever you approach any means of God’s meeting out his grace, whether it be attendance on the Sacraments or just meeting with another believer for fellowship, consider your ways, and look for Christ in yourself.   Find him in yourself and he will magnify your view of him in the other ways he reveals himself.  Now you go chew on that magic shroom.

Paradise Lost

I realize that to title a blog post after what is probably the most famous English poem is a little cheesy.  Whether you have read the 17th century work by John Milton or not, you can guess the subject matter.  The first few lines sum it up:

 

‘Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe’

I must admit I have not read the whole work, nor do I intend to, primarily because I am not qualified to read some 400 plus pages of poetry without commentary.  Though I took Early and Middle English literature in college,  Renaissance Literature was not my thing.  John Milton was a brilliant man and a devout Protestant Reformer.   He, like so many others of this period, were greatly influenced by the period’s availability of the Bible translation into spoken languages.  The arts flourished, as the appetites for the stories of the bible and the legends of the ancient world met in a whirlwind of creativity.  However, I’m not sure that Milton or any of the renown artists and writers of the day truly captured the true nature of what ended and began in the event of the fall of man in the garden.

According to Milton, man’s first sin, the eating of that which was forbidden, brought about death and “all our woe.”  I contend these consequences of sin, death and woe,  were and are secondary effects of sin.  What was truly the primary effect of sin was the dividing of the relationship between God and man.  What was lost, which made the garden paradise, was spiritual union.  We lost God.

I’m sure you have lost things.  You can become quite undone when you are seeking to find what you have lost.  Did you know, however, that it is quite natural for you to be seeking after something.  Man is a seeking creature. We are constantly from birth trying to find what we don’t have.  Before the fall man did not seek?  The word picture that best describes man in our natural state is a blind seeker.  Just picture a blind man seeking after something.  The difficulty is he cannot even fully describe what he is looking for because he has never seen it.  His other senses may give him a partial knowledge of what he is after, but not thorough knowledge.  Literally he doesn’t even know what he has lost.

We, in our fallen state, don’t even know that we have lost God.  Therefore we cannot seek him.  “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”(Rom 3:11)  We seek to have our wants supplied, something to satisfy our hearts but we no not for sure what that is. Rest for or satisfaction of the soul is a lifelong endeavor.  From waking to sleeping, and even in our dreams we seek without intermission.  Psychology, the study of the soul, often paints the very same picture of suicide.  A person who contemplates suicide suffers from a starving soul dying in despondency.  They are at their wits end searching for something they know not what nor where that something is.

This is a pretty bleak picture of the state of man.  Constantly looking for something but not knowing what.  This is the primary effect of sin.  This is what the bible teaches.  You can’t even use the blind squirrel theory that even he finds a nut every now and then.  We wouldn’t even know if we found it.

Wow, what a downer right.  Wrong, this is actually the miracle of the Gospel.  If you know what it is you seek it is not lost.   The sequel to Paradise Lost is the Covenant of Grace.  If you God has chosen to allow you to seek him he has shown you his mercy and has renewed your sight.  He has made known to you your desperate need for your union with him.  Your futile search is over.  He has said you will seek and you will find.  You will knock and you will have the door opened.  You are united to him, now look for him.