Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This Aint Heaven

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be nor more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:1-4).

I remember a song from when I was a kid called "This Aint Dallas" by Hank Williams Jr. The song is written from the perspective of a husband coming down on his wife for wanting to live like the folks on TV shows like Dallas or Dynasty. The song was kind of funny back then, though I doubt I could stomach it today. But the song makes a good point. We have to live in reality, not in the TV world. (It's kind of ironic that folks would rather watch "reality" on TV now than the made up TV world, but that's a thought for another time and place.)

As I look at the real world all around me, I can't help but be brought to the brink of despair. There is so much evil in the world. There is so much evil in my own heart. There is so much evil in the hearts of my friends. In the course of living out our lives, we can't seem to help making messes. Some of the messes we make are small and easy to clean up. Maybe we get caught doing something we aren't supposed to. Maybe we neglect something we shouldn't have. A simple repentance and perhaps restitution, and the mess disappears. Other messes are huge and require a lot of time and effort to repair. Maybe we make a series of bad decisions that puts us in a tremendous hole. Climbing out may require drastic measures. Then there are those messes that seem like, or are irreparable in this life. Sometimes we do things that we will regret for the rest of our lives in some way. Maybe one night of fun results in a life-shortening disease, or a divorce.

Thinking about the messes of life can indeed be discouraging, especially if we're right in the middle of one. When we make a mess, our first instinct is usually to clean it up quickly and completely. It can be downright miserable to have to face a mess every day that we can't clean up no matter how hard we try. Who wants to live in their messes? But sometimes we're forced to.

That's when the text above comes into sharp focus. Hank Williams Jr. might say it like this, "This aint Heaven." This is the realm where we are still allowed to run rampant with our own sinfulness, sickness, foolishness, and enslavements. This is the realm where those sins, sicknesses, bad decisions and idols thrash the living daylight out of us. When King David sinned with Bathsheba, he made a mess that couldn't be cleaned up in this life. The man after God's own heart, writer of the most sublime words of worship, made a mess that would cost him his family, his peace, his health, and his reputation. But the one thing it wouldn't cost him was his eternity. His eternity was in the hands of God. David was forced to live with his mess here on earth, and suffer the consequences of his idolatry. But this aint Heaven.

There will come a day when David, along with all those who belong to Jesus Christ will see firsthand what John saw - the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. On that day God himself will wipe away tears and pain and death and mourning. Why? Because this former order of things, in which man is left to make his messes, will be completely redeemed and re-created. Heaven is the place where big messes are cleaned up alongside the small ones.

While we wait for that blessed day, let us rest on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, when we continue to make messes we find difficult to clean up. For God's good purposes, he has chosen to leave us here in the filth for a time, rather than take us immediately to Heaven. So we can strive all we can to live like we're there. But when we mess up, we must immediately realize "This aint Heaven."

Monday, December 10, 2007

When Sinners Say "I Do"

After reading, reviewing, and responding to the review of Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, it rejoices my heart that I was able to duct tape my head back together and dive into another book on marriage. This one is totally unlike Love and Respect in that is provocative, yet encouraging. It is simple, yet profound. It is radically Christ-centered which makes it relevant to rebels like me.

When Sinners Say "I Do" by Dave Harvey is an excellent book on marriage. The sub-title says it all - Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. That's what I want to see in a Christian book about marriage. If I want pop-psychology, I'll watch Dr. Phil and Oprah. I want the Gospel. I desperately need the Gospel. I don't need to be told I'm good-willed, and misunderstood. I need to be told the truth. I need to be told I'm hopeless and helpless. I need to be told of the good news that lies outside of myself. That's what When Sinners Say "I Do" does well.

Harvey begins his marriage book where any logical person should - with God. He immediately attaches the significance of marriage to God's purposes for it. He compares starting with God as properly lining up the buttons on your shirt. If you get the first one right, the rest fall into place. It you mis-line to first button, you look like a dork when you're done. Harvey argues that the foundation of marriage is the Bible, the fountain of marriage is the Gospel, and the focus of marriage is the glory of God.

Harvey's second chapter takes on the topic of sin. Consider this quote: "So here is my conclusion: I am a better husband and father, and a happier man, when I recognize myself as the worst of sinners." He continues this line of thought into chapter three where he considers the subtleties of sin more closely. He examines the deceitfulness of sin, and advises every spouse to point the finger at themselves first in every marital struggle. His view of sin is realistic and serious, as it should be. "In the twenty-first century, marriage is offered as nature's answer to our emotional deficits." Harvey warns us against an unchecked chasing of our desires - even the legitimate ones.

About halfway through the book, Harvey shifts gears from sin to response. He looks at mercy worked out in various ways in marriage, as well as forgiveness. Rather than painting over problems, and faking peace, Harvey's theology demands sin be acknowledged, but also properly dealt with. In his chapter on forgiveness, he reminds us that "forgiveness is costly." Much of this portion of the book seems to based on principles found in The Peacemaker by Ken Sande.

Harvey's chapter entitled, "Stubborn Grace" is refreshing as it shows the need for couples to persevere together in their race of faith in the Gospel. From this chapter, I took away the notion that husbands and wives are partners in the race. They must not only stay in the race themselves, they must also ensure their partner stays in the race.

It seems every marriage book has a sex chapter. This one is no exception. The author doesn't point out any new techniques. In fact, the author's "hope in this chapter is to bring the sensitive issue of sex under the hope of the gospel, where it belongs." Wow. I've heard of the purpose driven church, and the purpose driven life. Now I've read about the gospel driven sex life. Harvey even points out how sins like sloth, unbelief, and bitterness "can rob sweetness from the sexual relationship in marriage."

Harvey ends his book on a sad, yet heavenly note. He writes about when a spouse dies. That's the first time I've read a chapter devoted to the topic in a book about marriage. He takes the reader through bereavement to hope because of God's promise of a great weight of glory that is coming someday. Heaven's promise is the power to say goodbye to the fellow sinner we've devoted our earthly life to.

I really appreciate this book, and it is my pleasure to highly recommend it. It's not for everyone. It is written on an elementary, conversational level by an experienced pastor, and counselor. Though just about anyone could read this book, some may find it difficult to stomach. If you have a hard time being told you're a sinner, don't read this book. If you have a hard time placing all the blame in your marriage squarely on your sinful desires, don't read this book. If you have a hard time being humbled before a righteous, yet loving God, don't read this book. If you want to stay the way you are because it's more comfortable than change, don't read this book. If you don't think the Gospel has anything to do with marriage, don't read this book. On second thought, if the above descriptions point to you, you should read this book. Devour it. Soak in it. Thank God for it. Thank God for the sinner who has devoted his or her life to a fellow sinner. And thank God for the mighty Gospel that makes it all right in the end.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Noel "the Heavenly-minded" Piper

This is an amazing story. If you want to see theology lived out in the daily drudgery of life, see Noel Piper's recent blog post, I Almost Died.

Friday, December 7, 2007

To Test or Not to Test

I was listening to the radio while on my way to help out a friend with car trouble this morning. A James Dobson "family minute" came on the air concerning marriage. The premise was that couples needed to spend a lot of time together before they decide to get married. Dr. Dobson pointed out how this was the most important decision in life, and one not to be entered into lightly. He pointed out the highs and lows of our emotional state. Couples need to stay together long enough to build the relationship through the emotional highs and lows to determine their true feelings about one another. This would be considered the mature way to decide if this is the person one wants to spend the rest of his life with.

While I appreciate Dr. Dobson's concern for a high view of marriage, and the lifelong commitment that is expected from couples entering marriage, one thought kept coming into my mind - what about Isaac and Rebekah? What about the thousands of people throughout history who have married on short notice? Is time spent testing the waters that beneficial? Jacob knew Rachel for quite some time before they were finally permitted to wed. Was Jacob's marriage better than his father, Isaac's?

I think we would be well served to realize marriage cannot - let me repeat - cannot fulfill us. It cannot. Can't. Nope. Not under any circumstances. Is anyone else wondering when the western, sentimental, therapeutic view of everything is going to end? If one doesn't have the courage of convictions to keep his promises, he won't keep his promises. I don't care if he knows his bride-to-be one day or one decade. When he decides his bride isn't making enough of him, he's going to "fall out of love with her." On the other hand, if one is happy in God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ above all things, he will keep his promise to his bride his entire life - for Christ's sake. The issue isn't whether to test or not to test the waters before marriage. The issue is whether to have a radically Christ-centered, emotional toughness that sticks with messy people for an entire life. What do you think?

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Sweeter Song Than Angels Sing

I'm preaching through Isaiah 6 this Sunday. What a sublime text of Scripture! For those of us caught up in the muck, mire, and mundane monotony of daily life on messy earth, we desperately need our hearts carried away from that which is fallen to that which is pristine. Isaiah does us this favor.

In this text we read the account of Isaiah's call as a prophet. Isaiah is given a vision of the heavenly throne-room. He describes a majestic being called a seraphim. Seraphim are angels that fly around the throne of God calling out, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (6:3).

As I pondered that text, thoughts of God's grandness flooded my mind. God is magnificent beyond imagination. I'm sure the seraphim are as well, but not compared with God. As they sang out this perpetual chorus, the entire place was shaking. Isaiah felt the weight of the situation and fell apart at the seems. He was immediately made aware of God's purity and his own wretchedness. Isaiah pronounced a woe upon himself. In plain English, "I am damned."

Fortunately for Isaiah and us, there is a song sweeter than the song of the seraphim. The seraphim will never personally know the joy to be found in lines like, "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel's veins," "He has washed us with his blood," "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me," "Here in the death of Christ, I stand," "Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow," "One with himself, I cannot die; my soul is purchased by his blood," "He to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood," "He sought me, and bought me, with his redeeming blood," "His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the whelming flood," and "My Savior loves, my Savior lives, my Savior's always there for me."

The song of the Seraphim is a terrifying refrain. When I allow my mind to wander in the thought of it, I along with Isaiah feel the weight of glory crushing upon my frail frame. But I cannot stay there. I will not. The song of Redemption beckons me to sing along. I will look beyond the Saraphim, to the one on the throne, the one from which the Saraphim hide their eyes. And I will "weep to the praise of the mercy I've found" as I see my King, my Savior, the Lover of my soul seated in regal splendor. And I will rejoice with inexpressible joy at the salvation that is mine; the salvation that angels long to know firsthand. Life is not so bad.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Challies' Mom on Divorce

Tim Challies' mom wrote her children an encouragement to stay married, and never allow any doubt to enter their minds.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Give Thanks

While you're sitting in your Lazy Boy watching football today, look out into the kitchen and thank God for the wife he gave you. While you're slaving over a hot stove all morning, glance into the living room where your husband is napping in the Lazy Boy, and thank God for him. Remember that it is a gift of grace that you are not suffering from the most profound sense of isolation and despair. God has blessed you with a companion. He may not be the one you'd create for yourself. She may not be the one you thought you were getting. But you are blessed nonetheless.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Covenant First

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11).

I recently read an excellent book entitled, The Death of the Grown Up: How America's Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West. The basic premise of the book is that adolescents are expected to act adolescent. They're expected to test the ropes, buck the system, rebel against authority, and make foolish, compulsive decisions; while grown ups are expected to hold the ropes tightly, maintain the established, well-tested system, impose authority, and prevent (and if necessary clean up after) foolish, compulsive decisions. The problem the book addresses is that, while adolescents are acting as adolescent as ever, parents are acting as adolescent as ever, right along with their real adolescents. There is no grown up in the average American home. And children are left exposed to all the dangers flowing from the folly of the depraved human heart. Civilization cannot last long when the cultural, moral and civic standard is being set by fifteen year olds. West gives example after example to prove her case. Her points are articulate, well researched, and convicting.

It seems that since I've read the book, I'm hyper-sensitive to West's observations. While I would argue that there is a huge difference between being a Christian, and acting Christianly, I can't help but see, and be disgusted with, adult adolescent values and behavior everywhere they rear their ugly head. I expect such values and behaviors from adolescents. What has become obvious to me is the pervasiveness of adults thinking and desiring like children. Don't get me wrong, I'm a maturing adolescent myself. I hate it as much in myself as in others. And I've been consciously trying to grow up - to speak, think and reason as an adult.

One thing we expect from children is dishonesty. It seems deception, manipulation and pie-crust promises are a part of the adolescent mind. Another thing we expect from children is compulsive behavior that doesn't take into consideration the consequences of actions. Children rarely think of the long-term affects of their decisions.

What happens when adults act like adolescents in the realm of marriage? I would argue divorce happens. People come to an alter or a judge on a whim, make a pie-crust promise that is easily made and easily broken, and have a couple kids. Then they decide the whole thing was a mistake and try to start over with someone else. It seems America is raising generation after generation of adolescents who enter adulthood without the values and mindset it takes to honor obligations and consider others better than themselves. In other words, adolescents never move beyond adolescent thoughts, desires and priorities, even while their hair is graying and their skin is wrinkling and they're racking up spouses like credit card debt. When such people get married, we can expect chaos.

As a pastor, my goal is to help people move beyond such childish thinking. I want to help couples who have been raised to be perpetual adolescents think and want what flows from a mature worldview. Obviously, I don't believe people can be truly mature outside of a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. What concerns me is when people have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and continue to think and want like those adolescent-minded folks who do not.

Christians must be taught and retaught that marriage is first and foremost a covenant. It is a lifelong vow of exclusive devotion. Marriage is, of course, so much more than that. But it is never any less. So where are your thoughts and desires? Are you breezing through life and marriage as an adolescent with graying hair? Or can you say with Paul that you've given up childish ways? For the sake of your marriage, and possibly your eternal happiness, I pray you see marriage as a covenant first, and you stay faithful to it until you die.

Monday, November 19, 2007

One Righteous Life

Are you right with God? Do you know for sure? Do you feel it? Do you rejoice in the knowledge of it? Does it shape the way you wade through the waters of life? Or do you wonder if you're right with God? Do you struggle with doubts and fears about the state of your soul? Do you look at your way of life, and secretly wonder how God could not be nauseated by you, let alone love you?

I've been hearing a popular song on the radio lately. One of the lines asks God, "What do you see that's worth looking our way." As I pondered that line, I came to one answer. The answer filled my heart with joyful-hope. The reason the answer filled me with joyful-hope had nothing to do with my circumstances, obedience, faith or faithfulness. It had nothing to do with how long I prayed this morning. It had nothing to do with how well I'd treated my wife today. It had nothing to do with how I overcame the latest round of temptation. It had nothing to do with my health or wealth.

There's only one right answer to that song's question. If you get this answer right, you'll have joyful-hope - basking in the light of God's covenant love. If you get this answer wrong, you'll be prone to fearful-doubt - cringing at the thought of God's presence. The right answer to the question, "What do you see that's worth looking our way?" is "Christ."

I wonder how many people think of their own faithfulness when that question is asked. I wonder how many people have deluded themselves into thinking God is better off for having them around. I wonder how many have actually convinced themselves they're pretty valuable. I wonder if anyone actually believes that he is faithful to God.

Unfortunately, I suspect there are many people who believe just those things. But even in the midst of their feeling so good about themselves, I doubt they bask in the light of God's covenant-love. There's only way that anyone can feel God's love. They have to feel that God accepts them - that he wants them. The only means by which God can accept anyone is if they are holy as he is - perfect.

I was filled with joyful-hope today because one righteous life is all it took for me to bask in God's covenant love. I felt God's pleasure in me. In my heart, I could hear him singing over me with delight. I knew God is for me. He accepts me. He likes me. He loves me. He will always love me whether I pray today, or skip it. Whether I give today, or keep it. Whether I love today, or sleep. There has only been one righteous life lived on this earth. The righteous life that Jesus Christ lived - culminating in his sacrificial death on the cross, and his glorious resurrection - is the only hope for my sinful soul. On my best day, I am absolutely worthless. I'll get God's attention, all right. But it won't be because I'm beautiful. It will be because I'm spitting at him from a distance. But Christ loved God in my place. He lived the life I should have, but couldn't. And he took my spit on the cross. This Thanksgiving season, I'm supremely thankful for the one righteous life that covers so many worthless ones.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Love and Respect 3

I'll conclude my review of Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I have previously expressed my opinion that Dr. Eggerichs mis-diagnoses the source of marital conflict. He takes a traditional pop-psych. therapeutic view of man's depravity. Man is basically good-willed, but perhaps ignorant (which is why we need an expert like Eggerichs to discover the "secret" and reveal it to us) or misunderstood. This view permeates the book, and influences the counsel the book gives.

As I worked through Part Three: The Rewarded Cycle, a question quickly came to me. Why didn't Dr. Eggerichs put this section in the beginning of his book? This is the only part of the book that really takes God seriously at all. The first two parts only seem to use God as a genie in a bottle to make my marriage more bearable for me. That tone is present in Part Three as well. But at least God is more pervasive. In fact, Eggerichs even mentions Heaven.

I was pleased to read sentences like these. "To the world it may make no sense for a wife to put on respect toward a husband who is harsh and unloving. It makes no sense for a husband to put on love toward a contemptuous, disrespectful woman. But it makes sense to God. These seemingly fruitless efforts matter to God because this is the kind of service He rewards." That may be the best paragraph in the book.

But such God-centered heavenly-mindedness doesn't last long. "There is still more to the Rewarded Cycle. There are rewards to help you cope right here, right now. Heaven will wait. God's timing is in control of that, but you can always use a little more help with understanding and living with your less-than-perfect spouse." Back to letters and behaviorism. Overall, Part Three is the only section worth reading in the whole book, and it just barely. One can tell from reading the book that Dr. Eggerichs begins the book with man. Therefore, God is not understood properly. God's purposes for marriage aren't even dealt with. This is ironic considering that God created and oversees marriage.

I'll give some general thoughts on the book overall.

1. The Gospel is mysteriously absent in the book. There is not really a call for repentance, or trust in Christ. There isn't really a proper dealing with the issues of forgiveness.

2. God seems to be a genie in this book. This book will make idolaters worse, more proficient idolaters. I see spouse worship plastered throughout the book, and never addressed. That's bad.

3. The book is based on behaviorism. The danger with this is that the heart isn't dealt with. One can read this book, follow what it says, and feel good about the result. Apart from God. With little thought of the Gospel. With no view to Heaven.

4. Because the book is so man-centered and behavioristic, with a bunch of do and don't advice, I can't see the methods serving any long-term purpose. Eventually, the couple will realize that, like any list of behaviors to perform, they will fall short. When that happens, they may become discouraged and feel like they were right all along. What's the use.

5. When that thought comes up for a couple, there's nothing in the book to free them from their quest to save themselves, and fix their marriage. There's no Gospel.

6. Concepts like love and respect aren't properly defined or even described. So I can't see how anyone would know if they're actually doing it or not. There's just a generic feel to the book, probably because so much of it is based on the experiences of the author, rather than the Bible.

I will judge the quality of a book on marriage by how thoroughly and accurately it expresses ultimate issues. God. The Gospel. Heaven. If marriage isn't put into such a framework, then the counsel is bound to fail. Love and Respect just doesn't properly deal with these issues. So in the end, I think it will heal the wounds of the readers lightly.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Love and Respect 2

I'll continue my review of Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. In Part One: The Crazy Cycle, Eggerichs lays out his theory for why couples have problems. Men must give their wives "unconditional love," and wives must give their husbands "unconditional respect." He derives this from Ephesians 5:33. The interesting thing to me is that he implies all of Christianity has missed this connection until he wrote about it. For example, Eggerichs calls the connection between a husband's love and wife's respect a "secret." He also says that, "Many books on marriage stress the need for husbands to love wives, but the unique feature about this book is the concept of wives showing unconditional respect toward husbands." "I have concluded that those of us in the church, who believe we have the Truth, are not using the whole truth. A crucial part of God's Word has been completely ignored or perhaps simply gone unnoticed when it has been there all the time right under our noses!" I find such statements either ignorant of the vast work being done in the area of applied theology, or just plain arrogant. Spousal roles have been under our noses, yet missed all this time? Does he expect us to believe that?

Are we to believe no one in the church is preaching that wives should respect their husbands in all circumstances? The entire biblical counseling movement and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are two examples of vocal proponents of biblical love and respect. Even the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention has this statement in their confession of faith, "The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation" (Italics are mine). Is the love and respect "secret" really that secret? The largest protestant denomination in the country made it a part of their confession of faith years ago. When books are built on hype, rather than substance, I can't help lose a bit of respect for them.

As I come to the end of Part One: The Crazy Cycle, I question if Dr. Eggerichs takes seriously the depravity of man in this section. His chief rationale for the "Crazy Cycle" seems to be that "the woman looks at the world through pink sunglasses that color all she sees. The man, however, looks at the world through blue sunglasses that color all he sees. Men and women can look at precisely the same situation and see life much differently. Inevitably, their pink and blue lenses cause their interpretation of things to be at odds to some degree." Eggerichs sees that men and women each speak in code that must be broken by the other.

I think the Bible has a more developed sense of marriage problems than just bridging interpretive gaps with better communication techniques. James helps us see the true problem. "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (James 4:1-3). James concludes this section by calling for humility before God. As Dr. Eggerichs surveys the marital landscape, I don't see this message at the forefront of his radar screen. That's why I think Part Two: The Energizing Cycle falls somewhat flat.

Part Two: The Energizing Cycle is Dr. Eggerichs's attempt to prescribe a remedy to the problem he mis-diagnosed in Part One. He counsels men to keep in mind the acronym "C-O-U-P-L-E." C=Closeness, O=Openness, U=Understanding, P=Peacemaking, L=Loyalty, and E=Esteem. Husbands should relate to their wives on the basis of these six things. Eggerichs promises us that "C-O-U-P-L-E is based on foundational biblical passages related to husbands in marriage. You cannot go wrong trusting and obeying God's revelation." His promise is refreshing. The problem is that as I worked through the chapters covering the husband's role, I saw very little Scripture. I saw a whole lot of conventional wisdom.

In his counsel to women, Eggerichs uses the acronym "C-H-A-I-R-S." C=Conquest, H=Heirarchy, A=Authority, I=Insight, R=Relationship, S=Sexuality. He does a better job of actually deriving these from the Bible. I do appreciate his stand against the encroachment of feminism on the family. He takes a strong stand for the biblical roles of husbands and wives without apology. That is refreshing. He doesn't water down the tough commands of Scripture in any of the texts he uses, which displays a respect for the Bible. My problem is that he just doesn't use enough. In addition, he doesn't lay out the biblical purpose for marriage (right away, at least), so it appears that God and the Bible are really just the best tools available to ensure couples have a more comfortable marriage.

Almost everything he advises is just old fashioned behavioral therapy. No gospel. No freedom. Just more lists of things to do and don't do. Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura or any other pop-psych doctor wouldn't disagree with what Dr. Eggerichs suggests. If you're looking for lots of anecdotes in the form of letters of appreciation, this book's for you. If you're looking for solid biblical teaching that you can base your marriage on, look elsewhere.

Don't get me wrong. Dr Eggerichs does give lots of sound advice that probably could help a couple get along better. But that doesn't make it fully biblical. In other words, I can apply some of the things he taught because it's just common sense. But I can't shape an entire worldview of marriage on what is taught. There's just not enough biblical exposition. I'll finish my review tomorrow with what I believe is the strongest part of the book - Part Three: The Rewarded Cycle.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love and Respect

Well, I wanted to begin my series of book reviews with a radically positive, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, God-glorifying book. And there are some out there. I happened to just be finishing a book about marriage, so I decided to begin with it while it was fresh on my mind. So I won't begin with a gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible saturated, God-glorifying book. Rather, I'll begin with one that claims to be some of those things, but I fear misses the mark.

It's not that I don't think husbands and wives can be helped by reading the book I'm about to introduce. The problem is I think any husband or wife, regardless of religion, culture, background, or goals could get help from this book on how to have a more comfortable marriage. I don't think the book begins with ultimate questions, therefore it ends with sub-ultimate counsel that ultimately won't achieve the right goals. In other words, if a self-absorbed husband and wife - trapped in the bondage of worshiping one another - sits down with this book, they could very well come out on the other side more proficient idolaters than when they began. If a self-absorbed husband and wife - burdened by the relentless nature of behavioral therapy - follows the counsel in this book, they could very well remain self-righteous legalists. That's where the danger lies. Even while the book is spot on in its diagnosis of relational issues from a human perspective, I wonder how well the offered prescription leads couples away from themselves and onto Jesus Christ.

The book I want to review is Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I've been bombarded by this book's advertising for quite some time, which caused me to buy it only reluctantly. I thought I knew what it would be like. Number one, it's a Focus on the Family book. That tells the psychological, behavioral bent it will have. Number two, the cover speaks of, "The Respect He Desperately Needs." When I see language like that describing anything other than Jesus Christ, a red flag goes up in my head. Number three, when a book is book of the year at Family Christian Stores, and number 303 in all of Amazon.com, and number 1 in Christian marriage at Amazon.com, and number 2 in general marriage at Amazon.com, I question how God-glorifying it can be and yet be so appealing to such a wide variety of readers. Number four, when the back cover promises, "A Revolutionary Message" I tend to squirm. Number five, when a book promises I'll, "Discover the Single Greatest Secret to a Successful Marriage" I almost have to laugh. But I eventually bought a copy out of guilt, because I knew some folks who've read it, and I wanted to know how to interact with its content.

For starters, I want to say I don't think the book is heretical. While I disagree with it to some extent, there are parts that are downright good. I think the author has a sincere desire to help couples who feel trapped in what Eggerichs calls "The Crazy Cycle." He wants to help couples go from "The Crazy Cycle" to "The Energizing Cycle" and "The Rewarded Cycle."

The book begins with Part One: The Crazy Cycle. In this section, Eggerichs describes marriages that are conflicted with husbands who won't love and wives who won't respect. While he accurately describes couples in conflict, I fear he doesn't take seriously just how depraved we all are. He doesn't allow Scripture to shape his view of man. Rather, he just assumes the best about man, contrary to reality. He writes more from a secular psychological view of man than from a biblically informed theological perspective. He assumes those reading his book are what he terms "good-willed people." By that he means "that both of these people love each other a great deal. They do not mean real harm; they do not intend real evil toward one another. They are hurt and angry, but they still care deeply for one another." I simply don't agree with this assessment of any married couple. Yes, couples love each other. But many of us have seen these same couples commit atrocious acts toward one another, especially when they decide they've had enough. There's a thin line between love and hate in marriage. In fact, spouses have killed their mate - out of love. The most loving married couples can go out of their way to destroy one another in divorce - in a matter of days. James 4 gives a much more realistic view of man than Dr. Eggerichs.

Furthermore, Eggerichs believes that the wife needs love and the husband needs respect like they need air. When husbands and wives don't give love and respect, they are in essence, "stepping on my air hose!" I find this a little too strongly stated. This assumption is dangerous. It's assuming a man can't live without a woman's respect, and a woman can't live without a man's love. That's just biblically inaccurate and actually contradicts Paul's message in 1 Corinthians 7. So the overall problem with Part One is that it begins its diagnosis of marriage problems with years of counseling experience rather than a biblically informed view of man's depravity and lovelessness. Therefore, I believe Eggerichs goes into Part Two: The Energizing Cycle with an incomplete diagnosis of the problem. For the sake of brevity, I'll continue this review tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Timmy Brister says, "I do."

Timmy Brister has a good little post on his blog about the heaviness of saying, "I do."

Marriage Counseling and Marketing

In my last post I finished with the following argument:

"Christ is the end of counseling. Christ is the end of marriage. So Christ is the end of marriage counseling. Unless counselors point a couple away from themselves, away from the goal of having a good marriage, away from their inherent selfishness, away from seeing their marriage as an end, then their counsel won't ultimately help the couple. Marriage is a means to the end of living for Christ. Marriage counseling is the means to the end of helping a couple stop living for themselves and start living for Christ."

As I survey the astounding number of books on bettering marriage, written from a Christian perspective, I wonder how many achieve the point of the above paragraph. Make no mistake, some do. Some books offer wonderful, Christ-centered, God-exalting counsel for couples. The problem is that they're not the ones on the end-caps of your local bookstore. In fact, if these books aren't recommended by someone, most will never hear of them. On the other hand, there are books that seem to me entirely unhelpful, and I'm bombarded by them at every turn. From a Christian publishing point of view, marriage counseling is about marketing. Posters of their cover are plastered all over the windows of the store. Banners hang over doorways. Full page ads promise great results in Christian magazines and on websites. The authors' voices are booming from radio interviews, telling me how they have the secret I've missed all this time. It is sad in our day that one can generally tell how Christ-exalting a book is by how little popular advertising it gets. The more Christ-centered the book, the less likely you'll even know it exists. Meanwhile, pseudo-Christian pop psychology is shoved down your throat from every direction in million dollar campaigns. The reason for this is simple.

Christian publishing, on the one hand, is about helping biblical messages proliferate to the masses. On the other hand, Christian publishing is about making money. If a publisher can't make a book sell, it doesn't matter how helpful it is. You'll never hear of it. One thing is certain, Christ-exalting messages do not usually sell well to self-absorbed Christians. And publishers know it. What's worse, they cater to it. Over the next several weeks, I'll review some books, both good and bad. Some I've mentioned before on this blog. Others I'm working through right now. My goal in doing this isn't to bash anyone. My goal is to recommend to you Christ-exalting resources that you may never see on a bookstore shelf, or hear about on the radio. My secondary goal is to warn against some dangers in books that are "household names" in Christian circles. You can't judge a book by its cover. And you can't judge it by its marketing blitz. In the end, a book can only be judged by the Sun around which all the planets of the solar system turn - Jesus Christ. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Means or End?

Do you want a happier, more intimate marriage? Do you wish you could communicate better with your spouse? Do you pray for things to be better? I would guess most couples could answer yes to those questions. Those issues are pretty common to all marriages. What if I asked you why? Why do you want a happier, more intimate marriage? Why do you wish you could communicate better with your spouse? Why do you pray for things to be better? I hope you have a better answer than, "Because that's the way it's supposed to be."

When couples seek marriage counseling, there's usually one thing on their minds. They aren't as happy or as comfortable in their marriage as they'd like to be and they think a counselor can help change that. Their marriage is like an irritating splinter in the tip of their forefinger and they can't seem to get relief. So they look for someone else to help pull out the irritant. In other words, most couples seek counseling as an end. Many counselors seek to help the couple pull out the splinter and think highly of their counseling skills when they are able to do it. That is sad. Here's why:

Couples generally come for counseling because both spouses are self-absorbed. The husband is self-absorbed. The wife is self-absorbed. As a couple, they are self-absorbed together. Each spouse sees himself as the sun around which the planets revolve. And the couple sees themselves as a couple as the sun around which the planets revolve. The reason they want help is to be more comfortable being self-absorbed. As a counselor, if I help this self-absorbed couple become more proficient at being self-absorbed, how have I helped them?

As a counselor, my biggest agenda is to point self-absorbed, unhappy couples away from seeking counsel as an end. If I don't, then I've just enabled and fueled their selfishness. Why would I want to make a couple comfortable being selfish? Instead, I have to ask the dreaded, "Why?" Why do you want counsel? Why do you want things to be better? Why do you want to communicate more effectively? Why do you want a better sex life? Why do you want help with your finances? Why do you want a happier marriage?

Only when I ask those questions am I able to move beyond the couple's natural self-absorbed nature to bigger issues. Marriage counseling is not an end. The reason for this is simple enough. The couple is not the end.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). This is the verse in the forefront of my mind as I seek to navigate the waters of my own marriage, and help others through the waters of their own marriages. Until I ask a couple why they want a better marriage, Christ can remain in the background. Or worse yet, as a genie in a bottle longing to grant the couple's every wish.

Christ is the end of counseling. Christ is the end of marriage. So Christ is the end of marriage counseling. Unless counselors point a couple away from themselves, away from the goal of having a good marriage, away from their inherent selfishness, away from seeing their marriage as an end, then their counsel won't ultimately help the couple. Marriage is a means to the end of living for Christ. Marriage counseling is the means to the end of helping a couple stop living for themselves and start living for Christ.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stadium Worship

My friend, Tony Romano, has posted some wonderful reflections on worship here and here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Beauty of God

I'm preparing a study to be taught on Sunday evenings. It's entitled "The Face of God: The Psalm's Revelation of God." It's a study on the attributes of God. I chose to do this study from the Psalms because I don't think God is a subject for scientific study, but rather a person to be known. The Psalms reveal who God is for people in the midst of the ups and downs of daily life. God has revealed many things about himself from the Psalms, not to satisfy human curiosity, but to give joyful hope in the midst of various trials.

I was very excited as I organized the outline for this study because I couldn't help but see God in a fresh way. My introductory point is derived from Psalm 27. I chose this Psalm to begin the study because in it I think we find the most obvious reason to want to know God more deeply. In Psalm 27 we find an attribute of God that I don't find in books about the attributes of God - namely, God is beautiful.

What attracts us to objects of affection? What makes any object worthy of ordering our lives around? Obviously, it's beauty or value. For instance, what makes drugs worthy of pursuit? Why would people give up all they own, all their relationships, their dignity, their hope for a better tomorrow, their health and even their lives for a bag of weed or powder or crystals? It's obvious. They find those drugs beautiful. They find those drugs more beautiful than any other object in the world - so valuable their very lives are laid on the altar of those substances. And occasionally such a valuable god demands the ultimate sacrifice from its worshipers.

Perhaps you find that difficult to comprehend. Maybe you can't appreciate the power of drugs over people because you don't find them beautiful. Then again, maybe you don't know the drugs in the intimate way a junkie does. Therefore, you don't find drugs valuable enough to order your life around. If you knew drugs intimately, you might find them highly valuable. In fact, it's almost guaranteed you would. So you're better off never knowing drugs in an intimate way. Stay away from them.

Maybe now you can see the similarities between drugs and God. Perhaps you don't find God worthy of ordering your life around. Maybe you can't understand why others are so radically God-centered in their affections and decisions. Have you ever considered that maybe you don't know him intimately enough yet? Maybe you don't find God beautiful because you don't know him. Psalm 27 promises us that God is worth knowing, and more than that, worth prioritizing life around. Consider the words of David, "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4).

David found God so beautiful that he was willing to seek after him. To meditate on the beauty of God was the one thing David wanted out of life. God wants Christians to seek his face. "You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, Lord, do I seek.'" (Ps. 27:8). What would make us want to seek the face of God? He's beautiful. We like to look upon, and ponder beautiful things. And the more deeply we know God, the more beautiful we will find him.

I love music. All kinds of music catch my ear. When some don't find the music I like beautiful, I don't fault the music. I fault the ones listening. They just don't fully comprehend the skill, the artistic ability, the labor that goes into good music. If they took the time to listen, I'm sure they would come away with a sense of beauty. The same is true with God. If someone doesn't find God beautiful, I don't fault God. I fault the person's sense of beauty. If he truly knew God, he would find him beautiful.

What is the practical side of studying the attributes of God? In other words, why bother? How will it change our lives? That question is often asked by pragmatic American Christians always looking for some scheme to make life better. I won't answer the question (though it has a good answer). I will ask the right question instead. Why do people visit Niagra Falls? How does that enhance their lives? Why do people go to museums? How does that benefit them? Why do millions gather around a field of grass, or a court of hardwood, or an oval asphalt track every week? How do sports better someone's life? None of these things provide practical benefit. Yet people can't stay away from them. Why? People are drawn to beauty and glory.

Why is it that Christians can give their lives over to the most petty, worldly pursuits without assessing the benefit, yet cannot just want to know God without assessing the benefit for life in this world? It's because even Christians do not know God rightly. Not yet. So we stand in constant need of deeper knowledge of God. In the end, our thoughts of God will determine our thoughts about everything else. That's why it's important to study the attributes of God.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More on Divorce

Here's more interaction on divorce from Andreas Kostenberger. Dr. Kostenberger is a New Testament professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote the excellent book God, Marriage and Family. While I share John Piper's concern over easy divorce, I agree with Dr. Kostenberger's view of marriage and divorce.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rejoicing in the Lord in all Cases and Conditions

So much of the most beneficial counsel for people today was written hundreds of years ago. So much of what is valuable reading material today is simply a rehash of material written hundreds of years ago. I love to read books from every age. It guards against temporal arrogance - thinking our generation has it all figured out. It also guards against seeing everything through a temporal lens - being stuck in the presuppositions and worldview of our current generation. Moral of the story, read old books. There has never been an easier time to peruse the wisdom of ages past than today, when writings from 500 years ago can be translated, edited, printed, and shipped all over the world for the price of a fast food dinner. One such book I'm fond of is Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions by Robert Asty. Asty pastored in England in the 1600's. He's not very well known and didn't write as profusely as some others in his generation. But this little book is an overflow of Christian Hedonist wisdom.

Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions
is an exposition of Habakkuk 3:18: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation." This verse comes as Habakkuk ponders the famine and hardship that will come upon Israel as a result of a Chaldean invasion. "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18).

The central doctrine that Asty addresses in this book is "There is enough in Christ Jesus alone for the soul's full rejoicing and triumphing in all cases and conditions." In other words, Christ is enough to make all people happy at all times. Christ satisfies in a way that nothing else can, breaking the bonds of circumstantial tyranny. He writes, "Let things go how they will in the world, as to my outward concerns, yet the ground of my joy is never taken from me. . . . It is not in the creature, it is not upon earth, but it is in heaven; it is not in man, it is in the Lord; it is not in the confluence of these things that are coming and going, and in an uncertain enjoyment, but it is in the Lord who never fails."

How great would Christ look if Christians thought like this? Wouldn't Christ look more valuable than anything else? And wouldn't that be putting Christ in his rightful place - more valuable than anything else? But, needless to say, it isn't always true of Christians that Christ Jesus alone is the soul's full rejoicing. We find the same things to rejoice in that everyone else does - health, spouses, children, jobs, television, sporting events, melodies and beats, movies, toys, cars, houses, trips, and any number of creature comforts. When those things come in an abundance we are satisfied with, we are quite happy, and will let folks know that God is the reason for our happiness. Oftentimes, the only difference between Christians and non-Christians is who gets the credit. Whereas, most people in the world will credit themselves for the abundance of their "good fortune," Christians credit God.

However, few Christians exude a demeanor that rises above current circumstances. Let adversity (and even potential adversity that hasn't even happened yet) hit the modern non-Christian, and his response will likely be too similar to that of the pagan next door. Maybe even worse. I've seen it with my own eyes. So how can a Christian show that Christ alone is enough for him? Asty helps us here.

"If you would come to live upon Christ Jesus alone in the saddest providences of your state, then entertain and keep up low thoughts of the great things of this world. Truly, Christians, you may think what you will, but while you have hearts that are magnifying and adoring the things of the world and the enjoyments of the world, and counting these as great things, you will never come scripturally to live upon the Lord Jesus. Your thoughts must be altered in and about the comforts of this life, and you must possess your hearts with the thought that these are the smallest comforts of your state, and that the blessings of this life are the least blessings that the Lord has given you. You must have very low thoughts of the world, and of the comforts of it, if you would come to live by faith in Christ Jesus alone. While you have vast thoughts of your earthly enjoyments, earthly comforts, and earthly conditions, and suppose your comforts to lie here, there, or anywhere short of Christ, you will be driven out of all the exercise of faith by an unfavorable providence."

The last sentence of the above quote is telling. How many Christians claim to be overflowing with joy in Christ, only to be exposed in a time of "unfavorable providence"? The content of someone's hope is revealed in times of crisis and great decision. If a Christian is truly satisfied with Christ alone, then the circumstances that seem to jab the side will not lead to despair, fear, anxiety and aggression. Christians who hope and rejoice in Christ alone float across the adversities of life, knowing that comforts cannot lie "here, there, or anywhere short of Christ."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Biblical Grounds for Divorce?

John Piper explains a disturbing article in Christianity Today concerning divorce. The ease with which some Christians divorce or speak of it as though it were a viable option would do well to read Piper's article.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Cross-Our Justifier

I've been working with some friends lately building decks and fences. It's been a blessing to pick up some extra money. The downside is I haven't been able to do other things as much as I'd like (post more often on this blog for instance). However, I think my work will only be temporary. Anyway, I have been given an array of new illustrations of the Christian life in my labors. Yesterday, a perfect illustration hit me while digging a fence post hole.

I was digging a hole for a fence post with post-hole diggers. Post-hole diggers are like two shovels on a hinge. The ground was incredibly muddy clay. It was sticky and heavy. The mud wouldn't just fall off the shovel or diggers. It would cling to the blades and smear around. So I had to take a small metal stake, and pry the mud off the blades of the digger. Then the mud would stick to the stake. If I rubbed the mud off the stake, it would then stick on my hands. I did get the holes dug after quite some time. Eventually, every hand tool and power tool we had was covered in mud. I told my friend that this mud is like sin.

First, it's heavy and messy. It doesn't just go away. In the same way that mud didn't just fall off the diggers with minimal effort, sin doesn't just go away without serious labor. In the same way that I had to use another tool to clean the mud off the diggers, sometimes we need assistance from others to be freed from clinging sins. Second, sin is pervasive, like the mud. The mud would smear all over everything, blemishing it, and even possibly ruining it in the case of power tools. Sin is the same way. It's all over everything. No part of our lives isn't affected by sin. When trying to rid ourselves of sin, we often just smear it to other parts of our lives. Third, it's difficult to hide mud. Try walking through a grocery store with muddy shoes. If you're muddy, everyone knows it. You stick out like a sore thumb. Sin and mud are very similar.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. You may not have ever heard it, but I'm sure you'll relate when I tell you. Are you ready? Okay, here goes: If you want to find sin in your spouse, you will. There. The secret is out. Here's another secret. One we may not like to admit. Ready? Here goes: Your sin shows. Now that those two secrets are out in the open, we are all free to live radically happy lives! Here's how.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).

On my own, I am not right. I am sinful. My wife has to expect it. And I have to admit it. It does me no good to pretend I am right. I'm not. And it shows. And it does my wife no good to expect me to be right. I'm not. And I'll disappoint her. The only hope my wife and I have at getting through this life intact is Romans 3:23-26. The cross of Jesus Christ is our righteousness. The cross is our justifier. We don't look for righteousness from one another. Oh, we love it when we get along well, and don't mistreat each other. But we don't expect it. When my wife and I mistreat each other, we know we have to go into "cross mode."

Cross mode is when we see sin so clearly in our spouse that we're tempted to undervalue them, and instead look to the cross of Jesus Christ that cleansed them of their sin. Christ becomes bigger than the sin of our spouse. The cross is the only detergent that cleans away the mud of sin. It doesn't always cleanse by removing it immediately. Remember that the next time your spouse sins against you. Sometimes the cross just says, "I know you're muddy. I love you anyway. I'm not ashamed of your mess. I don't mind getting muddy with you for awhile." Thank God for the cross of Christ that justifies sinners!

You and I are free from the tyranny of perfection. We're free from having to be perfect ourselves, and demanding it from others. It is amazing to see imperfect spouses demanding perfection from their mates. The cross holds out no such hope. Rather, it justifies the imperfect in the midst of their imperfection. It declares them perfect, even when they aren't. And it does this because the cross is the instrument God uses to judge us by. On the cross we are judged. And on the cross we are acquitted. On the cross we are condemned. And on the cross we are loved. On the cross we are criticized. And on the cross we are reconciled to God and others.

Submitting like Sarah

If you are a wife struggling to submit to your husband's leadership, do yourself a favor and read this sermon by John Piper. It's very good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Effort Vs. Outcome

I was watching the video of a question and answer session with John Piper and John MacArthur from this year's Desiring God Conference. The session revolved primarily around pastoral ministry. I believe MacArthur was asked how he deals with praise and criticism when he brought up the difference between effort and outcome. I'll paraphrase his answer. John said he was responsible for his own effort, while only God was responsible for the outcome of his ministry. God creates the results. As a pastor, I was greatly encouraged by hearing this wisdom again. I agree with it whole-heartedly, and it gets me through times when I feel less than fruitful. It's up to me to nurture my ministry, but only God bears the fruit through me. I'm responsible for the nurture, not the fruit.

As a pastor, I can preach faithfully week after week after week, exerting all sorts of faithful effort. God may bless my preaching with radically changed lives and a growing congregation. If that happens, I'll likely credit the changed lives and growing congregation to my effort. I'm doing all the right things, and the ideal church is attained by my effort. That's not what happened at all. God decided in his wisdom to grace my church with what I perceive is a positive outcome. While God isn't likely to grace a congregation where little effort is put forth, it doesn't follow that God will always grace a congregation where effort is put forth. The outcome is entirely up to God for reasons known only to him. I'm not responsible for results - only effort.

As I pondered this freeing concept, I couldn't help but apply it to marriage. At my last Pursuit of Pleasure retreat, a lady asked me what to do if her husband didn't want to follow what the Bible says about marriage. I've received similar questions throughout my time in ministry. Most people will read books on marriage because they want God to give them a happier, more fulfilling, more peaceful marriage. In other words, there's an ideal that they're wishing to attain. They think the latest book on marriage will help them get there. This approach can be depressing. Here's why.

Attaining a certain ideal marriage is an outcome desire, not an effort one. If we give our all in marriage, and start jumping through hoops in hopes that things will get better, we will be very disappointed and disillusioned when they don't. We won't know what to do when the ideal isn't attained. We'll think books like The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another don't work. In reality, no book can lead us to the ideal marriage. That's because the ideal marriage is an outcome that only God can grant.

In the same way a pastor can only be responsible for the effort he puts forth, a couple can only be responsible for the effort they put forth. If the couple doesn't want to put forth effort together, then it may be up to one spouse to put forth effort. But in putting forth the effort, that spouse cannot then demand to determine the outcome. That's setting himself up for failure.

Don't be a biblical, godly husband so that your wife will treat you a certain way. Don't expect that because you're the perfect man, your wife will never give you grief. Don't base your loving headship on your wife's response. Just continue exerting effort, leaving the outcome to God. C. J. Mahaney wrote a little book on romance entitled, Sex, Romance and the Glory of God in which he said something like, "Before you touch her body, touch her heart and mind." I firmly agree with that. I said, "Yeah! Yeah! That's the secret to a never-ending sex supply." So I try to cultivate that kind of friendship all day long. Imagine my surprise when, after a day of "touching her heart and mind" with all sorts of loving gestures and words and service, it doesn't always end up with her desiring me to touch her body. The point is, I should be intimately loving her, developing our friendship, serving her, sacrificing for her out of faithfulness to God, not to manipulate her to do what I want. I can't control the outcome, only my effort. So don't exert effort to be a godly husband so that God will reward you with a match made in Heaven. I hate those stupid e-harmony advertisements. Rather, exert effort so that God will reward you with a great reward in Heaven.

Don't be a biblical, godly wife so that your husband will mysteriously turn into the man of your dreams. The man of your dreams is just that - a dream. While you're waiting for the man of your dreams to take shape, the man you're married to may be growing more and more frustrated. Don't neglect reality to nurture wishful images. Just exert the effort to be a godly wife - not waiting for the day God will bless your effort with an ideal marriage. Exert effort to be a godly wife while waiting for God to bless your effort with a huge reward in Heaven.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Generational Curse

Have you ever noticed how some patterns of living seem to follow a family down through generations? The pattern may be nothing more than how one makes spaghetti sauce, or it may be a sinful method of dealing with conflict, or an entire outlook on life, or a religious tradition. How many people are Catholic because their family was Catholic? Or Lutheran or atheistic or wealthy or poor or Democrat or Republican? For whatever reason, it seems that many lifestyle choices carry on from one generation to the next.

Jesus said something along this line to the Pharisees and lawyers: "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs" (Luke 11:47-48). In numerous places, the Bible points out sins of the fathers carrying on to the next generation.

So does this mean you're doomed to repeat all the mistakes of your parents? Are you forever cursed by the choices made decades before you were even born? Can the generational curse be broken? Yes. It can. I'll give you an example.

In the days of Joshua, God worked mightily to judge the Canaanites and give their land to Israel. But Joshua and his generation eventually got old and died. What happened then? Did Israel continue the work of Joshua? Hardly. "And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger" (Judges 2:10-12).

It can be seen in the above text that folks aren't doomed to follow in their fathers' footsteps. The next generation of Israelites after Joshua turned completely away from the God of their fathers. While this text is sad, it is also very hope-giving. If the next generation can fall away from a godly pattern of life in just one generation, then the next generation could also leave behind ungodly patterns of life in just one generation. However, there is a difference.

Truth and godliness are not the default positions of fallen man. Error and rebellion are. That's why we speak of falling into error. Truth must be gained and maintained. Rebellion is floating, godliness is swimming upstream. Error is easy, truth is tough. So it was probably pretty easy for sinful men and women to fall away from God in one generation once their parents were all dead. They were naturally bent that way. What is more difficult is to make the conscious decision to live godly, in spite of how they were raised. That is tough!

Marriage provides an excellent way to break the generational curse. When a couple marries, they have the ability to build a godly life and a godly posterity. Married couples don't begin their life together on a blank slate. The husband and the wife bring presuppositions and traditions and worldviews and family ties into the their marriage. They do this naturally. So if the couple doesn't deliberately decide to pattern their life after godliness, in the image of Christ, then they will float along in the same patterns of thought that plagued their parents.

Perhaps a couple examples will bring to light what I'm saying. Let's take that jolly, beneficent, rotund friend - Santa. I was raised to believe in a fat man who slides down a chimney, even in houses without one, in order to give toys to boys and girls who never caused trouble for their parents. This charade went on for the better part of a decade of my life. Eventually, the plausibility of such a ludicrous notion broke, and the gig was up.

When Amanda and I got married, we were deliberate about each aspect of our marriage. We didn't just float through life, carrying on the patterns of thought and traditions instilled in us by our parents. We had to decide if we were going to do the "Santa thing" or not. We decided against it, to the chagrin of many friends. We decided it wasn't good to lie to our children. In the end, there is no such thing as a harmless lie. All lies are error. Error is the opposite of truth. Love rejoices in the truth, not error (1 Corinthians 13:6). Therefore, to lie to our children about Santa is unloving, and therefore ungodly. It's not fantasy, like Harry Potter. Parents don't tell their children, "Let's pretend this fat, red-suited man slides down the chimney and gives you toys." They say, "Santa is real. You have to believe in him. The toys on Christmas morning are the proof." When questioned, parents don't budge, they insist more strongly, prolonging the day of disclosure. Amanda and I decided we wanted no part of such dishonest nonsense.

Amanda and I are Christians. We are deliberately Christians. We strive to live our lives according to the clear teachings of the Bible. Where the Bible seems to be a little sketchy, we don't make hard rules. But where the Bible seems clear to us, we hold to it with ferocity. Santa isn't compatible with Scripture, no matter how emotionally attached everyone is to the made-up man. So we hold onto our conviction in that area.

Another example. Because we're Christians, we want our children to come to a knowledge of the truth. We want them to come to this knowledge in their own hearts. We don't want them to carry Christianity into their marriage someday because that's what Mom and Dad are. We want them to be Christians out of Holy Spirit wrought conviction. So rather than just teaching our children what to think, we're trying to teach them how to think for themselves. If their convictions from the Bible are nothing more than their parents' brainwashing, then they'll fall away. But if their views are deliberately brought forth from the Bible, and they love what they're reading, then they'll carry those truths as convictions the rest of their lives.

Much could be said on this topic. It gets to the heart of worldviews. It's up to each of us to deliberately base our marriage on Scripture. Every aspect of it. How we handle conflict, to how we run our household, to how we discipline children, to how we educate them, to how we manage our finances, to where we go to church, to what is acceptable entertainment, to how often we have sex, to what priorities will receive our ambition. Every aspect of marriage must be deliberately decided upon through biblically-inspired convictions. The danger of drifting is too great. The generational curse lurks in the shadows. Only through the light of Scripture can it be broken.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Marriage and Cow Pies

Here is an interesting clip of John Piper talking about marriage.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Cross - Eternal Perfection

"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).

When Jesus offered himself on the cross, he accomplished what we are incapable of. Jesus achieved the eternal perfection of all those who are his. There is no further sacrifice needed. There is no other sacrifice sufficient. God designed the Christian's salvation in such a way that the cross is forever central and forever relevant. The fascinating thing to me about the above verse is the relationship between perfection and sanctification.

I often think of sanctification and perfection as points on a continuum. In other words, I think that the more sanctified I am, the closer I am to perfection. Perfection will be the climax of my personal holiness. Of course, I know this isn't the way it happens. But I don't always live like I know this.

Hebrews 10:14 makes it clear that perfection and sanctification aren't on the same scale. Contrary to my natural inclinations, perfection precedes and enables progressive sanctification. I'm not sanctified until the point of perfection. I'm perfect, and am being made more holy all the time. That is wonderful news! Why is it wonderful?

The cross shoots right past all my failures, all my frailties, all my sinful fits of rebellion, and declares me perfect anyway. I am sinful, yet I am perfect. It is the irony to end all ironies - like victory through a cross and triumph through humiliation. Only the mind of God could conceive such a masterful plan. The cross provides me with the assurance that no matter how bad I am, I'm perfect. The cross also provides me with the assurance that no matter how good I am, I'm perfect. God doesn't relate to me on the basis of my sanctification. Praise God! He relates to me on the perfect status bought for me on the cross of Jesus Christ. How much happier might marriage be if spouses would relate to one another on the basis of their perfect position in Christ rather than their current level of sanctification? Why don't you and your spouse be the ones to work it out?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Cross - Freedom From Fear

"Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Are you afraid to die? Are you afraid to leave your spouse and kids behind? Are you afraid of your spouse dying? If you are, know this: you are not alone. The entire world population is afraid of death, and is therefore subject to lifelong slavery. People are afraid to die, and therefore do what they can to avoid it. In addition, people afraid of death strive their whole lives to make this world deliver what they want from it. After all, they've only one life to live. So people don't just live in fear of dying. They also live in fear of not enjoying life enough - of dying too soon.

Christians are granted freedom from death as a gift from their heavenly Father. Death is a promotion or a graduation for Christians. Death is the means to eternal life. Since death is not the end for Christians, we don't have to fear it. And since death brings life far more abundantly than anything we can create on earth for ourselves, we are free from the fear of dying too soon. What exactly do we need to accomplish before we go? Who's running this show? Who's world is this? Who owns our spouse and our kids? Who's looking out for them? Do we actually believe they won't survive, even thrive without us? Do we really have to be afraid that God won't take good care of them? No, we don't have to be afraid, because Christians are free from such nonsense.

Jesus Christ beat death on the cross. He beat it. He took the death of everyone who would put faith in him, and bore it upon himself. He died our death in our place. He didn't just potentially die for Christians. He had his elect on his mind on the cross. He knew for whom he was dying. Not one drop of blood was wasted, not one tear was lost. When Jesus Christ died on the cross for his beloved brothers and sisters, he desired that the bondage of fear of death would be broken once for all.

One of the reasons spouses have such a hard time not making all sorts of daily demands one another is because we are really afraid of death. We are really afraid that we won't get all the fulfillment we can from this life. One of the reasons we fear death so greatly is because we don't meditate on the cross enough. We lose sight of what Christ has won for us. We go through life the same as the slaves - terrified that this life might end. I'm praying that all who read this will overcome the fear of death that enslaves so many couples to one another. The cross of Christ paid for far more than many Christian couples are claiming.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cross - Christ's Authority to Save

I said the next several posts would be on the cross of Jesus Christ. If we want happier marriages, we have to desire God more than marriage. We must be weaned off the idolatrous pursuit of well-being in worldly things - like marriage. Only then, can marriage achieve its true goals. For you new-comers to my way of thinking, I'll explain what I mean. You may think I'm actually against marriage by saying we need to be less marriage-focused. It's really the opposite.

What I'm saying comes into sharper view through this illustration I often use. Suppose I come to your house and see you trying to cook dinner on top of your television set. That's not what television is made to do, yet you've deluded yourself into thinking you can make it work. If I tell you, "Stop doing that, and put your dinner in the microwave," am I against the television set? Not at all. I'm all for the television set being utilized to fulfill its purpose. What I'm against is the frustrating, wasteful hijacking of television's true purpose in order to use it for foolish purposes. That illustration is what I think most of us do with marriage. So, I say again, that if we want happier marriages, we have to desire God more than marriage. In order for that to happen, we have to see God for who he truly is. The next several posts will be devoted to seeing who God is through the cross of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 28:18-20 we read: "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'"

This text is Matthew's record of the risen Christ's last words to his disciples before ascending to his throne in Heaven. Most Christians are familiar with the "great commission." I want us to look at something many may not be familiar with - the phrase, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given me." We read over that phrase so quickly, we may miss its impact. I think we read over it so quickly because we think we know what Jesus means up front. We know Jesus was God incarnate. We know of God's authority over creation. So we just plug in what we know already into this text, rather than letting the text shape what we know.

Jesus is saying something entirely new here. The authority that Jesus speaks of is not his authority as God's Son. Jesus always had that. Why would Jesus wait until after his resurrection to say it? And then there's the word "therefore" in the next verse. Jesus says he's been given all authority. So what? Therefore, go and make disciples of the nations. How does the word therefore connect Jesus' authority and the great commission? Here's how.

In all of God's sovereignty, in all of God's power, in all of God's omnipotence, there was one thing besides sin that he could not do. You may think I'm blaspheming God by saying there's something he can't do. But I assure you, he can't do something. Up until the moment of Christ's death on the cross, God could not vindicate man's sin. He could pass over man's sins for a time, but not justify them. For all of God's authority over creation, the one thing God couldn't do without Christ's cross is save. Jesus always had authority to condemn. He could have sent Adam and Eve to damnation along with everyone else without ever leaving the comforts of Heaven. But what he couldn't do was save them. God's justice must be upheld.

Until Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, he did not have the authority to save. His justice wouldn't allow it. He earned that authority on the cross. The cross satisfied his justice on our behalf. The cross is where God's justice and grace, God's severity and kindness meet. That's why Jesus came after his resurrection and proclaimed his authority to save. The authority to save was a new authority that even God didn't acquire until the resurrection. Jesus merited the power to save, and sent out messengers of his salvation to the nations.

The cross is the center of God's dealings with man. No good can come to man except through the cross. Christ actually has the authority to bless us now because of what he accomplished. And the fact that Christ faced the cross shows his desire to bless us.

Interracial Marriage Revisited

Desiring God has once again posted on interracial marriage. Check it out.

The Cross of Marriage

Today I want to write about the cross of marriage. No, I don't mean the cross we are called to bear in our marriage. I mean the cross Jesus bore so we don't have to. I was recently reminded of a good book on the cross entitled Outrageous Mercy by Wm. P. Farley. Farley's common writing style makes breezing through this book easy. And yet, easy reading doesn't mean fluffy reading. Farley gets to the heart of Christianity in this little book, and I believe to the heart of everything else. Definitely worthy of a place on the nightstand. I'll give a couple teasers.

"The cross is the window through which we learn everything we need to know about God, humanity, wisdom, worship,the purpose of suffering, the purpose of life, and a host of other issues. If you knew nothing else but the cross, but you knew it thoroughly, you would know everything essential for this life and the next."

"Every Christian who really understands the cross boasts in Christ alone for all meaning and dignity in this life and the life to come. To the degree that we see the world through the window of the cross, we will be dead to the world. Increasingly irrelevant are the accumulation of things and pride in accomplishments. We can lay aside the need to talk about our degrees, job titles, and possessions. A Christian who boasts in the cross is dead to the search for meaning and personal fulfillment in ministry, success, money, education, or possessions."

I would add marriage to Farley's list of things the Christian is dead to search for meaning and personal fulfillment in. How many minutes a day do we spend in thoughts and conversations about our marriage? How many minutes a day to we spend in meditation and conversation about the cross and its implications on this world? Is it even possible to pretend we care more about the center of reality - the cross - than we do about our marriage? And yet, our marriage is part of this world, not the world to come.

God doesn't relate to us on the basis of our marriage. God relates to us on the basis of Christ's cross. So the cross is more important to us than marriage - whether we actively live that notion out or not. With that in mind, the next several posts will focus on various aspects and implications of the cross in our marriage.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Roost Rulers Beware

"But Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28).

I am fascinated at how often couples squabble over decisions. The conflicts usually stem from both spouses trying to get their way. Rather than serving the other, they demand service. It saddens me to see marriages where there is an obvious, perpetual tension to rule. Rather than using his God-given role to serve his wife, the husband will use his role to build comfort and pleasure for himself. And rather than using her God-given role to serve her husband, the wife will try to overthrow her role, and become the husband. The cure to such conflict is for both spouses to embrace their God-given roles, and serve one another.

I got to thinking about this as I saw a picture on Yahoo news in which a smirking Hillary Clinton was rebuking and chastising a four star general over military policy. What on earth does Mrs. Clinton know about military success? The firm, yet patient response of a career man-of-war was rather ironic when placed against the know-it-all arrogance of an ignorant senator.

God has told us how to be first in the Kingdom of Heaven. Serve one another. And we, like Mrs. Clinton, arrogantly stare back at God and chastise him. God is like the general, patiently explaining to us how to have marital success. And we are like Mrs. Clinton. Not satisfied with our own role, we seek to dethrone God, and tell him how it should be. Stupid.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do You Get Heartburn?

Do you get heartburn? When does it usually happen? Are you excited to get it? If not, it may be because we're talking about two different kinds of heartburn. Naturally one kind of heartburn is unpleasant, and usually follows something we eat. I'm not talking about that kind of heartburn.

I'm talking about the kind of heartburn that follows Bible reading. Do you get that kind of heartburn? You do if you're reading it right. Yet, I suspect few professing Christians experience heartburn. I suspect few know their bibles well enough to even know what I'm talking about. For those of you in the know, you'll probably agree to having heartburn. To those who aren't in the know, you're probably wondering what in the world I'm talking about. I'll let you in on it.

On the third day after suffering death by crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave. Some women came to the tomb only to discover Jesus wasn't there. Two angels spoke to them of his resurrection. No sense in looking for the living among the dead, after all. So the women rushed back to tell the disciples, who thought the women were speaking folly.

Now two disciples were walking to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, discussing the events surrounding Jesus. As they were walking along, a stranger came up and began talking to them. He prodded them about their conversation until they shared with the stranger their dashed hopes. "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). As they continued to bare their hearts to the stranger, he could no longer stand the dejection, the negativity, the hopelessness, the foolishness, the desperation. 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:25-27).

The stranger turned out to be the resurrected Christ. What did the resurrected Christ talk about to his doubting, hopeless disciples? Himself. He didn't talk about them. He didn't talk about those dirty, no good Pharisees. He didn't talk about the cruel Romans. He didn't talk about his faith-lacking disciples. He claimed the entire Old Testament as a prequel to himself. What was the result of this first Christian Bible study? Heartburn.

"'They said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'" (Luke 24:32). So, I'll repeat my first question. Do you get heartburn? Have you ever been dejected, depressed, wondering how to make sense of life? Have you leafed through the Scriptures for an answer to your issue, only to wonder why this verse didn't help, and that verse didn't help? Have you stopped there, resolved to a life of half-heartedness? Then you've not had heartburn.

Heartburn is when you come to Scripture, pounding up against it, begging it to unlock the key to your hope. As you meditate on the Word of God, you find your heart burning within as Christ is revealed in its pages. Christ, your Righteousness. Christ, your Shepherd. Christ, your Provider. Christ, your King. Christ, your Banner. Christ, your Inheritance. As you see the glory of the risen Christ revealed over a period of thousands of years in Scripture, you can't help but be excited.

Romans 15:4 tells us everything written in former days was for our hope. Jesus tells us that everything written in former days was to explain himself to us. If we lay these two texts over one another, we see that Scripture testifies about Jesus. And Scripture gives us hope. In other words, Scripture gives us hope by testifying about Jesus. The revelation of the centrality of Jesus Christ is the most hope-giving, heart-burning reality in the universe - for those who can stay at the table long enough and stomach it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Weapon of Most Destruction

It is common in our day to fear the proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction" throughout the world. What if some unsavory type gets a hold of some radioactive waste, or strand of virus, or chemical compound that can be used to terrorize masses of people? I suppose bad things will happen. But then again, we're promised bad things will happen. I don't suppose some terrorist or government is going to prove Christ a liar by refraining from evil. No, I have a feeling people are going to grow more and more evil over time. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)? So while I expect the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, I want to look at the weapon of most destruction.

I wrote a chapter in The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another on love. I interacted with, and disagreed with, some common ideas about love. I wrote that I believe love is easier to describe than define. I described love as a "progression of phases." I argued that all love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. In other words, we only love what we find valuable. We only find valuable what we have a sense of. I then proposed that love may progress from an affection to a desire. Love progresses from affection to desire when value is high enough and the object of affection can be made available. Then I argued that love may progress from a desire to an inclination of focus. An inclination of focus is the bridge between desire and action. It's where priorities are assessed, and objections to the desire are dealt with. Finally, love may overflow in action toward or on behalf of the beloved object. I think all love falls somewhere along the progression of these four phases.

I want to zoom in on inclination of focus. Inclination of focus is the most dangerous weapon on the face of the earth. Forget what you've read about warheads and dirty bombs. Consider with me the example of King David's son, Amnon, in 2 Samuel 13. Amnon, prince of Israel, loved his sister, Tamar. I don't mean he loved her in the normal sibling kind of way. No, he loved her in the "I think you're hot, I'd love to hook up" gross kind of way. He loved her so greatly that he made himself physically ill fantasizing about her. Lest you think his love was just lust, the biblical writer disagrees.

"After a time Amnon, David's son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Sam. 13:2) So Amnon was lovesick for his sister. How did Amnon's love progress? It progressed in violating his sister. With the help of a demented cousin, Amnon schemed his way into being alone with his sister in his bedroom. Moment of truth. What happened?

"'Come, lie with me, my sister.' She answered him, 'No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you'" (2 Sam. 13:11-13).

Tamar, the reasonable sister, tried to reason with Amnon. She gave him multiple reasons to turn back from his intended path. Pagans might violate others, but not Jews. Not God's chosen people. Surely Amnon wouldn't want to plague Tamar with shame if he loved her. Amnon could be king one day. Surely he wouldn't want to throw away his reputation. Surely vengeance would be called for. Surely King David would let them get married. Surely Tamar would rather give herself to Amnon as a wife than be violated as a sister. Surely... Surely... Surely... Surely...

"But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her" (2 Sam. 13:14-15).

When I say love may progress to an inclination of focus, I have in mind something like Amnon's absolute refusal to listen to Tamar's logic. He could not be reasoned with. He made the most stupid, fatal decision imaginable, even when given alternatives. This is stronger than desire. It's tunnel vision that refuses to see any other option than having the object of affection. It will sacrifice everything, even life itself, in the pursuit of that object. For Amnon, Tamar was that object. And his little episode with Tamar cost Amnon his life.

Now I've wondered why this is so. Why do people do such stupid things? Why do people sacrifice themselves and others on the altars of pleasures or treasures or comfort? Sin doesn't make sense. Yet even Christians commit the dumbest sins, even when they know they won't get away with it - even when they know they'll get caught. Why? Why? Why? Where does such foolishness come from?

G-O-D. It comes from God. The most dangerous weapon on the face of the earth, the weapon of most destruction flows as a gift from God. How can this be? It's simple, really. The ability to zoom in on an object of affection, the ability to go to extraordinary measures to obtain that object, the commitment to cast off any other option, the stubbornness to refuse arguments of human logic and reason, the capacity to persevere in pursuit of that goal in the face of overwhelming odds, the irrepressible conviction that the beloved object will be had are all gifts of God. Gifts of love.

You see, this is exactly the kind of love that exists between the Father and Son and Spirit. This is precisely the kind of love that Jesus displayed when he set his face like a flint toward Calvary. This is the love that wiped the blood from Christ's brow in Gethsemane. This is the love that stayed on the cross when tendons tore and blood poured. This is the love that does whatever it takes for the joy set before it. This is the love that lays its life down for its friends. This is the love of Christ. The dangerous, fearsome capacity to do radical things, in the face of insurmountable odds, without fear of consequence is exactly the love that God expects from his children.

Man distorts it. Man uses this precious gift - the ability to not give a rip - to fulfill all his earthly desires. He talks himself into the most selfish loves that use and consume himself and others. He turns the gift that is to be used as an instrument of inexpressible love into the world's deadliest weapon. Sin is love off its rocker.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:44-46).

Be careful where you point that thing! It's loaded with no safety!