Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Give and Take?

I've often heard marriage described as a "give and take" relationship. I don't know if I agree with the phrase, even as I understand the purpose behind it. I don't know how "take" is a valid concept in marriage. I think marriage may be better served by the phrase "give and request." Here's why.

If we desire a godly happy marriage, we must be willing to give ourselves in the service of our spouse. And yet there will be times when we desire something that requires our spouse's approval. For instance, let's say I want to take a trip to the Grand Canyon some day before the kids are grown (and I do). Pulling that off will obviously take the agreement of my wife.

Now, if I never make that desire known to her, how can she give her consent? But in making that desire known to her, I am laying a burden upon her. I am putting her in a position where she has to decide whether to indulge my desire, or object to it. I am not actively giving to her at this point, but requesting that she give in to me.

She may have numerous reasons for not wanting to take such a trip. She takes primary responsibility for the kids. I can picture us driving down the road, and I'm admiring the St. Louis arch, and the plains of Wyoming, and the skylines of major cities, and the Rocky Mountains, and the Hummers passing by. She would be answering questions from the kids, and changing diapers, and passing back juicies, and intermediating backseat battles between our five children. I'm calm and content. She's frazzled and frustrated. I think, "Great vacation!" She thinks, "I wonder if we could have just read the book on the Grand Canyon."

I'm not saying that she wouldn't get anything out of the trip, or that she'd complain at all. I'm saying I know she'd be the one to bear all the added pressures a trip like that would take. So the question is whether she says "yes" or "no." If she says, "Yes," then she's giving to me. She's dying to her temporal comfort for my sake. But I have taken nothing. I request. She gives. If she says, "No," then I have still taken nothing, provided I respect her legitimate decision.

Taking would be for me to ignore her pleas not to go on such a long, drawn out trip with five small children in tow. Taking would be for me to put her on a guilt trip for declining my idea. Taking would be to punish her for saying no. "Why should I go to the zoo with you, you don't want to go the Grand Canyon with me." Taking would be to say, "You can stay behind if you want, but I've already arranged our trip." Surely no one would think taking would be justified, if my wife expressed her legitimate concerns with my idea.

So why do we call marriage a "give and take." It's a "give and request" flowing both ways. And out of love for our spouse, we will desire to give in to as many requests as we responsibly can, flowing both ways. The marriage will run smoothest, and be happiest when God's glory is the guiding principle behind the requests. If it's any other way, then conflict will eventually result.

In a give and take scenario, what happens when both spouses are in the mood to take? Who gets? Both get a selfish spouse and a headache. Give and take marriages set each spouse against the other in an adversarial role. "You took last time, it's my turn to take now." "You took money to buy a new dress, so I'm taking money to buy a new putter." "You took Friday night to go out with your friends, so I'm taking next weekend to go fishing."

Do you see the shift from both spouses being prepared to give to both spouses looking for an excuse to take? Give and take marriage sets a couple up for continual trades and manipulations and shaftings. But a give and request marriage sets both spouses up for multiple opportunities to serve their mate by fulfilling the requests. A perpetual rule of reciprocity becomes the norm, and both spouses feel served rather than used.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hold on Loosely

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil" (James 4:13-16).

When James penned those words, it's obvious he had businessmen in mind. But I would propose his argument can be broadened out to address nearly all human presumption. The undergirding principle is the same: This is God's universe that he created. It serves his purposes. You are part of God's created universe. Therefore, you serve God's purposes. God brought you into the world. He can take you out in a blink, and owe no one an apology. In the scheme of God's plan, each individual is rather small.

This text can give us a couple points of insight into a happy marriage. I'll share the obvious one first. God is in control. In my experience in counseling couples and being half of a couple myself, most inner turmoil and outer conflict in marriage flow from a desire to control - control ourselves, control our spouse, control our circumstances, control our kids, and ultimately control God. Man is just not comfortable bowing to the dictates of someone or something else. We strive, fight and kill to be masters of our own destiny. We ruthlessly deal with any obstacle to our goal of control.

James helps us think rightly about this destructive desire to control. Rather than getting all our ducks in a row, looking forward to all our dreams coming true, and boasting about the world we're creating for ourselves, we must begin with God's authority over our lives. "If the Lord wills, we will live." That's the most basic level of trust in God. When the time comes that we don't live, the time has come when God stopped willing that we live.

There are many who are afraid to relinquish control of their life (and marriage) to God. It doesn't matter. God is in control, regardless of how we try to feel otherwise. Most problems in marriage come because the couple is conspiring together to make a comfortable little happy life here on earth. They do this without any - or with very little - regard for God's ownership over their lives and marriage. Such arrogance will be met with resistance. "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4).

The next insight to be gained cannot be fully appreciated without grasping the first. Since God is in control, we don't have to pretend to be, or strive to be. We can humbly submit to his control in our lives and marriages. Notice that even though God has an entire world of events to reign over and coordinate to fulfill his purposes, he is intimately involved with our lives. If James tells me to order my life around saying, "If the Lord wills," then he must be saying that God is working through even the most mundane circumstances.

God is not a watchmaker, who winds up the world, and lets it run down. He not only created the world, he sustains it. "In him (God) we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Do we honestly believe that we can order our lives better than God? Yes! We do! That's why James says it's arrogant. The whole letter of James is about being meek toward God rather than arrogant. The world is in such a mess because mankind is so hopelessly arrogant and ambitious.
Fortunately, because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our natural-born arrogance and ambition can be overcome. By trusting that God is on our side through the Gospel, we are free from trying to save ourselves. Our lives are enfolded in God's loving hands, fulfilling God's perfect plans. We can get no more secure or blessed than that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Foolishness of the Gospel

I'm currently reading The End of Faith by Sam Harris, in addition to several others. I wouldn't recommend it to the faint of heart, or easily wrangled, since it is written by a semi-militant atheist. The premise of his book is that all religious belief must be subjected to his definition of scientific rationality. He tries to prove the irrationality of faith. He does this because he believes that most systematic violence in the world is perpetrated because of religious belief. If religious people would be held accountable for the beliefs that they tuck away from rational challenge, then we could curb the violence before some religious extremist blows us all up with a nuclear bomb.

I don't find his arguments compelling, and not just because I'm a Christian. I find him breaking the rules of logic himself, even while accusing religious people of doing the same thing. He dreams up speculative scenarios and "what if" situations, and then interacts with those imaginary worlds, instead of the one we live in. He also has a fundamental misunderstanding of things he claims to be an expert in. He takes his strongest arguments, and puts them up against the most foolish claims of religious extremists, and tries to make all religious people look like idiots on that basis. In other words, he's a typical atheist.

Why am I posting this on a blog "dedicated to all things marriage from a Christian Hedonist and Gospel-centered perspective"? Because as I read Harris, I realize how relevant the Scripture is to common people trying to interact with their friends and neighbors.

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

"But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

There are those in this world who devote their lives to trying to prove the natural defensibility of the Gospel. The entire field of apologetics seems devoted to chiseling the stumbling block into a speed bump; the folly of God into natural wisdom requiring no supernatural work to overcome. So often I fear this task flows from a selfish desire rather than a godly one. No one likes to be thought of as stupid and backwoods and "hickish" and unrefined and uneducated.

So we try to prove we're not really fools for believing that the Creator of everything came to earth as a Galilean peasant, miraculously born of a virgin, never doing anything wrong, performing all kinds of miracles, dying on a cross to appease the just wrath of the Creator against other people's sins, rising from the dead three days later, ascending into the heavens in front of many witnesses, hearing our prayers and ruling everything on earth in such a way that he looks like he's losing the war to his enemies, until his eventual return where he'll throw all the people who didn't follow him into an eternal hell, and all those who did follow him into an eternal heaven. We try to prove we're not really fools for believing all this because a random collection of letters and scrolls written by many different authors, spanning many centuries, tells us this is all true.

My friends, this is Christianity in a nutshell, and if you don't think all that sounds at least strange to people toting cell phones, computers and ipods in their pockets, you are foolish. Stop trying to make it seem wise. Dead people do not understand the things of life. They must be given life as a gift. Just proclaim the Gospel. Don't prove its wisdom. God never told you to do that. If you want to, it's probably your desire to not look so stupid as to believe what appears to be a fairy tale. But part of dying to yourself is accepting the label "fool" for Christ's sake. Don't be proud.

Housewife - just proclaim the gospel, in all its fullness to your children, or the ladies in your neighborhood, or your hostile family members, or the children your kids hang out with. Husbands - just proclaim it to those at the office, or on the golf course, or on the assembly line, or across the fence in the back yard. Many will think you're a fool, if not publicly, then secretly. And others will want to hear more later. And some, if God so chooses, will see, and believe, and be eternally blessed because you chose to be a fool for the God who made himself look like a fool for you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Heavenly-minded Perspective

There is a small book I would highly recommend to everyone. It is called Grace & Glory. It is a collection of sermons written by Geerhardus Vos. Vos taught theology at Princeton a century ago when it was a godly place to learn. I believe the book is out of print now, and I saw three used ones for sale on Amazon.com starting at $55.00 if you're interested in purchasing it. One of the sermons in this little book is an exposition of Hebrews 11:9-10 called "Heavenly Mindedness." It's one of the sweetest collections of words I've ever read.

I was having coffee with a fellow pastor in our area yesterday morning. We lamented that there is not enough preaching on Heaven. Heaven is just not in the forefront of our minds. The need for more heavenly-mindedness may contradict contemporary sensibilities about "practical" sermons instructing us how to make the most of this world. It would also fly in the face of so much atheistic rambling that is flooding the culture in the last few years. But preaching about Heaven is crucial to our lives here and now.

Vos said, "The heavenly world does not appear desirable as simply a second improved edition of this life; that would be nothing else than earthly-mindedness projected into the future. The very opposite takes place: heaven spiritualizes in advance our present walk with God."

In other words, Heaven is a greater reality in the universe than the current earth. This isn't just psychological. Heaven isn't just a made up place in the back of our minds that we use to give ourselves hope, or make ourselves be good. Heaven is a real place inhabited by the Creator of everything. From Heaven, the Creator is irresistibly drawing this world to himself. It's as though God cast the world into existence so many thousands of years ago, and is slowly reeling it in toward himself. One day, the present form of this creation will reach the very hand of God, and history will become eternity. For some, man's rendezvous with Heaven will be great news. For others it will be a nightmare of unimaginable proportions.

While he's reeling creation toward himself, God reveals himself to the creation through his Word and by his Spirit. The ultimate form of Word/Spirit revelation is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the Gospel we have been given a small glimpse of heavenly realities. Through the Gospel we have been given a peek into a higher plane of existence, out of sight to natural eyes. And through the Gospel we have been given the bridge that enables our successful crossing from this earthly age to the heavenly one.

What Vos was saying in the quote above is that we can't take our natural experiences, and just push them into the world to come in what we would consider a perfect form. Wealth and health and unity are ways of describing the glory of Heaven in concepts that we can understand. For example, Heaven can't just be a place where we look forward to going because we'll have all kinds of earthly goods that we were denied on earth. It's the opposite. Man is given the blessing of earthly goods as a pointer to the blessed state that exists in Heaven.

We cannot look forward to Heaven as nothing more than a place where we'll enjoy the perfect health we were denied on earth. It's the opposite. Health is just an earthly pointer to the heavenly reality of vigorous, blissful, eternal life.

Do you see how all the blessings of life are designed to reveal the eternal felicity of Heaven? In contrast, corruption, sickness, death, conflict and stinky feet all point to the horror of a life out of order with the heavenly reality. The disappointments and hardships of life are also designed to make us long for a day when all will be made well.

How can heavenly-mindedness help us in the mundane things of life today? Well the entirety of this life points to the greater reality of Heaven. Christians should be nurturing a desire for the world to come. Like Abraham, their father in the faith, they must look "forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). It is only from this perspective that we can rightly interpret every single mundane thing that happens to us, whether at work or in the trenches of marriage. Because I have this conviction, Heaven will be a topic that will be visited, revisited, revisited and revisited again and again and again on this blog.

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Let Us Burst Their Bonds Apart"

Albert Mohler has a great blog where he comments on the current trends of our culture, and how they relate to a biblical worldview. Today he has a post entitled: Marriage - There is no Alternative, where he examines the battle between feminist views of sexuality and the trend back toward abstinence. The abstinence view is being trumpeted by Dawn Eden in The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. Of course any view toward abstinence and anything that looks like a biblical view of sexuality is going to be cannon fodder for feminist warriors.

From the Mohler post: "Writing in the current issue of The Nation, Nona Willis-Aronowitz suggests that these movements are efforts to turn back the achievements of the feminist movement and, at the same time, prove that feminism has not "finished its job. . . . The most interesting part of Willis-Aronowitz's critique is her assessment that feminism has thus far failed in a central task -- that of providing a genuine alternative to marriage. Citing feminist theorist Ariel Levy, she argues:

The culture has not yet carved out a space for women to indulge their own fantasies rather than to fulfill those of men. Feminism has not finished its job; a version of nonmushy, nonmarital sex that makes women feel good about themselves is still hard to achieve."

I find it interesting that the goal of feminism is a progression that is able to be labeled unfinished. In other words, there is a deliberate, strategic method to the madness of feminism. The feminists have an end goal in mind, and while there may be some internal disagreements, by and large they'll know when they've achieved it. It is similar to any other "ism." Move away from, or systematically tear down what currently is - and build a new reality in the image of the movement. This is the exact method that communism utilizes.

Of course, the problem arises with those who kind of like the reality that is real, and don't want an artificial reality created for them. In other words, not everyone is a feminist, and not everyone is crazy about the bold, new world feminists are striving to give birth to (they have to give birth to something, otherwise their "maternal instinct" would go unfulfilled).

In communism, such stuck in the mud traditionalists would be ground under the wheels of the revolution, never to be heard from again. If not in power, the communists would just continue to do their little parts at a small level to tear down the current structures, until they could squeeze or murder their way into power. They would watch and wait, using every means available to bring about their vision. The vision lives on, regardless of setbacks.

Feminism is just as dangerous as communism in that regard. Feminists will continue their hatred of biblical ethics. They will continue to cry for the freedom to overthrow morality, law, and babies in the name of "nonmushy, nonmarital sex that makes women fell good about themselves." When not in power, they'll continue to write, and argue, and attack to gain the smallest bits of philosophical ground they can manage. It's up to Christians to walk clear of their rhetoric and humanistic ideals.

The psalmist said it best in describing the nation, peoples, and kings of the earth. "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us" (Psalm 2:3). Make no mistake, that is the goal of feminism. Ultimately, it is not man they want to overthrow. It is God. Christians must fight fiercely the battle of the mind that frees them from the plausible arguments of feminism.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

God-centered Love

In Philippians 1:9-11 we read, "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."

I wonder if any of us knows the radical nature of God-pleasing, virtuous love. When I ponder the nature of love as revealed in the Bible, I can't help but realize how off the mark I am. I don't just miss the mark, I shoot at the wrong target entirely. The text above is one such revelation of God that drives me to Christ for salvation.

The above text is really just one sentence. There are several phrases expanding on the main thought, but the thought is this: "And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more to the glory and praise of God." That is Paul's main thought. All the other phrases in the middle of that sentence modify that thought. So Paul's prayer for the Philippians was for them to abound with love in greater and greater measure. Why did Paul pray for that?

Maybe Paul was a sentimental, emotional romantic. Maybe he was an armchair philosopher, carrying on the ramblings of Plato. Maybe he was a closet liberal. Of all the things Paul could have prayed for, he prayed for love. The reason Paul prayed for love is because he was God-centered in just about everything he did. Paul knew the Philippians' love would end in the glory and praise of God.

Virtuous love flows from God, and points back to God. I get this idea from the text. If virtuous love didn't flow from God, why would Paul be praying to God for the Philippians' love? It's obvious that Paul expected God to increase the love of the Philippians. Paul expected God to do this for his own glory and praise. Virtuous love is radically and exclusively God-centered.

Is this the way you love your husband or wife? Do you love them for God's glory? Do you ask God to make them a better lover? Not so that you can feel more loved, but so that God would get more glory. Do you strive to make yourself easy to love, so that love will be easier to abound, and God's glory will be more abundantly praised? Are you missing the mark, or are you shooting at the wrong target entirely in striving to love your spouse? Is God the goal of your love, or are you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Truck Driving, Missions & the Glory of God

I spent the better part of last week on the road with a member of our church. He's a truck driver, and had to deliver a load of examination tables to the hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He needed someone to help handle the load, since it had to be unloaded by hand. We left on Tuesday at noon. We arrived at Fort Bragg on Wednesday morning.

Our mission went down like this: haul out 32 exam tables from the exam rooms inside the hospital, and leave them on the sidewalk. Haul 32 new exam tables into the hospital. When the truck was unloaded, we had to load up the old ones onto the trailer. The exam tables were very heavy. Very, very heavy. I grew up baling hay, spent time as a scout in the Army, and shoveled sand in an aluminum foundry. I'm not unaccustomed to hard work. This little six and a half hour table exchange was pretty hard work.

After we loaded the old tables onto the trailer, there was a mix up on where the tables were supposed to go. So we stayed over in a motel on Wednesday night and spent the better part of Thursday waiting in his truck for instructions. Finally, the company who owned the beds called and said to bring them back up to Ohio. We arrived back home on Friday around noon. So we were out Tuesday through Friday.

What struck me on this trip was a couple strange events. First, I posted money in the wrong checking account on Monday, and our primary checking account went $400 in the red. My wife was wondering what had happened. I assured her that if she called the bank, and explained the mix-up, they would fix everything and waive the overdraft charges. Needless to say, they did.

A while later, I'm informed by my wife that the gas company shut off our gas while she was out on Thursday. We recently built a new house and our deposit increased. It seems that our last payment went entirely to paying off the deposit, and none was posted on our bill. I assured my dear wife that if she would call the gas company, and explain the mix-up, they would turn it back on. Needless to say, they did. My wife never complained or made me feel guilty for not being there.

I felt like a total heel. Here I am sitting in a truck in North Carolina. My wife is back home dealing with one small crisis after another. My truck driving friend told me, "We have stuff like that happen sometimes." That's when I truly appreciated the strength of my friend's wife. My friend provides well for his family, but it requires him to be away. That requires his wife to be strong if she's not going to make him feel guilty all week long. I know she gets this strength from her Lord.

Some might say my friend would be a better husband by staying closer to home. I would ask those who do to stop using every product in their home. It's easy to sit back, enjoying our affluent lifestyle while judging the ones who bring the affluence from one state to another. I'd prefer to just thank him and his wife for their labors, which they do for the glory of God.

I'm thankful that my friend's wife (who is also my friend) is so focused on the Gospel that she is able to manage her house while her husband is away. It can be a frightening thing to spend your week alone. It can be overwhelming to take care of four small children by yourself. It can be frustrating to want to be close, but realize your mate is a thousand miles away, literally. I know it is the Gospel that enables her to be strong for her husband. It is the Gospel that sustains her, so that she doesn't have to put added pressure on her husband while he's away. I gained a greater respect for her while on this trip. For that, I'm thankful I had the opportunity to go.

Ironically, my truck driving friend is going on vacation next week. Where will his time off take him? To Mexico with To Every Tribe Ministries. (I would highly recommend you check out their website, and listen to David Sitton's message at the 2006 Desiring God Conference for Pastors.)

My friend is flirting with the idea of becoming a missionary, and has been looking forward to this trip for over a year. He's also scheduling a trip to Papua, New Guinea. His dear wife will stay behind with the children while he's gone. Again, I know someone may think he'd be a better husband to spend some time with his family. Trust me, he spends time with his family.

Who knows whether God has been training this couple in daily dying through the strain of truck-driving? My friend has always looked for opportunities to share the Gospel, or a meal with those out on the road. Perhaps someday he and his wife will share the Gospel in some far away land. They've decided the best way to spend time is by advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who've never heard it. Sure it costs them. The time apart is a type of dying to themselves. I'm thankful that God raises up those strong couples who place the glory of God above their temporal comfort and pray that God raises up more Gospel-centered couples.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Benefit of Snakes, Spiders and Other Creepy Things

Have you ever wondered why God created snakes, spiders, scorpions and other creepy, poisonous creatures? I agree with Jonathan Edwards that God ordained things in creation to point to deeper realities - kind of like living illustrations. Obviously one can't take the metaphors too far, but Scripture seems to prove such a theory.

Take fountains, for instance. In addition to the practically beneficial purpose of a fountain providing refreshing water, a fountain also provides a context to understand the nature of God. In Jeremiah 2:13 God calls himself a "fountain of living waters." In Psalm 36:9 we discover that with God "is the fountain of life." We understand what God is saying about himself in these texts because we understand from living on planet earth what an actual fountain is. When I see a fountain, I immediately think of God's overflowing goodness toward creation. So the physical creation directs me to deeper or hidden realities.

So what might snakes, spiders, scorpions and other creepy, poisonous creatures point to? The Bible gives us some clues. "Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's, and under their lips is the venom of asps" (Ps. 140:1-3). "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness" (Rom. 3:13-14). "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent" (Ps. 58:3-4). "But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).

It's obvious from these verses that man's bite is as dangerous as any creature on earth. The poisonous nature of creepy creatures points to the poisonous nature of man's speech. The destructive power of small creatures provides a context for understanding how destructive our words can be. Since we probably speak more to our spouse than anyone else, we must pay careful attention to the words we use. More importantly, we must pay careful attention to the heart behind the words.

When I see a snake, or an ugly spider in a crawlspace, I immediately think about the things I've recently let slip from my mouth. Have I spoken to my wife in a harsh manner? Have I chosen words to manipulate her rather than serve her. Have I escalated a conflict by using inflammatory words? Have my words been destructive or constructive?

While I find something disagreeable with snakes, spiders, scorpions and other such creepy creatures, I find something very beneficial in them as well. They remind me of the venom I produce every day. They urge me back to the gospel of Jesus Christ where I find the One who spoke every word according to his Father's will on my behalf, died on the cross for every word I have used in a destructive manner, forever lives at his Father's right hand to plead my case, and provides the gracious power to de-fang my poisonous mouth.

Paul David Tripp wrote an excellent book on the heart behind speech entitled The War of Words. I would highly recommend everyone read it - over and over again.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Book Review

Wade Burleson reviewed The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another: A Christian Hedonist Guide to a Happy Marriage on his blog.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Redemptive Marriage

At any given time I am probably reading several books in addition to the Bible. I'm usually working my way through a theological book of some sort, a "practical" book and a fiction book. In the theological category, I've been reading The Mission of God by Christopher J.H. Wright. I came across this line and thought it was applicable to our recent looks at the life of Abraham.

"There is a certain irony in the biblical narrative that records Abraham being called out of the land of Babel, not into some heavenly paradise but into the land of Sodom. Whatever else the story of redemption will be, it is not a story of escapism."

Don't mistake my calls for heavenly-mindedness to be calls for mental or physical escape from the pains and cries of a world without hope and without God. As Christian Hedonists, we must make it our supreme goal of life to love our neighbors as ourselves. This love for our neighbors is the flip-side of our love for God. One cannot exist without the other in the same way you can't have a coin without heads and tails.

When God calls us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light, he is creating lovers of others. When we are born naturally, we are born haters. Haters of God and haters of others. Romans 3:9-18 makes this clear. When we are born again through the Spirit of God, we are born lovers. Lovers of God and lovers of others.

We, like Abraham, are not called out of Babel directly into heaven. We are called out of Babel and sent into Sodom. That is uncomfortable and burdensome. But that is a Christian's call. It look like this:

Born once without God in Babel ---- Born again and sent to cry to God for the redemption of Sodom ---- Carried home to be with God in Heaven when he decides our mission is completed.

Please do not try to bypass Sodom - the sinful, oppressed, hopeless world around you - and go directly from Babel to heaven. Don't escape the sinful pain of the this world by locking yourself away in your house, or closing your ears to their cries. It's just not the way God has planned his mission. God's mission began with Jesus before the world was created. It has continued through Adam, Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, the Gospel and YOU.

Marriage & Evolution

Tim Challies reviewed an article from Psychology Today on his blog. The article is concerning evolutionary theory of human nature. In other words, scientists are becoming more vocal in attributing human behavior to evolutionary natural selection. I have been reading a lot of material on evolutionary psychology lately, and am writing a novel on the subject. This topic is fascinating, not because it is compelling, but because it borders on absurdity at every turn, yet is actually respected by so many.

In the realm of evolutionary psychology everything comes down to sex. It's funny how Hollywood revolves around sex. Popular music revolves around sex. Advertising revolves around sex. Television revolves around sex. And science revolves around sex. Sex is the god of this age.

Science tries to intellectualize sex worship, but it is worship just the same. According to the theory of natural selection, life comes down to mating. Not in the perverted Playboy way, but in the passing along of genetic code way. Natural selection favors certain behaviors that enable better continuation of genetic material. I'll give you an example. Eating red meat must in some way enable better procreation than not eating red meat, or no one would eat red meat. We might not know how eating red meat fosters better mating. But evolutionary theory assures us it does.

What does all this have to do with a Christ-centered marriage? Simple. Evolutionists are trying to explain the meaning of everything while wearing a blindfold. They will try to convince us that marriage is a behavior favored by natural selection to carry on strong offspring. They refuse up front any hypothesis that suggests a Creator of what they're observing. To them, DNA is the building block of life, not God. DNA is transferred through mating. So life is continued through mating, not by the Providence of God. Perhaps without even realizing it, science is setting us up for ordering all of life around sexual appetites. In other words, worshiping sex.

This view of life demands a pragmatism capable of very disturbing results. What happens when science questions the validity of marriage? That's one of the questions raised in the Challies review. Scientists are great observers. The problem is when they try to advise us on the basis of their observations.

It's evident from observing human nature that man in his current condition is not fully sold out to a Christian view of marriage. Even Christians aren't sold out to a Christian view of marriage. We are all capable of desiring any number of different mates. It's so common to man that it's expected that young people will "sow their wild oats" before settling down with just one mate for the rest of their lives.

So scientists observing this tendency from the perspective of natural selection will question why man seems to be polygamous. Perhaps marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be. Marriage is just one method among many viable methods of protecting the reproduction of offspring. It may even be the best one man has come up with to date. But it's still just a method apparently favored by natural selection. So science attaches no moral value to marriage. Marriage isn't viewed by evolutionists (at least consistent ones) as a "should." It is viewed as what currently"is." But without a "should," to guard it, that could change in the future. Theoretically, one could infer from science the sensibility to destroy the institution of marriage someday.

The Bible comes at us from an entirely different perspective. God is the source of life. He may choose to use DNA to continue life, but Providence is the ultimate designer and sustainer of all life. A sparrow doesn't fall from a tree in a woods without the guiding hand of God.

Marriage is a "should" from a biblical perspective. The reason man is polygamous is because man is an idolater. Man isn't content with God's plan for him. He wants to master his own destiny and fulfill his 0wn desires. It is difficult to constrain the vast desire of man with one woman. Or vice versa. But that doesn't mean polygamy is right. Marriage is part of God's design for humanity, not a social institution brought about through natural selection. My point is that everything that science has ever observed about human nature can easily be explained by the Bible. Worship is the reason for what we see around us. God expects us to worship him, but we'd rather worship the creation.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Isaac & Rebekah: Where's the Romance?

We've been looking at Abraham and Sarah for several posts. Today I want to look at Abraham's son, Isaac. Sarah bore Isaac when she was old. It came to pass that Sarah died. After burying Sarah, Abraham set out to find a wife for Isaac. In Genesis 24 we read, "And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all he had, 'Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.'"

Abraham's servant went back to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. The servant asked for a specific sign from God to decide which woman he would approach with the prospect of returning with him to marry Isaac. It turns out that Rebekah did exactly what the servant prayed for, so the servant made his offer to Rebekah and her family. Rebekah decided that the offer was from God, so she agreed to follow Abraham's servant back to Canaan to marry Isaac.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Isaac was out in a field meditating when his father's servant came riding up with Rebekah. "And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (Gen. 24:66-67).

What I want to zoom in on from the biography of Isaac and Rebekah is the obvious, yet often overlooked lack of a three and half year, sexually active dating period where both try to decide if they're in love with each other. Isaac and Rebekah were hooked up. They were truly a blind date. We're not even sure if Isaac knew Abraham's servant was out procuring him a wife. This type of arrangement flies in the face of our modern romantic comedy-driven culture.

So many couples get married because they think they've fallen in love. Well, what happens when one falls out of love? The apparent answer is divorce. We have people falling in love and falling out of love all over the place. Marriage is not viewed as a covenant of companionship, lasting for the rest of one's life. It is viewed as a contract promising exclusive mating rights for a time. In other words, marriage is viewed as just really intense dating, with little more security than a steady dating relationship.

Isaac and Rebekah mock our romantically driven, relational flimsiness. They were married because they made the decision to be husband and wife. Rebekah made that decision before she ever met Isaac or his family. She made that decision before she had any idea if he would be good in bed. She had no chance to preview her catch. She made a decision and stuck by it. She didn't even have the benefit of an internet test matching 1,546,389 points of compatibility. She trusted the God of Abraham's servant with her future.

Isaac loved Rebekah. He loved her without ever having opportunity to fall in love with her. He saw her coming across a field, was informed by his servant that this was his new wife, and he loved her. In "The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another" I wrote that love flows from a sense of beauty or value. Isaac had little opportunity to assess Rebekah's value. He just trusted that Rebekah would be a good wife for him. So he loved her.

I think that Isaac and Rebekah challenge us to question the legitimacy of basing our values on the music, movies and personalities in the culture. The same people who bring us romantic comedies have proven over and over again the folly of such fairy tales by their real life relationships. I have counseled couples who seem to be looking for some magical, mystical "click" that elevates their relationship to some sublime level. That level may be attainable in Sleepless in Seattle, Kate and Leopold, or the other bazillion romantic movies out there, but they're movies. Real life is more like Isaac and Rebekah.

We know our spouses about as well as Isaac and Rebekah knew each other. We probably haven't gotten married blindly. But we try to. We put on our best face with our spouses-to-be so that by the time they marry us, they really have no idea who they're marrying. They think they're marrying a sweet, wealthy, popular, well adjusted, good-looking guy who's going places. They soon discover they married a broke ogre with a bad back and smelly breath. Our marriages end up comedies alright. Just not romantic ones.

So what's the point of all this? Be content with the spouse you have. Stop looking for your "true love" and truly love the man or woman you have. Maybe you don't value your spouse right now. Value is flexible. It can be nurtured, or neglected. Nurture your love for your spouse, rather than trying to make your spouse into some romantic ideal. And you just might find that Isaac and Rebekah is one of the most romantic accounts in the whole Bible.