Friday, August 31, 2007

How Heavenly-minded?

How Heavenly-minded are you? Does it matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. Why? Because there are nothing but Heavenly-minded people in Heaven. "Let us therefore strive to enter that rest" (Heb. 4:11). "Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). "Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13). "But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life" (Jude 20-21). "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (1 John 3:2-3). "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).

What is Heavenly-mindedness? If I combined all the texts above, and boiled them into a soup, the result would be a forward-looking broth, seasoned with an active anticipation that shapes and influences all other thoughts and affections. Heavenly-mindedness is really just another way of saying "desiring God" above all else - and actually meaning it. God is to be enjoyed to the fullest in the world to come, not here. So rather than striving to bring God down, and rather than replacing God with something more readily available, Heavenly-mindedness channels thoughts and desires to where God is - the age to come. Heavenly-mindedness is a preoccupation with the world to come.

While Heavenly-mindedness is a preoccupation with the world to come, it isn't mystical. Many mistake monasticism with Heavenly-mindedness. Monks are not Heavenly-minded. They are worldly-minded, even while disowning much of the comforts it offers. They are so enraptured by this world, they strive to bring God down into it. Rather than allowing God to use them for his mission, they try to bind God to themselves in their own mission. It is amazing that when Martin Luther got a taste of Heavenly-mindedness, it drove him out of the monastery and into the world.

Heavenly-mindedness must overflow in love to others. Why? Because Heaven is populating itself with the people of this world. Heavenly-mindedness frees us from loving this world so that we can love those living in this world. We are free from the trinkets and the treasures. We are free from the delusions of health and peace on earth. We are free from the deceptions of wealth's value. We are free from man-made attempts to bring God in line with our agendas.

I'm currently reading Saints' Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter. I highly recommend it to everyone. Baxter was a 17th century Puritan. He wrote the book during extended bouts with illness while "looking death full in the face and yet experiencing the sufficient grace of God." In other words, Baxter was stripped of the luxury of ignorant drifting through life. He was brought face to face with his own mortality. He wrote out of a mind denied the hope in this world that we take for granted. Therefore, the work is very Heavenly-minded. That is the book's point.

I think one of Baxter's most important words for us in America today comes in his chapter entitled, "The Saints' Rest is not to be Expected on Earth." He writes of "our unreasonable unwillingness to die, that we may possess the saints' rest." Consider this:

"This unwillingness to die doth actually impeach us of high treason against the Lord. Is it not choosing of earth before him, and taking of present things for our happiness, and consequently making them our very god? If we did indeed make God our end, our rest, our portion, our treasure, how is it possible but we should desire to enjoy him? - It moreover discovers some dissimulation. Would you have any believe you, when you call the Lord your only hope, and speak of Christ as all in all, and of the joy that is in his presence, and yet would endure the hardest life, rather than die, and enter into his presence? What self-contradiction is this, to talk so hardly of the world, and the flesh, to groan and complain of sin and suffering, and yet fear no day more than that, which we expect should bring our final freedom! What hypocrisy is this, to profess to strive and fight for heaven, which we are loath to come to! and spend one hour after another in prayer for that which we would not have."

Did you get that? Is that not the American Christian experience? "I want to go to Heaven when I leave this earth. I just don't ever want to leave this earth." Ugh! That is worldly mindedness. And that is the average Christian when death seems to come knocking. "Oh, anything but death! Put me on all kinds of machines for days, weeks, months, whatever it takes! Just don't let me die!" How is that any different from those "earthdwellers" who beg the caves to crash upon them to hide them from Christ? How does such behavior not show a hopeless dependence on this world for one's only satisfaction? Our collective Christian attitude about death shows how closely aligned we are with those who don't believe at all. We believe that America is close enough to Heaven for us. That is high treason. Heavenly-mindedness, though the virtue from which all others flow, is so neglected and scorned that it is amazing that anything Christ-centered happens at all.

Baxter again: "Consider, not to die is never to be happy. To escape death is to miss of blessedness except God should translate us, as Enoch and Elijah, which he never did before or since." In other words, eternal bliss awaits us in Heaven. Death is the door (unless one is Enoch or Elijah). So to be so yearning to live forever on earth, regardless of the quality of life, is to never experience the matchless blessedness of God's immediate presence. But then again, I doubt there are many who are actually looking for that anyway. How Heavenly-minded are you?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Love Languages?

While I'm on the topic of love, my friend Tony Romano, of Upstream Current fame, posted yesterday on The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I recommend reading his post. He had some excellent insights. As I read his post, it got me thinking about how well the concept taught in that book would illustrate what I've been writing about the last couple days.

I appreciate Dr. Chapman's desire to help couples. However, I believe The Five Love Languages helps to achieve the wrong goal. The premise of the book begins with man, not God. Therefore the conclusions are skewed from the beginning, and lead to idolatry. I'll interact with a couple examples.

The second chapter is entitled, "Keeping the Love Tank Full." In it we read, "At the heart of mankind's existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another. Marriage is designed to meet that need for intimacy and love."

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I showed how this argument is faulty. I don't read in Scripture where the heart of man's existence is a desire for intimacy and love. In fact, I read quite the opposite. Since the fall, at the heart of man's existence is a desire to use and destroy. But even before the fall, I don't think that was the heart of man's existence. Let's think about this. If the heart of man's existence is a desire for intimacy and love, then why did Adam and Eve sin? Were they not enveloped in the most precious love of God and one another? Did they not enjoy a level of intimacy that we could only dream of?

In addition, I don't think that marriage is designed to meet the "need" for intimacy and love. Jesus Christ is the "last Adam" and the perfect Man. He didn't need marriage at all. Adam and Christ both nullify Dr. Chapman's premise. Marriage is designed to serve God's eternal plan of redemption by being a shadow of the relationship between Christ and his church, by fighting Satan through sexual intimacy, by providing a furnace to refine faith, and by bringing forth the offspring that will one day inhabit heaven.

Am I just being mean, and picking apart this poor man's book? No. This book is ranked around 1,000 on Amazon, and has sold so many copies, Stephen King is surely jealous. The reason it's so popular is because its premise scratches a carnal itch. That premise leads to subtle idolatry.

If I'm led to believe that I'm designed to desire love, and have a "love tank" that "needs" to be filled, then I can justify all manner of selfish feelings and behavior under that banner. While the book is written to help you serve your spouse by speaking his or her love language, that's not the only route sinful man is going to go. Sinful man is also going to use the book as a sledge hammer against his spouse for not speaking his love language! "You don't love me right. My love language is changing the oil in the car." Think I'm exaggerating? On the book's Amazon page, we read, "Gifts are highly important to one spouse, while another sees fixing a leaky faucet, ironing a shirt, or cooking a meal as filling their 'love tank.'" Do you see how this kind of talk leads to self-centeredness. Where is Christ? Not in The Five Love Languages.

In a chapter entitled, "Loving the Unlovely" we read, "When the tank is low... we have no love feelings toward our spouse but simply experience emptiness and pain." I wish I had the space to share the context of that sentence. I'll paraphrase. If we make much of others, they're bound to reciprocate after a time and start making much of us. Again, when does Christ get his? How does this serve Christ's purposes for marriage? Where's the gospel?

This psychology is flawed. Dr. Chapman is saying that the reason we come to the place where love is cold in our marriage is because our love tank is low. We're not feeling loved enough. The question I have is this, "What if both spouses' love tank is low, and neither wants to fill the other's? I'll tell you what happens. Divorce happens. Rather than being counseled away from self-centeredness, or even spouse-centeredness, this book counsels to make man and his whims the end-all of marriage. What the couple really needs is the gospel. They need to not look inward, or spouse-ward. They need to look Heaven-ward.

In the same chapter we also read, "If you claim to have feelings that you do not have, that is hypocritical... But if you express an act of love that is designed for the other person's benefit or pleasure, it is simply a choice." What? And what purpose does that choice serve? There is no scriptural warrant for that claim. In fact the apostle Paul says the opposite in 1 Cor. 13. Paul seems to think you can choose all day to benefit someone, even giving away all you have, and dying in the process; and without love, that accomplishes nothing. I have argued in my book and on this blog that true love is never less than a feeling. All love starts with a feeling. Trying to divorce action from feeling is dangerous, and leads to legalism. I've seen couples continue to carry out nice actions to each other right up until the time they sign the papers. What good is that?

I could go on and on and on, picking apart almost every page of this book. I don't want to do that. I'm not trying to be controversial. I want to see couples experience the joy and freedom that comes from a Christian Hedonist, gospel-centered marriage. I think The Five Love Languages illustrates what I've written the last couple days about the difference between self-centered love and Christ-centered love. Unfortunately, I think this book is a handbook on how to perfect self-centered love.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Freedom of Christ-centered Love

In the previous post on the Cost of Consumption, a commenter asked what a love and marriage that are Christ-centered would look like. I'll address that here. The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another is my book length answer to that question. I've also addressed it in previous posts all over this blog. What I will try to do here is give some examples of what it looks like.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, "Self-centered love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ."

The first and most important thing that comes to mind when thinking about love is that I can't do it rightly in my current condition. I still live in a fallen body in a fallen world that is alienated from its Creator. My capacity for Christ-centered love is tainted at best. One might ask, "Darby, aren't we Christians now? Haven't we been given new birth? We're changed." I get this often. Yes, it is true that we are saints now. However, we're not perfected yet. That is why Paul had to pray for the Philippians.

"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." (Phil. 1:9-11)

Paul wrote to the Philippians his desire for them to be ready for the "day of Christ" even while telling them, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). So though we are currently citizens of Heaven, we don't quite love like we are yet. So, Christ-centered love in marriage would look like this.

One: Christ-centered love in marriage begins with the minute by minute recognition that neither you, nor your spouse can love perfectly. This does a couple things. First, it drives you humbly to Christ for forgiveness. Second, it exalts Christ for loving perfectly in your place, and forgiving your shoddy work. Third, it forces you to exalt Christ by praying for a greater knowledge and discernment of what virtuous love looks and feels like. Fourth, it leads you to Heavenly-mindedness as you seek this knowledge through Scripture and prayer. Fifth, it enables you to forgive your spouse for not loving rightly. In other words, one of the key characteristics of Christ-centered love is the expectation that much of my love and my spouse's love is very self-centered. Self-centered love lacks this Christ-exalting, man-humbling virtue. Self-centered love never faults itself.

Two: Christ-centered love in marriage will be grounded in scriptural convictions. You will seek to live your life according to the Bible. Husbands will seek to understand their role from Scripture. Wives will do the same. The conclusions may differ according to interpretation. However, the Bible is the starting point, rather than the culture, or your personal whims. If someone asks you why you do something (like raise your kids a certain way or speak a certain way or never go to bed angry or whatever), you will know from Scripture why you do it.

Three: Christ-centered love leads to perpetual peace and harmony in marriage, in spite of circumstances. First, you're so enraptured by the gospel, and its eternal benefits, that hardly anything can frazzle you. Second, in those circumstances where you do get frazzled, and it leads to conflict, Christ-centered love enables you to immediately and freely and completely forgive one another. Christ-centered love never has anything to lose. Self-centered love cannot provide this peace. It can't afford to. It only seeks its own agendas, so that if a circumstance or your spouse don't fit the agenda, it must punish. When you're loving with Christ-centered love, joyful harmony will be the perpetual result, because that's what Christ bought on the cross.

Four: Christ-centered love doesn't seek to bind and control your spouse in order to get your way. It's not needy or greedy. It can afford to say, "That's alright Dear. I'm just as happy one way or the other." You don't have use your words or sex or gifts to manipulate your spouse. Your spouse won't feel pressure to perform a certain way, and neither will you. You'll both feel free. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (see 2 Cor. 3:17).

Five: This one is like a bookend with the first. Christ-centered love in marriage will not end with you and your spouse. It will overflow in love to others outside your marriage, beginning with your children and working outward to family, neighbors, co-workers, friends and strangers. Christ-centered love is by its very nature missional because Christ came to fulfill a mission. Self-centered love seeks its own temporary comfort and ease. It doesn't choose according to eternal values. It chooses according to expedience. Christ-centered love chooses according to how God will be glorified best through the marriage. Self-centered love uses God to build a comfortable marriage. Christ-centered love uses marriage to further exalt God.

These are a few characteristics of Christ-centered love in marriage. I wish there were a formula and a list that I could give out so that people could just do it. There are those counselors and authors and pastors who do just that. I think it's impossible to do that well, precisely because our "lover" is broken. We like to give a list to enable what Paul had to pray for the Philippians. He gave no list, because he had none. Do we honestly believe that Paul wasn't smart enough to come up with a list of "50 ways to love your husband"? It's not just that we don't do what we know. We don't even fully know yet. How can we be anything more than faulty lovers continually in need of future grace? Without God progressively teaching us, we don't even know what Christ-centered love is. We don't even know the fullness of Christ's love for us (which is why Paul had to pray for that for the Ephesians in 3:14-19) let alone what that would look like flowing through us to others. My friends, the cut of sin runs very deep. So deep we will not outgrow its effects in this present, evil age. All we can do is trust that Christ's blood will cover it and heal it for the age to come. The most self-centered love is the kind that demands Christ-centered love from others without desperately praying for it and living it out ourselves.

The Cost of Consumption

I was reading some comments on a blog the other day. A question arose about how to build stronger families and marriages. How can we get Christians to have a high view of marriage? Naturally, I responded with something like, "By exalting Christ more than marriage." Someone agreed. But another further questioned, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. If one was to place heavy emphasis on loving one another, would he be guilty of exalting it over Christ?"

I responded that indeed I think one could be guilty of placing a heavy emphasis on loving another at the expense of Christ. That is the very nature of idolatry, and it happens all the time. The potential for that to happen inspired Paul to actually warn against it. "I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

Now, what exactly is Paul saying? I've gone over this text before, but will ask one question of it now. What is it usually called when a married man is anxious about how to please his wife? Is it not called love? And what is it called when a married woman devotes her life to pleasing her husband? Do we not praise her love? So it seems to me that this text warns against a certain kind of priority that we would normally call love. It is possible to love our spouse in such a way that actually hinders our devotion to the Lord.

Then again, it's possible to love our spouse in a way that doesn't. But both would be love. In other words, there's a right kind of love and a wrong kind of love. But they're both love.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer spoke about two kinds of love in his excellent book, Life Together. In writing about love within a Christian community, Bonhoeffer states, "Self-centered love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ. That is why self-centered love seeks direct contact with other persons. It loves them, not as free persons, but as those whom it binds to itself. It wants to do everything it can to win and conquer; it puts pressure on the other person. It desires to be irresistible, to dominate. Self-centered love does not think much of truth. It makes the truth relative, since nothing, not even the truth, must come between it and the person loved. Emotional, self-centered love desires other persons, their company. It wants them to return its love, but it does not serve them. On the contrary, it continues to desire even when it seems to be serving."

Bonhoeffer is saying that there is a kind of love that isn't mediated through Christ, and therefore not regulated by truth. I often see this defective, yet genuine love in marriages. Rather than the love that seeks not its own, this kind of love seeks nothing but its own. Rather than joyfully providing for the spouse, it consumes and binds the spouse to itself. The result of Christ-centered love is freedom. The result of self-centered love is guilt. How do you know it your love is Christ-centered or self-centered?

One: If when you read the last paragraph, you immediately thought about how your spouse consumes you and makes you feel guilty all the time, then your love is probably self-centered. You are keeping score in a way you shouldn't be. You're so in tune with yourself, and your perceived rights, and your supposed needs that any service to your spouse feels like consumption to you. Any request made by your spouse feels like an unreasonable demand to you. You're not married for the sake of Christ, you're married for the sake of your own temporary priorities. So rather than allowing the truth of God's Word to set the agenda for your love, you set the agenda according to your own selfish desires.

Two: If you think your marriage is a partnership in which both spouses have a right to take from the other - about fifty per cent of the time - then your love is probably self-centered. If your marriage is one in which you constantly bargain and position for power, rather than seek to serve the other all the time, then Christ isn't King of your marriage. You and your spouse are taking turns being mini-kings. If the first thing that comes to your mind in relating to your spouse is "What's this going to cost me," then I can about guarantee you have self-centered love.

Three: If you and your spouse are just cruising through life, taking it as it comes, without deliberate assessment according to Scripture, then you probably have self-centered love. Even if your marriage feels like a rose garden, and is so very satisfying, that doesn't mean your love isn't self-centered. It just means your self-centered love hasn't backfired on you yet. The only way to have a Christ-centered love for your spouse is to know Christ well enough to love like him. That knowledge won't come naturally. So if you're not a Christian disciple first, and a spouse second, self-centered love will be your default position.

Fourth: If your priority is to always please your spouse, whatever it takes, then you probably have self-centered love. You may wonder how that could be possible when you're serving your spouse so much. It's possible because Christ isn't the goal of your love, your spouse is. There's got to be a reason for that. Have you considered that perhaps you're trying to please your spouse all the time for the benefit it will bring you? So that even though you're love seems so other-centered, it's really just to get your own way.

These are several ways that love can run amok in your marriage, and not exalt Christ. The kind of love that consumes, rather than serves Christ will always come at a cost. The cost of consumption may not be immediately apparent. Couples can go through life for quite some time in a man-centered love bent toward worldly things. But that kind of love doesn't bring the sense of fulfillment and peace and happiness that Christ-centered love does. Which do you have?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Grace: More Amazing Than You Think

My good friend, Tony Romano, has posted an excellent article on grace. At CAYAF we sing the old John Newton song Amazing Grace every so often. We love that song. But we rarely grasp what we're singing. We are simply too finite, too faulty, too frail to understand just how deep the wells of grace run. Even those of us who hold to the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation eventually succumb to the pervasive power of pride. Given enough time one earth, and enough blessings to numb reality, we all risk falling into a kind of syncretism in which we start to feel worthy of the forgiveness that Christ purchased. The cross that was so magnificent when we first came to Christ becomes a little more normal. The price that seemed so extraordinary at first slowly becomes worth it in our minds. The great, impossible divide between Divine and human that Christ spanned narrows. The value of the gospel diminishes in our hearts, and our love of Christ weakens, because we simply cannot fathom that we could be so unworthy of lavishing eternal bliss upon. "Yeah, yeah, Christ died for our sins, but where are we going for lunch?"

Do yourself a favor. Spend some time today pondering the treachery, deceitfulness, pride, lust, lovelessness, downcast heart. Then spend even more time contemplating what the spotless Lamb of God purchased for you on the cross. Let your mind wander in the sweet, yet nauseating thought of your Creator allowing himself to be beaten, and battered, and abused, and tortured, and mocked, and killed, and then punished and forsaken by God for your sin. The sin you committed yesterday. The sin you'll commit today. And the sin you'll commit tomorrow. You might be surprised to discover that rather than depressed and desperate, you'll walk away from your meditation a little more happy and a lot more humble. Then you'll be ready to extend that amazing grace to others.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Heart of Conflict

I've been preaching through the book of James. The last couple weeks I've been in James 4. James 4:1-3 have such a tremendous application in marriage. "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."

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I wrote that the heat of conflict is the rubbing together of desires. I have desires for my wife that want fulfilled. It may be a meal choice, a movie choice, an intimacy choice, or whatever. Maybe I don't want to fix the squeak in the front door, and my wife wants me to. Fighting springs up when my desires conflict with hers.

In Love That Lasts, Gary and Betsy Ricucci have a good section on conflict and desire. I thought I'd quote some of it.

"Desire - conflict becomes a possibility when a human heart carries a desire. I would like him to be more open and take more initiative and leadership in our communication. Or, I would like her to understand that sometimes I just don't have a lot to say. There is nothing necessarily wrong with either of these desires. So far no sin, no problem.
Disagreement/ Disappointment - When our desire meets with disagreement or disappointment, we start to see what sort of hold it has on us. If we say to ourselves, I can't believe he doesn't want to talk with me right now! or Doesn't she realize I'm tired when I come home from work, and just want some time alone! we have a problem. Here desire has begun to reveal a craving, lust or sinful passion.
Deserving - Our sinful self-orientation begins to look at this unmet desire as something we deserve. I've been home all day with the children! Don't I deserve his attention and some adult conversation?! Or, I've been at work all day solving everyone else's problems! Don't I deserve some peace and quiet? It's a sure indication we believe our desire is deserved when emotion stirring in our hearts influences the tone or content of our speech.
Demanding - Once we believe we deserve something, we feel perfectly justified in demanding it.
Dependence - Underneath this escalating war, the heart is exposed as depending on the thing desired. It is no longer I want or even I need. It becomes, I must have! My peace and joy depend on him talking to me! - or, on her leaving me alone!
Deification - This dependency reveals that we have deified ourselves and our desire. My kingdom come! My will be done on earth as it is in my imagination! ... We become willing to sacrifice everything - our peace, our obedience, even our spouse - on its altar.
Destruction - That which our heart deifies eventually destroys our relationships, and us."
I'm pretty sure they built this progression on some insight from Paul David Tripp or CCEF. I think this is an excellent diagnosis of conflict dynamics. I encourage you to look into your own relationship. Where do you see this progression building? The next time you have a conflict with your spouse - call timeout. Both of you sit down and turn the guns from one another onto the conflict itself. And see if you can't fit your conflict into the above progression. James has given us a prescription for ending the "war of words."

Rather than fighting to fulfill your desires, pray. And rather than pray for the fulfillment of your desires, pray a prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus Christ gave up his right to comfort, happiness, wealth and worship in order to come to earth and live a life of deprivation for you. He sacrificed his desire for those things on the cross. He died, not for his own sinful, idolatrous, unloving desires. He died for yours. And after you're done thanking Jesus for living and dying in your place, humbly ask him for the ability and desire to lay down your desires (even legitimate ones) in love to your spouse. Who says James has little gospel in it?

Friday, August 17, 2007

David & Michal

Every so often I examine a marriage from the Bible, and try to glean some wisdom from it. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:6, "Now these things [that happened to Old Testament Israel] took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did." My friend, Russ Kennedy, once said in a sermon: "The Old Testament narratives have within them heart oriented imperatives. The sins of the Old Testament saints have a 'not like this' purpose." In other words, Christians are to distill ethics from the accounts of the history of Israel. Today I thought I'd mine for gold from the marriage of King David and Michal.

We don't read much in Scripture concerning Michal. She grew to love David while her father, Saul, was king of Israel. Eventually King Saul promised Michal to David to be his wife. As Saul sought to kill David, Michal seemed faithful to David, even helping him escape. After Saul's death in battle, David consolidated his power over Israel, and brought the ark of the covenant to the city of David. We then read a somewhat strange account of the beginning of the end of their match made in Heaven. It is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 6.

"So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart. . . . And David returned to bless is household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, 'How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!'" (2 Sam. 6:16, 20)

How did Michal's love turn to hatred? She clearly loved David with a loyalty that surpassed the love and loyalty she had for her father. When forced to choose between Saul and David, Michal chose David. Now in this text we see that Michal despised David in her heart. Why the change? Somehow David had become an object of scorn in her heart. While some would think it unwise to speculate, I agree with my brother Russ that there are heart oriented imperatives in this text. We must find the "not like this" purpose for God recording the condition of Michal's heart.

Michal did not like the fact that "David danced before the Lord with all his might" (2 Sam. 6:14). She may have been appalled at David's apparent lack of dignity and decorum. He was, after all, king of Israel. He should act like king. Kings don't go gallivanting in the streets in a rhythmic frenzy in front of all the commoners - particularly when those commoners are young ladies. Michal was the daughter of a king. She was a princess. She probably thought she knew how royalty was to maintain themselves. David wasn't living up to his high position. He was not honoring himself. Michal may have also been jealous of the the king's attention. She brings up the fact that female servants saw him as a vulgar fellow. The picture I get is that Michal thought David made an absolute fool of himself, and therefore of her as well. He should have known better. David doesn't take this confrontation lying down. He has a response.

"David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord - and I will make merry before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.' And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death" (2 Sam. 6:21-22).

David seems to take Michal's insult as an affront to his worship. He points out how her dignified father and his dignified royal family were given the boot by God himself. What right does the royal daughter of an overthrown king have to tell the chosen king how to behave before his Lord? David was happy to be favored by the Lord. He was happy that God had chosen to favor the nation of Israel. He was not afraid of this happiness. He let it overflow in merry dancing in the streets, without fear of anyone watching. David tells Michal not to expect anything different from him in the future, and David expects even more resentment and contempt from Michal in the future. David flaunts the honor shown him by strange women in comparison to the dishonor shown him by his own wife. This is the largest revelation of the relationship between David and Michal. I'll lay out a couple lessons I think we have to learn.

First, David, the man after God's own heart, wasn't ashamed of his God. While David was far from perfect, he was publicly proud of his God his entire life. His faith in God's power was apparent from the days of Goliath until his death. Do you have the heart of David? Would you shamelessly dance in the streets in worship to your God? Or are you afraid to even lift a hand in worship service at church? Does your joy in God have to overflow in public adoration? Or are you too constrained and stoic to indulge in such folly? Are you happy in the God on your side? Or are you wrapped up in the drudgery of life?

Second, Michal was afraid of how the people of Israel may view David. Rather than be concerned with God's praise being lifted up, she was concerned with David's praise being diminished. In addition, she seemed jealous of David's attention. Michal didn't bring up the men who may see David dancing in the streets. She brought up the women. Are you afraid of what others think of you? Do you make decisions based on what would please God? Or do you make decisions based on what others expect of you? Do you let God's Word set your agenda? Or do you let the traditions and opinions of others guide your life? Are you secure in the love of your spouse? Or are you perpetually suspicious and insecure?

Finally, I think we should see the danger inherent in any earthly relationship. Michal was David's wife. It can be assumed that she had some kind of influence over him, and vice versa. We must never let earthly relationships influence us away from godliness. David refused to allow his wife to talk him out of worship. In fact, he rebuked her for her judgment of him. Now there were other times in David's life where he humbly took the rebuke of others, even his subordinates while he was king. While being a ferocious man of war, capable of great destruction on the battlefield, humility was one of the hallmarks of David's life. Yet, when confronted by his wife about his shameless worship, he didn't cave in. He admitted no wrong, and accepted no blame. He rightfully considered his wife to be the one with the problem.

David's son, Solomon, eventually allowed his wives to lead him away from faithfulness to God. He allowed their influence over him to lead him down sinful paths. David didn't fall for it. Do you allow your spouse to influence you away from godliness, away from shameless worship, away from radical living? Does your spouse pull your spiritual strings? Can your spouse convince you to be less missional? Can your spouse convince you to live a comfortable little normal life that's expected of normal people? Or do you guard your heart, even from your own spouse, if such cowardly discipleship is suggested? We have many lessons we can learn from Old Testament saints and sinners. We will continue to examine marriage biographies from the Bible in the days ahead.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Love my Wife

Since this is a blog about "all things marriage from a Christian Hedonist, Gospel-centered perspective, and since virtuous love flows from Gospel-centeredness, I thought it would be acceptable to publicly post how precious my wife is. Men, perhaps you could use this as a springboard to your own expressions. For a more eloquent expression of love than I could give, go to The Upstream Current where Tony Romano sings the praises of his wife.

My wife is the most beautiful creature in the world to me. Some may say that of their children, rather than their spouse. I would disagree. I love my children. They are all beautiful. My oldest, Jason, just turned 10 a few months ago. He is the most mature and analytical 10 year old I know. He is a dream of a child, who helps around the house, loves his siblings and respects his elders. One might be tempted to think such a sweet 10 year old is a sissy. To the contrary, he's all boy who loves every sport, particularly baseball, and waging wars with little army men. Sydney is my second oldest, and she will turn 9 in a few days. She is so sweet and thoughtful. She's the one always drawing a picture for someone, or hugging someone, or serving someone. She's getting so beautiful as she gets older that I'm quite concerned I'll have my hands full some day. Heidi is my third oldest at 5. Heidi is the adorable, moody one that can go from sweet and happy to pouty and down in a blink. She makes the cutest expressions when she talks, and her playfulness is only outmatched by her intelligence. Emily is fourth at 4. She is the fireball of the bunch. She has a hard time talking in a normal voice, stomps around with a scornful face, screams at the top of her lungs when she thinks something is unjust. All of this is of the greatest difficulty to correct because she's so picture-perfect cute with huge blue eyes, and a little button nose (which every one of our children inherited from their mother). On the other hand, she can be the sweetest little thing when she shouts, "Oh my goth!" or climbs on your lap and says she loves you. Keegan is my youngest at just over a year. He's been so much fun, I wonder how we ever got by without him. He is extremely smart and analytical like his big brother. He's also all boy like his big brother. He has this bad habit of climbing to the absolute peak of anything he can reach. He has no fear. He's the happiest, most content little boy I've ever been around. Yep, I deeply love and thank God for each and every one of my kids. But they do not hold a candle to my wife.

Amanda is my equal in every sense. She can match me thought for thought, and the only areas I know more are in the areas I've studied more. Still her ability to think through an argument enables her to follow me with very little catch up time when I have something to iron out. She challenges my thoughts on things, and gives me insight that I never would have thought on my own. Better still, she never gets offended or fights for ownership when I unintentionally forget to give her the credit for the insight. I suppose she's just humble enough to not say anything if I intentionally took credit for her insight.

Despite being my intellectual equal, she never challenges my leadership. She questions me where she thinks it wise, but rarely in a discontented, demanding way. She allows me to be her husband. She never makes me regret that God has placed our marriage under my headship. She never makes me feel guilty for a decision, even when it turns out to be wrong. She's optimistic and gracious to me. I've never heard her question my motives or methods, even if they might be suspect. She just gives me the benefit of the doubt and trusts in her Savior to take care of her. She is truly a gentle and quiet spirit, and a joy to serve. Amanda truly lives her life in service to her God. When she is convicted the Bible says something, she will organize her entire life around its fulfillment. She is the most articulate and passionate pray-er I've ever heard in a woman. Her prayers are focused and Christ-centered.

She is so unassuming in a crowd that one may forget she's even there. She doesn't demand to be in the spotlight, and is pleasantly low-maintenance. You'd be hard-pressed to get her to say something bad about people. There has never in over 10 years of marriage been a time where I have been embarrassed to be her husband. She isn't quarrelsome or rude to others and I know of few instances where someone could be rightly offended at her words or conduct. She strives to be hospitable and charitable to friends and strangers. She fights well the desire to accumulate things, and build a comfortable life on earth. Her faith in the provision of her heavenly Father is strong and sure.

My children are who they are today because of the diligent guidance and instruction of my wife. Amanda teaches our children to be godly, humble and loving. She also teaches them phonics, math, history, geography, writing and everything else they will need to know to be productive, God-glorifying Christian ambassadors. She is raising our sons to be strong, yet loving men; and our daughters to be capable, yet gentle servants. She does this, not because she's naturally gifted at it, but because she's convicted that this is the best way to ensure our children are ready to face whatever this world throws their way. She is truly a shepherd of our childrens' hearts, desiring to see the gospel believed and lived in our children. She fights the urge to parent out of convenience, and receives little breaks in the action of managing our household.

In addition to her duties in the home, she always has a wise word of counsel for others who call on her. She looks for ways to be a blessing to others, even when she can't fully carry them out because of her responsibilities to her own family. She serves our church in whatever capacity requires it, teaching the children of our church about a big, beautiful God who loves them and will save them. She helps to lead others in worship by playing guitar in our praise band.

Finally, Amanda is so physically attractive to me that I cannot keep my eyes off her. If she's in the room, I have to be looking at her - staring at her. I let my eyes and mind get lost in the way her hair contours her face, and her full lips smile, and her big multi-colored (bluish, greenish, hazelish, and even yellowish depending on the light and day) eyes, and curvy body make me feel. She goes out of her way to serve me and please me. She actually acts like she enjoys being Mrs. Darby Livingston. I love to watch her play volleyball, or softball, or any other physical activity. She is the perfect blend of athleticism and femininity, independence and maternal nature, ability and humility.

I love my wife so deeply, for so many reasons. I love to tell her I love her. I love to show her I love her. I tell her frequently, many times a day. I tell her randomly. And I've tried to order my life in such a way that she feels it in a hundred little ways every day. And I know she does the same for me. I pursue my pleasure in her pleasure under God. And she does the same. And she makes pursuing her pleasure incredibly pleasurable.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Fate of the Family & the Future of the Church?

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted an article on his blog concerning the relationship between family and church attendance. Some of the conclusions are interesting, and perplexing. Mohler begins the article:

"Is the future of our congregations tied to the fate of the family? Professor W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia is sure that this is so, and his research and analysis is impossible to ignore. In his essay, 'As the Family Goes," published in First Things, Wilcox argues that the future of America's Christian congregations will "rise and fall with the fortunes of the intact, married family.'"

Mohler then quotes some of the study:

"Currently, men are 57 percent less likely to attend church regularly if they are not married with children, compared to men who are married with children. Women are 41 percent less likely to attend church regularly if they are single and childless. Marriage does more than bind a man to one woman; it also ties a man to a local congregation.


For men, marriage, fatherhood, and churchgoing are a package deal. Men's comparatively fragile faith often depends on wifely encouragement to flower. More important, fatherhood often awakens in men a sense of paternal responsibility that extends to their children's religious and moral welfare. Men are much less likely to identify with and be able to fulfill the responsibilities of fatherhood--including the religious ones--if they are not married to the mother of their children. This is why divorce is much more likely to drive men away from church than it is women."

Mohler then comments:

"This makes a great deal of sense and a look at congregational life will tell the story. Marginalize marriage, depreciate childbearing and fatherhood, and say goodbye to young adult men in church."

There is more to the article, but the above quotes get to the heart of what I find perplexing. While I appreciate the study, and see how Professor Wilcox arrived at his conclusions, I find the conclusions somewhat anti-biblical. I trust his research. I just don't trust the relevance of his argument. Here's why.

"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided" (1Cor. 7:32-34). I'm amazed that 1 Corinthians 7 deals almost exclusively with things concerning marriage, and yet it shapes so little of our thought about marriage. I think the reason for this is because Paul puts Christ before marriage, and we don't like it. We like marriage. We want to build a comfortable little life on earth with our wife and kids. We don't want Paul suggesting that it just might be possible, let alone more godly, to remain single for the sake of the gospel.

When I place the Wilcox study, and the Mohler comment against 1 Corinthians 7, I come to radically different conclusions. First, Paul doesn't seem to think that remaining unmarried, and therefore childless, will hinder the advance of the gospel. Paul's primary concern in urging folks to remain unmarried is the advance of the gospel. Wilcox says the church grows through strong marriages and families. Paul says the opposite. Paul is obviously not opposed to strong marriages and families (Eph. 5-6). He just sees them as part of "the present form of this world" that is "passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Paul is telling people in Corinth to remain unmarried for the sake of church growth. Wilcox is suggesting that church growth is impossible without marriage. Do you see the conflict?

Next, Wilcox seems to say that as marriage goes, so goes the church. Mohler seems to agree with him. "For men, marriage, fatherhood, and churchgoing are a package deal." That may be the current reality in America. But that doesn't make it right. The supremacy of the gospel is totally dismissed with that statement. Churchgoing is supposed to flow from being saved. Marriage and fatherhood do not. So to lump them all together is terribly misguided.

This cultural conglomeration of church and family doesn't square with the Bible. This world is fallen. We can't base our thoughts about church and marriage on an observation of western culture. Western culture is fallen. What are we saying about the magnificence and splendor of God when we say that men will only come to church out of "a sense of paternal responsibility"? What are we saying when we say that "Marriage does more than bind a man to one woman; it also ties a man to a local congregation." Those statements may be true. But the answer to them isn't to cater to those wrong-headed notions. The answer is to preach the gospel more fervently, and trust God with the results.

What an affront to the glory of God to say that God isn't enough to keep a man tied to a local church! Poor God needs a wife to bind her husband to church? Otherwise the husband would never come to church? Well is the husband saved? Is he a Christian? Make no mistake, if God is working in a young man's heart to "give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), then that young man will be in church whether married or not.

Now if we want to achieve some result to make ourselves feel good, whether God is working or not, then we can try to "tie" people to church through marriage. But that is not advancing the Kingdom of God. It is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I fear that most cultural studies end up detracting from the glory of God because they don't begin with God. They begin with fallen culture.

I appreciate Dr. Mohler's insights. I highly recommend his blog to everyone. I read it every day. I just don't think this particular article jives with the Bible. It jives with the evangelical "family values" notion of society. But that isn't always necessarily biblical. God doesn't need marriage. He doesn't need families. When America completely throws family values out the window, divorce is even more rampant, childlessness is even more prevalent, and the church is even more hated, God's gospel-purposes for America will be unaffected. Mohler asks, "Is the future of our congregations tied to the fate of the family?" No, Dr. Mohler. The future of our congregations is tied to the sovereign purposes of God. The gospel transcends family values.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sex & the Supremacy of Christ

Timmy Brister posted on his blog an article about the Sex and the Supremacy of Christ conference sponsored by Desiring God a couple years ago. Amanda and I went to this conference with some fellow church members. It was a good conference. John Piper's messages helped put sex in a Christ-centered perspective. Brister quotes a profound Piper comment.

"Knowing the supremacy of Christ enlarges the soul so that sex and its little thrills become as small as they really are. Little souls make little lusts have great power. The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its treasure. The human soul was made to see and savor the supremacy of Christ. Nothing else is big enough to enlarge the soul as God intended and make little lusts lose their power. . . . My conviction is that one of the main reasons the world and the church are awash in lust and pornography (by men and women—30% of internet pornography is now viewed by women) is that our lives are intellectually and emotionally disconnected from infinite, soul-staggering grandeur for which we were made. Inside and outside the church western culture is drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness. Television is trivial. Radio is trivial. Conversation is trivial. Education is trivial. Christian books are trivial. Worship styles are trivial. It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with the supremacy of Christ, but instead is drowning in a sea of banal entertainment, will reach for the best natural buzz that life can give: sex. The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things. This is what it means to know him. Christ has purchased this gift for us at the cost of his life."
This is fascinating insight. I am glad that Brister posted it. May we all strive to see the majesty and beauty of Christ so that sex, though very good, isn't the sun around which we orbit our lives. Only when Christ is seen as more satisfying than sex will sex not compete with Christ for our affections, but be used as one small part of our worship of the God who created it.

The audio from this conference for part one is here. The audio for part two is here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How's Your Hospitality?

My wife and I came across a neat book on hospitality a while back. We were searching for something that dealt with practical issues - kind of like a how-to manual. It's called The Warm Wonderful World of Hospitality by Robin Mercer. Robin Mercer is a wife and mother with a heart for hospitality. This book is grounded in Scripture, and practical throughout. Reading this book really does make you want to meet the neighbors and have a dinner party. And then Robin lays out step by step how to do it.

If our marriage is going to be missional, then we're going to have to be deliberately hospitable. Numerous surveys have shown that most people come to Christ, or a church, through someone they know. What's more, most people stay faithful to Christ, or in a church, because of relationships with people in the church. This is really just common sense. So the need for hospitality should be self-evident.

However, this is not the case. I think there are a couple reasons for this. First, we as Americans are very independent, private and selfish. This doesn't mean that we don't like the idea of getting together. It just means we rarely accomplish the idea. Maybe you've caught yourself saying something like, "Oh, I was going to ask them over, and I just got busy." "Maybe when the kids are done with soccer we can think about playing cards with the Jones's." "I'm sure the Smith's wouldn't want to come over for a barbecue. They're kind of uppity." So if we're going to be hospitable, we have to overcome our desire for privacy and comfort.

The other reason I think people aren't more hospitable is because they're afraid of people. Either they're afraid of rejection. "Do you want to come over for pizza Friday night?" "No, we're going to be out of town." We leave thinking I should have known they wouldn't want to hang out with us. Really, they were probably just going to be out of town, and would have gotten together another night. But the rejection has already happened, and we're twice shy the next time.

Another fear is that our lifestyle doesn't match up with those around us. This is probably true if we strive to be godly with our money, and set proper priorities. We're embarrassed of our house, car, carpet, dishes, cooking, children, pets, spouse. You name it. "I don't want to invite the Johnson's into this mess!" "I'll have the Jackson's over after the new carpet is in." "They're probably used to steak, and all I can afford is sloppy Joe's."

Robin Mercer deals with this kind of stuff in her book. I'll just give a short quote. "I felt very sad in the early days of my marriage because we lived in a very small trailer. It was also old, dumpy and ugly. We lived in the nastiest part of town. I was embarrassed about my home. . . . Using our trailer for hospitality was very hard for me at first because we attended a wealthy church and most of the couples our age were well off." I bet this is more common than we'd like to admit.

Mrs. Mercer goes on to explain that Matthew 25:21 inspired her to just be faithful with the trailer she was given. Thank God for it, and use it to minister. (That is wonderful counsel!) She goes on to write, "God was faithful to his Word. After a few years in the trailer, we obtained a small house with a great big yard. A few years after that, he provided a larger house with a sizable dining area, enormous front and back yards, and an adjoining piece of property. It has been wonderful to express hospitality in so many ways: to have enough room to entertain small groups and large crowds, to have kids camp in tents around the yard, and to enjoy bon fires throughout the year, to name a few." Lest someone read this and think I have no room to host small groups or large crowds; remember she started in a trailer! She was thankful and faithfully ministered with what she had.

I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to be hospitable. God commands that we do it, and the missional fruit from such labor is abundant. I pray that lots of Christian Hedonist couples across our nation would open up their homes to the neighbors, co-workers, church members, family members, school-mates and anyone else they can minister to. "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality without grumbling" (1 Pet. 4:8-9). What's your excuse? How's your hospitality?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Benefit of Realistic Expectations

I'm reviewing the video of a recent Pursuit of Pleasure marriage conference I taught. I'm trying to better my presentation, to ensure I'm being articulate and effective. I came across the section on "Forgiveness: Guardian of Marital Bliss." I related a thought that my wife doesn't expect a lot from me, she knows my frailties and weaknesses. That's what I want to look at today.

In the chapter on forgiveness in The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I make this point: "There is no quicker killjoy than unloving attitudes and actions toward one another. Yet, in a world where sin still thrives in the hearts of even the most godly men and women, we will indeed hurt one another. . . . The secret to a happy marriage cannot be to cease from sinning against our spouse. Oh, that will help somewhat and we should make it our goal to sin less and less. However, we cannot put off a happy marriage until we all get our acts together. We'll never get there. The secret to a happy marriage is how fast and how fully both spouses are willing to forgive on another."

Deep inside we know this is true, but it is difficult to live out in the middle of being (and feeling the effects of being) wronged. I have counseled individuals and couples who have had a difficult time forgiving someone. It is so clear in the Bible that forgiveness is commanded. We even pray that God would "forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mat. 6:12). Paul tells us that as Christ forgave us, so we must forgive one another (see Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12).

One reason, and the one usually cited for harboring an unforgiving spirit, is pride. We assume that someone who withholds forgiveness is just being high and mighty, or trying to get the upper hand. We may assume the person thinks he's better than the one who wronged him. He may see himself as too elevated to be infringed upon. We might expect sentences like this: "I can't believe you did that to me. Who do you think you are? Nobody treats me like this! I can never forgive you for what you've done." We can see the pride of one who takes himself way too seriously in those statements.

But I think there's another motivation to withhold forgiveness that gets a free pass precisely because it looks so humble. There are those who withhold forgiveness because they feel like such an utter victim, so irreparably jaded, that they are numb to the possibility of recovery. Consider this fictional example.

Mary considered herself to be in a happy marriage. She'd been together with Mike since high school, and they'd been married for fifteen years. Mike was a good provider, and loved his wife very much. Mary felt fulfilled and comfortable working as a homemaker. They communicated well together, and rarely argued. They had three young kids together. Mary felt like her marriage was a match made in heaven. All the changed the day Mary discovered that Mike had been keeping a secret from her for several years. Mike had been looking at explicit material on the internet. Now Mary feels like the rug of her life has been pulled out from beneath her. When Mike confessed, he might as well have hit Mary in the gut, because his words stole her breath, and sent her head spinning.

Mike asked Mary for forgiveness. At first, Mary wondered how such a feat could be possible. She told Mike she didn't know if she could. She began to wonder what was wrong with her to make him desire to look at other women. Bitter thoughts and speculations seemed to take control of her mind, making it difficult to function. Tasks around the house that she used to find fulfilling became drudgery. Eventually, she found it hard to find motivation to even cook dinner.

They went to their pastor, who counseled Mike about his sinful desire for pleasure, and set him up with an accountability structure. Mike seemed very sorry and repentant. Still, Mary has found it difficult to forgive Mike, even though she knows that's what God wants her to do. She just can't get past the wrong. Mike was so much better than that. He was a deacon. He was a little league coach. He led the family in devotions to God. How could he do this to everyone?

In the above tale, Mary found it difficult to forgive Mike. At first glance, pride does not seem to be the cause of her bitterness. Mary's bitterness stems from an unrealistic expectation. Mary was happy with the life that she and Mike had built together. She was comfortable and secure being Mike's wife. Other couples may struggle. But other couples weren't as deliberate about godliness as Mike and Mary. In Mary's mind, Mike could do no wrong. Sin was beneath Mike. Well, maybe he committed the occasional loss of temper, or ate an extra piece of cake. But Mike could never be ensnared in such vile sin. He put their picture-perfect marriage in jeopardy.

This scenario is one reason why we must not hope in our spouse! Our spouse cannot hold the weight of our expectations. Only God never fails us. Our spouse will fail. If we view our well-being at stake with every decision of our spouse, we're setting ourselves up for trouble. We must have a healthy heavenly-mindedness that enables us to sail right through the storms of life. We have to see our spouses for who they are, not for who we long for them to be. They are human, frail, weak, sinful, passionate, loving, strong, proud, lustful, devoted. They are a conglomeration of characteristics that can overflow in much good, or great evil. Even God knows that man is but dust. It is so much easier to forgive when our expectations are realistic (low).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Salvation - A Community Project

A couple days ago I posted an article in response to an article written by Tim Challies. Tim was questioning his motives when he points out an area of sin in his wife. His article challenged me to do the same. Do I want to see my wife be more Christ-like for her sake, or for the sake of my own temporal comfort? As I've been reading the comments on Tim's post, I see that there is no consensus as to the biblical mandate to confront a spouse's sin at all. So I thought I'd take a minute to point out the uncomfortable necessity of mutual confrontation. I need reassured that I'm not misguided in my entire attempt at mutual edification. I'll start in Hebrews 3.

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God" (Heb. 3:12).

The writer of Hebrews is pleading with his readers to not stray from Christ. Here he says that care must be taken. The Christians must pay attention, and be alert. Why? So that an evil heart of unbelief doesn't lead them away from God and toward sin.

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:12-13).

Now the writer explains how the care is to be taken, and how Christians are to stay alert, and how an evil heart can be avoided. It is through the exhortation, or encouragement, of other believers that this care is taken. Why is someone else needed to help me deal with my sin? Because sin is deceitful! In addition, my heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9) above all else. So I have a heart that desires to lead me astray, and sin is deceitful, and doesn't tell me it's leading me astray. Now, how often do I need someone to encourage me in this sin-fighting? Is this just an occasional corrective measure if I fall into unrepentant adultery or embezzlement? No. "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today.'" Encouragement toward God, and away from sin, is to be a daily occurrence. What's at stake in this daily encouragement? Is it that important to me that someone helps me fight sin?

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Heb. 3:12-14).

Wow! How important is the encouragement to fight sin? Eternally important. If I hold my original confidence firm to the end - I have share in Christ. If I build my life around the deception of sin, I never had an original confidence in Christ. And one of the means that God has chosen for me to continue my original confidence is through the encouragement that comes my way via other Christians. Now I'll look at Galatians 6.

"Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." (Gal. 6:1).

Here Paul tells how one who is caught, or ensnared, in a sin should be helped out of it. Another Christian is to gently restore him. The fact that Paul warns the spiritual one to keep watch shows that this restoration could be difficult, dirty work. Notice that the one doing the restoring is to do it in a loving, gentle manner. There's no room for judgmental or self-righteous attitudes.
Now I'll look at James.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20).

Here James pictures someone already wandering away toward sinful error. I get the picture of a person who has left the beaten path, and is fighting his way through the thickets and thorns of life without God's influence. James expects that someone will "track down" the wanderer, and hold out a hand, and lead him back to the well-worn path to Heaven. What's the consequence of this rescue? The wanderer's soul is saved from death and a multitude of sins is covered.

There are many other such texts in the Bible. It is clear from these three that Christians are commanded to help one another out of the deceitful and deadly consequences of sin. Now, marriage provides a wonderful lifelong partner in this race toward Heaven. When I run astray, and rush down sinful paths, it's nice to know I have a godly wife who will lovingly and gently confront my error. She will have words of wisdom from the Bible to help me with. Naturally she will have bathed the entire situation in prayer, recognizing that only God can bring about the needed change. But she will not shirk her God-given responsibility to confront and correct.

She will confront me realizing that I may not respond in a cheerful, loving fashion. Being that sin is so deceitful, and so pleasurable, I may not appreciate the encouragement back toward godliness. My first instinct may be to accuse her of self-righteousness or legalism. I may even point out some sin of hers in defense to shut her up.

But since she is not trying to create a comfortable little happy marriage on earth on her own terms, she will trust that God will ultimately work out what he commands. She will confront and correct me because she loves me more than her own comfort. She cares more about my eternal soul than her temporal peace. She is following God's purposes for marriage, not setting up her own purposes. She will realize that her marriage belongs to God. I can't use the life that God gave me to sin. And she can't use the marriage God gave her to avoid the clear commands of God through Hebrews, Galatians and James. She will desire my salvation as she does her own. She will love me as she does herself. She will recognize that my salvation is a community project, and that she is the closest to me in this community.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Signs of the Spirit" and Marriage

I've been reading Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms. I would recommend any book authored by Sam Storms. He is a Christian Hedonist who combines keen insight with everyday language. Signs of the Spirit is Dr. Storms's interpretation of Religious Affections, written by Jonathan Edwards in the 17oo's. Religious Affections is a heavy read. Signs of the Spirit distills the message of Religious Affections and puts it in modern language that anyone can understand. While I've read Religious Affections a couple of times, I am enjoying Signs of the Spirit very much.

The point of the book is twofold. First it seeks to determine "what is the nature of true religion? What constitutes the essence of that life which is pleasing and acceptable to God?" Second, it asks "are there criteria by which we can differentiate between true and false religion, between the holy and the hypocrite, between authentic and spurious piety? How does one determine, if at all, who has been the object of the Spirit's saving work?"

Why is this book important? Because it examines the inward working of the Christian life. When I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another, I did so from an "Edwardsian" perspective. In a way I applied what Edwards wrote in Religious Affections to the realm of marriage. Man's life flows from the inside out. It's not so much what we do, as why we do what we do. This is true in all aspects of our life. It is true in marriage.

Let me take one quote from the book and show its application. This quote is concerning joy.

"'The first foundation of it is not any consideration or conception of their interest in divine things; but it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view or contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves.' This is, in fact, what differentiates between the joy of the hypocrite and the joy of the true child of God. The former 'rejoices in himself. Self is the first foundation of his joy. The latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege and the happiness which he supposes he has attained or shall attain. True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. 'Tis the joy of their joy. This sweet and ravishing entertainment they have in the view of the beautiful and delightful nature of divine things is the foundation of the joy that they have afterwards, in the consideration of [those divine things] being theirs. But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice, and are elevated with it, that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them.'"

In the above quote, Edwards (and Storms) are trying to show the sometimes subtle difference in the heart between those who love God and those who just look like they do. Few people go to this extent in trying to help others examine their hearts. The first point made in the quote is that true believers begin with an unquenchable thirst for the beauty and glory of God. They aren't concerned in what the beauty and glory of God can do for them. They find God beautiful because they see God's beauty. It's similar to people seeing the beauty of Niagra Falls without expecting anything from Niagra Falls. People just like to gaze on its majesty.

In other words, true believers are worshipers, not mercenaries. They are drawn to God because there is something inherently lovely in God. Their eyes have been opened to the perfections of God, and they can't help but be enthralled. Yes, part of God's beauty is the gracious love that he freely bestows on humble sinners. And that definitely benefits the true believer. But the true believer sees the beauty of God, even without any blessings coming from him. A true believer cherishes the glory of God, even while spurning it at times. If it turns out that God sends such a person to hell for his sin, he would still find God beautiful. Of course, no one who truly finds God beautiful in this way will be sent to hell, because Christ purchased the very ability to see God's beauty.

I have often prayed to God in a time of mourning over my sin something like this: "Lord, I deserve hell. I have nothing lovely to offer you. You alone are the most precious Reality in the universe. And I don't measure up. I crucify Christ all over again. And if in the end, my sin proves to be my undoing, and my faith proves to be false, I have nothing to challenge you with. Your person and purposes are above reproach and altogether lovely. Any defect that would damn my soul is in the weakness of my love, not in the deficiency of your provision. You are beautiful, and I do want to spend eternity with you. I pray that Christ will be enough."

The second point of the above quote is that a hypocrite, or false professor of faith, has this worship just backwards. The hypocrite hears the gospel, and of God's provision, and says, "Hey that's pretty cool. God's going to give me eternal life and all kinds of mansions, and health, and pleasures, and happiness, and peace, and I don't have to do anything but believe in Christ? Okay, I'll let him bless me then." Believe it or not, I know of such people. Too many to be comfortable with. In fact, they're sitting in just about every church in America.

They were also sitting in church in the days of Jonathan Edwards. That's why he wrote his book. Sam Storms realizes the similar condition we are in today. I think that's why he re-worked the book for modern readers.

In counseling and in hearing the reports of others' counseling sessions, I have a feeling there are those couples out there who have turned to God as a last resort to fix their marriage. They may have even done so because a preacher promised that, "Everything goes better with God." So they turn to God, not as a true believer - seeing and loving God's multitude of perfection - but as a false professor, or hypocrite. They see God as a means to a happier marriage.

It should be the opposite. A couple should see the beauty of God in itself through the gospel of Jesus Christ. It should enrapture them and enthrall them, and draw them irresistibly to God. As a result of the overflowing joy they have in God, their marriage will probably be happier, because they are happier. Their marriage will be more peaceful, because they are more peaceful. Their marriage will be more fulfilling because their fulfillment is coming from God. Signs of the Spirit is important to any couple seeking to use marriage as one more means to bring God glory, rather than using God as the sure-fire means to make marriage better.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Motive of Confrontation

Tim Challies posted a wonderful article on loving his wife properly. His point was so good, I thought I'd quote a bit of it.

I am committed to Aileen. There is no doubt about it. She is the one for me and there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to make her happy. I love her to death. This Wednesday we’ll celebrate our ninth anniversary and I love her now more than ever. I am committed to her good as well. But this is where things get tricky; this is where the lines seem to blur. What is her good? It seems clear to me that what is best for her is to have her character conformed more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Her good is Christ-likeness. And thus when I challenge her on areas in her life, when I seek after her good, the ultimate goal should be to help her see where she is falling short of the example of Christ and to help her strive towards the character of a Christian. I hope she holds this out as the goal as well when she feels that she needs to challenge or confront me.

The problem is that often I confuse her good with my good. And this is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to write about all this time: how often do my concerns for change in her life really center around me? How often, when I address an area in her life am I really just trying to make my own life easier? How often do my exhortations, which I strive to make gentle and loving, revolve around how she has fallen short of my standards rather than God’s?

I find this same problem to be true in my marriage. I deeply love Amanda, and she is my best friend. I don't know many women as committed to Christ-like love as her. However, in those areas where she falls short, it is my responsibility as her husband to help her see it, and change. I think Ephesians 5:25-30 commands this. The texts where we are commanded to exhort one another also come to mind.

The fascinating thing is that the areas where she may need the greatest encouragement may also be the areas where she'll get the least. The reason for this is simple. My radar screen is zoned in on the areas that most affect me, not necessarily the ones that most offend God.

Let me see if I can create a generic example. Suppose my wife struggles with gossip. (She fights that well, and anyone who knows her would vouch for that. But let's suppose she doesn't fight well.) Let's also suppose my wife struggles with anger. (She also fights that well, but let's suppose she doesn't.) So, let's suppose that my wife is an angry gossip. (Sorry, Amanda).

Which sin do you suppose I'm more likely to confront? I'm saying the anger. As long as she's not gossiping about me, and not making me look bad, then I might be tempted to let that go unchecked indefinitely. But what I can't stand, and what God surely hates, is anger. I must help mold Amanda into a less angry, more sweet-mannered person. Why? Because her anger interferes with my agenda.

It's very difficult for an angry wife to turn on intimacy. It's difficult to ride in the van with an angry, pouting wife. It's difficult to converse with one predisposed to angry responses. In other words, if I have an angry wife, I have a lot of relational headaches. I want a good, happy, submissive friend who wants to have sex all the time. So anything that interferes with my agenda has to be nipped and tucked. In the meantime, any sinful areas that my wife may struggle with can be shelved until later. As long as they don't affect me.

I am grateful that Tim was bold in his honesty. I used his honesty as a challenge to my own heart in this area. Whether you're the husband or wife, I pray that you will, too.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Most Beautiful Song I've Ever Heard

Today I want to share with you the most beautiful song I've ever heard. In doing this, I realize the vast number of songs to choose from. I love Jars of Clay. They are unmatched in creativity, depth and diversity in my opinion. I love the Christian rap of Lacrae and DaTruth. I love the edgy sound of Switchfoot. I like every kind of music. I have to guard myself from becoming engulfed in all the ungodly lyrics that are on the radio today. I could listen to classic rock, alternative, rap, country and top 40 pop. I like it all. So I'm saying something to say that I've narrowed all the possibilities down to one song. It is by far the most precious melody I've ever swayed to. It's lyrics steal my attention and will not let me go. It's rhythm beats in time with every thump of my heart. And what's more, I know for a fact that no song to come will ever knock this song off its throne as the most beautiful song I've ever heard. The song I'm referring to is the song that God is singing over my life.

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

This is such a precious verse! To think that the Creator of the universe is singing over me! Me. He is on my side. He rejoices over me with gladness. He loves me. He's with me. How can any song compare to the song of my happy, loving Creator? And he sings loudly! He doesn't hum. He exults in his song.

The reason that this verse is so precious is because I don't deserve to hear such sweet music. If the lust and bitterness in my heart were dispersed equally among all the inhabitants of earth, I have no doubt we would collectively live in eternal torment. I have enough for everyone. But because of the life, death, resurrection and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ I am an object of God's joyful love.

My friends, God has no bounds. Nothing can contain him. So if he is happy, he is really, really, really happy! Infinitely happy. When theologians seek to explain God, they often use a list of words on which to "hook" their thoughts. The hooks on this list are called attributes. An attribute is a quality or characteristic of someone or something. For instance, God is omniscient, or knows everything. God is gracious. God is omnipresent, or everywhere. God is omnipotent, or all powerful. God is just. While all that is true, I search in vain in most books about the attributes of God for the one attribute that gives me the most comfort - the eternal happiness of God. My happiness flows from the thought of his happiness.

I would be terrified of an unhappy God with infinite power, knowledge, wrath, and justice. I believe God is gracious and loving because God is happy. Justice can flow from a crabby judge. Grace and love would be more difficult. Just judges don't sing. Happy ones do. I am so thankful that God is pleased to sing a happy song over me. If you'd like to consider more on this provocative subject, I highly recommend a little book by Sam Storms entitled, The Singing God: Discover the Joy of Being Enjoyed by God.

Can you hear it? Do you hear the song of God's amazing love accompanying your life? Is his song sweet enough in your ear to capture your affection? To steal your heart away from the trinkets and treasures of this world? Is his voice more captivating than the voice of your spouse? Does his joy overflow in yours? Does your heart sing the harmony to his joyful, exulting melody?