Monday, September 24, 2007

The Generational Curse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Marriage and Cow Pies

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Cross - Eternal Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Cross - Freedom From Fear

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cross - Christ's Authority to Save

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interracial Marriage Revisited

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

The Cross of Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Roost Rulers Beware

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do You Get Heartburn?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Weapon of Most Destruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 7, 2007

Intimate Independence

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" (Genesis 2:18)

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I argued that we don't have to read that verse and assume that Adam was lonely. God didn't lament Adam's loneliness. He lamented that Adam was the sole human being on earth - his "aloneness". We don't know exactly why God said it wasn't good for the man to be alone, but I suspect it had more to do with God's eternal plan of salvation than with any psychological or emotional deficiency in Adam.

The reason I argue for this view is because I think it is most faithful to what the Bible says, and because of that, a subtle form of idolatry can be avoided. It is not good to attribute the creation of Eve to Adam's loneliness because that leads us to believe that one cannot survive without the intimate companionship of a spouse. We know that Jesus wasn't married, and we suspect that Paul wasn't married (at least he implies as much in his letters). They didn't seem any worse for the wear. Man wasn't created to be a sponge. He was created to be a fountain.

In my contemplation of Bonhoeffer's great book on community, Life Together, I wanted to make another connection to the realm of marriage. I will take the liberty of supplying the word [marriage] where it fits the context. In his chapter entitled, "The Day Alone" we read:

"Many persons seek community [marriage] because they are afraid of loneliness. Because they can no longer endure being alone, such people are driven to seek the company of others. Christians, too, who cannot cope on their own, and who in their own lives have had some bad experiences, hope to experience help with this in the company of other people. More often than not, they are disappointed. They then blame the community [marriage] for what is really their own fault. The Christian community [marriage] is not a spiritual sanatorium. . . . Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community [marriage]. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God's voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has singled you out."

This is so insightful, it is amazing his book is not a best seller. Well actually his book is not a best seller because it is so insightful. People don't want to be told their problem is themselves. People want to be told their problem is their spouse, or their distant father, or doting mother, or genetic disposition, or chemical composition or string of circumstances.

But Bonhoeffer hits the nail square on the head. Most needy people, dependent on others, can't stand to be alone with just themselves and Christ. They're looking for a distraction. In marriage, they're hoping for a lifelong distraction. How many people get married because they can't stand the thought of being alone? How many people can't stand being alone because they can't possibly see a lifetime of satisfaction in Christ alone? That's why many are disappointed with their marriage. They just can't seem to make it give them what they're demanding - intimacy on their own terms - a replacement for communion with God.

In his chapter on "Community," Bonhoeffer writes: "The more genuine and the deeper our community [marriage] becomes, the more everything else between us will recede, and the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is alive between us." This sentence is one of the most sublime I've ever read. I have seen a couple live out this vision. The man has gone to be with the Lord, leaving behind his wife. She is among the most secure, happy ladies I know. And when he was alive, they were the picture of Christ-centeredness. One could literally feel that Christ was the glue holding them together. Christ was the compass guiding their lives. With each year, the talk of Heaven became more frequent. You might think their marriage would be boring or lack intimacy being so Christ-centered. In fact, just the opposite was true. They were so intimate, yet so independent of one another. They were truly happy with who they were alone in Christ. And that made all the difference when they came together as man and wife.

I pray for the day my own marriage will reflect such intimate independence. I long for Christ to be the one and only thing alive between Amanda and me. I strive to live in such a way that Amanda feels her freedom. I hate that my love isn't always the love of Christ that serves. It is way too often the selfish, needy, greedy love that seeks to bind her to myself for my own security. She needs to feel her freedom in Christ, not her bondage to her husband. This kind of thinking seems so counter-intuitive. Won't such freedom lead to a lessening of her love? No. It is actually the only thinking that will lead to true love. Only when couples are secure enough to live independently of one another, are they secure enough to be intimate with one another without threatening their devotion to Christ.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

What a Gospel!

My good friend Tony Romano has posted another sweet tribute to the glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Read him often at The Upstream Current.

Wishful Dreaming

Are you thankful for your marriage? Do you thank God for your spouse? Can you stop what you're doing and thank God right now for your spouse in a specific way? If you find this difficult, think about this passage I've been contemplating. It's about Christian Community in general. However, as I've been contemplating it, I see its impact on marriage. From Life Together:

"Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into the Christian community. . . . God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure. When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves."

You could plug marriage in this quote where Christian community is referred to, and come up with interesting results.

"Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian marriage. They are looking for extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into the Christian marriage. . . . God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized marriage demand that it be fulfilled by God, by their spouse, and by themselves. They enter the marriage with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to their spouse. They act as if they have to create the Christian marriage, as if their visionary ideal binds the couple together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure. When their idealized image is shattered, they see the marriage breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of their spouse, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves."
Do you see how well marriage fits? Bonhoeffer made it clear that the only thing a Christian can do is be grateful for the community God puts him in. Marriage is no different than the broader Christian Community. It is a gift of God.

"And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, 'Why does he not?' Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring" (Malachi 2:15).

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?' He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate'" (Matthew 19:3-6).

We see in the above verses that God is the glue that holds marriage together. Marriage is not man's creation. It is God's handy work. So you are free to enjoy it, on God's terms. When you have a wishful image in your head of what marriage is supposed to be, you're in for bondage. Here's why. You're going to strive and yearn and labor and long for the ideal marriage found in your head. You're going to do everything in your power - beneficial or detrimental - to bring that ideal about. You're going to develop all sorts of standards and rules for you and your spouse to live by. You're going to constantly consult self-made barometers and assessments to see how closely your actual marriage is lining up with the ideal dream in your head. And when you're actual marriage isn't lining up with your dream, you're going to try to do surgery on it and try harder to fix it. When that doesn't work, you're going to punish your spouse, yourself and even God if you can. When your punishments don't do the trick, you're going to see your marriage as a stupid decision and either find a way out of it, or stay miserable in it.

Here's a better plan. Stop it! Stop trying to realize the dream in your head. Just be thankful for what God has given. Thank him for his grace. Thank him for your spouse. And then, go thank your spouse for putting up with you. And then go have good sex to the glory of God.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Folly of Idolatry

I have devoted this blog to the subject of marriage. I have often thought of starting another blog where I could collect my thoughts on various subjects that interest me (and there are many!). However, this blog is where I collect my ramblings about the profound mystery that is marriage. In saying that, I'm not saying that I don't deal with any number of other issues. Marriage is a big part of life, and many topics feed into it, or flow from it. Take idolatry for instance. Believe it or not, marriage cannot accomplish its purposes without an understanding of idolatry.

What is idolatry? Idolatry is the worship of a false god. Idolatry can be directed toward a god of our own making, or toward a god of someone else's making. It doesn't matter who creates the god. What matters is that the god is created. Rather than submitting to the God who is, idolatry creates a god that isn't.

Why do people practice idolatry? Idolatry is rampant because within all human beings is the desire to rule themselves. People do not like submitting to the authority of someone else. Even God. Instead, people construct for themselves gods they think they can control. People want the benefit of a god without the bossiness. The obvious problem with this is that a god lacking the ability to boss also lacks the ability to benefit, leaving people with the dilemma of forever striving to benefit themselves. That's what I want to zoom in on in this post.

"All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit" (Isaiah44:9). There are at least two things to observe about idols from this verse. First, idols are created in order to delight someone. People worship that which brings them delight. Second, while people think their idols will bring them delight, they provide no profit. Isaiah points out the folly of idolatry by pointing to their utter lack of ability to bless. God is sovereign over all creation. When God decides to bless, he has the ability to move Heaven and earth to bring it about. God is good. And sovereign. That combination is precious to those who know him.

Isaiah makes a similar point in chapter 41. "Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may kow that you are gods; do good, or harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you" (Is. 41d:23-24). Notice here that idols lack the characteristics we would expect from God. Isaiah is full of God's omniscience. God tells his people beforehand what is going to take place so that they know he has the sovereign control to bring it about. Not so with idols. Idols are nothing. Of course, they're something. They're just not anything like God. Isaiah taunts the makers of idols. Idols can't do good. They can't do harm. They can't do anything, because the only power they have is the power their worshipers ascribe to them. Isaiah says those who choose idols over God are an abomination and nothing - like the idols they serve.

God is the Fountain of life. The only one. There is no other who has the power and the desire to save and bless. God alone is able. God alone is willing. The Bible is full of examples of people who foolishly worship lesser things than the One who is worthy of worship. The One who is worthy of worship is the One truly able to offer delight. God alone.

Marriage has the potential to be an idol. A spouse is not a god. Yet many ascribe to their spouse characteristics of the one true God. People bring their desires to their spouse. They bring their fears to their spouse. They bring their cravings. They bring their submission. They bring their hope. They bring their love. They bring their devotion. They bring their praise. They bring their lives.

Of course people don't just offer up all these things for free. These things comes with a price tag. There is a weight to all that baggage. When we lay ourselves at the feet of our spouse, we're going to expect a blessing in return. Like Jacob in Genesis, we grasp our spouse and demand a blessing. "I've given my life to you. The least you could do is..." "How could you treat me this way after all I've done for you?" "I can't win in this relationship. I'm just not happy anymore." "Where were you? I've been worried sick." "Why did you look at her that way?" "I love you. Why don't you love me back?"

We can see the worship-like language in those rather common sentences. Perhaps we've spoken such things to our spouse, or heard someone else we know. When our marriage is an idol, we will expect it to deliver what only God can. And when our spouse cannot deliver, we wonder why. Could it be that only God can carry that load? Only God can carry the weight of our hope. Only he is sovereign. Only he is the Fountain of life, able to overflow with blessings without being needy. It grieves me to see so many couples worshiping their spouses. It makes for unhappy marriages. It steals glory from the true God. It is folly to delight in something that does not profit. Any profit that marriage can deliver will only come from the hand of the God who ordains it. And that profit will only come when our marriage isn't a competitor with God, but a servant of God.