Tuesday, December 18, 2007

This Aint Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

When Sinners Say "I Do"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Noel "the Heavenly-minded" Piper

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

Friday, December 7, 2007

To Test or Not to Test

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

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

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