The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sick in Love

"I am sick with love." 
Song of Solomon 2:5

Lovesickness is prominent in music, books, and movies. However, those mediums usually fail to grasp what it really means to be "sick with love." The Bible, however, gets it right. It is a fascinating book that takes the careful reader by surprise. The Bible offers, The Song of Solomon (SOS), which is certainly surprising. It is surprising, in part, because even Christians, often fail to see, taste, touch, grasp, and ponder the generosity of God. Therefore, when they encounter the lavish generosity of God in the Bible, they are surprised.

God is generous to his children in all things, including marriage. Ephesians chapter five makes it clear that marriage is a portrait of the gospel. Therefore, when reading Solomon's Song it is essential to keep the big picture of marriage in view; Marriage is about Christ and His church. In Solomon's portrayal of the deep, happy, sweet, unselfish, and even giddy love between a man and his wife we should see a snapshot of the treasury of God's generosity to us in Christ.

So, why are we surprised to read of unashamed expressions of marital love in the Bible? The truth is we should be surprised not to find uninhibited displays of romantic/erotic love. Perhaps, we need to saturate ourselves more in the sweet waters of God's goodness.

Our problem with the numerous sexual expressions in SOS is partly the result of a faulty theology of sexuality. Often embedded deep within the recesses of our hearts is the idea that intimacy, even in marriage, is a sort of "guilty pleasure." Sex is perceived to be naughty and dark, even between a husband and his wife.

Marital sex that is rooted in the gospel and driven by the Scripture is not dirty. It is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Marital sex is enjoyed by employing all of our senses with our most sanctified imagination. God is glorified when we receive his gifts and enjoy them for His glory and our good, even our pleasure. God is glorified when we are "sick with love" in a SOS sort-of-way. 

Lovesickness is a good thing. Yes, there is a Nicholas Sparks' love sickness that misses the mark and that is totally unsustainable. It is a worldly kind of "love" that is dreamy, ungrounded, and unstable. It is  lustful "love" that does not require marriage. It is fleshly and wandering. It is celebrated vicariously through books, magazines, the Internet, and the theatre, but it is woefully lacking. It is lacking because, at heart, it is self-centered. Godly marital intimacy, like the gospel that drives it, is first of all directed outwards. The husband seeks to bring pleasure to his wife and the wife to her husband. And both husband and wife find delight in the pleasures of the other. When a wife works in the marriage bed for the joy of her husband, the result is that she experiences greater pleasure than if she focused on her own isolated happiness.

Biblical lovesickness is grounded in Scripture and therefore saturated in the generosity and creativity of God as displayed in the gospel. Biblical lovesickness requires one to swim in the deep waters of God's grace. It requires knowing that God gives to his children not only what they need but also what they do not need. God is generous like that.

When we get wrapped up in eating, drinking, work, and sex for the sensations that such gifts give to us, then we cannot enjoy them, as we ought. When we understand that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by working for the rapturous delight of our spouse, to the glory of God, then God will keep us "occupied with joy." (Ecclesiastes 5:20) 

The husband, who views sex from a SOS perspective, would never do anything to purposefully bring pain to his wife. No! He is totally focused on her pleasure. When he focuses on her pleasure, lovesickness is cultivated. And the result will be a heartsickness over anything that deviates from the ultimate well being of their marriage. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Victorian Marriage



Susannah Thompson first saw Charles Spurgeon when he preached in London at the New Park Street Church (NPSC), December of 1853. She was not impressed. She did not care for his appearance or his style of preaching. He came across as an overly dramatic country preacher and she was a more refined city girl. Her estimation of Charles would change.

Charles became the pastor of NPSC and he later discovered that Susannah was concerned about her spiritual life. He sent her a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. This book had profoundly influenced him (he would read it some 100 times before he died) and he saw it as an appropriate gift to give to a struggling soul. He inscribed the book: "Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in the blessed pilgrimage. From C.H. Spurgeon." At that point his only interest in Susannah was pastoral. She wrote, "He gently led me by his preaching and by his conversation, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the cross of Christ for the peace and pardon that my soul was longing for."

Their friendship deepened and on June 10, 1854, at the opening of the Crystal Palace, Charles and Susannah sat together. Until this point he had given her no indication of his feelings about her. However, that night everything changed. He pointed out to Susannah a poem, in a book by Martin Tupper, on praying for one's spouse. Charles asked Susannah if she prayed for her future husband. Spurgeon's intentions were now clear. The left their seats and took a walk around the Palace. Susannah wrote: "During that walk on that memorable day in June, I believe God Himself united our hearts in indissoluble bonds of true affection, and though we knew it not, gave us to each other forever."  Just two months later (August, 2, 1854), Charles asked Susannah to marry him. She was overcome with thanksgiving and retreated to an upper room at her grandfather's home. She wrote, "I knelt before God, and praised and thanked him with happy tears, for his great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man." It was obvious by their "loving looks, and tender tones, and clasping hands" that they were in love.

In Susannah's diary she recorded: "August 2, 1854: It is impossible to write down all that occurred this morning. I can only adore in silence the mercy of my God, and praise Him for all His benefits." Charles and Susannah Spurgeon were married at NPSC on January 8, 1856.

Though Susannah had some early challenges, related to her husband's popularity and the demands of his calling, she determined never to be an obstacle to him in his work. She writes: "It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me." Charles wrote to her, "I have served the Lord far more and never less for your sweet companionship." Susannah was a true helper for Charles and brought great encouragement to him when he struggled with doubt and depression. Often on Sunday evenings she would minister to him by reading the poems of George Herbert. She was a true helper and friend to Charles.

Though Susannah had originally been unimpressed with Charles, the Lord would knit their hearts together. Their love story is one rich in affection, deepened by affliction, and faithful to the end. It was their commitment to Scripture, faith in God, and devotion to prayer that cemented their bond together. Their letters to one another reveal the depth of their love. Charles wrote to Susannah, "I beseech you, blend your hearty prayer with mine, that two of us may be agreed and thus will you promote the usefulness and holiness and happiness of one whom you love." Charles carried many burdens and yet he had the prayers of a godly wife and her shoulder to weep upon.

In our culture where marriage has been redefined, sexual deviation is celebrated at the theatre, and people rush to the courthouse to file for divorce, the marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon is an example, worthy of imitation.

Quotes above are from:

C.H. Spurgeon, Susannah Spurgeon, and Joseph Harraod, C.H. Spurgeon's Augtobiography: Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, 4 vols, (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899-1900).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Beauty



Do you have a category for beauty in your philosophy of life; or do you see life primarily through utilitarian eyes? If you are a teenage boy then you might see food as something to be consumed as quickly as possible so that you can get ready for the next adventure. If so, then you are not thinking much about the beauty of food. You have a utilitarian view of food. Did you know that food is for smelling, tasting, appreciating, and describing? Food and eating do have utilitarian purposes but they are also about beauty.

You should care about beauty. Think about it? When you read a great book, what makes it great? Do you read primarily for entertainment? Do you read so that you can learn? Perhaps you read because someone is requiring you to read (parent, college professor).  All of the above are legitimate reasons to read. However, do you ever read a book and say when you are done, "That was a beautiful book." You can ask the same question of music, food, or even of your spouse.

What about love and marriage? How do you think about your spouse? Do you ever notice their beauty? Do you ever ask beautiful questions about them?

Think of your husband's lips. What are they for? Well, we need lips to talk correctly. We need lips to help us to eat. We need lips to properly use a straw. Tap into your romantic self for a minute and think a bit deeper.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine. (Song of Solomon 1:2).
Do you see it? Lips are for kissing! That is why God gave lips (one beautiful reason, at least).

Think about your husband's smell when he is all cleaned up and has splashed his face with aftershave and cologne. What is aftershave and cologne for anyway? To cover up odor? Because that's just what men do?
Your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out (3).
Your husband smells good so that you can savor his aroma!

Husband, have you noticed your wife's perfume lately? What's the purpose of perfume? Again, a utilitarian purpose, especially in some cultures and climates, may be to cover up unpleasant odor. However, perfume has a more sacred purpose.

While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi. (12-14)
Have you ever said to your wife, "You smell beautiful?" Have you ever considered that one reason (probably the primary reason) that she wears perfume is for you? Aha, that is a beautiful thought.

What about communication? What is its purpose? Perhaps you are the pragmatic utilitarian when it comes to speech. You talk so that things will be accomplished. One of the reasons that God gave beauty is so that it can be described with pen and lips.

Behold you are beautiful, my love; behold you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful (15-17).

Yep, you got it. One of the purposes of beauty is for poetry and song. We admire true beauty but admiration alone does not properly do justice to beauty. Real beauty must be described. Real beauty calls us to see the truth behind the facts and to talk about it. Real beauty demands a poem and a song.

My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in mild, sitting beside a full pool. His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory bedecked with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. his mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend. (5:10-16). 

Think about beauty. Write about beauty! Look beyond the utilitarian value of your spouse and see and sing about his/her beauty.

God is glorified when we use our lips for eating and when we use them for kissing and for singing.

Ray Rhodes is the president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray is married to Lori and he leads marriage retreats, Bible conferences, and other events.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Simple Pathway to Happiness

Are you on the pathway to true happiness? Biblical happiness is described by the word "blessed." (Psalm 1:1, Matthew 5:1-11) It is a happiness that is not much dependent on circumstances:
 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Sometimes the road to happiness takes you through the city of persecution. The last waters that many of us want to be swimming in are troubled waters. We don't often have the mindset of the apostle Paul who wrote, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." (Colossians 1:24) His joy was not dependent on the removal of suffering. In the midst of trials, he rejoiced.

Understanding that happiness is not dependent on the absence of conflict, what are some ways that we can keep our hearts happy in God in times of ease or trouble?

Meditation

I am not referring to the sort of empty-your-mind meditation that requires pretzel-like-positioning. What I am referencing is biblical meditation such as described by David. The blessed man is one who "delights in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." (Psalm 1:2) Meditation requires reading and internalizing the Bible and then purposefully recalling and thinking about God's Word "day and night."Meditating on Scripture does not mean that Scripture is all that you read and think about. It does mean that you can readily recall Scripture for immediate application.

Point of Application

Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, used HWLW (His Word, the Last Word) as a reminder to close out every day with Scripture. Consider HWFW (His Word, the First Word) and HWCW (His Word, the Constant Word) as well. Begin your day with Scripture (HWFW). Write down one verse on a note card and carry it with you. Refer to that card throughout the day (HWCW), and close your day with that verse (HWLW).

Music

How many hymns are on your play list? Take a look. How long did it take? It is hip in Christian circles to have an open mind about music. If you don't listen to Cash then you are not much of a thinking Christian, right? I get that and my play list includes a variety-pack of music and musicians. David said of God, He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Man will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3) Would you say that your music is of such a nature that other people could be led to trust God through your songs? The glad, joyful, and happy person comes before the Lord "with singing." (Psalm 100:2) Give it a try. Make music and singing a part of your healthy spiritual diet.

Point of Application

Purchase a copy (or several copies) of the hymnbook that your church uses. Sing hymns during family devotion times. Consider purchasing music from Sovereign Grace Music (www.sovereigngracemusic.org), Keith and Kristyn Getty (www.gettymusic.com), or (www.fernandoortega.com) for your digital player. Listen throughout the day.

Message

The happy person is one who does not "walk in the counsel of the wicked." (Psalm 1:1) I am convinced that much of the misery of miserable people is the fruit of listening to the wrong message. The godly person finds his "delight in the law of the LORD." (2)  Hearing godly counsel includes putting yourself in the pathway of biblical preaching. When the word is proclaimed there is instruction, exhortation, correction, and training (2 Timothy 4:1-3). It is essential that you regularly attend the preaching of the word at a God-centered church. It should be very rare that you miss the Lord's Day worship services.

Point of Application

In addition to being a member of a godly church where you hear preaching regularly, discipline yourself to listen to two or three sermons from the Internet each week. You can download sermons by John MacArthur, John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, and many others. Perhaps your daily commute is long enough to listen to a sermon a day. Remember the happy person is the one who listens to godly counsel.

Meeting

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) Greg Spraul, in an article on the 9marks website  writes of meeting with at least one person each day to either disciple, be discipled, or to share the gospel. We are not created to be hermits. Though we must regularly withdraw from people for prayer and study, we must develop deliberate relationships. Happiness is at stake. "Two are better than one." Ecclesiastes 4:9

Point of Application

Think of and contact a person to have a cup of coffee with this week and consider ways that you can be an encouragement to them in a discipleship way (perhaps you could read a book of the Bible together and discuss). Think of another person that you could benefit from spiritually. Set an appointment and make a list of questions for discussion. Be discipled. Think of another person that you know who needs the gospel and set up a time to share Christ with them.

Do you want to be happy? A simple pathway to happiness includes meditation, music, message, and meeting. Enjoy the journey.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Only Christ Can Satisfy


Lori and I were returning home from a day of Christmas shopping. We had just finished dinner at a popular soup and salad restaurant and I was stuffed to capacity. Our once-a-year shopping day is looked forward to by both of us. Most of our Christmas shopping is done in one day (with a little help from Amazon). We had been in the van about five minutes after dinner when suddenly I had sharp pain on the left side of my chest. It got my attention. For a moment I felt like Fred Sanford and thought, "This is the big one." Interestingly, my breathing was fine, so I had some level of confidence that I was not having a heart attack. Lori unwrapped a peppermint and gave it to me. Amazingly, after just a couple of minutes the pain subsided. It was indigestion after all and the probability increased that I would live to shop another day.

The sharp pain was not heart related but it did remind me that one day my heart will fail. Ultimately everyone dies of heart failure. The chest pain was a stark reminder that physical life cannot be counted on. But it is not just physical life that can't be trusted. Look around. A rich businessman. who once had a strong financial standing, lost his wealth. A family down the street, who once was the picture of happiness, now has a "prodigal son." You know the stories.

I spent the past two years digging into the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a honest book about the vanity of life. Vanity does not mean worthlessness, it refers to the fleeting nature of all things "under the sun." Even the best things of life are fleeting. They cannot be captured and brought to the chest in a permanent way. They leave. They blow through our hands like a puff of wind. They are here today, gone tomorrow.

Solomon knew it. He tried everything. He built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, and parks. He surrounded himself with people who answered to his every command. He collected silver and gold and was renowned around the world. He collected musicians, music, wine, and women (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). His conclusion: Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:11).

The problem for Solomon was not that he possessed silver and gold. The problem was that the good life possessed him. He knew that gifts were to be enjoyed as from God. He learned that good gifts make terrible gods. It is a lesson that all of us need to learn. Anything or anyone can be worshipped.

It is challenging to grow older and to see the remnants of youth fading away. The world is strewn with men my age who are constantly grasping for their glory years (which probably were not as glorious as they are now romanticized to be). Such men often do foolish things. Sometimes they abandon the "wife of their youth" in search for that pretty-little-thing across town. In their vain attempt to show themselves strong they become pitiful in their attempts to be young again. You have seen them. You have felt sorry for them and for those who have felt the impact of their wind chasing. Hollywood is an example. It is plastered across grocery store magazine covers. Hollywood is a lie. Take a look behind the face lifts and multiple marriages that are draped in fine clothes and flashy smiles.You don't have to look very hard to see the utter emptiness of life without God.

Our family went to the local mall the day after Christmas to exchange imperfect gifts. The parking lot was beyond capacity. Christmas Day brought gifts that were not quite right so we rushed to the stores to make them right, knowing full well that the replacements will soon be broken or out of style. The problem is not with shoes, shirts, tech, and movies. The problem is much deeper. Once again, millions of people tried to capture the wind on Christmas morning. They looked to the gifts and overlooked the baby. They didn't know or they failed to remember that all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16). The wind is refreshing but it cannot be captured. It is time to stop chasing the wind and find the meaning of life in the one whom "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." (1:19). Let the next chest pain, sick child, lost business venture, and even your next success remind you of what really matters.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shadow Chasing and Christmas



Many of us are chasing shadows and never feel the warm breath that pushes forth from living lungs. It is easy to miss the truth in the midst of consuming shadows. But it is there, in the eyes and behind the eyes of those who are being remade in the image of God.

That the mansion is broken-down is obvious by its warts, failures, and blemishes. Rather than dealing with the brokenness it is easier to look away, to chase after shadows, and never really embrace truth, purity, and reality. 

Christmas decorations are storytellers. For the person whose heart strays from God, decorations are a vain attempt to dress up a mirage, to hope against hope that a shadow will bring warmth. However, like a virtual fireplace, a mirage lacks oxygen. For the person who loves God decorations are flowers planted in good soil, they indicate reality, a deep reality with a beating heart.

Think about Christmas shopping. Do you shop from real hope? Or do you hope in your shopping? What about your decorating? Do you decorate from hope or do you look for hope in the decorations? Does the decorated tree cheer your heart? It might, for a moment. Or does the cheer in your heart result in a beautifully decorated tree?

Lost by those who get tangled up in heated debates about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Christmas holiday, is a real understanding of joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote a letter on August 19th, 1945 to a Mrs. Ellis. This letter was recently discovered in a secondhand book. In this letter Lewis describes his view of joy:
It shocks one awake when the other (pleasure) puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me. (From The Guardian).
Did you catch it? Lewis wrote, "one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure." That’s it, you know. Pleasure is the shadow that many a lost soul is chasing, except it is a bit more tangible than a shadow. Pleasure can be brought to the breast and held for a moment but it will ultimately bring drowsiness and sleep. In the end pleasure is a shadow that flees so that it can refuel and be chased again. Every captured moment of pleasure always runs out of gass.  If you look for pleasure to cheer your heart, then your heart will feel cheered for a moment but soon the cheer seeps out like a punctured balloon, and you are left flat. 

The problem is in seeking pleasure rather than joy. Joy is weighty, substantive, and real.

Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: "You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness." We are often enchanted by worldliness and imagine that shadow-collecting, with all of its pleasures, is what we were made for.

What were we made for?
For by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16). 
The "him" above is Christ. We were created by and for Christ. It’s all about Christ. He is the source of our joy. When we know him, and find our joy in him alone, then we can rejoice in him and enjoy his good gifts to us without thinking that we deserve better than we are getting. Grace abounds because God sent his Son to rescue sinners. From that base-line truth we can look into the eyes of our tired spouse, challenging children, and difficult boss and engage them with love and hope. Why? Because we have seen, touched, tasted, and embraced the reality. We can also look at a world drowning in Christmas chaos and decorate a tree from joy and not for joy.

Seeking pleasure outside of the boundary of Scripture is grabbing for the wind. Yes, there is a refreshing puff of air that brings giddiness for a moment but the thrill will soon pass. Moses knew that, rejected the "fleeting pleasures of sin," and chose Christ.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. (Hebrews 11: 24-28) 


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving and Contentment



Are you in the school of contentment? The Apostle Paul suffered much in his ministry. He was imprisoned, beaten multiple times, stoned, shipwrecked, and faced a variety of dangers. Sometimes he was hungry and thirsty. Paul also carried on his grace-strengthened-back the pressures of caring for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:16-28).  Yet, even with his troubles, he was able to say:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to aboutnd. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger and abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13).

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599–1646) was a faithful preacher of the gospel and a prolific writer. He suffered much in his ministry. A wonderful book that came from his pen is The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. One of the chapters is titled, "Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring." In the first heading of this chapter Burroughs writes, "To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and more abundant the mercy that we enjoy, the greater and viler is the sin of murmuring."  He encourages his readers to call to mind the great mercies of God and weigh those mercies beside one's sufferings. He then offers an objection and an answer:

Objection: 

"You will say, yes, but you do not know what our afflictions are; our afflictions are such as you do not conceive of because you do not feel them."

Answer:
Though I cannot know what your afflictions are, yet I know what your mercies are, and I know that they are so great that I am sure there can be no afflictions in the world as great as the mercies that you have. If it were only this mercy that you have this day of grace and salvation continued to you: it is a greater mercy than any affliction. That you have the grace and salvation that you are not now in hell, is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospel still in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is a greater mercy than your afflictions . . . .

Burroughs continues on with this line of Biblical reasoning and quotes passages from both the Old and New Testaments. It is important to note that Burroughs did not write from a bed of ease but he personally experienced much suffering in his ministry.

What about you?

Giving thanks to God is not dependent on one's personal comfort and earthly satisfaction. Just as Paul learned contentment  in both times of plenty and times of poverty, he also learned to be thankful. A person who has found his contentment in Christ will necessarily be a thankful person. When Paul writes, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" he is saying that he can do all things with contentment through Christ. He was confident that regardless of his circumstances that he could be content, because of Jesus. Since that was true of Paul, it should be true of you.

Pay attention in the School of Contentment and learn to be increasingly thankful.

The above is adapted from Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season by Ray Rhodes.

The section on Jermiah Burroughs is from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment published by The Banner of Truth.