The Dancing Puritan

Friday, August 30, 2013

More in Marriage



When I play with my daughter Abigail (almost 2 years old) she will often say more, more. When she is really having fun she can barely contain her laughter. Of course she wants more. She is excited. She is delighted. She is having fun. Wanting more is not always bad. Wanting more does not mean that she is sinfully discontent. It just means that she wants more of a good thing. It is good for a daddy and daughter to run, laugh, and play. She should say more, more.

Do you want more? Wanting more of a good thing is not wrong in and of itself. It can be wrong if when you can't have more, you pout and complain. If not having more causes you to be discontent with what is provided then that is wrong. More is extraordinary. The norm is ordinary. Surely there is a way to appreciate the norm and desire the more. There must be a way to grasp the ordinary with joy and long for the extraordinary.

I am thinking about marriage in particular. A person might approach Solomon's Song and read of perfume, apples, gazelles, vineyards, and the banqueting house and imagine that a real marriage is beyond reach. Rather than appreciating the sweet smell of fine perfume a person might read and complain of a smell of a different sort in their marriage. It is very possible to read the Song of Solomon and to grow frustrated with your daily bread. When this happens a wife complains about her husband and a husband is insensitive to his wife. Sometimes the form of marriage survives even as the heart of marriage is ripped out. Sometimes even the form is abandoned and one spouse or the other wanders into the arms of someone else. Tragedy abounds.

Frustration is, of course, not the goal of Solomon's best song. What are some more positive goals?

1.  The Song of Solomon can help you to pursue more for your marriage. Solomon presents a vision for all that marriage can be. Though marriage is not always walking through vineyards and pressing grapes to one another's lips, it is designed to be a walk together through the fields and up the mountains of life.
2. The Song of Solomon gives ideas on how to have more in your marriage. No other book either inside or outside of the Bible has helped me to cultivate creativity than Solomon's Song. I read it and I want more.

There are two big problems that all married couples face.

1. It is possible to be discontent with marriage in a sinful way. The result may be sulking, complaining, or worse. To read of the seemingly almost endless happiness of Solomon and his bride can be frustrating.

2. It is possible to be content with marriage in a sinful way. We can become content with doing the same old things, the same old ways, and never want more. We can stop dreaming, stop reaching, stop trying, stop planning, and we can shut down any creative efforts.  When this happens the cologne is dutifully splashed on and the imagination is turned off.

Discontentment can be sinful. Contentment can be sinful.

Abigail loves to sometimes just sit in my lap while I work. She always wants to run and play. When we play, she says more. Marriage is like that. There are bills to pay, dinners to cook, and math to teach. We should enjoy the ordinary. But we should dream, plan, and pursue the extraordinary. During the extraordinary times God is glorified when we say more.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Revival, Miley Cyrus, and Marriage

Revival
Our church is praying for revival.  We are asking that God would pour out His Spirit on our congregation, that he would save many lost sinners in our community, and that he would strengthen our faith to believe that He is able to do whatever He wills. We are praying for two college campuses in our area; The University of North Georgia and Truett-McConnell College.

On Campus

Last night our church was on the campus of The University of North Georgia. I had the opportunity to speak to approximately 300 students. We gave away books and cookies (sugar for the body and meat for the soul). After the event I had the opportunity to share the gospel with a couple of students. I realized a few things: 1. It is invigorating to share the gospel with students. 2. I don't share the gospel enough. 3. Students have tough questions and are looking for answers. 4. The campus is a great place to communicate truth. Would you pray for revival and awakening on our campuses?


Biblical Manhood and Womanhood


Most days I scan the news from several websites. I take a look at Fox News, The Drudge Report, CNN, and The Atlanta Journal.  It was impossible during yesterday's scan to miss the news about Miley Cyrus. It was also striking to see how many Christians posted provocative pictures of her on Facebook. Perhaps the most godly and appropriate response that I read was from Trevin Wax. His post is titled: I Weep For Miley. This picture of Miley paints a thousand words.


Our ministry, Nourished in the Word, has as a central focus, teaching and writing on godly manhood and womanhood. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stuart Scott (author of The Exemplary Husband), Martha Peace (author of The Excellent Wife), John Crotts (author of Tying the Knot Tighter), and David Birch to discuss the topic, Seeking Love in Marriage and Parenting. The result is a DVD/Download that, we think, is a useful tool for individual and small group study. The Miley Cyrus story, in part, is an illustration of a culture that has many wrong views about masculinity, femininity, sexuality, and relationships. Our ministry, in part, exists to promote a godly perspective on those subjects.

In a related note, my book, The Marriage Bed is available on Kindle today for 99 cents.


















Thursday, August 22, 2013

Shedding Tears Over Spilled Ink



Does anyone write letters?  I mean, do they write letters to friends with pen and paper? They must. Pens and paper are still sold in stores around the globe. The post office is still open (barely). Occasionally we get a hand written letter here at our home. Such a treat is rare. I had a friend tell me that whenever he gets a letter or card written with a fountain pen, he keeps it. He considers that the author of the letter must have really cared when he wrote the letter. My friend loves fountain pens and associates thoughtfulness with them.

I wear a lot of hats with my work. I am a pastor, author, itinerant preacher, and I own a bookshop. All of my jobs require writing. Most of my writing is actually typing on my 13 inch MacBook Pro.
However, I keep several journals that actually contain real paper and I use a real pen (several actually). My handwriting is not great; therefore I am considering a plan to change that. My plan: 1. Read some books on handwriting. 2. Get some workbooks to practice. 3. Write more by hand. May I insert a suggestion at this point?  To all parents, teachers, students--don't neglect the early years of learning. I was born a daydreamer. Somehow I passed my elementary classes but I missed out on a lot. It is my entire fault. I should have been listening. But I imagined, like many students today, that I would never use that school stuff. I was wrong. Learn to read. Learn to write. Learn early and keep at it.

You may wonder if I am planning to travel back in time. Well, yes I am, sort of. I have thought a lot about vision over the past several years (11 to be exact). If I am going to be a visionary person, then I must not only look forward, I must look back. Looking back is where fundamentals live. Fundamentals are the building blocks of life and are required for future success. Looking back is also a very unselfish thing to do. Think about it. The world existed before you were born. The folks who lived before you made a deposit. They sent their deposit to the history bank and you are allowed (and should be often required) to make a withdrawal. The history bank has a lot of lessons that were forged in study and by experience. Can you take a brain leap for a moment? Imagine that it is actually possible that ancient handwriting with ancient tools have something to say to MacBook Pro writers.


Now I am not saying that we need to pick up an ancient chisel and carve our messages on a rock. But what can we learn from those cave carvings? What can we learn from ancient scrolls? What can we learn from the first pen and paper scribble? Would the world have been better if our ancient forefathers had been born with a Macbook Pro and the Internet? Would the Macbook Pro exist without knowledge of rock-carvings?

We are connected multi-generationally via high technology and low technology. The low gave us the fundamentals for the high. The high gives wings to the low. Your pen and paper are ok with you using a computer and harnessing the power of the Internet. They would, however, like to be acknowledged every once in a while. And perhaps your friends would not mind being thought of beyond a quick email. They might feel better loved if they got a piece of paper from you, stained with ink.

We sell TWSBI pens and journals at our bookshop. I love their mission statement: To inspire and recapture the romanticism of art and literature…starting with the pen.

That statement indicates that the folks at TWSBI believe that something precious has been lost. They think that the pen is a key tool in the recapturing of lost territory. I think that they are right. What about you?




Monday, August 19, 2013

Losing by Winning



What does it profit an athlete if he wins the championship, is awarded the MVP, and loses his soul?

With crisper air blowing through the trees and the beginning of a new school year, excitement is in the air about sports. Yes, baseball has been going strong throughout the summer but, if the truth were told, the "favorite past time" of Americans is really just a bridge to the fall and winter sports.

I am a sports fan. Our family have many years invested in physicals, shoes, fuel and fast food. We have raised our children in gyms and on fields. Our three oldest daughters have either played or have been given the opportunity to play college sports. I have a daughter that coached girl's basketball and I have coached basketball for a number of years.

We have been to the top of the sport's mountain and down deep in the valley. We have (and do) enjoy sports, and we been fatigued by our commitment to sports. Was it worth it? Is it worth it?  I can't answer the question for you but there are some important questions that you need to ask if you are a fan, coach, or player.

1.  What place do sports occupy in your heart? One way that you know what has filled your heart is by what comes out of your mouth. What do you talk about in a given day? I know you talk about a lot of important things, necessary things, and non-sinful things. What you talk about (write about) is very revealing. It touches on what is important to you. One of the notable characteristics of spiritual revivals in history, is the conversation of folks. Jonathan Edwards writes about the change in conversation by those who were touched by revival:

 . . . all other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown by; all the conversation, in all companies and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, ulness so much was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business . . . Religion was with all sorts the great concern, and the world was a thing only by the bye. The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared to be pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances . . .There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.

2. How often do sports replace other important duties in your life? A good place to start is with the Lord's Day. When sports conflict with the Lord's Day services, which one wins out? I understand that an argument might be made for missing an occasional Lord's Day service. But do you really want your children to grow up thinking that, at the end of the day, it is better to play sports than go to church on Sunday? What about other duties? There are duties to family and friends. There are duties at home and at work. There are duties to the needy. Sometimes, during a sport's season, it seems that all that matters is sports. Duties are neglected, people are neglected, and even the worship of God is neglected in order to play or watch sports.

3.  Do you think about, talk and write about sports in an exalted way? It is easy, for sports fans, to talk and act like sports are more important than art, dance, farming, writing poetry, sewing, and than almost anything else. Do other non-sport's people people feel diminished by your attitude towards sports?

I write as one who believes that sports can be watched, enjoyed, and played to the glory of God. I am feeling the pain of not being able to afford cable television this year to watch the University of Georgia defeat the Florida Gators. I am looking forward to watching two daughters play basketball. I love to support my daughters and cheer for their teams. I write as one who believes God can be glorified in all things. I am not an opponent of sports. Yet all of us who play and watch need to ask some thoughtful questions. I have mentioned just three. I can think of others.  What questions do you think should be asked?


Saturday, August 17, 2013

So Far Away

Carole King


So far away;
Doesn't anybody stay in one place anymore?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door.
Doesn't help to know, you're just time away.

Long ago I reached for you and there you stood
Holding you again would only do me good
Oh how I wish I could but you're so far away

Carole King's album, Tapestry, is one of the most successful and important pop albums of all time. It was originally produced in 1971 and all of the songs were either written or co-written by King. Her song, So Far Away, may have been written about a break-up, but the lyrics speak powerfully to the transient nature of our society and could apply to being separated from a friend or family member. Of course when she wrote the song, people separated by even a relatively short distance, seemed to be even further apart. The ancient 70's were before Skype, email, texting and cell-phones.  Today friends that are a world away seem closer than they are, via technology. Yet, we know, that there is nothing like face to face communication with our family and friends.

Not many people remain in one place for very long, it seems. The days of living in the town of one's birth, and putting down roots in one place, and often with one job for a lifetime, are long past.  I have often wondered what the world would look like if everyone returned to the hometown of his or her childhood?  Can you imagine the radical change of landscape?

I am feeling a bit nostalgic this morning because we are about to move another daughter to college. She won't be far away in miles but it will be different here at home. She won't be just upstairs. I won't often hear her laughter or see her returning after running a few miles. Somehow, overnight, she got older. She joins her two sisters before her that have moved to the next point in their journey. And though they are still in our home, they are, in many ways, far away from the little girls that I once held. Such is life. We raise our children to live without us and hope that they will not forget us in our old age.



Long ago, I reached for you and there you stood
Holding you again could only do me good
Oh, how I wish I could
But you're so far away

One more song about movin' along the highway
I can't say much of anything that's new
But if I could only work this life out my way
I'd rather spend it being close to you

While our children are at home we reach for them, and there they are. We hold them and they (sometimes) squeeze back. Suddenly, just-like-that, they are far away. Perhaps it is college, the military, or marriage that claims them. We are glad. We want to help them start their new journey. We will be praying for and cheering them along as they travel down new highways. However, we want to hold them again, we wish that we could, but they are so far away.

Then one day they come knocking at the door. We open the door and reach out. We hold them, take the baby, and hug their spouse. They have come home, but only for a while. Soon they will again be so far away. Three little girls (thirteen years old and younger) are asleep, just a couple of rooms from where I write. Just a few days from now, it seems, I will walk into their rooms, but they will be so far away.




Thursday, August 15, 2013

26 Observations from 26 Years






Lori (my wife) is a godly woman. She is worthy, by God's grace, to be praised. Here are just a few reasons (today is our anniversary).

1. I love it that Lori did not hesitate when I asked her to marry me. She quickly forgave me for being argumentative over some trivial matter and accepted the ring. The evening improved dramatically after that. Keep short accounts and be quick to forgive one another. Learn from the past but leave it behind. When in trouble--give jewelry (just kidding).

2.  I am thankful that Lori did not give up during the hard times of our engagement. The engagement period can be stressful for various reasons (one reason it should be brief). Lori worked through tough times with me and focused on wedding plans. Be persistent in your relationship. You will be tempted to quit but don't quit. Seek the Lord and work hard.

3.  I am amazed that Lori so freely left her former life behind in 1987 to follow me to New Orleans. I had no money (nothing has changed) and no job (something I don't recommend) and was in seminary. I had nothing to offer her (but my good looks). Lori worked. God provided. Red beans and rice (and sometimes sausage) was our regular diet. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't forget to appreciate whatever meal you are provided. 

4.  I am astonished at Lori's beauty. I think that she is much more beautiful today than when we were married. She does not make an idol of her appearance but she takes care of herself. Don't let your appearance go once you get married. Love your spouse enough to look and smell good. Of course it is the "hidden person of the heart" that is of most importance but while cleaning the inside don't neglect the outside.


5.  I admire the patience of Lori. For most of our 26 years daughters have been running around the house. It is rare that Lori can even put her makeup on alone. Usually there is a little girl nearby trying to put on makeup at the same time. Remember that your children learn by watching you. That includes how to put on makeup and how to respond to children while putting on makeup.

6.  I am encouraged that Lori is my best friend. I am somewhat of a loner. Sometimes I think that I have too many responsibilities for friendship. There is not a person on the planet that I would rather spend time with than Lori. Cultivate a deepening friendship with your spouse. You will be richer, wiser, healthier, and warmer as a result. 

7.  I appreciate that Lori allows me to be alone from time-to-time.  Occasionally I feel the need to withdraw from the world, leave home, go somewhere and just think. She has always encouraged me in those pursuits. What are some things that you could do that would encourage your spouse?

8.  I am blessed that Lori believes in me. Kenny Rogers sings the rest of that song (except I don't play the guitar late into the night). Lori has followed and supported me in various enterprises over the years. Be willing to challenge your spouse if necessary but not in a discouraging manner. Be supportive if possible.

9. I like it a lot when Lori reaches for my hand when we are watching a movie together. We occasionally see an elderly couple holding hands as they are walking. Don't forget the little things like holding hands. Remember how exciting it was to reach for her hand when you were dating (and to have your hand accepted). Keep it up.

10.  I am very glad that Lori gets up early in the mornings and has as her first priority, the pursuit of God. She is an example to our family that first things must come first. Establishing priorities will help towards cultivating a godly home. Seek God first.

For the sake of space I will list 16 more reasons (without comment) that I appreciate Lori.

11. She likes to go on dates with me.
12. She loves our church.
13. She genuinly loves other people and wants to minister to them.
14. She talks to our daughters (sometimes late at night in the midst of their tears).
15. She loves being a grandmother.
16. She is a great cook.
17. She has been to Daytona Beach with me 1,000 times and stayed at the same shabby hotel most of those times without too much complaining.
18. She is a peacemaker.
19. She wishes that I would kiss her more often (which means that I don't repel her too much).
20. She cooks a hot breakfast almost every morning.
21. She is seldom depressed.
22. She does not mind that I cannot take her to Hawaii, though that is her dream vacation.
23. She is exciting to me.
24. She loves my widowed mother and helps to take care of her by calling and visiting her regularly.
25. She is an interior decorator. She has a degree in decorating and she has made our home beautiful.
26. She dresses the table beautifully for special meals.

BONUS: I love it when Lori dresses up for a date with me. I just can't take my eyes off of her.

Today is our anniversary. 26 years. 26 reasons that I love my wife. There are hundreds more.  I love Lori Rhodes. I am glad that 26 years ago she allowed me to put a ring on her finger. I still have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not dreaming. Thank you Lord!  Happy Anniversary Lori!



Thanks to Adrian Rink for giving me the idea for this post.





Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Surprising Work of God



What are we asking for when we pray for revival? Are we asking for our world to be turned upside down? Revival does not come wrapped in a neat package that contains unmitigated happiness. Revival often brings shock. During times of revival people confess their sins to one another. They pray late into the night. They weep bitter tears of repentance. They ask for forgiveness. Schedules are radically altered, relationships are changed, and church leaders lose much sleep.

When revival has come in history it has not been a result of extraordinary miracles such as wide-spread healing. It has always come as God has stirred up the ordinary means of grace with a special anointing of his Spirit. It has always been God's Word that he has used to change people, whether in seasons of revival or not. However, in revival seasons there is a renewed awakening to his Word and Spirit. 

Revival is not something that can be scheduled or conjured up by sincere people. Revival is, as Jonathan Edwards wrote, a surprising work of God. Though no one can manufacture revival, it nevertheless is something that should be prayed and worked for. A key passage of Scripture that was often employed, preceding and during revival times, is Luke 11:5-11. That passage is a foundational one on prayer. It reminds us that God is favorably disposed towards us and that he wants us to ask, seek, and knock with a sense of expectancy. God is willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him according to verse 13. 

Of course the Holy Spirit indwells all Christians from the moment that they are converted. That being the case, Christians have still understood Luke 11 to teach that they are to seek God in prayer with confidence that God will give the Holy Spirit.  What are we to make of that?

John Piper in a sermon on Luke 11 writes: 

It is no accident that Luke tells us in Luke 3:21ff that while Jesus was praying, the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. Or that the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost came as the climax of a ten-day prayer vigil. Or (in Acts 4:31) that when the church had prayed, the place where they gathered was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Prevailing prayer is the pathway to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
And lest you think God is distant from you, and inattentive to you when the Spirit tarries, listen to this encouragement. When you prevail in prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, more is happening in your life through this prevailing prayer than you would ever imagine. God waits because our prevailing is good for us. May the Lord forbid that we would lose heart and fail in the very thing needful: mighty prevailing prayer.

Yes, the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. And yet Christians are to ask God for what they need. The passage never says directly that Christians are to ask for the Holy Spirit but that they are to seek God for all of their needs. He is a Father (1,11) that desires to help his children. He teaches us to ask for our daily bread and promises to provide for our needs. The answer to our prayers is, that he not only gives what we need for physical life, but that he also fills our soul. He gives his Spirit.

During seasons of revival it seems that God displays the power of his Spirit in more emphatic ways. His Spirit is ever present and yet in revival times God works in surprising ways, by the ordinary means of preaching, prayer, repentance, witnessing, and godly fellowship. What must we do when it is not the season of revival?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

What we do when revival is not in season is continue to preach, pray, repent, worship, and witness. The season does not change our ordinary activities. We should always pray and do so expectant that God will send his Spirit. We may not ever see a wide-spread revival in our church, community, or nation. However, we know that God can send revival if he so chooses and that if and when he chooses he will send it in answer to prayer. It is a great mystery that God sovereignly does what he wants and yet he uses the prayers of his people to accomplish his purposes. Even if we never experience a widespread revival in our generation God will revive us by his Word (Psalm 119).

We are praying at our church. We are praying:

1.  For personal, family and church revival.

Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge write in their book A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir:


When they recognize that God sends revival so that his name may be praised, believers understand that no need will ever surpass their need for God himself. You can have signs and wonders, but if you don’t have God, you don’t have revival. God-centered revivals withstand the temptation to treasure the blessings of revival over the one who blesses. And what blessing is greater than God visiting his people by making his Word known and empowering them to live by it? This is what happens when God rends the heavens and comes down (Isa. 64:1). . . 


2.  For an awakening in our community, state, nation and world.

 Jonathan Edwards writes in A Narrative of Surprising Conversions:
 But wheresoever God works with power for salvation upon the minds of men, there will be some discoveries of a sense of sin, of the danger of the wrath of God, and the all-sufficiency of his Son Jesus, to relieve us under all our spiritual wants and distresses, and a hearty consent of soul to receive him in the various offices of his grace, wherein he is set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

3.  That God would increase our faith to really believe that he can change a people in an instant.


We see how easy it is for him with one turn of his hand, with one word of his mouth to awaken whole countries of stupid and sleeping sinners, and kindle divine life in their souls. Jonathan Edwards

Would you join us in praying for revival?

 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Need God When the Sun Shines



They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Psalm 107:26-28 

Lord,
So often we wait until the time of trouble to seek you and ask for your help. I want to seek you now, declare my utter helplessness without you, and ask for your help every day--sunshine or rain.


Be near, O God, in our distress.
Every need, O Lord, would you address?
Children away and children near;
Doubts within, outside there is fear.

Troubles at home,
and trials so far away.
We need you now;
We need you this day.

Come Holy Spirit and fill this place.
Bring a calmness to every face.
Open our mouths that we may sing;
As into our chaos, your peace––you bring.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Clouds and Shadows



Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them'; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2).

The young boy seldom thinks much about clouds and shadows. His eyes are fresh and alive but there are some things that he cannot see. He does notice, way off in the distance, a slight discoloration on the horizon.Yet beneath a deep blue sky and crystal clear vision he dreams, runs, plays, explores, and falls asleep.

She walks down the aisle where he is waiting. Before God and man they make their pledge. A few years later a boy and girl are running through the yard. He notices that the discoloration on the horizon has darkened a bit and has moved an inch closer. He wonders for a moment about the change in color but turns to push his little girl in her swing and then to kiss his lovely young wife.

It is his birthday. He is older but still retains much of the vigor of his youth. Laughter fills the room as his friends recount childhood, college, and marriage. It is a day to be remembered. As he waves goodbye to his friends, he notices a pain in his back. He rubs the pain, sits down, and recounts with his wife the events of the day. He glances out of a window and notices what he imagines is a cloud, still far off in the distance.

Fifty years have past. The brown hair is overcome with gray. He still runs, plays, and wrestles with his children. There are a few lines on his face but he feels good. He can't see quite as well. And yet, strangely, he can see some things better than ever before. Clouds are forming, still some miles away, and a shadow appears on the ground in the distance. His vision is clear. He moves his head from side to side. His neck feels tight, his legs are sore, and he sits down.

 Twenty-five years come-and-go in a moment. The winter winds blow. It is cold outside. The leaves have all fallen. It may snow before the day is over. The clouds will soon drape the sky. The sun is hidden from view. The man is tired. He goes to bed early. She holds his hand, touches his face, and kisses his lips. There is a brief burst of thunder before the winter storm. The winds calm, the snow gently falls, and a shadow envelopes the house. He closes his eyes. The clouds have come. Now he can see.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Captivated by Generosity

Captivated is a seldom used word. The word means to be positively captured by something or someone in a mesmerizing kind of way. When you are captivated it is difficult to shake off, from your mind, whatever it is that has captivated you. I have been captivated over the past several days by a couple of verses in the Bible.

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it (Psalm 104:25-26).

I am not so much captivated by Leviathan or the innumerable creatures that fill the sea. I read this passage to our children and reminded them that when they were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean recently that they were swimming with innumerable creatures. They were not comforted or captivated by that thought.

What captivates me is not Leviathan but God. I am captivated by the generosity of God who gives us not only what we need but what we do not need. I am unaware of any particular need in history (or present) for the Leviathan. It seems that God made that creature, in part, for the purpose of playfully splashing in the water. Leviathan obviously needed the sea to live, but the sea did not need Leviathan. God built the sea as a giant swimming pool for Leviathan's play. Are you captivated by that thought?

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart (14-15).

Think about those two verses. The livestock need grass and man needs plants for food. But does man need wine to make the heart glad or oil to make his face shine? Isn't that a big fat waste of resources? Even if you believe that the primary original purpose of wine was to help make ancient water safer, you are still stuck with one of the purposes of wine being to gladden the heart of man. This passage does not address wine as a safety or medicinal agent. It addresses it as an external stimulant to gladness.

John Calvin wrote it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry.

The same is true about oil. Are there medicinal benefits to face oil? There may be. But the passage does not deal with those sorts of benefits. It says that the purpose of oil is to make his face shine. Man needs bread to strengthen his heart (as the passage says) but he does not receive bread alone. He gets wine and oil.

I am captivated not by wine and oil but by God and his goodness. God gives not only what we need (bread) but he gives us what we do not need (wine, oil, and Leviathan). He gives us bread but not bread alone.

Do we need, in the sense of physical survival, face-oil, wine, art, sea-creatures, perfume, and jewelry? Jewelry and perfume add no necessary nutrients to the body (though both might cause the heart to beat a bit faster in certain circumstances). Lotion and lipstick do not have as primary purposes the strengthening of muscles or the reduction of body fat (though they could serve as an external inducement to run to your spouse and therefore weight loss might result). We do not need those things to survive but we cannot really live without them. We cannot really live on bread alone. We do actually need the generosity of God to really live.

When I read the Song of Solomon I see a lot of things that are not necessary for physical life (perfume, wine, henna blossoms, and lotions). I do see a lot of things that make life more interesting, sweeter, and beautiful.The rigid man has no room for wine, perfume, jewelry, art, music, and Leviathan. Since they are not necessary then he does not see them as useful. Or, he sees the abuses of such things and forbids and decries the usage of them. He cannot grasp how wine, perfume, and even creative martial intimacy can glorify God and bring real good to God's people.

How many marriages have dried up due to the absence of the non-necessities of life? Such marriages are utilitarian. Black and white  are considered sufficient in such homes. Why savor a great steak when the mega-bar down at the local feeding place will suffice?

Do you have room in your life to be captivated? I am soon to celebrate 30 years of marriage with my lovely wife. She is more to me than simply someone to co-exist with. I join Solomon in saying:

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon (SOS 4:9-11).

We do not need jewelry, fragrance, oil, spice, and nectar to survive. We can exist (temporarily) on bread alone but we cannot really live by bread alone. To really live we need the generosity of God. I am captivated by such a generous God that gave His one and only Son.




Monday, August 5, 2013

Sweet Speech


Solomon and his wife: Image Credit


What if your ordinary conversation with your spouse was recorded, the tone of your voice highlighted, your facial expressions outlined, and your attitude charted? What if an expert conducted a professional analysis of your conversation and attitude towards your spouse? What would be discovered about your marriage?

Would your conversation be characterized as thoughtful, generous, kind, respectful, and loving?  Or would it reflect something else? Would it display stinginess, frustration, dismissiveness, and a lack of love? What would you hear if someone played back a recording of a day of conversation between you and your spouse?

The speech between Solomon and his lady is instructive, encouraging, and refreshing. The way that they talk to and about one another is convicting (to those of us that have let our guard down in our ordinary talk). Their conversation is potentially life transforming for those who will listen in with intent to really hear and follow their example.

In numerous ways both Solomon and the lady are described as sweet. Their sweetness is reflected in their speech. Solomon was beloved by people because his life produced a sweet smelling aroma.  People loved him because he was generous, wise, benevolent, and creative. It is obvious throughout the Song of Solomon that people were in awe both of Solomon and his lady.

During a recent reading of The Song of Solomon I came face-to-face with a convicting question. I had to ask myself, do others look at my life and see a generous, wise, creative, kind, desirable, sweet, and pleasant life that could be compared to the best things on this earth? Others saw such things in Solomon (1:3). More importantly what does my wife see?  Does she see a generous, wise, creative, kind, desirable, sweet, and pleasant man that could be compared to beautiful things?

Could your life be compared to sweet perfume or to the best tasting wine? Do you leave behind a fresh aroma and richness when you interact with your spouse? What do you smell like? How do you taste? When you walk into a room do you bring a sense of hopefulness, joy, and big-heartiness in your conversation and demeanor? David writes:

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually (Psalm 105:4).

Your spouse is a gift from God, not to be neglected and not to be dismissed in your consideration and conversation. You have been given to your spouse as a means to bring sweetness and beauty to them.  Seek the Lord. Seek his strength. Seek his presence. Act accordingly.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

How Playing Glorifies God

Are you overwhelmed and astonished by the greatness and goodness of God? I find, that too often, I am not. Do you want to live in a deeper awareness of God? The best remedy for a distracted and anxious heart is to meditate deeply on the Psalms.

One of the awe-inspiring truths about God is that he gives us what is necessary (food, clothing, and shelter) and he gives us that which is simply designed to make us smile (wine and face oil). Psalm 104 must have been the inspiration for the children's blessing, God is great and God is good . . .

God is great!  He is very great (104:1). He is great in his clothing of splendor and majesty (1) and in his  power in creating, sustaining, and utilizing creation (3-4). God is good. He provides refreshment for thirsty and hungry animals. He created work for man to do. He gives wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man's heart (15). God gives external means that cultivates a joyful heart and a shining face.

Psalm 104 tells us that God gives wine, oil, and bread but he also gives play.

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it (26).

Leviathan, the sea creature, was created to glorify God by playing in the sea. When Leviathan splashed in the water--God smiled. If you are a dad you know what that is like, don't you? You look out of your window and see your children running and playing and you smile. Your heart is filled with happiness at the happiness of your children. You find your joy in their joy. God is the author of such an attitude. He delights when his children delight in him by using and enjoying his gifts.

Some of God's gifts have as their primary purpose the happiness of his children. Such is the case with wine. It is clear from the passage that the purpose of wine reaches beyond merely being necessary for survival. One of the reasons for wine is to gladden the heart of man. Though happiness is first of all an internal matter and is not dependent on external circumstances, God gives external means that help to cultivate internal gladness.

God is great and God is good.

A Prayer

Lord, I want to be so overwhelmed with you that I stand in amazement and with a heart of perpetual thanksgiving for your greatness displayed in creation and your goodness in providing for my needs. I desire a heart that wells up with gladness over the thought that you give to me not only what is necessary, but also that which is also designed to simply work for my gladness. It is difficult for me to fathom that you are concerned not only that I am supplied with all of my needs but that you are glorified when, like the Leviathan, I can splash in the water and play for your glory. You smile when my heart is glad in you. You provide food for me to eat and you provide the excitement of the hunt so that I can go and kill and dress the beast. You provide the skill so that my wife can then take the beast, season it, cook it, and serve it up. You dazzle me with the glorious sunrise and sunset, with the vastness of the ocean, with the energy of my children, and with the beauty of my wife.  I loathe my complaining, anxious, restless, and discontented heart.  Please forgive me. Please give me fresh eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to love, and a fresh awareness of your power and your presence. Help me to learn what it means to live for your glory when I work and when I play. My heart is heavy burdened with the cares of this life. My feet are like weights that shackle me to the ground. Let my feet dance, my voice sing, and my heart delight in your greatness and your goodness. Cleanse me, renew me, help me, and change me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

All We Are is Dust in the Wind



Grass is a mocker. You mow, feel a sense of accomplishment, and then you turn away and it needs mowing again. Grass is also a teacher. Thankfully it has a season and (for most of us at least) it does not require constant mowing. The flowers act in a similar manner. They pop up, look beautiful, delight those who watch for them, bring a sense of loveliness to the world, and then they die. Flowers fade fast.

We are like the grass and the flowers. We have a beautiful, flourishing, and energetic season but then we fade. Soon we will be gone and even the memory of us will only be a faint resemblance. Such is the life of man.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (Psalm 103:15).

Sigh.

When Psalm 103:15 is isolated it paints a bleak picture. A person is born, they have a brief season in which they flourish, and then they fade away (even from memory). When a person dies it is imagined that they will never be forgotten. Yet, as the days go by, the once vivid memory becomes sketchy and  the deceased have projected on them thoughts, attitudes, desires, and actions that are more of a caricature than a portrait of reality. They are gone, they are not coming back, and they cannot even be rightly remembered. We should all take note. Today is an opportunity to flourish but even now we are diminishing. Our stuff is diminishing with us.

But . . .

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children (17).

Psalm 103 is a call to bless the LORD and not to forget that He is a forgiving, healing, redeeming, crowning, loving, merciful, good, and compassionate God. He knows us. He knows our frailty, our fleeting moments of glory, and that we are like dust in the wind (6-16).

We are like dust but God is not. He is everlasting and His love is everlasting. When all earthly excitement fades and the shine of our youth has faded away--God remains, as does His everlasting love. This is what we must cling to when our shoulders slump, our back aches, our mind slows, and when we are cast aside as irrelevant. And though we will be forgotten on earth after we die, we are loved and remembered by God.

Today is a grass-mowing day. After all of the rains the grass is flourishing. Yet soon the cold winter's air will blow and the grass will fade. Grass is a mocker and grass is a teacher. Listen and learn.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hearing



What do you hear when a song is playing, waves are crashing, birds are singing, and children are playing? Recently I saw an old sign advertising help for hearing. It read, Sonotone: The House of Hearing. Some of us need to visit that house and learn how to better hear. We are good at opining but not as keen at hearing. We have a hard time hearing anything. There are just too many voices, even those inside of us.

Think of a recent conversation with a friend. Perhaps there was no background noise to speak of. However, you had a difficult time hearing because of all of the voices speaking inside of your head. The voices were reminding you of appointments, duties of the day, a song listened to earlier, and a thousand other things. So at the same time that a real person was talking to you a thousand voices were also vying for your attention.

And then there is the background noise of chatter, music, television, vehicles, text notices buzzing, and etc, etc. We are dull from noise and struggle to hear the main voice speaking to us. There is also the problem of preparing to speak before we properly digest what is being said to us. How often have you formed sentences in your mind at the same time someone was sharing their thoughts with you? It is hard to hear when preparing to speak.

I had a teacher in school that would have us play the silent game. The game consisted of being quiet and listening intently for five minutes. During that time we were to write down all of the sounds that we heard. The janitor down the hall, the birds outside, another class moving around, all became clear to our hearing. Her point, other than just needing some peace and quite for a few minutes, was to teach us how to hear. My teacher believed that quietness was necessary to hearing.

God instructs us to Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Knowing God requires silence sometimes. Silence is also essential in knowing children and friends. Perhaps it would be a good exercise for you to play the silent game. Pause for five minutes and just listen. You might be surprised at what you hear. God is being praised with instruments, waves crashing, as rivers clap their hands and as the hills sing for joy (Psalm 98). Do you hear them? Do you hear God being praised?  Listen and hear.