The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The New Spirituality

This material below is adapted from a paper that I presented for a class at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Links to the sources that I reflected on (by David Wells, Michael Horton, and Peter Jones) are below.

Michael Horton
David Wells
Peter R. Jones



The Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes, “ . . . there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9 ESV). That verse is applicable to theological and philosophical error. Error has been raising its ugly head ever since the Serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It comes repackaged for every generation and is wrapped in colorful ribbon. Though there are differences in the kinds of error and the way that they are described, there are fundamental similarities.

One of the points that Michael Horton, Peter R. Jones, and David F. Wells all make concerns the lack of regard for a God “outside of us” (Horton). Horton made the observation that the new spirituality is reflected in the idea that there is no need for an external God or for an external source of authority. What is valued is an “intuitive, direct, or immediate knowledge set against the historically mediated form of knowledge” (Horton).  This perspective is very different from the New Testament writers, the Church Fathers, and the Protestant Reformers. They believed in an external and absolute authority found in God and the Bible.

The adherents of the new spirituality are not interested in external constraints or absolute authority. Their focus is self-centered and inward. David Wells calls the new spirituality “The Invisible Religion” and points out its inward rather than outward nature. He cites a survey that indicates “56% of Americans who say that in life’s crisis they look to themselves for answers rather than to an outside presence like God (as he has been traditionally understood).”

Each of the articles, in one way or another, demonstrates that what is often referred to as spirituality is, in essence, a mixture of various philosophical beliefs. It would be inaccurate to call the beliefs a “system” because anything smacking of systematics is recoiled against. Horton quotes Curtis White:

We would prefer to be left alone, warmed by our beliefs-that-make-no-sense, whether they are the quotidian platitudes of ordinary Americans, the magical thinking of evangelicals, the mystical thinking of New Age Gnostics, the teary-eyed patriotism of social conservatives, or the perfervid loyalty of the rich to their free-market Mammon. We are thus the congregation of the Church of the Infinitely Fractured, splendidly alone together. And apparently that's how we like it. Our pluralism of belief says both to ourselves and to others, 'Keep your distance.' And yet isn't this all strangely familiar? Aren't these all the false gods that Isaiah and Jeremiah confronted, the cults of the 'hot air gods'? The gods that couldn't scare birds from a cucumber patch? Belief of every kind and cult, self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement of every degree, all flourish. And yet God is abandoned. (4)
I often hear professing Christians expounding what is, in essence, a hodgepodge of religious speak that is blended and called Christianity. It is not that unusual to find, in one person, mystical, patriotic, evangelical, and politically conservative ideas all blended into a loaf of what is presumed to be Christian faith. The lack of discernment is staggering.

The blending of various religious thought is a problem in many churches and among numerous Christians. Some of this blended thought has come via popular books such as The Shack by William P. Young and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In The Jesus Calling the author imagines Jesus speaking directly to individuals. She creates the words that Jesus uses. She seems to believe that the words she writes are actually the words of Jesus.

Tim Challies gives a thought provoking review of The Shack and deals with the issue of revelation. Challies writes:
There are few doctrines more important to Christian living than this one—understanding how it is that God chooses to communicate with human beings. Though the Bible teaches that Scripture is the “norming norm,” many Christians give precedence to other supposed forms of revelation, and particularly promptings, leadings and “still, small voices.” Sure enough, such an emphasis is seen clearly in The Shack. How will we hear from God in day-to-day life (away from the miraculous shack)? “You will learn to hear my thoughts in yours,” says Sarayu. “Of course you will make mistakes; everybody makes mistakes, but you will begin to better recognize my voice as we continue to grow our relationship.” And where will we find the Spirit? “You might see me in a piece of art, or music, or silence, or through people, or in Creation, or in your joy and sorrow. My ability to communicate is limitless, living and transforming, and it will always be tuned to Papa’s goodness and love. And you will hear and see me in the Bible in fresh ways. Just don’t look for rules and principles; look for relationship—a way of coming to be with us.” (Tim Challies: http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young)
Herein is the problem of modern-day spirituality that is divorced from foundational Scriptural teaching. When spirituality is not tethered to the Bible then it flies in the wind like a kite that has no one holding the string. For a time the kite may seem to be happily free from the controls of its owner. However, it is not long before the kite comes crashing down. When spirituality is detached from God as revealed in Scripture then, though it may seem unencumbered and free, it is in reality headed for a certain crash.

Horton writes:
In the American Religion, as in ancient Gnosticism, there is almost no sense of God's difference from us-in other words, his majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness. God is my buddy or my inmost experience, or the power-source for living my best life now. God is not strange (i.e., holy)-and is certainly not a judge. He does not evoke fear, awe, or a sense of terrifying and disorienting beauty. Furthermore, all the focus on making atonement through a bloody sacrifice seems crude and unspiritual to Gnostics when, after all, the point of salvation is to escape the physical realm. All of this is too "Jewish," according to Gnostics from Marcion to Schleiermacher to the "Re-Imagining Conference" of mainline Protestant leaders (especially radical feminists) who explicitly appealed to Gnosticism in their screeds against "men hanging on crosses with blood dripping and all that gory stuff." The god of Gnosticism is not the one before whom Isaiah said, "Woe to me, for I am undone!" or Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." To borrow a nice phrase from William Placher, it represents "the domestication of transcendence." God is no longer a problem for us.
One way that Horton’s analysis shows up in “the American Religion” is in the area of “Christian” music. A cursory listen to a popular Christian radio station will reveal a lack of emphasis on the “majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness” of God.

The same is too often true in Christian writing. With a plethora of self-help books on the shelves of Christian bookstores, titles that focus on the character of God are at a minimum. As I write this paper, two of the bestselling titles include: Breakout by Joel Osteen and Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. Breakout promises to give readers “5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life.” It is not unusual to find popular titles that are focused more on extra-biblical experiences than they are on the clear teaching of the Bible. One such example is Heaven is For Real. The website, heavenisforreal.net has this description of the book:
Heaven Is for Real is the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery. He talked about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. In heaven, Colton met his miscarried sister whom no one ever had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He shared impossible-to-know details about each. Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.
The first problem with the description of Heaven is For Real is that it claims to be a true story. How does one know that it is a true story? The adherent to the new spirituality might surmise that it is true because the four-year old boy “experienced heaven during emergency surgery.” There is no objective standard of truth, just the testimony of a four-year old during surgery. There is no mention of Scripture in this description. The young boy, Colton, was able to see his surgery as it was happening. He was able to meet “his miscarried sister whom no one had told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born.” The confirming evidence of the trustworthiness of Colton’s story is that he was able to describe things about his miscarried sister and his great-grandfather that no one had ever told him about. The entire travel-to-heaven story is believed to be true because a boy had an experience and told stories about dead relatives that he had never met. Now, that is a fascinating story. And perhaps the boy had some sort of experience. Perhaps he had a vision/dream and perhaps in that vision/dream he did see an image of his late great-grandfather. We simply do not know, nor can we know. Yet a testimony is believed because it testifies of an experience. Experience trumps objective truth.

The problems with such a story are evident. The story serves as an illustration of spirituality in our modern age. People are encouraged to look within themselves for answers. The old forms of worship (creed, catechisms, confessions, liturgies) are jettisoned for more personal experiences with God.
David Wells writes, “It is quite apparent that the new spirituality is practicing what has become one of the norms of the postmodern world, that is—the belief that each person must be allowed one’s own private space within which one has the freedom to define reality for oneself and set one’s own rules.”

Michael Horton notes:
While Luther, Calvin, and their heirs sought to reform the church, the more radical Protestant movements have often seen the church as an obstacle to the individual's personal relationship with God. (Evangelical George Barna, a guru of the church growth movement, has recently written three books arguing that the era of the local church is over, soon to be replaced by Internet resources for personal piety.) Where the Reformers pointed to the external ministry of the church, centering on Word and sacrament, as the place where God promised to meet his people, "enthusiasm" was suspicious of everything external. Similarly, Quakers gave up the formal ministry, including preaching and sacrament, in favor of group sharing of personal revelations. Even when evangelicals retain these public means appointed by Christ, they often become assimilated to self-expression and techniques for self-trans-formation: means of our experience and activity more than God's means of grace. Ultimately, it's what I do alone with God that matters, not what God does for me together with his covenant people through public, earthly, material means that he has appointed.
The way ahead begins by looking back to biblical teaching on authority. The Bible is to be the Christian’s “only rule of faith and practice.” Yet the Bible is proclaimed in the context of community. That community is the church. As Horton reminds us, Luther and Calvin focused on church reform. They saw external structures not as an enemy but as the will of God. They looked to the “Word and sacrament, as the place where God promised to meet his people.” The errant spirituality of their day “was suspicious of everything external.”

Conclusion

The new spirituality is similar to the old spirituality in many ways. Both are overly reflective, suspicious of external forms, enamored with experience, and untethered from objective truth. It is common in the modern church to encounter God via experience rather than preaching. Music, drama, and various kinds of entertainment have encroached upon the preaching ministry at many churches. Experience rules as objective truth is subjected to the whims of congregants.

The way ahead for the Christian includes a reaffirmation of the Bible as the infallible revelation of God. God, the author of Scripture, is the one to whom every Christian must bow. His honor and his will reign supreme. Biblical preaching must be returned to the pulpit and be joined by God-centered congregational singing. Biblical theology must be stationed at the doors of the church as a protector from the new spirituality. Christians must be encouraged to read, study, learn, meditate upon, and apply the Bible. They must learn discernment. Objective truth must inform subjective experiences. This is not to dismiss the subjective or remove emotions from congregational worship. It is to ground the affections, inform the emotions, and set the heart to singing. The result is a freedom that is wise, godly, and can fly protected because it is tethered to truth.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Sound of Silence



Silence is a rare commodity. Are we afraid of simply being quiet? Everywhere there is chatter, noise and manufactured sounds. Everyone must speak. Everyone has an opinion that must be shared, even in worship.

We rightly think of worship as involving noise. After all, Israel's hymnbook calls worshippers to "Make a joyful noise" (Psalm 100). Throughout the Psalms, loud instruments are commissioned for service to the great King. Worship should be noisy. Worshippers are to sing to God and to one another.

And yet there is another side of worship, one that seems to be often forgotten in our busy and noisy world. It is, to borrow Simon and Garfunkel's title, The Sound of Silence.

Iain Provan, in The New Application Commentary, draws attention to the fact that God called on Israel to hear him. For example, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). The command was not first of all, "Speak, O Israel."

Constant speaking characterizes a fool. The godly person will speak: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them . . ." (Malachi 3:16).  The godly person also knows how to listen: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19).

Congregational gatherings, for the purpose of worshipping God, will involve music, singing, encouraging speech, and fervent preaching. They should also be noted by silence, of a certain sort.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2).
Imagine being in the presence of a very wise, interesting, and noted scholar. You are excited and anxious to hear what this wise teacher has to say. He speaks and you hang on every word. However, there is a person in your group (not an expert on the topic at hand) who keeps interjecting his thoughts and opinions into the air.  He is not asking honest and thoughtful questions. He is just breathing out his viewpoints on a subject that he knows little about. Such a scenario is frustrating. You just want the person to be quiet so that you can hear the expert.

When you gather to worship, the all-wise God must be the centerpiece. You have gathered to worship God. You have come to "the house of God" to hear from the omniscient God. There is a time to talk, to sing, and to pray. But there must also be a large chunk of time for silence. Part of that silence will be listening to the sermon with great interest and intent. In biblical preaching, God's Word is proclaimed. God speaks. We listen.

After the sermon the Pastor may ask the congregation to close their eyes and meditate on the message just proclaimed. In these cases, silence is golden. Too often worship leaders give the light-hearted impression that "we've got a groovey thing going." God wants us to remember that He "is in heaven" and that we "are on earth" as we worship. Such remembrance may not encourage grooviness but it will encourage worship.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Killing Friendship

We are a fractured society. Though we are well-connected virtually we are not so much so personally. How many of your virtual friends would actually show up if you needed them? Friendship is more than simply having someone who will show up in an emergency. There are lots of folks who will do that, they are just a 911 phone-call away. Certainly a true friend will be a friend in an emergency but true friends are more than emergency friends. True friends are day-to-day blood-brothers (or sisters).
C.S. Lewis and his friends
The mark of Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. C.S. Lewis 
There are numerous studies that indicate friendship is on the decline.

In 2006 the Seattle Times reported:
Americans, who shocked pollsters in 1985 when they said they had only three close friends, today say they have just two. And the number who say they have no one to discuss important matters with has doubled to 1 in 4, according to a nationwide survey released today. Link

C.S. Lewis argued in The Four Loves that friendship is not considered necessary for survival, and that is one reason it is not properly valued.

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. C.S. Lewis

The problem is not new, though there have been times in history when friendship was more valued.

Ecclesiastes 4 gives evidence of at least four friendship-killers.

Oppression (1).

The oppressor is in power and uses his power for selfish gain. He might be in power politically or religiously. He may be the family patriarch or matriarch. He has gained the upper hand and uses his position to press another person under his thumb. The husband who has a wrong-headed view of his authority in the home may oppress his wife into an unhappy submission.


Envy (4).

Gore Vidal
When a person is envious of his neighbor, the possibility of friendship is destroyed. How can the command to love our neighbor be fulfilled when we envy him? The envious person has no ability to rejoice over his neighbor's success or to weep over his loss. He views his neighbor as a competitor, not as a friend to be loved, helped, and treasured. Three quotes by the famous, controversial and prolific author Gore Vidal (October 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012) will illustrate:


Envy is the central fact of American life.

 It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

Laziness (5).

Friendship, like a garden, requires cultivation. Sometimes what is required is as simple as a phone call. At other times it may require a meeting, at an inopportune time, at the coffee shop. Occasionally it may call for money. Friendships can be hard. Charles Spurgeon wrote, "Set a stout heart to a stiff hill, and the wagon will get to the top of it." The same counsel is applicable to the challenges of friendship. When there is a hill of difficulty to climb then "set a stout heart" to the hill.
We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work. Thomas Edison
Workaholism (7).

Hard work is a virtue. However, there is a kind of work that is sinful and that kills friendships. David, in Psalm 127, speaks of work that grows out of "anxious toil." Meaning that some people work out of fear and due to a lack of faith. Ecclesiastes mentions another kind of sinful worker. He works because "his eyes are never satisfied."
One explanation for friendship's decline is that adults are working longer hours and socializing less. That includes women, who when homemakers tended to have strong community networks.   Seattle Times 

There are many other ways that friendship is killed. Gossip, neglect, deceit, and disloyalty are all friendship killers.

The Bible indicates that we need friendship. "Then the LORD God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him'" (Genesis 2:18). The first application of that pronouncement is marriage. God created marriage as a primary means of providing for man's need of human companionship. However, marriage is not the only solution. It is a primary solution for most people. Yet God has also provided the opportunity for friendship. The benefits of friendship include comfort, productivity, help, warmth, and protection (among other things).

The bottom line is, don't kill friendships! Invest. Cultivate.

Where does it all begin? It begins by being reconciled to God through faith in Christ (Romans 5:6-11).


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reading With Your Spouse




What are some of the positive things that happen when you pick up a good book (not People as pictured) and read with your spouse?


1. You spend time together in a meaningful activity.

    Marriage is a great adventure in discovery. When a couple says, "I do" they are making a commitment to one another. Often neither one knows much about the other while the wedding bells are chiming. They begin a journey of discovery. Discovery requires time. Every day you and your spouse make choices that impact the degree (or lack thereof) of interaction with one another. What is one meaningful way that you can engage your spouse on a regular basis? Read to them and listen as they read to you.

2. You hear your beloved's voice.
     
    Think back to when you were first getting to know that wonderful person to whom you are now married. Didn't you enjoy hearing their voice? Over the years, if you are not diligent, you may emotionally drift apart. But what if you could find your voice again? What if you could rediscover their voice?

The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills…My beloved speaks and says to me: 'Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away . . . . O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely (Song of Solomon 2:8,10,14).

When you read together you get to hear, and perhaps rediscover the voice of your spouse.

3. You learn from or simply enjoy the book.

     In one sense all reading is instructive. For example, you might learn how a book should not be written. Don't think of reading as a how-to-do activity. Good books have a way of encouraging activity without directly telling us to be active. C.S. Lewis writes about worship in a similar way:

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it 'works' best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance.”
  
C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

4. If the book is not that interesting, then you may fall asleep together. 

     This is better than one person falling asleep in front of the television in a different room.

     Certain books may send you into a slumber. Isn't it a good thing to fall asleep with your spouse at the same time and in the same place? There are a lot of good books available that will capture your imagination. You don't have to linger long over a bad book.

5. You vocabulary is expanded and points for conversation and writing are cultivated.

    Many couples are at a loss for words when it comes to engaging conversation. Part of this is the wear-and-tear of life over the years. It is easy to just get tired, stop learning, and clam up. Communication takes energy and many folks are just drained. Reading will stir your imagination, increase your vocabulary, and enhance your conversation.

     My wife and I were visiting my daughter and her husband recently. We noticed that they had about twenty words written on a chalk board in their kitchen. Some of the words were circled. They are learning new words and freshening up familiar words for use in their communication with one another (especially letter writing). That is a fantastic idea!
     

6. You participate in an activity that many people throughout history have enjoyed.

     Charles and Susannah Spurgeon were avid readers. Charles loved for Susannah to read to him. Often she would read a selection from one of the Puritans. On Sunday evenings when Charles was weary, Susannah would read to him from the poetry of George Herbert.  Her voice, reading the poetry of Herbert, was a soothing balm to Charles.

Interestingly the first gift that Charles gave to Susannah (prior to their engagement) was a copy of Pilgrim's Progress and the first gift that she gave to him was a complete set of Calvin's Commentaries.

Two months before asking Susannah to marry him, Charles had her read a section from Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy.
Seek a good wife from thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence;Yet ask not in bold confidence that which He hath not promised;Thou knowest not His good will: be thy prayer then submissive thereunto,And leave thy petition to His mercy, assured that He will deal well with thee.If thou art to have a wife of thy youth, she is now living on the Earth;Therefore think of her, and pray for her weal
He then asked her, "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?"

The rest is history. Read all about it in one of the many biographies of Spurgeon. Better yet, read a Spurgeon biography with your spouse.


     


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Love and Life Together



It might have been easier, had love never broken the exterior; if like a rock skipping across the water, we had only lived on the surface in a tidy and comfortable romance. If we had embraced the smiles and fought the tears, it might have been easier.

Yet easier, it has not been. We have felt the plow turn the ground and break our hearts. The laughs have been mingled with salty tears.

When we started this journey, we didn't know. People told us of trials to come, but we could not really see them, until we tasted them. We did not think much about going to bed angry, hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned. Seldom did we imagine a life where the rocks didn't simply skip from one happiness to the next.

How can I forget the week that my heart was ripped out? You came home as the week ended. There was nothing that I could say, but you let me draw near to you. Friends had disappeared. A million smiles could not fix me. Your arms got me through. 

Then there was the day, now chiseled deep on our hearts. We called the children to our room. They found a place on the bed. We shared with them a hard story of loss. The news was familiar, but this time it penetrated deeper. We cried, we prayed, we held each other. It was not easy.

What could have prepared us for that season--when we seldom could enjoy one another's company? The days ran into weeks. We will never forget the drops of grace that sustained us. A meal proved to be the bread of life.  It was not easy.

But we have held our babies. We have retreated to quiet places. The waters of the beach have tickled our toes. The songs of an old hymn have squeezed out the tears and then taken us to the heavens. We have known the grace of God. His grace was there when the flowers wilted and it surrounded us when roses covered the meadow.

It is often so noisy. There is seldom a quiet place. It is not easy. But when we reflect, how we love the noise. The smells, the colors, the chatter, the music, the requests, and the appointments. Even the unfolded laundry--reminds us of our life together--still unfinished, still wrinkled-- but cemented with love and strengthened by challenges.

It could have been easier. But then, no faith would have been required. And we would not have known the love that we now know. What if our path had not been redirected on that day when we were imagining a time with just the two of us? What if the nest had soon emptied and the birds left for new lands? It would have been much easier. 

And now at night, I pull you close. We keep each other warm. It would be cold, had it been easy. We are close. And through the walls and up the stairs our precious ones rest. It is not easy for them either. They have walked and will travel rocky and lonely roads. It won't be easy, but they will love. They are loved. 

Stay close. Easy is not all that it is cracked up to be. 

Happy Valentine's Day





Friday, February 14, 2014

Marriage: The Place for Old and New Delights




As I think of my dear wife on this day, February 14, 2014, my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe (Psalm 44:1).

Our marriage is not the ultimate thing, Christ is! Our marriage is a drama that points to Christ and his great love for his people. As Christ delights in his people, so I delight in my beloved. Yet my beloved and our marriage must not be allowed, to become ultimate. If they are, God is dishonored and joy is lost.

My marriage is about another marriage; it is about the marriage of Christ and the church. The truth that our marriage is not first of all about our marriage, in no way lessens our joy, lessens our romance, lessens our intimacy, or lessens the delights of our marriage in any way. It is just the opposite. Knowing that our marriage is about Christ and the church strengthens, fuels, enables, and fills up our marriage with hope and with vision. To think that our humble little marriage has been designed by God to be a giant arrow that points people to Christ is staggering. 

Today as I think of the beauty, glory, and princess-regality of my friend, I see a greater glory. I see the church, as a princess, led to the King. I see a great wedding hall filled with joy, gladness, music, and hope. 

How should this impact the day-to-day relationship with my wife?

As Christ delights in his church, I am to delight in my wife. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:16).  

As Christ desires to hear from his people, I am to delight in the voice of my wife. "O you who dwell in the gardens, with companions listening for your voice; let me hear it" (Song of Solomon 8:13). 

As Christ has a particular love for his people, I am to desire my wife in an exclusive way. "I am my beloved's and his desire is for me" (Song of Solomon 7:10).

As Christ has given his life for his church, I get to give my life for my wife. "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . ." (Ephesians 5:25).

Christ has delighted in me. Why would I choose to not delight in my wife? Christ, the King of Glory, desires to hear my voice in prayer. Why would I choose to close my ears to my wife? Christ has set his particular love on his church. Why would I choose to act in a non-exclusive way towards my wife? Christ gave his life for his enemies? Why would I choose not to love my friend in an exclusive way?

Understanding the ultimate purpose of marriage strengthens every joy in marriage.

When a husband and wife refuse to make their marriage the ultimate thing and choose to embrace the purpose of marriage then they are able to say:

The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved (Song of Solomon 7:13).

The gospel-saturated marriage is a banqueting table that is filled with choice fruits. Old delights are rekindled and enjoyed again. New delights spring up from creative hearts, bathed in grace.   

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Beautiful, Frightful, and Glorious Scene



Outside of my window the snow drapes the evergreens, outlines the maples, and covers the ground. At the same moment, the scene is beautiful and frightening. I am warm and blessed with my books, pens, paper, blanket, coffee, and a truckload of opportunities. My beloved Lori sits at the kitchen table reading the Bible, praying, and journaling. The children are asleep and the house is quiet.

And I am here writing as I gaze upon the picturesque scene that points to greatness of God and the beauty of Christ.

May the King of Glory receive glory from his people today. May those who have been spared the suffering of this storm, embrace his mercy. May those who suffer today see in Christ a ready comforter. May we all see that, as the snow drapes the landscape, one-day righteousness will cover the earth. The King of Righteousness will return. Angels will surround him as he comes to receive his white-dressed bride.

Let us not wait to give our hearts to him. He is right now, the King of Glory and worthy of all praise.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My Beloved, My Friend

If you are married then there your spouse is to be your darling and your friend. The woman in Song of Solomon said of her husband, "This is my beloved and this is my friend" (5:16).

The word "beloved" is often used in Solomon's Song. The lady couples it with "my" and so she says, "my beloved." She is thinking in an exclusive way towards her husband. He is the one that she loves. He has her particular devotion. "Beloved" could be loosely translated as "darling." He is her darling. The word overflows with the tone of intimacy. She has already said of him:

As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow and his fruit was sweet to my taste (2:3).

Sure, the forest is filled with nice, strong, necessary, and helpful trees. However they are mere trees in comparison to her man who is an apple tree. He is her darling, the one that she loves, her beloved.

The second descriptor of her husband is "friend" (5:16). Do you think of your spouse as your friend?  The Bible has much to say about friendship.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him--a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12).

This passage is not specifically about marriage, though marriage certainly applies. It does cue us in to several important truths about friendship.

It is not good for man to be alone. 

Though the first usage of those words concern marriage (Genesis 2:18), they obviously have a wider application. Notice, "But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!"
The context is not marriage and yet, woe to him who is alone . . ." That is just another way of saying, "It is not good for man to be alone."

Today in Georgia we are in the midst of a major Winter Storm. Thousands of people have already lost electricity. Many of them are all alone without anyone to help them. They need a friend.

Not all people are called to marriage but all people are called to friendship. All married couples are to be friends, intimate companions. The passage in Ecclesiastes is instructive to all friendships, including marriage.

What are some of the advantages that true heart-to-heart and face-to-face friends enjoy?

1. Working together, they are more likely to find success (9).
2. If one takes a fall, the other will lift him up (10). The lifting up could be physical or emotional. It includes encouragement.
3. Two are able to keep warm. This is literally true, when the husband snuggles up close to his wife. It also if emotionally true. It is the husbands job to keep his wife warm (see Ephesians 5).
4. There is protection. If you disconnect the cords from a threefold cord, then it is significantly weakened. However, a threefold cord is strong and is not easily broken.

When the lady of Song of Solomon calls her "beloved" her "friend" she is saying that they help one another to succeed, they encourage one another, they keep one another warm, and they protect one another.

Why? Because he is her beloved and she is his beloved.

Apply these thoughts to your marriage.  Do you view your spouse as your darling? Do you use terms of endearment in your communication to and about them?  Do you view your beloved as your friend?

Are you working for the success of your spouse? Does your beloved think of you as an encouraging partner? Do you work to keep your friend warm? Do you protect your darling, their reputation, their physical needs, and their spiritual struggles?

It is easy forget that the person that we are joined to in the covenant relationship of marriage, is our beloved and our friend. Remember!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Behold



Every woman in the world would be delighted to hear from her man, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, you are beautiful" (Song of Solomon 4:1). Think of that sentence from Solomon's Song. It overflows with sweetness.

Behold--the word communicates a sense of being awe-struck. My mind races to many an old movie where a man arrives at the home of a lady to pick her up for a formal event. Nervously he knocks on the door. Her father opens the door, looks him over, and then invites him inside. The girl is upstairs getting dressed, while the young man awkwardly talks to her dad at the foot of the stairs. Occasionally the young man glances up, hoping that soon she will appear. It is only about five minutes, it seems like an hour--but finally she makes her appearance.

He sees her there at the top of the stairs. She is dressed in black, pearls drape her neck, her hair is eloquently pulled up, and her lips are like a scarlet thread. Her perfume wafts down the steps and greets him prior to her arrival at the bottom step, where she offers her hand.

Initially, he is speechless. It seems as if the only oxygen in the room is in and around the lady. He is thunder-struck by her beauty. In our day he might say, "Wow!"  In Solomon's Song the word is, "Behold." Once he catches his breath he finishes his sentence. "Behold, - - - you are beautiful, my love, you are beautiful." Such beauty demanded not just one pronouncement, but two.

Perhaps the house was lovely, it may have been excellently decorated; maybe it was like a castle. Perhaps she had an entourage of lovely sisters and even a delightful mother. It could be that her dad was an interesting conversationalist; the kind of person one could talk to for hours. None of that mattered. The moment that he caught the first glimpse of his love, everyone and everything else faded into the background. The home, the decorations, the sisters, the mother, and the father--may all have been almost flawlessly wonderful, but they became like stage props. The young man is focused on one person.

His says, "Behold!"

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Announcement

My wife Lori and I are blessed with six daughters. Whenever we are all together in a public place, heads turn and we get a lot of interesting comments. When my oldest daughter Rachel married Adrian Rink on December 31, 2011 we rejoiced. About eight months ago Rachel gave birth to Susannah, our first granddaughter. Our girl's world continued.

Just a few months ago we received the news that Rachel is expecting again.

Last night we were treated to a wonderful dinner at the Rink's home. We joined Adrian's parents for a "gender revealing party." After lots of build up we were treated to this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3Ed2LOH5y0

Things are changing.

My heart is filled with lots of joy.
This time I can say, "Its a boy."
Yet still I would dance and still I would whirl,
If I were saying, "Its a girl."

I am looking forward to meeting and I am praying for Josiah Ray Rink.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pictures of Love

It is the season for romantic love. If you are married, such love is always in season. The word-pictures in Song of Solomon (SOS) are simple, fascinating, and beautiful. They tell a love-story. Consider four pictures from chapter two.

Flower. The lady in SOS sees herself as a flower, but a rather ordinary one. Her lover responds, "As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women."  Other women, in comparison to his flower, are mere brambles.

Apple Tree. There are a lot of trees in the forest but, in the eyes of the woman, there is only one apple tree. She finds delight in his shadow and enjoys his fruit.

Banner. Flying regally over the lady is a banner of love. She is loved, it is obvious to everyone. She is  is overwhelmed to the point of being "sick with love."

Voice. Over the mountains he leaps and bounds. All the way to her windows he runs. And then, he speaks. What a voice! What a vocabulary! What poetry falls from the lips of her man! "Arise my love, my beautiful one, and come away."

The couple is deeply in love and deeply committed to one another. She says, "My beloved is mine, and I am his . . ."

Now it is your turn.

1.  What are some of the distinctive qualities of your spouse?
2.  What banner is flying over your lover? Is it obvious that they are loved?
3.  How is your voice? Are you cultivating a vocabulary of love?

Think through SOS chapter two. Write a love letter to your spouse. After all, it is the season of love.