Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Of Marriage Vows and Mystery

Here are a few thoughts ruminating in my mind as I prepare to officiate at my son and his fiance’s wedding and Dawn and I soon mark 35 years of marriage.

Simple vows are being stated; their beauty yet to be seen.

A vow is a solemn oath. A pledge, a promise, a covenant. Marriage vows are not fancy words, flowery words. They do not draw immediate attention to themselves. Neither are they riddles, words of sly nuance or sophisticated definition. They are simple words. They are a simple pledge, a simple covenant. I, take you… For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.
And herein is their weight, their significance: They speak to the future. Their beauty is yet to bloom. When Dawn and I were married in 1980 we wrote our own vows (fortunately our pastor fathers who together conducted the service, had the sense to have us also state traditional vows). At 20 and 19, under the spell of hormones and self-determined uniqueness, we made promises that would make a politician blush. Thirty-five years later, we not only can’t remember what we said, we’re grateful to have lost them. The beauty of wedding vows doesn’t show up in adjectives and adverbs spoken in a moment. Nor do they flower in the finery of the ceremony. A husband and wife carrying out their yes as yes and their no as no in a million little, grace-dependent ways--  till death do them part -- is where their beauty will be seen.
Our vows reflect God’s decrees; for there is great mystery

Marriage exists because God has decreed it to be. We are not following cleverly devised tales or practicing baseless traditions when a ceremony is held to unite a man with a woman. A father ‘brings’ his daughter to her husband just like God brought the woman to the man. When asked, the father of the bride says it is ‘her mother and I’ – the ones who created her -- who are ‘giving her to this man,’ just as God fashioned the woman for the man and gave her to him. With intentional, unmistakable clarity God blessed and created humans male and female so they would be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, the man says to the woman, ‘I, take you,’ because she is suitable to him to be fruitful. Likewise, she ‘takes him’ so they together may multiply. By God’s decree and design, the man knows she is for him; the woman knows he is for her: She is bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh. So it is according to the decree of God and the blessing of God they are pronounced “Mr. and Mrs.’ They shall become one flesh.

Our rebellion, our disenchantment, our tainted and warped desires are no indication God has changed His mind about marriage. Our messy, our miserable, our failed, our redefined – ours will not negate what God established for His purposes. What Christ said about marriage only heightens the clarity of what God declared from the beginning (Matthew 19; Mark 10). Adam Clarke said it well decades ago: “Christ will never accommodate his morality to the times, nor to the inclinations of men. What was done at the beginning is what God judged most worthy of his glory, most profitable for man, and most suitable to nature.”

The reason is for a mystery and it is great. The mystery is this: From the beginning God designed marriage between a man and a woman to be a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Eph 5:22-32).

Let that sink in.

God didn’t design the relationship between Christ and His bride around marriage; rather, before the foundation of the world He designed marriage to be a picture of Christ and His bride. That’s why God cannot alter marriage. It was designed to point to Christ and His blood-shedding, wrath receiving God-glorifying, covenant keeping love for His bride.

In less than a month, Dawn and I will observe 35 years of marriage. Youthful attraction and idealism have had their day. Romance is burnished by reality of aging bodies and one too many pieces of cheese cake. Delight is more learned -- flowing from a thousand gazes, a thousand touches, from a million words of kindness, and a million more silent decisions to forgive. Ecstatic memories are intermingled with groans of regret as our days together fly away. Grace, God’s grace, secured for us in Christ’s work on the cross, is far more sweet and significant. Far more known, really known, as necessary. Always.

So this brings us back to those simple vows. Ultimately, marriage isn’t about sexual pleasure, companionship or even bearing children. Those are all good, God-ordained gifts that come with the sacred union of marriage. But they aren’t ultimate. Ultimately, it’s about keeping covenant. It’s about us being a picture, albeit imperfectly, feebly, that tells of the unwavering allegiance Christ has for His bride.

I, take you… For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer… till death do us part.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Casting myself on the Only God who Is

“Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'… Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. -- Isaiah 46:8-11

We do not give God authority over our lives. He has it whether we like it or not. What utter folly it is to act as though we had any rights at all to call God into question! We need to hear now and then blunt words like those of Virginia Stem Owens who said in [the] Reformed Journal,

        Let us get this one thing straight. God can do anything he damn well pleases, including damn well. And if it pleases him to damn, then it is done, ipso facto, well. God's activity is what it is. There isn't anything else. Without it there would be no being, including human beings presuming to judge the Creator of everything that is.

    Few things are more humbling, few things give us that sense of raw majesty, as the truth that God is utterly authoritative. He is the Supreme Court, the Legislature, and the Chief Executive. After him, no appeal. -- John Piper

Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever pleases Him. Psalm 115:3

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On Poached Eggs, Seeing the Sun, Scribbling and What Lies Ahead

I delight in the reality that as our Lord builds His church He raises up men and gives them insight that others might have hope and be encouraged. One such man who has encouraged me is CS Lewis. Like every other man the Lord gives to His church, Lewis was limited and imperfect. Nevertheless it’s difficult not to find some nuggets in his writings that give off a holy echo of the abiding Word. I trust you will be encouraged by the following.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus – Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).


“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

In Him was the life and the life was the light of men… There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man (John 1:5,9).

“A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.”
And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:5).

 “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him (I Corinthians 2:9).

Never Try To Teach a Pig To Sing

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me and it is a safeguard for you. – Philippians 3:1

I have a very good friend who is having a major impact on me because he is a man who rejoices! And he reminds and encourages me to rejoice.

I don’t know about you, but like the Philippians I have to be reminded to rejoice in the Lord. I have to make a conscious decision to be happy in Jesus -- to be glad in the Lord. Paul writes that to be reminded is a safeguard -- reflecting on why I’m to be rejoicing and taking steps to rejoice protect me.
Here are some thoughts from Philippians I trust might remind all of us to rejoice.

First, rejoicing in the Lord confirms we belong to God. We can be a rejoicing people because “we are of the true circumcision” (3:3). Those in Christ have been truly set apart by the God of the universe as His own. We need no external mark or external religious act to complete what Christ has done for us. What Christ has done completely satisfied God. “We worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (3:3). Having believed, we have been sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise who is given as a pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13,14). A rancher friend of mine talks about being branded by the Holy Spirit and that ‘brand’ forever identifying whose we are. Rejoice in the Lord!

Second, rejoicing in the Lord protects from demeaning Christ and despair. “Beware of the dogs, the evil workers, the false circumcision” (3:2). Don’t miss it: believing we have to add external religious acts to the finished work of Christ so as to be declared righteous before God suggests Christ didn’t get the job done. Theologically, it demeans Christ and dishonors God (John 5:23, 24; Gal. 5:2-6). Psychologically it leads to doubt and discouragement. Did you do the religious act seriously enough? Perfectly enough? Thoroughly enough? You shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect – that’s the standard (Matt 5:48). How’s that going for you? Rejoice in the perfections of Christ! Someone once said, never try to teach a pig to sing. You won’t be pleased with the results and it only irritates the pig. That’s what happens when we try to add religious acts to what God has declared finished; no one is satisfied. Rejoice in the Lord!

Third, to rejoice in the Lord is to have an upward call on our lives. Rejoicing in the Lord is great evidence we are motivated wholly by the risen, ascended Christ, and we’re not just a religious hack (3:4-16). Paul counted all his religious trappings as rubbish. All his religious earned income credit was tossed out in exchange for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus His Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord is to be spiritually alive. Like Paul, we trust in a Person; we seek to know a Person; we desire for that Person to define everything about us. We rejoice in the Lord – pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Pastor Tedd

Words of Worth

Several years ago one of my sisters and brothers-in-law took my father’s Bible and copied all of his hand-written notes within. They compiled it into a little booklet entitled ‘Words of Worth.’ Below are a few excerpts.
“Man is not his own maker. Therefore, he must not be his own master.” – Leonard Ravenhill
There is always chaff where you have wheat, but there shouldn’t be more chaff than wheat! – Anonymous
Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard than when you sang the songs of Satan. – John Wesley
We are not storehouses, but channels.
We are not cisterns, but springs, passing our benefits onward,
Fitting our blessings with wings; letting the water flow onward
To spread o’er the desert forlorn; sharing our bread with our brothers,
Our comfort with those who mourn.
-          Anon
Man sees a body struggling with pain, God sees a spirit growing strong again.
Man sees but weakness – God sees new power; a saint is learning patience with every trying hour.
Man sees but sickness, counts the healing slow. God is rejoicing to see a loved one grow.
Man sees days wasted – God counts them gain. For faith as sweet as childhood is growing out of pain.
Man feels a sorrow rising in his breast. God in his wisdom leadeth into rest.
Man sees the present – God sees the goal. And by seeming bondage is setting free the soul.
-          V. Raymond Edman
Someone once asked George Whitefiled, “Is that man over there a Christian?” Whitefield replied, “I don’t know, I haven’t talked to his wife.”
The question is not the sincerity with what we believe, but the truth of what we believe.
-          Anon
Working on ourselves all the time produces a warped saint. Our best improvement comes roundabout – indirectly – as we help one another along. – Vance Havner

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it. During the past few years it has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom
done a cleverer thing, than hinting to the Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the Church - if it is a Christian work why did not Christ speak of it? 'Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature'. That is clear enough, so it would have been if He had added, 'and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel'. No such words, however, are to he found. It did not seem to occur to Him. Then again, 'He gave some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and teachers, for the work of the ministry'. Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted
because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all His apostles. What was the attitude of the Church to the world? 'Ye are the salt', not the sugar candy - something the world will spit out, not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance 'Let the
dead bury their dead'. He was in awful earnestness!

Had he introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into His mission, He would
have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear Him say, 'Run after these people, Peter, and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow - something short and attractive with little preaching - we will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick, Peter, we must get
the people somehow!' Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them. In vain will the epistles be searched to find any trace of the gospel of amusement. Their message is. 'Come out, keep out, keep clean out' - anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the Church had a prayer meeting, but they
did not pray, 'Lord, grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are'. If they ceased not for preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments - scattered by persecution they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down, that is the only difference! Lord, clear the Church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the Church met them half way, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the
drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment had been God's link in the chain of their conversion, stand up! There are none to answer! The mission of amusement produces no converts.

The need of the hour for today's ministry is believing scholarship, joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is Biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.

-- CH Spurgeon

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bad self-image or bad character?

In our modernized societies in the West, we are faced with an epidemic of lying, theft, abuse, rape, and other predatory behavior, but we are far more likely to blame it on bad self-image than on bad character. Even in the church, the story is not much different. We have seized upon the language of our therapeutic culture and insist that our preachers toe this line and speak to us in this language. What is often missed, however, is that this language comes out of a psychological world, not a moral world, and the chief consequence of this is that responsibility has vanished. We do not accept responsibility because we have no sense at all that we stand in the presence of a God of blazing, majestic purity. And when we lose this sense {of God} we lose all moral urgency. Indeed, we lose our gospel and the whole point of Christian faith.

David Wells
The Courage To Be Protestant
p. 239