Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Marryin' Kind

“And another said, I have married a wife…” (Luke 14:20)

At first consideration, this phrase, spoken by a man seeking exception from following Jesus at this particular time, seems rather odd. For instance, to marry a woman who is already a wife would constitute bigamy, would it not? On the other hand, if he is saying, “Now that I’ve married her, she’s a wife,” this would seem fairly obvious, redundant even. But since every word from the mouth of God is worthy of more than a first consideration, may I share with you some of the thoughts that have newly come to me as I read these unusual words from this young husband?

First, whatever else may be said about this man, he was fortunate enough to get not just get a bride, but a wife. There is a difference. A wise young man will look for a girl with the kind of virtues that wears well over time. Long after the girlish body and youthful features have given way to a more “mature” figure and a face with more character than youth, she will be even more attractive and interesting to him than the young girl who caught his eye and then his heart.

Second, I would contend that just because a woman has been married long (or often!) does not mean she’s good at it. I have known young married women who had early acquired the fine art of taking care of a man. Not as a mother (heaven forbid!), but as a true friend, ardent lover, co-laborer in faithful parenting, and a co-conspirator in outrageous fun! On the other hand, I have seen some older wives who seemed as clueless as a teen-ager when it came to making even the most obliging husband happy.

Finally, I will run the risk of being misunderstood now by saying I believe every woman should be “the marryin’ kind,” capable of the give and take necessary for any healthy relationship. This is not to say that all women should be married. The Bible assumes there will be unmarried women in the churches, and even gives instructions about their conduct and how they are to be treated. What I am saying is that singleness should be a matter of the will of God and nothing else. Preference is not a good enough reason. At least, that’s my opinion.

The wise man said, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing” (Prov.18:22). And like I said, the operative word here is “wife.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How's Your Infrastructure?

“So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezek.13:14)

What with broken levees (think New Orleans) and collapsed bridges (think Minneapolis), a common complaint today is the seemingly poor condition of our country’s infrastructure, meaning the underlying foundation and basic framework of our public works, buildings, and transportation facilities, etc. But as important as these things may be, they will not contribute to the downfall of a nation like a rotting moral infrastructure will. As Alexis de Tocqueville, renowned French political thinker of the Modern Age concluded of early America, after a nine-month visit, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” And lest there be any doubt as to the source of this goodness, he also wrote:

“Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions…I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

No amount of wealth, beautification, or contrived ecological balancing can make up for moral decay. A nation is, first and foremost, people; and the condition of their hearts provides the truest picture of its stability.

But what of you and me? Do a glowing complexion, trim body, and lively step only hide a crumbling spiritual condition within? In the case of bridges and levees, it takes a catastrophe to see just how weak the inner workings are; and in the case of a Christian, it is usually a tragedy or disappointment that gives us a true glimpse of our own spiritual flimsiness. When, as they say, push comes to shove, are we the ones being pushed and shoved?

What makes a good infrastructure anyway? I may not be an engineer, but I do have some common sense. I know, for instance, that any structure needs at least three things: a good foundation, good building materials, and good maintenance. Those who are true children of God by faith in Jesus Christ have a sure foundation (1Cor.3:11) that is capable of withstanding every storm that arises. “But,” says the apostle in the previous verse, “Let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”

Those whose Christian lives are primarily surrounded and bolstered by emotion, without benefit of theological structure or character building instruction, will always be vulnerable to the battering winds of doubt. “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge,” says Peter (2Pet.1:5). Devotional reading is fine—necessary even—but it will never take the place of diligent Bible study and disciplined living, when it comes to spiritual maturity and steadiness. The Word of God is the history of redemption and the instruction manual for life, as well as a love letter from God.

Finally, even the sturdiest of structures needs regular maintenance. We often talk about the danger of stagnating in our Christian lives, but the truth is, we are either going forward or losing ground spiritually. This is what Jesus meant, I think, in His explanation of the parable of Seed and the Sower, when He said, “For he that hath, to him shall be given; and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath” (Mark 4:25). As I have written elsewhere, “Hearers of the Word (v.24) are continually receiving what God has provided for their spiritual growth; however, non-hearers are not only deprived of nourishment for new growth, but any spiritual gain they made in the past, is soon depleted.” Those “branches” whose connection to the “Vine” is merely life-sustaining, don’t just fail to grow, they soon wither (Jno.15). “Spirituality is about the nourishing and tending of personal faith,” writes Alister McGrath, in his little book, Beyond the Quiet Time. True Bible spirituality is fixed on Jesus Christ, and is nurtured and maintained by a growing relationship with Him.

When the enemy comes in like a flood (Isa.59:19), will your spiritual levee hold? and will the bridge of your faith stand the heavy burdens of life? In short, how’s your infrastructure? Without a doubt, it’s the most important question you’ll be asked today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Winsomeness of Wisdom

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom...Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Prov. 3:13, 17)

“Winsome” is an old English word meaning “pleasant.” Before I gave it to my older daughter, Leah, I used to have a very old book that was published in 1900, and which I treasured, called Winsome Womanhood. It enumerates (and extols) those virtues found in the truly beautiful woman. Perhaps one reason God chooses to replace the word “wisdom” with the feminine “she” or “her,” is because wisdom—true Biblical wisdom—is enveloped in beauty. Not that wisdom is soft, or effete (weak or ineffective), for there is nothing sturdier or more resilient than the wisdom of God. But the wisdom that is from above, says James, is pure, peaceable, and gentle—adjectives more often used for a godly woman. Wisdom does not shout profundities; it whispers truths. It does not indoctrinate; it instructs.

Verse 14 of this chapter in Proverbs tells us that wisdom is worth spending for—time or money. This is one reason why Paul points out that those who are able to effectively and powerfully expound the Word of God are worthy of both (double) honor and monetary reward (1Tim.5:17-18). Solomon repeats this theme in chapter 23, where he admonishes us to “buy the truth.” Nothing can begin to compare with wisdom—neither precious jewels nor fine metals—nothing. Wisdom is absolutely incomparable (v. 15). Solomon never seems to run out of good things to say about it. It’s the “principal [first] thing” (Prov.4:7).

I have said that wisdom, though gentle and peaceable, is, at the same time, strong and sturdy. In fact, verses 19 and 20 inform us that wisdom, coupled understanding and knowledge, was the tool God used to form the earth, establish the heavens, and inaugurate the cycle of precipitation. It has been said that the Bible is not a book of science as such, but, one thing is sure: every true law of science had its conception in Genesis 1:1, with the wisdom of God.

No wonder Solomon urges his son to “let them not depart from thine eyes” (v. 21). “Read, read!” he says. “Read them and keep them.” The Proverbs are not platitudes to intone; they are principles to instruct. They’re rules to live by. When you walk, he says in verse 23, they’ll keep you from stumbling and making a fool of yourself. A fall may not do irreparable damage (although it might), but it always brings embarrassment. Everyone falls, but when people do it constantly, something is wrong. Perhaps their balance is off, maybe they are in too big of a hurry, or they simply may not be watching where they’re going. “But,” says the wise man, “Wise-up, and you won’t fall so much!”

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, we find out that Biblical wisdom is a safety net against fear:

“When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid; yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.”

When my husband used to be away overnight preaching somewhere, I would climb into bed at night and pray, “Lord, protect me,” as though I didn’t need His protection long before I laid my head on the pillow. It’s just that somehow I always feel more vulnerable when asleep than when I am awake. God knows that about me (and you?), so He has given this and other promises to comfort us. Not only can you and I sleep safely, we can sleep sweetly, as a baby sleeps, knowing we have a loving Heavenly Father standing watch. Like Jacob, who slept soundly on a pillow of stones (Gen.28:11), or Peter, chained between two soldiers, who had to be struck by the angel to be awakened (Acts 12:6-7), we can close our eyes with the calm assurance that however we are awakened, we will awake with our Savior.

John Foxe tells in his famous book of Christian martyrs about a man named John Rogers, who, he says, “on the morning of his execution, being found fast asleep, scarce with much shogging [shaking] could be awaked.” Neither “sudden fear” nor “desolation of the wicked” can overwhelm the soul fastened upon its God, that happy man or woman who has found—and has retained—true Wisdom.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Accountable to Who?

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom.14:12)

We hear much today about the advisability of having individuals around us to whom we see ourselves as being accountable to. Whole enterprises, whether Christian or non-Christian oriented, are built around this concept, from such entities as Promise Keepers to Alcoholics Anonymous. The thing is, we all know that all of these, sometimes helpful, endeavors, no matter how well-intentioned, are often less than successful. But should this surprise us, I wonder. In the case of the former (P.K.), one has only to look at the example we have of our Lord’s twelve disciples, and the fact that one in this close-knit, spiritually advantaged group ended up betraying Him to His death, to see the weaknesses of even Christ-centered accountability. And with the latter (A.A.), the fact that it is necessary to admit perpetually, “I am an alcoholic,” is indication of its precarious success.

Marriage vows obviously carry the expectation of accountability (1Cor.7:4), as does membership in a local body of believers (Matt.18), and citizenship in a country (Rom.13); but the prevalence of divorce, sinful church members, and civil law breakers proves that they are not always the deterrent they should be. And I have my own idea of why this may be: Human accountability is only effective when Divine accountability is the overriding motivation. Unless a man or woman lives his or her life in the light of Romans 14:12, no human restraint will suffice to inspire Biblical, moral standards of conduct. The irrational person who does not fear God will certainly not feel accountable to another human being. This is true whether the man or woman is a believer or non-Believer.

Alistair McGrath, in his book, Doubting, quotes Polish philosopher and writer, Czeslaw Milosz, who said: “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice and murders we are not going to be judged.” Atheism is a wishful stab in the dark against Divine accountability.

In the same way, the child of God who sidesteps a direct commandment of God, assuming He knows the weakness of the flesh and stands ready with forgiveness in hand, is guilty of the sin of presumption (Heb.10:26); and no amount of human accountability can withstand such arrogance. Even Jesus pointed out that in the final analysis, one would be far wiser to fear the One who is able to kill both body and soul in hell than someone who is able to only kill the body (Matt.10:28). It is He to whom we are ultimately accountable.

I have said this not to lessen the reality of our accountability to those who have every right to expect truth and equity from us, but rather to point out that this will never be enough to keep us true. Only the man and woman who understand that they are under Divine, as well as human, scrutiny will feel the urgency to live their lives as best they can on the highest plain possible.

I am very conscious of the possibility of offending those who look to me with the (rightful) expectation of seeing the reality of a life given to Jesus Christ and the measure of accountability that this brings. But this pales in comparison to the unquestionable certainty that I will give account of myself to God. And His opinion of me is of far greater consequence than the opinion of any mere mortal.

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1Jno.2:28)