What the bride and groom cannot promise each other

Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.

In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”

But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.

Say what? How’s that?

C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”

But shouldn’t we always be in love?  Isn’t that the goal?

And what does that mean?  How do we define that blissful state?

And how do we nurture the feelings of romantic love so that our honeymoon never ends?

These are questions worthy of hours of discussion between us and our beloved.

Lewis asks, facetiously, “What is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love?”  That question lies in back of our culture’s addiction to divorces and devotion to relationships-that-look-like-marriage-but-without-the-formalities.  If we are no longer “in love,” the thinking goes, then we can put the relationship out of its misery.

Millions of people “put the relationship out of its misery” every year.  And then, far too many find the misery continues, even after the relationship was aborted.

The ways of a husband and wife are mysterious, I give you that.

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The question is not “where is God?” but rather, “Where are you?”

In her World War Two novel, His Majesty’s Hope, Susan Elia MacNeal tells of a German nurse, Elise, who learns that a Down syndrome child in her care was abruptly discharged and bused to some distant hospital where she was later reported to have died of pneumonia. Elise decided to look further into this suspicious matter.

Donning her nurse’s uniform, Elise boarded the next bus carting children to the hospital in question. All the children on board, she noticed, were blind, deaf, epileptic, retarded, and similarly handicapped. The nurse in charge seemed callous and uncaring, and administered a sedative to “help the children rest.”

At its destination, the bus was met by authorities who instructed the children to disrobe for a shower. Doctors examined the children, marking those with gold fillings in their mouths with a large X on their bodies. As they entered the shower room, a large metal door slammed behind them and latches were thrown. That’s when Elise realized what was happening.

The children were being gassed. Exterminated.

“You’ll get used to it,” said an orderly to the stunned Elise.

She ran outside the building and vomited on the grass.

Later, on the bus ride back into Berlin, Elisa asked the other nurse, the hardened one, “But what about the fifth commandment? ‘Thou shalt not kill’?”

“That’s no commandment of God’s–just a Jewish lie, meant to keep us weak,” she said. “We don’t need to follow it any more. Besides, it’s not killing, it’s euthanasia.”

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Mankind: Made of a different sort by the Creator Himself

People are different from all other animals God made.

We sit in front of the television watching nature shows and swoon at the images of baby tigers, baby baboons, baby anythings.

We are wired that way, to love the creation around us.

I walk the path in our little neighborhood and breathe in the fresh air and delight in all the hues of the leaves in a hundred trees.  They cover the trees and carpet the ground and they are enchanting.

The two mallards in the pond seem to see nothing but each other and the water around them.  They never seem to look around at the glorious landscape and praise God, but simply go their merry way as though the world was built just for them.

We see an animal in distress and our hearts go out to it.  No one exemplifies this quality of mercy more than my wife whose heart is touched by every cute puppy, every cuddly kitten, ever shivering animal in need of warmth and food.

This is a Godlike quality.  He does this.  We do.  And no other part of His creation that we have found does it.

The gorilla is tender toward its own baby but not toward anyone else’s.  The mare is protective of her foal but not of the kid of the goat born the same morning.  The mama bear is legendary in her protection of the babies in her den, but not of anyone else’s. Only we love them all.

God made us this way.  It was this way from the beginning.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’…. And God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food….’ (Genesis 1:26-30)

It’s the natural order of things.  God did it.

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.  (Genesis 2:15).

The conclusion of the matter, according to the Psalmist, is this:  The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; But the earth He has given to the sons of men.  (Psalm 115:16).

Don’t hurry past that, as I fear most people do.  In His Bible commentary, John MacArthur says of this verse, “Strong implications that planet earth alone is the dwelling place of life.”

While that is an interesting observation, I suspect it misses the point.  The point is that mankind is the custodian of all that is on the earth.  Scripture teaches that God made man “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5) but superior to everything else on the earth.  We know that mankind is possessed by a wisdom and creativity that is light years above that of any other creature on this planet.

I sat on my back deck giving thanks to our wonderful Lord for the trees and for man’s ability to turn the wood from those trees into this deck.  I thanked Him for the minerals in the earth and for man’s ability to transform those fascinating elements into the car I  drive.  For the air I breathe and the way it will purify itself if not overloaded by impurities, and the same with the waters in the ocean.

The sparrows and cardinals came to my feeder while I sat there.  They have no thoughts of where the seeds in those holders originated, only that they are there and edible.  They partake and fly away.  My heart is thankful, for they have graced my morning.

I pray for the birds and the fish and turtles in my pond, asking the Father to nurture them and protect them and show me what to do to help them.

No other part of creation does this as far as can be seen.  Only humans seem to care for all of creation.

We are responsible for this earth.  That is a sobering, almost frightening, thought.  We will give account.  And when I see that our President appoints someone to monitor the climate and recommend policies and changes to benefit all humanity, I do not see this as another useless bureaucracy but something with great possibilities for good.  I pray so.

We have littered the heavens surrounding Planet Earth with untold thousands of bits and pieces of space junk, leftover from previous flights and satellites and rocketships.  And now we are considering sending people to Mars, where eventually we will leave behind trash and garbage and debris.

It is Godly to care.  It is God-like to act to work to keep the oceans pure, the air clean, the earth safe.  It is God-like to love the critters, as Ellie Mae called them.

“Father, Thy will be done on earth–all of earth, every aspect of earth–as it is in Heaven.  Amen.” 

 

 

You are loved. Everlastingly so.

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying, ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love….’” (Jeremiah 31:3)

What part of ‘everlasting’ do we not get?

Lately, we are learning through science what unending and infinite look like. Space seems to be continuous, going on and on.  The lineup of galaxies across the heavens staggers our imaginations, considering their size, makeup, number, complexity.

The Psalmist who said, “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord” (Psalm 19:1) had no clue just how much they say about the majesty and might of our Creator. That’s not to imply we do, only that we have far more information on the complexities and delights of the universe which the Father has wrought with His own hands than biblical writers ever dreamed of.

“From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2)

From everlasting in the past to everlasting in the future, God is God.  There never was a time when God did not exist; there will never be a time when God does not reign.

Personally, I cannot get my mind around that. To my puny intellect, infinity of any kind is fearful.  To think of being snuffed out upon death, that after our last breath, we are extinguished forever, is frightening and painful beyond belief.  I think of loved ones whose passing took with them a huge hunk of my heart and soul. The thought that I would never see them again strikes me with a sadness incalculable.

But infinity of the other kind–living forever and ever, world without end–is just as mind-boggling. How could that work? How could we exist knowing that nothing would ever end?

The answer is and absolutely must be: “It’s a different realm.”  This mortal must put off its mortality, its corruption, its limitation, and be changed forever–into immortality, into glory, into power.  “We shall be changed.”  (See I Corinthians 15.) That “change” is a requirement before you and I begin to make that adjustment.

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Half right, totally wrong: Shallow things religious people believe

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  Here are a few that have occurred to me. You’ll know others….

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus–by which I mean in a relationship with Him–would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course, those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ and that’s why we counsel believers to avoid them.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  We call that The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The Truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

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What “be strong in the Lord” really means

“Now consider how great this man was…. Now, beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”(Hebrews 7:4,7)

I’m going to make a series of statements here about “who is greater” or stronger or whatever.  The subject is still a work in progress in my mind, but I hope to get it started in yours.

First:  The one who blesses is greater than the one blessed.

According to the anonymous writer of Hebrews, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham since it was he who blessed the patriarch and not vice versa.  The blessor is greater than the blessee, to paraphrase 7:7.

Thomas Beckett was the archbishop of Canterbury martyred in the 12th century. One issue that kept resurfacing in those days was whether the king of a country had the right to “invest” the new archbishop with the symbols of his position, implying that the king himself was granting powers to the spiritual leader.  The symbolism meant a great deal. The pope, to no one’s surprise, wanted to end this practice, insisting that the church is autonomous and beholden to no earthly power. Kings fought to keep all evidence in place that the church existed under their authority and its leaders should obey them above the pope.

The dispute illustrates Hebrews 7:7 perfectly. If the one giving the blessing is greater than the one receiving it, he is then the top dog. Such symbolism meant everything in medieval times.

Scripture informs us of numerous other such truisms worth our consideration. Let’s try these on for size.

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Flirting with temptation; playing with fire

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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The most amazing/wonderful thing we do when reading Scripture

Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Whosoever surely meaneth me.”  — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.   

“He included me.”  — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.

Every Christian I know does this and I do it too.  And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.

In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do?  We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.

We revel in those words.

We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness.  We do it for another overwhelming reason.

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Three gifts for the new pastor

When our church was about to welcome a new pastor, I contacted him to ask what we could do for him.  “Tell me the top three things you want from this church.”  He had an immediate answer, as though he’d been expecting the call.

“I would love to come to a unified, loving, praying church,” he said.   As a retired pastor of six churches, I knew exactly how he felt.  So, let’s look at those three gifts the new pastor would love to receive.

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The subtle sin of judgmentalism and how it works

“Do not judge, lest you be judged…. Why  do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1ff.)

If you are prone to criticism and judging others, chances are you will be the last to know it.

It’s that kind of sin. I see it in you; but it’s just part of who I am.

I find it fascinating that after issuing the warning about not judging others, our Lord followed with the caution about specks and logs in people’s eyes.

This is precisely how it works.

My judgmentalism of you appears so normal and natural that it never occurs to me that I am actually condemning you.  So, while your rush to judgment is a log in your eye–one you really should do something about!–my human tendency to speak out on (ahem) convictions is merely a speck in mine and nothing to be concerned about.

One thing about me, I’m no hypocrite, right?  I call it like I see it, right?  You know what you’re getting with me, right?  (yuck!)

Consider this conversation….

You: “What did I have for lunch? Well, I was in a hurry, so I ate a banana, a handful of nuts, and a soft drink.”

Your co-worker: “The banana and the nuts are okay, but the soft drink is fattening and poisonous.  It is suicidal.”

You say nothing in response, but sit there wondering, “Who asked you? You wanted to know what I had for lunch and I told you. Does that give you a right to sit in judgment on my actions?”

It happens all the time, and just that subtly.

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