love

Loving Your Wife with Honor

Loving Your Wife with Honor

Jesus wants you to love your wife so much that she should be sad to see you leave and thrilled to see you come back home. Your marriage needs to be the coronation of self-sacrifice. The world needs to see Christian men unashamedly in love with their wives. Chesterton once wrote that “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” You didn’t decline. You took on the armor to serve her. Now fight! Fight wholeheartedly to the glory of God; for the good of Narnia. Get rid of the ring of selfishness in Mount Doom where harsh masculinity abides and put on Jesus–the God/Husband who gave and gave and gave to the point of death.

Mother’s Day and Child-Birth

“The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the servant.”

It was through the seed of a woman that Messiah came and bound evil. Our hope did not appear out of nothing. The Virgin Mary conceived our hope. In I Timothy, we have the cryptic words of St. Paul, who said, “Women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” This is a re-telling of Genesis 3: Women will be saved through the new Adam birthed from a mother’s womb. However, this salvation comes through faith, love, and holiness.

Moreover, I cannot think of a richer way to express the self-giving nature of motherhood, except through this triad of faith, love, and holiness. A mother’s faith is her salvation. Her love is her armor, and her holiness is her perseverance. Salvation comes through the glory of self-giving, even in the act of childbirth. It would demand the faith and love and holiness of millions of women through history to have confidence that a Messiah would arrive on earth through one of them.

We live in a day where motherhood is despised. We take a day to honor them, but truly what meager attempt to honor those who offer so much? Being a mother is now considered by many to be an interference in world economy. The United Nations began a decade ago an assault on motherhood saying that having children is keeping women from finding their fullest potential. As the world, the flesh, and devil go so go the United Nations. We need to realize that in our day any role that has been established by God will be confronted by evil, and such is the role of motherhood in our society.

So how shall we then live on this Mother’s day?

First, we live honoring our mothers. We rise and call her blessed day after day after day. Children, if you want to live a long and fruitful life, honor your mother with your words and actions.

Secondly, we care for our aging mothers. We have seen several examples at Providence of sons and daughters caring for their aging mothers until her last breath. This selfless act is refreshing in an age where many mothers die alone in their homes or nursing homes.

Thirdly, I encourage those of you whose children are no longer at home to function in a motherly role towards our young, soon-to-be mothers and wives. If there is ever a time when young ladies need the wisdom of our mature ladies, it is now.

Fourthly, for those who grieve today because of the recent/past death of a mother or a mother/figure, we grieve with you. When the ancient Israelites grieved the loss of a loved one, they told stories; be refreshed by the memories of your mothers.

Fifthly, for those who grew up without mothers, this can be a difficult day as they watch everyone celebrating their moms.  On this day, find comfort in the love of God. He spreads his wings over you as a mother cares for her own.

Finally, let’s together honor mothers and their love of Christ and the Church, our heavenly mother. Let’s sing their praises and shout at the mountaintops. Providence Church desires to be a place where diaper changing, doing the dishes, educating, singing while cooking a meal, writing a letter of thanks, kissing and hugging children, disciplining children, equipping younger mothers are all activities that are praised and not mocked. Happy Mother’s Day: Your labors in the Lord are not in vain!

 

Who was Valentine?

Saint Valentine's DayIt is not uncommon to celebrate days without the slightest clue of their origin. Such a day is the traditional Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of Saint Valentine. “Valentine” derives from valens, which means strong, worthy, or powerful. These are apt descriptions for this little appreciated martyr.

Tradition and legends abound. The truth is we do not know much about the life of St. Valentine.  What we do know is that around 278 AD, Valentine, a holy priest in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. The precise day is well acknowledged as February 14th.

Claudius was known for his cruelty. His unpopular and bloody campaigns required a strong army. To Claudius’ vexation, he was not able to draw many Roman soldiers to his cause. Valentine believed that the soldiers were strongly attached to their wives and families. As a result, Claudius banished marriages and engagements in Rome.[1] Valentine believed this to be a great injustice and continued to perform marriages.

Another factor that made Valentine unpopular with Claudius was his commitment to help persecuted Christians. Valentine was faithful to the Christ he served.

Valentine’s high disregard for the laws of Claudius the Cruel and his strong faith were cause for arresting the 3rd century priest. “He was apprehended, and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his promises to make him renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him to be beaten with clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded.”[2]

On this day, we celebrate this faithful saints who died for love; love of truth, and love for Christ; the Christ who gave His life that His Bride might live abundantly.

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:9 ESV)

The peace of God does not come to those who do not practice Christian manners. I love the way Leo Tolstoy put it in one of his novels, “If you love me as you say you do… make it so that I am at peace.” Love needs to be communicated so that the other human being is at peace. The purpose of love is to establish your fellow brother or sister in peace.

Have you ever left a conversation feeling utterly drained and discouraged as a human being? Love ought to lead to peace and fullness, not emptiness. Love confronts at times and leads us to peace because now we know where our sins are. Love encourages and leaves us at peace because now we know that we are not alone.  This is the lesson for the Church. For Paul, peace was not so much a feeling, but the tangible manifestation of the grace of God toward us or of a human being towards one another.

Love shows concern for one another. Love, as David Powlison once put it, “Speaks many languages fluently.”

In life, a man or a woman will have at best two or three friends. He may have many acquaintances, but two or three friends (at most) that stick closer than a brother. There is a distinction between vulnerability and openness. You can be vulnerable with few people, but you can be open with many. Few are friends with whom secrets can be shared and deep confession can be made.

As we seek to build our community, we need to understand that some will gladly express inquire about your well-being, but others will go a step further and stay on the phone with you day after day; be with you day after day in time of need. Church community is not a community where everyone acts the same way in every circumstance. It is complex and multi-layered. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but some brothers are closer than a brother to you than others.

So, since not everyone will know everyone in precisely the same way and be a friend in every way, what is there to be expected of every Christian in general? As we become aware of new births, the death of loved ones, physical and spiritual trials that emerge in our lives and the lives of the saints, and many other circumstances, these are important applications to keep in mind:

First, we must all have a mutual desire to practice what we have learned together. You may listen to what your minister says week after week, you may discuss, even disagree, but in the end you must desire to practice the Christian faith together.

Second, you must show concern for one another. In your community, you ought to ask at least one person each week, honestly and directly, if they have any specific needs. Seek to know them and let them know that their needs are heard.

Finally, and much more could be said, know one another as much as it is possible. How do you know someone? You can know someone generally, or you can desire to know them more intentionally and intimately. Ask questions. Ask good questions. Learn to pay attention to experience and emotions. Learn to be a good detective of human beings. Be able to detect sadness, confusion, frustration, and anger. We do a fairly good job with our children. At some level, this should be translated to those with whom we engage and commune. Know just enough to be able to see such a person and inquire of such a person concerning their well-being if you notice something is not well.

Paul says that he celebrated when he found out about his congregation’s status. It made him rejoice in Christ that he know their needs and they know his.

This is common Christian courtesy that we so often forget to exercise. The reason we should act this way is because our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, acts this way toward us. He cares and is deeply concerned about our needs, passions, and what makes us who we are. Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

Do you love Jesus? An Eucharistic invitation

Do you love Jesus? An Eucharistic invitation

“Because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” (Phil. 3:8)

The worth of knowing Messiah as Lord is greater than any human deed. Nothing is compared to this relational, covenantal union we have with our Lord.

This reminds me of the story my mentor once told me of a bright seminary graduate who came before examination by the examining committee. He sat there at his desk full of confidence. His Greek New Testament and Hebrew Bible were wide open. He had passed his written exams with flying colors. The entire presbytery was eager to hear this genius relate the glories of theology in intricate ways. The examination began when an old seminary professor who was about to retire looked at the candidate and asked: “Young man, do you love Jesus?” Silence. More silence. Now the young scholar’s face turned into every imaginable color. Then more silence.

The old professor looked to the head of the examining committee and proposed that the examination be terminated and that the young man return again in six months. All agreed.

Brothers and sisters, as you come to eat and drink with one another, do not allow that simple question to be answered by your silence. Come and dine that your answer might be strengthened and not silenced.

Keep Yourselves from Idols

In one of the most lovely letters written in the Bible, I John– which we will be studying during Sunday School in July–the apostle encourages us by the example of Christ that our joy may be full. And then in chapter 5:21, which is the last verse of John’s first letter, we read this remarkable little exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

We will consider this in the sermon more fully, but before we bow down to the only true God, what idols are we carrying along with us, even this morning?

All those virtues that we treasure: love, trust, hope; all of them can be turned on their head. What do we truly love, hope, and trust in during times of pain? Who do we seek when our lives are turned upside down? If any of these answers do not find their joy ultimately in the God who is righteous and just (I Jn. 1:9), then we have not heeded John’s warnings.

Brothers and sisters, as we come and confess our sins this morning, confess that you have not loved, trusted, and hoped in God as you ought. Confess that you have sought other gods before him. Confess them, and be still, and know that He is God, and there is none other before him.

Prayer: God Almighty, Father, Son, and Spirit, strengthen us today by your great mercy and transform us into the image of your own beloved Son, whom we love, trust, and hope. Amen.

Why am I Angry?

Why am I angry? Why do I lose control so often? How can I change?

These are all questions we have considered. We don’t have to ponder too long before we realize that anger has made a home in our hearts many times.

The first instance of anger in the Bible is in Genesis 4. Cain was angry because his offering was not accepted (Gen. 4:5). We can offer some theological insight into the nature of this offering, but for our purposes, the result of this offering/worship rejection was the murder of Abel. We can then conclude that unrighteous anger ( I argue that there is righteous anger, but that anger is rarely righteous) is a result of unacceptable worship. The first recorded sinful act in the fallen world was the result of anger. Uncontrolled anger is a result of false worship. The one who is angry and sins has made his desires and agenda the center of the universe. Anger is the definition of self-worship. It is the manifestation that one’s world is not where it should be and so everyone–or someone close– must conform his world to theirs.

If a person has a history of angry outbursts, then it might take more than a few sermons and counseling sessions to see change. Ultimately, Jesus is the model we are to follow. He was insulted, abused, and falsely accused, but yet he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23). Changing and conforming to the image of our Lord must be a priority. Anger cannot be moderated through self-determination, but through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the comforter of the afflicted and the One who calms the angry heart.

Changing then requires an initial affirmation that anger and its consequences is inconsistent with the Christian testimony. It elevates our agenda above others. It does not seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness. But changing from angry outbursts to  a soft answer demands constant accountability with people who know you best. Your pastor or close friend may be wise choices in confronting you in this process. Anger destroys those closest to us and it can affect jobs, relationships, and our communion with the Triune God.

We need to be confronted by the peace of God daily. Jesus Christ is the shalom of God to the world. He disarms anger with love and grace. In this sense, a grateful heart is the most fundamental response to anger. The one who worships rightly is most grateful. Gratitude is anger’s worst enemy. Unrighteous anger is a denial of God’s gifts to his children.

If you are angry and your family has been on the receiving side of that anger for a long time, then it is time to change. The angry heart never takes a break. Seek Christ. Seek help from your community, and worship rightly.

Maundy Thursday Meditation

Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin Mandatum. The word comes from Jesus’ command on the Last Supper to love one another just as He loved them (Lk. 24). The message of love is very much central to the Gospel message. Evangelicals are all too quick to set the topic of love aside because it draws our attention away from the more important doctrinal disputes and discussions. Yet Paul and our blessed Lord keep bringing us back to this theme of love. God is love. No, love is not God, but it is very much a foundational aspect of all His actions toward us in Christ Jesus.

Maundy Thursday then becomes a special historical reminder that we are called to be a people of love. Paul refers to the useless instruments in his I Corinthians 13. If love is absent, our actions become like those clanging cymbals. The very core of Paul’s love narrative in I Corinthians occurs in the midst of a dying Church. Paul’s application then is an ecclesiastical command. In the same manner our blessed Lord on the night in which he was betrayed– by that unclean man called Judas– called us to a greater ethic. It was not an ethic foreign to our Lord. What Jesus commands is first and foremost something he has experienced and displayed already. To a greater and cosmic extent, our Lord proves that love in a cross of hate. But this is love personified in the God/Man. By sacrificing Himself on that cruel tree He turned the symbol of hate into one of the most beloved symbols in the Christian life.

It is then very appropriate that our Lord would command us to love as a response to the Last Supper. This is the case because in the Supper we are being re-oriented in our affections for one another. The Supper is a meal of love and Jesus would transform that meal in His resurrection. He would glorify love for His new disciples. He would become Himself the manna from heaven that would bring joy to this newly created community.

Love is most clearly displayed and obeyed in this new fellowship of disciples we call the Church. This is why Maundy Thursday was a significant historical event. It was not just a didactic lesson for the disciples, it was also a meal that sealed the theme of love for this new community that would emerge from the darkness of the tomb.

We Need New Ears and Eyes

I began my day reading through Jim Jordan’s magnum opus, Through New Eyes. Jim is a dear friend and we have worked together for three years (09-11). I have literally read and listened to hundreds of articles, sermons, & lessons. If Jim publishes, my eyes will seek to scan it. In many ways, he has taught me to love the Bible in a deeper way than before.

My seminary days were wonderful days. I had the privilege of sitting under some of the most renown Reformed theologians alive. It was filled with excitement and theological epiphanies. But none of these men came near to the theological revivals that James Jordan  caused in my own thinking. Jordan enabled me to appreciate the Bible for its own merit. He caused me to love the Bible for its own structure, poetry, cadence, rhythm, and music. Yes, the Bible is a beautiful song sung by Yahweh Himself in Genesis 1 and closing with the eternal song of eternity in Revelation 22.

In TNE, Jordan observes:

…the universe and everything in it reveals the character of its Creator. God designed the universe to reveal Himself and to instruct us. The problem we have is that sin has made us deaf and blind. We need new eyes and ears, and the Scriptures can help us get them (13).

These new eyes and ears are only re-shaped and re-designed as we allow the Scriptures to do so. The Bible shapes us as a people. The Word of the Lord re-orients our minds to see God’s instruction in everything. The world, and in particular, Scriptures, communicate to us through vast symbols. The revelation of Yahweh contains a specific language that we need to master. And the only way of mastering it is by seeking its guidance day and night.

Hear the Bible

One strong emphasis James Jordan has made over the years is that reading the Bible is not enough. Listening to it is equally important. The ancients did not manuscript copies available as we do, but yet their minds were saturated by the language of Scriptures. Their minds delved deeply into the rich types and symbols of the Old Covenant Scriptures. They heard it read and began to make connections. They did not only accept explicit types and symbols, but they saw that the entire Bible was one story pictured in symbols and types, and since this is the case, therefore every narrative is connected to the one previous and the one after.

Hearing the Bible especially in a community setting takes us away from our natural tendency to isolate ourselves. The isolation of evangelicalism is due to hermeneutical isolation. Individuals are perfectly satisfied to pietize the Bible. And as they do so, they turn their individualism into a standard for others. But when we hear the Bible, when we listen to one another in our communities, and when we allow the Church to speak–as she should–we become part of a greater hermeneutical project.

Hear the Bible, but don’t hear it alone. Hear it, and then contextualize it in this grand story of redemption. And when this is done, sin’s hermeneutical effects began to fade away and our eyes and ears will be able to do those things they were created to do.

For book resources, see here. For his audio series on How to Read the Bible, see here.

Why Most Christians Should Use Facebook!

It is likely that you are a Facebook user. In fact, over one billion people are on Facebook. And of course, it is likely that you are reading this article because a friend linked to it on their Facebook page. So the majority of you do not need to be persuaded. The small and insistent bunch that will not succumb to the technological and peer pressure may do well to continue on a perpetual Facebook fast. But there is another group of Christians out there that simply haven’t joined for lack of knowledge of the benefits Facebook can offer. As a friend, you may have to print them a copy of this piece, or send them a link via e-mail.

The reason I did not state “all Christians” in the title of this article is because there are legitimate reasons for some Bible-believing Christians to stay away from this tool. And that is precisely what Facebook is: a tool. I agree with Dr. Al Mohler that “Social networking is like any new technology.  It must be evaluated on the basis of its moral impact as well as its technological utility.” We are all called to be stewards of God’s gifts. Money is a tool for good, but the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. In like manner, Facebook can be a tool for good, and I am arguing that if used wisely it will be.

I am in the redeeming business. I usually prefer to begin with how something can be redeemed before I talk about its dangers. Dr. Mohler suggests ten ways for safeguarding the social networking experience. You can read them. They are helpful and can keep us and our children from abusing something that is so ubiquitous. Before you read those, however, consider how Facebook may actually be a constructive tool in the Kingdom of God, one that can benefit you, your Church and community:

First, Facebook offers invaluable information about loved ones. A couple of days ago as I was leaving the office I scanned briefly through the updates and discovered that the son of a dear friend was about to enter into surgery. She asked for prayer. As I drove home I petitioned to our gracious God on behalf of this little child. Without Facebook I don’t think I would have known about this surgery in time. I could multiply these experiences. Facebook has brought closeness with not only loved ones, but dear friends and their families.

Second, Facebook has provided me tremendous counseling opportunities. I already have a distinct call as a pastor to counsel my flock, but if someone outside my community desires 5-10 minutes of my time seeking wisdom on a personal issue I have the luxury to offer it through this tool. We are all called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I have done both regularly because of Facebook.

Third, Facebook offers exposure to new ideas. This may not seem appealing, but I have always believed that Christians need to frequently visit C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. They need to be exposed to ideas that confront their theological paradigms. Of course, sometimes these FB discussions can lead to unfortunate and uncharitable debates that consume a lot of our time, but again I want to redeem Facebook (see Mohler’s list for safeguarding).

Fourth, FB provides a venue to encourage others with words of comfort (see #1). Many have been encouraged by biblical passages and quotes that speak directly to a unique circumstance in their lives. At the same time, the same venue can provide a proper rebuke to our unpleasant and ungodly attitudes. There are pastors and godly parishioners whose FB status I read daily for comfort and rebuke.

Fifth, FB can be a source of intellectual stimulation. I can’t tell you how many books I have purchased or downloaded on Kindle (another useful tool for the kingdom) due to the sample quotes posted on FB. For those with a book budget this can be a temptation, but again I am in the redeeming business.

Finally, FB is inevitable. “Hey, everybody’s doing it!” Seriously, everybody! Is this a good reason to do it? In this case I believe it is! Many Churches, Ministries, Charitable Organizations, Event Planners, all have their own FB page. Of course, you don’t have to be on top of everything, just be a lurker! But at least have a FB presence. FB serves a multitude of purposes, and can in fact facilitate communication, fellowship, and much more.

Facebook has been a tremendous tool for good. And as tool, it fulfills Dr. Mohler’s requirements, since it is morally impactful and technologically useful. So go ahead, start an account and join us!