Archive for October, 2011

October 31, 2011

Eternity in Our Hearts

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ecc. 3:11
Full Text: Ecc 3-5

Eternity | No matter what people claim to believe, God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” [1]. He has given everyone a longing for something beyond this life – and evidence is everywhere. Socrates once said, “We shall see that there is a great reason to hope that death is good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter consciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another” [2]. Even Steve Jobs, although he was only 50/50 about God’s existence, found himself “believing a bit more” in an afterlife [3].

Critique | Belief in the afterlife, however, has been attacked. In a debate earlier this year, atheist Sam Harris said, “This concept of an afterlife functions as a substitute for wisdom, as a substitute for absorbing our predicament – which is that everyone is going to die, there are circumstances that are just catastrophically unfair, evil sometimes wins” [4]. Similarly, Richard Dawkins wrote, “Polls suggest that approximately 95 percent of the population of the United States believe they will survive their own death. Aspiring martyrs aside, I can’t help wondering how many moderate religious people who claim such belief really hold to it, in their heart of hearts. If they were truly sincere, shouldn’t they all behave like the Abbot of Ampleforth? When Cardinal Basil Hume told him that he was dying, the abbot was delighted for him: ‘Congratulations! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you’ … Why don’t religious people talk like that when in the presence of the dying?” [5]

Effect | Although I disagree with Harris that belief in the afterlife is a substitute for wisdom and I think that Dawkins fails to take into account the complexity of emotions that death brings forth [6], I do wonder what our lives would look like if we really believed in eternity. Would we live more aesthetically because our treasures are in heaven? Would we spend our time more strategically because this life is short? What would change?

Prayer | Lord, You have set eternity in our hearts. Yet, what does that mean? How do we live in light of knowing that this life is short and our treasures are not here? How do we live as dual citizens of this world and of heaven? Increase our faith and give us guidance about how to live that out. Amen.

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Footnotes: [1] Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV1984 | [2] Apology, 40c-41c. In fact, Socrates – not Paul – was the first to say, “to die is gain.” : “ … we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and a migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the site of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain … Now, if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O friends and judges, can be greater than this? … Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not … What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! For in that world they would not put a man to death for this; certainly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.”) | [3] Jobs said, “That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.” In fact, one of the reasons that he didn’t like putting on/off switches on Apple devices was because he hoped in an afterlife. In their original designs, the iPhone and the MacBook were to be put on “standby” or to sleep when not being used. See WSJ Staff, “What We Learned About Steve Jobs on ’60 Minutes.” The Wall Street Journal, Speakeasy. 23 October 2011; Jon Swaine, “Steve Jobs refused on/off switch for iPhone because he hoped there was an afterlife.” The Telegraph. 24 October 2011. | [4] Whizin Center for Continuing Education at American Jewish University. “Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens Debate Two Rabbis: Is There An Afterlife?” February 15, 2011. | [5] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. | [6] Yes, we can be overjoyed for our fellow believers who are dying – and, in fact, I have seen family and friends rejoice at the death of believers precisely because they know that they’re entering into the presence of the Lord. Yet, we can also mourn our loss of them in our lives here on earth. In fact, even though Jesus knew that he was on his way to raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept when he saw the sadness of Mary and Martha, the sister of Lazarus. To me, Dawkins minimizes the complexity of death and the various emotions that can coexist simultaneously in the heart of Christians.

October 28, 2011

Has what you thought you wanted left you wanting?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
Full Text: Ecclesiastes 1-2

NYC | There is no doubt that New York is a great city. John Updike wrote, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding”, and John Lennon said, “If I’d live in Roman times, I’d have lived in Rome. Where else? Today America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.” Yet, why is this so? What makes New York so great? It’s definitely not the cramped living spaces, high cost of living or horrid subway smells. It’s also not the relaxed lifestyle or pleasant weather. So why do 45% of Americans under 35 want to live here [1] and 47 million people worldwide annually want to visit [2]? It’s the shopping, eating, drama, nightlife and entertainment. After all, where else can you get gourmet cuisine from food trucks parked outside the opera house? Yet, no matter what this city offers – Wall Street, Per Se, Broadway, The Metropolitan Club, Saks, Columbia, 30 Rock – every New Yorker eventually asks, “Is this it? Is life nothing more than a series of cool and exclusive events?”

Pleasure | And thus we turn to Ecclesiastes. As Mark Dever has written,  “If the book of Proverbs is about wisdom for people who want success, the book of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom for people who have success. Particularly, it is for individuals who have gotten what they wanted out of life, or at least what they thought they had wanted, and then have found it wanting” [3]. Solomon – on par with the most wealthy and powerful New Yorkers – passionately pursued pleasure: Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure” [4]. Yet, in his seeking, he found that, “all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” [5]. As Jesus later asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” [6].

Prayer | Lord, We confess that there is nothing to be gained under the sun. All of our pleasure-seeking in events and clothes and food and shows and power is vanity if we approach them as the means by which to get joy. Rather, you are the joy of our salvation and the end of our seeking. And, in Christ, we have riches forevermore – riches that last beyond the grave because you have conquered death. Therefore, satisfy us in you and you alone. Amen.

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[1] Pew Research.  |  [2] Wikipedia, Tourism in New York City.  |  [3] Mark Dever. The Message of the Old Testament.  |  [4] Ecc. 2:10 ESV  |  [5] Ecc. 2:11 ESV

October 27, 2011

How Could Someone so Smart and Rich … ?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 11:4
Full Text: 1 Kings 11

Conviction | Former McKinsey Managing Director, Rajat Gupta, surrendered to the FBI yesterday – still pleading innocent on insider trading charges brought against him for allegedly giving material nonpublic information to Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of Galleon Group. Having started Galleon in 1997 with $300 million in funds, Rajaratnam saw the company become the biggest technology-based hedge fund worldwide by January 2008 – with 160 employees and $7 billion in funds. At that point, however, the Feds were already watching him. Although Rajaratnam could’ve avoided court by pleading out, he refused because an astrologer told him that he’d be acquitted. Yet, the jury found the evidence overwhelming. In May, although they wondered how “someone so smart and rich already could be involved in something so horrendous,” the jury convicted him of all 14 counts. Before sentencing, the Feds offered him another chance to reduce his sentence by wearing a wire to incriminate Gupta. Once again, however, he refused and, therefore, was sentenced to 11 years. Thus, in November, when he says goodbye to his family and heads to prison, it may be the last time that he is a free man – since he has advanced type 2 diabetes with kidneys are already failing [1].

Indictment | Solomon also had great wealth yet ended his life in sadness. He acquired large numbers of horses, accumulated great amounts of gold, and took 700 wives and 300 concubines [2]. Yet, all of these marks of worldly success were against the word of God [3], who knew that such wealth and wives led to idolatry. Thus, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” [4]. Thus, God tore the entire kingdom away – with the exception of “one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem” [5].

Prayer | Lord, We are no different from Rajaratnam or Gupta – we have sinned and have fallen short of your glory [6]. When Solomon sinned against you, he was punished severely. So what hope can the rest of us have? Based on our own actions, we can have no hope. But if we trust in the timeless, matchless actions of Jesus – his life, suffering, death and resurrection – we can have a perfect hope: “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” [7]. Amen.

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Footnotes:  [1]  All information comes from these sources: “Raj Rajaratnam Breaks His Silence.” The Daily Beast. 24 Oct 2011. Suketu Mehta, “The Outsider: Exclusive: Raj Rajaratnam Reveals Why He Didn’t Take a Plea.” Newsweek / The Daily Beast. Evelyn M. Rusli and Peter Lattman, “Stack of Evidence Sealed Galleon Guilty Verdict, Juror Says.” NYTimes. 14 May 2011. Michael Rothfeld and Susan Pulliam, “Gupta Surrenders to FBI: Ex-Goldman Director Gupta to Face Criminal Charges.” 26 October 2011. |  [2]  1 Kings 11:3 NIV1984  | [3]  See Deut. 17.  |  [4]  1 Kings 11:4 NIV1984  |  [5]  1 Kings 11:13 NIV1984  |  [6]  See Rom. 3:23.  |  [7]  1 John 3:20 NIV1984.

October 26, 2011

Here is your king who will reign forever!

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 10:23
Full Text: 1 Kings 10 + 2 Chron. 8-9

King | On the brink of entering the Promised Land, Moses instructed the Israelites about the king that they would one day appoint: “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses” [1]. He gave two stipulations – the king “must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself” [2] nor “accumulate large amounts of silver and gold” [3].

Solomon | Yet, when Solomon became king, he acquired great numbers of horses for himself: “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem” [4], and he accumulated large amounts of gold: The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, not including the revenues from merchants and traders and from all the Arabian kings and the governors of the land … The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons. King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth” [5].

Jesus | Thus, it was clear that Solomon was not the long-awaited king of Israel chosen by God. When Jesus came, however, he did not acquire a great number of horses. Instead, he borrowed a donkey: “Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt” [6]. Moreover, he did not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. Instead, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” [7]. He is the king. He is the descendant of Solomon – greater in wisdom and might [8] – who was promised. He will reign forever.

Prayer | Lord, Here is our long-awaited king! Although Jesus did not need to come in humility or poverty, he chose to ride on a donkey without riches so that we might be exalted in wealth. Therefore, as co-heirs with Christ, we lay up our treasures in heaven – for where our treasure is, there are our hearts are also. Amen.

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[1]  Deut. 17:14-15 NIV1984  | [2]  Deut. 17:16 NIV1984  | [3]  Deut. 17:17 NIV1984. Moses also told them that the king should not have many wives, which is addressed in tomorrow’s text.  |  [4]  1 Kings 10:26 NIV1984  |  [5]  1 Kings 10:14-15, 22-23 NIV1984  |  [6]  Jn. 12:14-15 NIV1984, quoting Zech. 9:9.  |  [7]  2 Cor. 8:9 NIV1984  |  [8]  All treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (Col. 2:3). Therefore, all Old Testament wisdom finds complete expression in Christ, the one who is wiser than Solomon (Matt. 12:41), who surpassed all the kings of the earth in wisdom (1 Kings 10:23).

October 25, 2011

Why does God answer some prayers and not others?

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 2 Chron. 7:14
Full Text: 1 Kings 9 + 2 Chron. 7

Answered | In 1868, before the telephone or Twitter, everyone in the world knew that God answered the prayers of George Mueller in England. Even an unbelieving NYT reporter was intrigued: “It struck me that a man who got $2,000,000 in gold in a few years merely by praying … was a phenomenon worthy of some attention” [1]. You see, in 50 years, Mueller built 5 orphanages and cared for more than 10,000 orphans – without directly asking anyone for money, going into debt, or taking a salary for 68 years. He chose to work like this to help Christians trust God: “The first and primary object of the work was (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact that the orphans under my care are provided, with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without anyone being asked by me … whereby it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL” [2].

Unanswered | Yet, God did not heal his wife. When Mary was diagnosed with rheumatic fever, he was broken “on account of the depth of [his] affection” [3]. At her funeral, he said, “The last portion of scripture which I read to my precious wife was this: ‘ … no good thing will be withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ … – I am in myself a poor worthless sinner, but I have been saved by the blood of Christ; and I do not live in sin, I walk uprightly before God. Therefore, if it is really good for me, my darling wife will be raised up again; sick as she is. God will restore her again. But if she is not restored again, then it would not be a good thing for me. And so my heart was at rest. I was satisfied with God. And all things spring … from taking God at his word, believing what he says” [4].

Prayer | Lord, Your word tells us that, if we humble ourselves and pray and seek your face and turn from our wicked ways, then you will hear and forgive and heal us [5]. In Christ, you have answered our deepest prayers – for although we are poor worthless sinners, you have saved us by his blood. Thus, although we confess that we may never know why you choose to answer some prayers and not others, we take you at your word and believe what you say. Amen.

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[FN]  For further reading on the ordinary faith and extraordinary God that Mueller worshiped and loved, please read: John Piper. “George Mueller’s Strategy for Showing God: Simplicity of Faith, Sacred Scripture, and Satisfaction in God.” 2004 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. 3 February 2004.  |  [1]  Our Own Correspondent (22 December 1868). “George Muller; The New Orphan Houses of Bristol”. The New York Times (New York: New York Times Archive). Retrieved 24 October 2011.   |  [2]  George Mueller, A Narrative of Some of the Lord’s Dealing with George Muller, Written by Himself, Jehovah Magnified. Addresses by George Muller Complete and Unabridged, 2 vols. (Muskegon, Mich.: Dut and Ashes, 2003), 1:105.  |  |  [3]  Id at 2:398.  |  |  [4]  Id. at 2:745.   |  [5]  2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV1984
October 24, 2011

How to Choose to Love Those Who You Know Will Hurt You

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 8:46

Love | Our lives are full of hard-to-love people. From the guy who shoves himself into the overcrowded subway during rush hour to the coffee girl who needs the order repeated five times when we’re running late, we’re constantly confronted with the question, “Will we choose to love them?” Yet, when it comes to subway guy or coffee girl, that question is easy to answer. After all, loving them doesn’t cost much – after subway guy gets off at 42nd and coffee girl gives us caffeine, we move on and forget we even met them. When it comes to friends and family, however, that question is hard to answer. After all, they have the real potential to hurt us and, in some cases, we have real reasons to believe that they will because they have us in the past – perhaps even deeply and intentionally. So, how do we decide whether to love someone – come what may – when we have real reasons for believing that they’ll hurt us again?

Power | When God chose to love Israel, He knew that she would hurt Him – deeply and intentionally. Yet, He chose her because He loved her: “The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” [1]. It was that simple. Yet, He wasn’t ignorant about what was in her heart; He knew that she would complain about Him and hate Him and reject Him. As Solomon admitted, “There is no one who does not sin” [2]. Yet, it was in this unrighteous and sinful state – not in a righteous or perfect one – that God chose to love and die for His people: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [3]. He chose to love us – come what may – and kept that promise even when we crucified His Son – even as he prayed for our forgiveness [4].

Prayer | Lord, In Christ, your love lives in our hearts to look at the most unlovable people – those who hurt and abandon us – and say, “I choose to love you – not because I don’t think you’ll hurt me or because I’m a good person, but because I trust that God will give me the power of Christ to love you – come what may.” Amen. [5]

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Footnotes: [1]  Deut. 7:6 NIV1984  |  [2]  1 Kings 8:46 NIV1984. See also “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecc. 7:20 NIV1984), “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:2-3 NIV1984). See also Ps. 143:2; 1 Jn. 1:8; Ps. 19:12.  |  [3]  Rom. 5:8 NIV1984  |  [4]  Even as Jesus hung on the cross, he begged for God to forgive those who were killing him: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:24 NIV1984).  |  [5]  In his forthcoming book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes about the permanent commitment to love someone in the context of marriage – come what may – and his reasoning is equally applicable to loving the unlovable in your life: “Many people hear this and say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t give love if I don’t feel it! I can’t fake it. That’s too mechanical for me.” I can understand that reaction, but Paul doesn’t simply call us to a naked action; he also commands us to think as we act. ‘Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ This means we must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day” (p. 108-109).

October 21, 2011

Everything – Even Our Generosity – Comes from God

by Bethany

Friday – 1 Kings 7 & 2 Chron. 4

God Prepared | David made preparations for the Temple even before Solomon was enthroned. He called together the family leaders, the tribal officers, and the military commanders and everyone gave generously: “They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze and a hundred thousand talents of iron. Any who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the LORD” [1]. Everyone rejoiced: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly” [2]. Then David gave thanks to God, acknowledging Him as the source of their generosity: “Praise be to you … Wealth and honor come from you … Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand … O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you” [3].

God Built | When David died, Solomon took the throne and built the Temple, furnishing it with great extravagance. Although the details of its furnishings may bore modern readers, the Israelites would have listened intently to the Chronicler, wondering whether Solomon obeyed everything God commanded: “Solomon also made all the furnishings that were in God’s temple: the golden altar; the tables on which was the bread of the Presence; the lampstands of pure gold with their lamps, to burn in front of the inner sanctuary as prescribed; the gold floral work and lamps and tongs (they were solid gold); the pure gold wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, dishes and censers; and the gold doors of the temple: the inner doors to the Most Holy Place and the doors of the main hall” [4]. Thus, after seven years, Solomon completed the Temple – through the generosity of the Israelites that was given by God.

Prayer | Lord, Everything we have – even our generosity – originates from you. Although we may give to various kingdom-building initiatives, even our desire to give comes from you alone. You are the deep, great, invisible reality who stirs our hearts. Therefore, give us humility in our generosity. Amen.

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[1] 1 Chron. 29:7-8 NIV 1984  |  [2] 1 Chron. 29:9 NIV 1984  |  [3] 1 Chron. 29:10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 19 NIV 1984   |  [4] 2 Chron. 4:19-22

October 20, 2011

From Come-See to Go-Tell

by Bethany

Relevant Text: 1 Kings 6:21-22
Full Text: 1 Kings 5-6 & 2 Chron. 2-3

Come-See | Prior to the coming of Jesus, God worked primarily through Israel by blessing them so that the nations could see and know Him as Lord [1]. Thus, the Temple of the Lord was spectacularly extravagant: “Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold. So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary” [2]. As John Piper has noted, “The pattern in the Old Testament is a come-see religion. There is a geographic center of the people of God. There is a physical temple, an earthly king, a political regime, an ethnic identity, an army to fight God’s earthly battles, and a band of priests to make animal sacrifices for sins” [3].

Go-Tell | When Jesus came into the world, however, the focus shifted from come-see to go-tell. As Jesus told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [4]. As Piper continued, in Christ, “there is no geographic center for Christianity [5]; Jesus has replaced the temple, the priests, and the sacrifices [6]; there is no Christian political regime because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world [7]; and we do not fight earthly battles with chariots and horses or bombs and bullets, but spiritual ones with the word and the Spirit” [8] [9]. By implication, of course, this shift from Place to Person meant a change in our lifestyles. Rather than amassing wealth to show the world how rich our God is, we now give our wealth away for the cause of advancing the gospel because we are “aliens and strangers in the world”  [10] [11].

Prayer | Lord, This world is not our home – not even Jesus himself had a place to lay his head [12]. Rather, our citizenship is in heaven [13]. Therefore, we find “great gain” in godliness with contentment – for “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” [14]. Give us a vision of our lives, as we “lay up treasure for [ourselves] as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that [we] may take hold of the life that is truly life” [15]. Amen.

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Footnotes:  [1]  As He told Moses when He was preparing him to go to Pharaoh to demand the release of His people, “And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it” (Ex. 7:4-5 NIV 1984).  |  [2]  1 Kings 6:20-22 NIV 1984  |  [3]  John Piper, “To Prosperity Preachers: Teach Them to Go.” Sermon. 25 May 2010.  |  [4]  Matt. 28:18-20 NIV 1984  |  [5]  See John 4:20-24.  |  [6]  See John 2:19; Hebrews 9:25-26.  |  [7]  See John 18:36.  |  [8]  See Ephesians 6:12-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.  |  [9]  John Piper, “To Prosperity Preachers: Teach Them to Go.” Sermon. 25 May 2010.  |  [10]  1 Peter 2:11 NIV 1984  |  [11]  Interestingly, the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language, which was unique to Israel and shared by no other peoples of the ancient world. The New Testament, however, was written in Greek, which was ideally suited for missions to the Roman world because it was its trade language.  |  [12]  See Lk. 9:58; Matt. 8:20  |  [13]  See Phil. 3:20.  |  [14]  1 Tim. 6:6-7 NIV 1984  |  [15]  1 Tim. 6:18-19 NIV 1984

October 19, 2011

How Marriage Vows Liberate Us

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Song of Songs 8:6-7
Full Text: Song of Songs 6:4-8:14

Vows | Love instinctively desires permanence. As Song of Solomon declares, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away” [1]. As Tim Keller has reflected, “Years ago, I attended a wedding in which the couple wrote their own vows. They said something like this: ‘I love you, and I want to be with you.’ The moment I heard it, I realized what all historic Christian marriage vows had in common, regardless of their theological and denominational differences. The people I was listening to were expressing their current love for each other, and that was fine and moving. But that is not what marriage vows are. That is not how a covenant works. Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now – that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings of external circumstances” [2] [3] [4].

Liberation | Passion with promises highlights the profound satisfaction of being known and loved – a divine combination. As Keller continues, “When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us” [5].

Prayer | Lord, In Christ, we are fully known and loved. Through the blood of the new covenant, nothing can quench your love for us – not even death. Thus, all our current loves are mere shadows of your passionate love for us [6]. Therefore, we want your power to love others, as we depend on your grace. Amen.

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Note: Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage has been quoted frequently because (a) the readings have recently been about marriage, and (b) I’m preparing for the book launch with the Kellers that will take place on Tuesday, November 1, where Gabe Lyons and I will co-moderate a discussion on the book. The event is sold out, but I’ll be posting webcast information as soon as it becomes available.

[1] Song of Songs 8:6-7 NIV 1984

[2] Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (p. 86-87).

[3] As Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes reflected on his own personal experience, “When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed – and each of the five has been me. The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name I took on back there: ‘I am he who will be there with you.’ When we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again” (Keller at 92).

[4] Keller argues that we become who we are through making wise promises and keeping them. In A Man for All Seasons, Meg begs her father Sir Thomas More to break the oath he had once made in order to save his life – say the words of the oath but think otherwise in his heart. Yet, he tells his daughter: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again” (Keller at 91).

[5] Keller at 95.

[6] Jonathan Edwards spoke of our current loves being mere shadows of God’s magnificent love: “The enjoyment of him is our highest happiness, and it is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here: better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean” (“The Christian Pilgrim,” in The Words of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 17, Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733, eg. Mark Valeri (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 437-438.

October 18, 2011

This Is My Lover; This Is My Friend

by Bethany

Relevant Text: Song of Songs 5:16
Full Text: Song of Songs 1:1-6:3

Romance | I have made many mistakes in my dating life. Right after college, I moved to DC and quickly found a wonderful group of friends, including many guy friends. Although some of these thoughtful and kind men were interested in me, I didn’t want to date them because they didn’t seem appealing or exciting or attractive. I was screening first for chemistry and then for friendship. Yet, as Tim Keller suggests in his forthcoming book The Meaning of Marriage, I was going about it wrong: “Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them. And then explore whether the friendship could become a romance and a marriage. So many people go about their dating starting from the wrong end, and they end up in marriages that aren’t really about anything and aren’t going anywhere” [1].

Friendship | Yet, Solomon praised his beloved: “This is my lover, this is my friend” [2]. The priority of marriage is spiritual friendship – that is, “the deep oneness that develops as two people journey together toward the same destination, helping one another through the dangers and challenges along the way” [3]. And that same destination is the new, glorified self in Christ: “The common horizon husband and wife look toward is the Throne, and the holy, spotless, and blameless nature we will have. I can think of no more powerful common horizon than that, and that is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches” [4]. Yet, as Keller clarifies, “So many marriages begin with the journey to God only as an afterthought … But that is not what spiritual friendship is. It is eagerly helping one another know, serve, love and resemble God in deeper and deeper ways” [5].

Prayer | Lord, We confess that we have a vision of love that is colored by our cultural lens. We seek after thrills that fade rather than covenants that endure. Open our eyes to see what you see. Give us visions to see one another as our glorified and redeemed selves so that we can encourage one another on toward the throne and your presence. Show us how to walk this journey together as you change us from glory to glory. Amen.

____________________________________


[1] Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp. 126-127.  |  [2] Song of Songs 5:16.  |  [3] The Meaning of Marriage at 115.  |  [4] Id. at 120-121.  |  [5] Id. at 132.

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