Archive for October, 2011

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.

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[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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