Revelation 2:19-29, The Church at Thyatira: Where Service is Not Sufficient

“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.  Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.  Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.  And I will give to each one of you according to your works.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden.  But hold fast what you have till I come.  And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations –

‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron;
They shall be dashed in pieces like the
potter’s vessels’ –

as I also received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ‘

As we’ve mentioned before, this is the longest of the seven letters.

– continued from the previous post –

3. Contents of the Epistle, 2:19-29.

Commendation, v. 19.

This is the warmest commendation of any, which perhaps emphasizes the severity of what follows.  Thyatira had so much, and yet fell so far short.  The Lord indicates there had been real spiritual progress.  “Works” are mentioned twice, “the last more (or, better) than the first.”  Jesus commended them for four practical aspects of their Christian life:

1. Love.  This is the first and chief of all Christian graces, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This is what Ephesus lacked.

2. Service, “diakonia,” voluntary service for our brethren, or those around us, by which they are benefited.  This is different from “doulos,” the word used by Paul and translated “bondservant,” whose only duty was to obey his master.  This is an apt word for our service to God.  What we do as God’s servants does not “benefit” Him!  Cf. Job 35:7.

3. Faith.  Cf. Hebrews 11:6.  Faith isn’t simply agreement with a set of teachings, a catechism, a statement of faith, as good as these may be.  It isn’t some sort of “feeling” or experience by which we enter a supposed “higher plane of Christian existence.”  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an obedient response to the Word of God.  We read over and over again in that chapter, “by faith,” so-and-so did this or that.  Noah built a huge boat, when it had never rained.  Abraham left a comfortable life in a metropolis of his time and everything he knew to follow a promise.  Enoch just disappeared one day.  These and many others didn’t simply “believe” God, they did what He said.  Some of what they did seems unreasonable, even wicked, to unbelievers,e.g., Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac.  But they pleased God.  That’s all that matters.

4. Patience, endurance under hardship.  We see examples of this later in Hebrews 11, Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tested, were slain with the sword.  They wandered around in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth, vs. 35b-38.

We’ve been spoiled in this country.  What we just read above is more likely to be the treatment of God’s people in this world, and it is in many countries even as I write these words.

Thyatira had much that was good, but they also had much that was bad.  This leads to:

Condemnation and Judgment, vs. 20-23.

1. Condemnation, v. 20.  Thyatira was very active in works, but they seem to have neglected the Word.  This is why all the things wrong with them happened.  They weren’t really guided by the Word of God.  Because of this,  –

– they permitted false teaching. Perhaps, like the church at Corinth, they thought it was an evidence of “Christian love” or some such thing, to tolerate this teaching.  I don’t really know.  Regardless, “tolerance” is not permitted in defiance of plain Scripture teaching.  “Gender fluidity,” unScriptural views of marriage, of the family, of morality in general, of the roles of men and woman, of the place of Scripture in society, to name just a few, have no place in a Biblical worldview, regardless of how popular or prevalent they, or any other social idea, might be, or how unpopular the Biblical view is.

What about the idea that a woman was responsible for this teaching?

We don’t know who this woman really was, or if this was even her real name.  So we have to ask, who is Jezebel in Scripture?  She’s first mentioned in 1 Kings 16:31-33, where she is married to Ahab, king of Israel, a king who followed in the idolatrous and rebellious practices of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided kingdom, see 1 Kings 12:25-33, who thereafter was known as  “Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin,” and future kings of Israel are faulted for following him.

Ahab was a weak king and Scripture says of him, there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up, 1 Kings 21:25.  She did the same thing to her son, 1 Kings 22:52.

She was a “mixer,” mixing the true religion of Israel with the false religion of her homeland.  Whatever she was to the northern kingdom, that’s what this other “Jezebel” was to Thyatira, mixing the true and the false.  It doesn’t matter what she called herself, she was wrong, and the church got into trouble for following her.

At the same time, I think Christ has something to say to those who turn to mere human authority, rather than hearing what the Spirit says to the churches.  One of the Puritans used to say, “I want to hear but two things.  First, does God speak?  Second, what does He say?”  Unless we have this attitude, and aren’t content merely to follow some preacher, teacher or school of thought, we are in Thyatira.

As for the idea of a woman teaching men, the Scripture is quite clear on this, in spite of the rampant feminism, “Biblical” or otherwise, that has engulfed even our churches, 1 Corinthians 14:33-37; 1 Timothy 2:8-12.  Lest, as some have done, it is said these verses just show Paul’s “rabbinic prejudice,” he wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:37, these things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

This in no way is intended to demean women.  Their value and contribution in this life cannot be overstated.  It’s just that the world has an entirely different definition of those ideas than Scripture.  This is not to say in any way that man is “superior,” or that women are “inferior.”  It is God Who is superior and He has set an order in the church, in the home and in society.  He has one set of rules; the world has chosen to reject those and go by their own set of rules, with the resulting chaos we see all around us.

– they tolerated idolatry and immorality.  Possibly this centered around the trade-guilds and the idolatry and immorality they fostered.  We don’t know how Jezebel might have reasoned about these things in the church, but it doesn’t really matter.  Regardless of why it happened, the Lord was having none of it.

2. Judgment, vs. 21-23.

With reference to the actual church in Thyatira, we don’t know what happened when the Lord judged this wickedness, just that it happened.

With reference to any typical teaching, we believe this church represents the Reformation and Rome’s response to the true gospel.

– grace before judgment, v. 21. The Lord said, “I gave her space to repent….”   Savonorala in Italy, Wickliffe in England, John Knox in Scotland, Martin Luther in Germany, Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin in France – all men whom God raised up throughout their world to call Rome to repentance, but “she repented not,” and instead set up a “Counter Reformation” to strengthen her grip on the souls of men and to counteract the preaching of the truth.

– judgment on her and her followers, v. 22.

See above for remarks about the actual church situation in Thyatira.

– judgment on her “children,” v. 23.

Who are “her children”?  Are they not the Reformation churches?  Calvin and Luther and others never repudiated their Catholic ordination.  When Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to that door in Wittenburg, he wasn’t trying to start a new “church,” but was attempting to call the church that ordained him to repentance and a return to the truths of Scripture.

– “kill with death.”  We think this phrase contains a vital, but generally overlooked, truth.  What brought about the Reformation?  Wasn’t it largely due to the recovery of the Scriptural teaching of justification by grace through faith?  We’ve already noted Luther’s and Calvin’s views on preaching and interpretation.  The Reformers did preach the Word to a degree unheard of for centuries.  It’s sad that they brought so much with them when they left Rome.  But they did at least start with a foundation of Scripture.

What happened?

The Reformers themselves were men of the Spirit, but their doctrines of infant baptism and the state-church, whereby everyone who was a citizen of the nation was by virtue of that citizenship also a member of the state church, soon filled their churches with unsaved people, and their method of allegorical interpretation, in spite of the “literalism” they started with, soon reduced the Gospel to nothing more than a series of ethical maxims.

We think very little of this in our day, but Scripture says that the Word of God will inevitably have one of only two results:

For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life…, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 3:6, emphasis added.

Apart from the ministry of the Spirit of God, the Word of God produces death, whether it’s preached in a Reformed church, a Baptist church, or someone just picks it up and reads it.  According to Paul, there is no middle ground.  Protestant churches have the Word, but, to a great degree, have reduced it to teachings on ethics and morality.  However, ethics, even biblical ones, do not give “life.”  So Rome’s children have been “killed with death” by the very Scriptures of which Protestant churches make their boast.

– “give to each one of you..,” v. 23.

Whatever may be said about “typical” teaching from these verses, the Lord is here addressing the actual church in Thyatira.  There is a judgment of persons as well as of systems, cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.  The believer’s sins aren’t in view in these verses; they were taken care of on Calvary.  His works will be put to the test – what he did with the life God gave him.  The word translated, “loss,” has two meanings: loss of what has been gained, the works of wood, hay and stubble, but it also means “to forfeit” – the reward that would have been received if the works had been gold, silver or precious stones.  Such a one faces a double loss:  all the works of his life, as well as any reward.  Paul put it like this:  he himself will be saved, yet as through fire, v. 15.  The picture is of a person who has gone through a disastrous fire, losing everything and escaping only with his life.

It’s a sobering thought.  20, 30, 40, 50 years of ministry, perhaps outwardly great and wonderful, gone up in smoke.  This is why John warned his readers – and us, Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward, 2 John 8 (ESV), emphasis added.

Closing remarks, vs. 24-29.

1. Responsibility, vs. 24, 25, “hold fast.”

The phrase means, to hold by strong hands, tugging for it, with those who would take it from them.  It indicates an ongoing and difficult struggle to retain what they still had.  The world has no use for the things of God, and even many in “the church” see no value in them, being content with ritual and routine.  In Thyatira, there were those who were actively opposed to the truth of God’s Word.  The believers weren’t to let them win.

2. Reassurance, vs. 26 – 28.

As difficult as it might have seemed to these Thyatiran believers, their struggles would come to an end and they would be richly rewarded.  They were promised power (authority) over the nations.

A Reformed writer had this to say, “One by one, as we reach the end here on earth, we shall pass into heaven and there sit with Christ on His throne and together with Him exercise kingly rule and authority over the nations until His Parousia. (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation, p. 122.)

Sorry, but I must differ.  Where is there a single place on earth today that bears any evidence of Christ’s “kingly rule”?  Where He is honored and revered?  What kind of “rule” is that, where the King is ignored, even ridiculed and rejected?  This quote is a very shallow and irreverent view of “the kingdom.”

Our Lord Himself said that He is seated with His Father on His Father’s throne, 3:21.  He will not sit on His own throne as King until after His return to this earth, Matthew 25:31.  He isn’t referred to as “King” until then, either.  According to Zechariah 14:16-21, when our Lord is ruling this earth, there will be no question about it – and no escaping it.  He, and His people, will rule the nations “with a rod of iron,” because not everyone will be glad to see Him!  We see this graphically portrayed in Revelation 20:7, when Satan is released from his prison at the end of the 1000 year reign of our Lord (not just “hindered” by the preaching of the Gospel, but actually incarcerated), and he will have no trouble at all in gathering a world-wide rebellion against the King, a rebellion that will be quickly snuffed out.  Just in passing, if the Holy Spirit didn’t mean an actual 1000 years, why did He mention it six times in six verses?

“the morning star.”  2 Peter 1:19 refers to the morning star rising in our hearts.  There’s a lot of discussion about what this “star” is.  I confess I don’t know.  Whatever it is, is probably beyond the ability of words to convey.

 3. Reminder, v. 29.

These aren’t just the delusions of a tired old man in prison.  They are what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pay attention….

2 Years.

Two years ago today, I joined WordPress and published my first post.  I had no idea what to expect.  Since then –

196 posts, counting this one.

6700+ views, though I’d like to know how many actual “visits” that includes.

Folks from 64 countries have dropped by at least once.   Several countries have only one visit.  Some of them, like Qatar or Oman, I’d love to know who visited, and what brought them here.

Numerous comments, likes and such.  Some folks have been kind enough to “reblog” one of my posts on their blog.  If you’re one of them, or have commented, thank you so much.  Even if you haven’t done that, thanks for taking the time just to drop by for a visit.  All of you have been a great blessing to me.

Compared to some of the blogs I follow or visit, this is pretty small potatoes.  Still, God has put each one of us in the body as it pleased Him.  I’m thankful to be used of Him at all.  But who knows, short of eternity, what He might be pleased to do with something I write.

There was a Scottish preacher who was led to preach on the text, “Unto you, O men, I call.”  The problem was, in this seaside town, there had arisen an emergency and all the men of the church were out helping, and there were only women in attendance!  Nevertheless, he felt he must preach it, and so he did.  Unknown to him, in an out-of-the-way place in the church, there was a young lad listening.  God touched this young man’s heart through the message, and he later became a missionary.  It’s been a long time since I heard this incident, and I don’t remember the name of the missionary.  I don’t know if that preacher ever realized the fruit borne by what he must have felt was a failure.

On a hot August afternoon at a Bible college in the Ozarks in the US, a student was walking down a dormitory hallway and saw another student through an open door in one of the rooms.  He stopped by and began to chat with this student.  He began to open the Scriptures to him, notably Ephesians 1, and here we are, 51 years later, telling that story and thanking God for His grace and that student willing to walk through an open door.  I doubt that student, who became a lifelong friend, had any inkling of what that casual visit would start, or the ministry he himself would go on to have.

So, this blog has gone through open doors, as it were, all over this world.  Only eternity will reveal how God has glorified Himself through it, and what He might have been pleased to do with it.  Soli Deo Gloria!

If you’ve had a part in this blog, and you have just by reading this post, thank you.  God’s best to you.

Grateful for grace!

Incidentally, this is our daughter’s 18th wedding anniversary, as well.  Happy anniversary, kids!

“The Kindness of God.” Part 1: “What is Man?”

Why “kindness”?  We’ll take a closer look at this later.  For now, consider 2 Samuel 9:3 and Ephesians 2:7.

I.  The Necessity of Grace.

Before the Renaissance, it was believed that the proper study of mankind was God.  With the Renaissance and the rise of humanism came the belief that the proper study of mankind is man.  This is alright up to a point; we should know as much about ourselves as possible, but as it has developed, too many believe that when you are studying man, you are studying God!

What does the Bible say about Man?  Why is grace necessary?  Is it necessary?  We start at the beginning.

A. The Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1-3.

 Our Lord accepted the Genesis accounts of creation and the Fall as historical events.  So did Paul.  So do we.

1.   The creation of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:26-31; 2:8-25.

We can in these lessons do little more than touch the surface.

a.  their responsibility, 1:26, 28.

They were to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; …have dominion over…every living thing that moves on the earth.  In other words, they were to explore their new home and put it to good use.  In a sinless context like the Garden, the word “dominion” carries the idea of stewardship, not “domination,” as it so often does in a sinful context, like ours.  Adam was to till the ground, not just lie around in idleness.  Even in “paradise,” there was work to do.

b. their resources, 1:29; 2:16.

They were given to eat freely of every tree in the Garden except one.  There was no miserly rationing of things they might need, but all was freely given, even access to the Tree of Life.  If they’d’ve been smart, they would have rushed right over and eaten of it.  It should have been their first meal!  Of course, they had no way of knowing the future, or what was at stake.

c.  their restriction, 2:17.

There was only one tree which they were forbidden to eat from, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  This restriction served a two-fold purpose:  1).  Even though, in a sense, Adam was lord of all he surveyed, yet he was still just a creature and, as such, subject to the will of the Creator.  2).  Adam and Eve didn’t need to know about “good and evil.”  They had full access to God.  He determines what is “good,” and what is “evil.”  In their lives just now, there was no “evil.”  If there were any questions, they had only to ask Him.

2.  The conduct of Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:1-6. 

a.  they listened, vs. 1-5.

Even in the Garden, they made bad choices:  Eve to listen to the serpent, and Adam to listen to his wife.  Though perhaps humorous, this last really isn’t funny, because from these few minutes in the Garden have come millennia, indeed, even an eternity, of sin and suffering.  Notice how Satan turned the generosity of God into an intolerable restraint, implying that He was keeping something good from them.  Furthermore, he said, they wouldn’t “die” if they ate the fruit.  To the contrary, they would become like God, and by this, he implied, they wouldn’t need Him to be their moral and spiritual compass.  They could decide for themselves.

b.  they looked, v. 6.

We say, “They,” because the verse says that Adam was “with her.”  We believe he was there all the time.  She didn’t have to go looking for him.  Now, the tree looked beautiful and its fruit, she was told, was beneficial.  In her defense, Eve had no experience with deceit, it not having become part of the daily fabric of life.  So she picked a delicious-looking fruit – probably not an apple, and ate it.  Then she “shared” with Adam.

3.  The consequences to Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:7-24. 

a.  they died, (Genesis 2:17).

What does they “died” mean, since Adam lived well over 900 years outside the Garden?  Seeing this, some have looked at Psalm 90:4 and its repetition in 2 Peter 3:8, and misreading it as if it said 1000 years is one day to the Lord, have said that this is what God meant.  However, the only “day” Adam likely knew, never having read Psalm 90:4, was the “day” of 24 hours.  Besides, there is a certain immediacy in God’s warning – in the day you eat of it [the fruit], you shall surely die” that is lost if all God meant was that Adam would live less than a thousand years.

Before the Sun went down on that fateful day when they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve had died.  As we’ll see shortly, the primary effect of death is separation, and we read no more of any fellowship Adam and Eve had with God.  They were now afraid of Him and tried to hide.

b. they tried to do something about it, Genesis 3:7.

The world with its warped thought jokes about “the oldest profession in the world,” but they’re wrong.  The oldest “profession” is that of tailor.  Mankind still has no understanding of its condition before God, Romans 3:11, yet knows something is “wrong,” and so is still making “loincloths.”

c.  they shifted the blame, Genesis 3:12, 13.

Ultimately, Adam blamed God:  “the woman You gave me….”  Eve blamed the serpent. Yet the responsibility had been given to Adam to keep the Garden.  He failed in his primary responsibilities to God and to protect (another meaning of the word translated, “keep”) Eve.  After all, she was part of what God had entrusted into his keeping.

d.  their relationships were disrupted.

Their primary relationship was with God.  Before the Fall, and we don’t know how long that took, they had enjoyed fellowship with God, Genesis 3:8.  I’m sure, for example, that it was a festive occasion when God brought Eve to Adam.  However, after the Fall, there is no record that they ever again had such fellowship with God.  They were thrown out of the Garden.  They had died spiritually.

Their relationship with each other deteriorated, as well.  Gone forever was the innocence with which they had reveled in each other’s company.  I use the word “revel” deliberately.  There was no sin to cloud their happiness together; everything was perfect and holy.  We cannot imagine what it must have been like, although those who are blessed with a happy marriage have a small taste of it.  But now their memory was of what had happened – how they had failed God and each other, to say nothing of the curse under which they now lived:  evicted together from paradise, multiplied and painful child-bearing for Eve, as well as subordination to her husband, and, for Adam, increased and frustrating toil.

Paradise had truly been lost.

e.  they lost the right to eternal life, and their ability to obtain it.

Being evicted from the Garden barred them from the Tree of Life.  To make certain of that, God placed cherubim and a flaming sword in the way to prevent access to it, Genesis 3:22-24.  The lesson for them, and for us, is that if you want eternal life, you have to do something about your sin and the justice of God.  What they could have freely taken at any time before their sin was completely denied to them after it.

f.  their descendants were affected.

Though we see this relatively soon in the murder of Abel by his jealous brother Cain, we’re more concerned about descendants further along the line, like us.  What effect, if any, did the Fall have on us and our children and grandchildren?  We’ll explore the answer to this, Lord willing, in the next lesson.

Questions.

 1.  What bars man from eternal life?

 2.  Why is grace necessary?

 3.  What does “kindness” have to do with it?

 4.  Are the Biblical accounts of Creation and the Fall reliable.  Why?

 5.  What responsibility did Adam and Eve have in the Garden?

 6.  What resources?

 7.  Were there any restrictions?  Why?

 8.  What did Adam and Eve do?

 9.  What does it mean:  “they died”?

10. What other results were there from their eating the fruit?

“Just A Wife”

“One time when Eva inquired about my long-term prognosis, a nurse told her, ‘Honey, you don’t need to know all of that.  You’re just a wife’.”

This is a quote from Don Piper’s book, “90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN,” 10th anniversary edition, p. 147.  If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend that you do.  I picked it up the other day at WalMart while I was waiting for my wife.  I read it through at one sitting.  I’m not ashamed to admit that the tears flowed freely.

The quote comes in the middle of a section in which Don explains what happened when he was finally able to come home after many months of lying immobile in a hospital bed and how those long months had affected his wife.  I’ll not go into all that because you can read it for yourself.

But the quote really struck me.  I’ve often made the comment that no woman is ever “just a mother.”  I’m going to have to expand that to say that no woman is ever “just a wife.”

I’m sure the nurse didn’t mean her remark as an insult.  She probably was just trying to spare Eva Piper some of the painful details of her husband’s recovery.

At the same time, though, it’s a reflection of current attitudes towards women and marriage.

“Just a wife.”

How little, sometimes, we clunkers of husbands value the women God has been gracious enough to put into our lives.  Oh, I know they’re not perfect…

Neither are we.

Like Hannah’s husband Elkanah, we’re so often unable to understand the heart needs of the woman who shares our life, 1 Samuel 1:8.

If any man does think he’s perfect, he needs to ask his wife about it.

When Adam was by himself in the Garden, God said that it wasn’t good that he should be alone.  So He did something about it.

He made a wife.

Not simply a woman, though that’s how we think of her, and, indeed, how Scripture describes her.  But she was so much more than that:  she was a wife.

It’s true that things happened we wish wouldn’t have and their perfect harmony and happiness was disrupted.  Paradise was lost and has never been regained.

Nevertheless.

It just occurred to me as I was thinking about what to write next, that marriage (and family) is the one of the few things Adam took with him from the Garden.

He still had Eve.

There’s a lot more that I could write, how Christ’s love for us is pictured in marriage, how that love is the pattern we husbands are supposed to follow as to how we view and treat our own wives.  How Adam was made complete by Eve.  She was in no way “inferior” to him, but he was incomplete without her.

Let me just close with this – a loving wife is the greatest blessing, short of salvation, that God can give a man.

Her worth is far above rubies, Proverbs 31:10.

Who Makes the Rules?

A picture has appeared recently, and widely, in the social media, a picture of a man wearing a purple tee shirt, on the back of which are a list of statements about dating his 20-year-old daughter.  Perhaps you’ve seen it.

The list is titled, “Rules for dating my daughter.”  There are four such “rules”.

1.  I don’t make the rules.
2.  You don’t make the rules.
3.  She makes the rules.
4.  Her body, her rules.

It’s signed, “Feminist Father”.

There is an element of truth in this list.  And, with two daughters of my own, I understand the concern of the father for his daughter.

Understand that this list assumes that sex will be an integral part of the “date.”  And in our society, that does seem to have become the norm.  And I agree that a man has no right to force a woman to be intimate with him.

At the same time, the list doesn’t go far enough.

What do I mean?

God often directs our thoughts to something we will need in the future.  And not just thoughts.  When I was making deliveries for a living, sometimes I would say of a street, “Let’s see where this goes.”  I can’t tell you how many times later on that I needed to know where that street went.

So it is with this post.  I read the article about the shirt last week some time.  On Sunday, at church, the speaker quoted something from Psalm 147, which is a psalm of praise to God for His dealings with the nation of Israel, v. 19.  V. 20 continues the thought:  He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules (ESV).

You see, you and I don’t make the rules.  But when it comes right down to it, neither does she.  The rules have already been made.

That was the gist of the argument Satan advanced in the Garden of Eden:  Adam and Eve could make their own rules.  They didn’t need God for that.  And we see the mess they made of it.

Modern society has fully bought into that same argument.  And look at the mess we’ve made of it.

We’ve dealt with this in other posts, but it bears repeating.  Sex was never intended to be an end in itself.  It was intended to be enjoyed in the context of what it might produce:  children.  And it was intended to be enjoyed [only] by a man and a woman who had come together as husband and wife.  I grant that the marriages were usually arranged by the parents; but still, it was to a married couple that children were to be born and to become a family.  And those marriages were certainly no worse than the revolving door marriage has become in our day.  Or no “door” at all, with couples living together wanting the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities.

Children were never considered a “burden” in the Bible.  They were always a blessing – and the more, the merrier.  We’ve certainly gotten away from that!

The robins I wrote about last spring have long gone and they didn’t return this spring.  No other robins took their place.  The nest finally became loose on top of the porch light and it’s also long gone.

The thing is, their young hatched, grew and were gone in a matter of weeks.  Children take years before they’re ready to leave the nest.  It may be true that we learn most of what we learn in the first three or four years, but, as I’ve written elsewhere, no five-year old is ready for his or her own apartment.

It’s in the family that we’re supposed to learn the main lessons of life:  sharing, obedience, getting along with others.  Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be important.  And look at the mess we’ve made of it.

We decided that we make the rules.

 

On Approaching 75

Next year, Lord willing, I’ll be 75.

I’ve always known it was coming if the Lord let me live that long. It’s just that it struck me the other day that next year, I’ll be 75.

This is the latest in a series of what I suppose you might call epiphanies about growing up or growing old.

I have a vivid memory of my mother telling me I was getting too big for her to hold.  I don’t remember how old I was or what my reaction might have been, just that it happened.

When I was 8, for some reason I was thinking about being 21.  I have no idea why.  I was probably too young to be excited that I would be legally old enough to get drunk.  That idea has never appealed to me. It’s something I’ve never experienced. Can’t say I’ve missed it.  I’ve never understood how the morning after justified the night before.  Anyway, that was 13 years away – forever!

Several years later, I was thinking about when I was eight, and I literally and actually had to sit down at the realization that in 13 years, I would be 60!  I was 47 at the time.  That 13 years didn’t seem nearly as long as the first 13 years had seemed!

Now, next year, I’ll be 75.

Granted, that’s actually two birthdays from now, but still, it’s just next year I’ll be 75.  No big deal.  I suppose it is a landmark of sorts.  Still, it’s not nearly as “traumatic” as the idea of turning 60 had been.

A lot of time, a lot of memories.

55 years since high school.

48 years since Bible college.

43 years since I said, “I do.”

5 kids, 9 grandkids.

A lot of time, a lot of memories.

Still, in a way, it’s seems like no time at all.

James asked the question, For what is your life?  It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away, James 4:14.  For all the years I’ve lived, in the light of eternity, they’re nothing at all.

Eternity.

Eternal life.

A magazine I get recently had the article, “So You Want to Live Forever”.

I suppose a lot of people do.  They go to great trouble and expense to have their bodies frozen and preserved in the hope that down the road someone will figure out a cure for whatever ails them, and they can be revived and cured and live happily ever after.

I don’t think I’d like to live forever in this old body.  Too many kinks and creaks…. Glasses,  hearing aids, more face to wash….  I’m not complaining,  it’s just the way it is.

Even if they could “cure” all that, there’s still what’s on the inside – not organically, but spiritually.  No pill can cure that.  I wouldn’t want to live forever with the struggle between what I’d like to be and what I am.

Though I don’t put myself on his level, Paul struggled with this.  Romans 7 bears eloquent testimony to the war that raged in his soul.  I know there are some who believe that once you’re saved, you become sinless.  For them, Romans 7 describes Paul’s pre-conversion life.  But no unsaved person can say, …I delight in the law of God according to the inward man, Romans 7:22, or, So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God. but with the flesh the law of sin, v. 25b

But there is still triumph in this melancholy chapter:  I thank God  – through Jesus  Christ our Lord, v. 25a.

And he had thoughts about this elsewhere.  In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  Then in 5:2, 7, he wrote, For in this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven….  For we walk by faith….

“Faith.”

Faith isn’t just about the “now,” that is, what we can get out of God.  He might be pleased to make us healthy or wealthy, but that’s not the primary purpose of faith.  Just in passing, on this “wealth” thing – in America, even a poor person is “wealthy” in comparison to most of the rest of the world.  There are a lot of statistics on this, but I remember reading a post from a college student who makes about $5,000 a year.  She said this put her in the top 20% as far as the world is concerned.

$5,000.

And now there is agitation in this country [the US] for a minimum income of $30,000+ a year  [figuring the minimum wage at full-time].  *sigh*

Faith isn’t so much about the the present, though it is that, as well.  It’s about the future and when we stand before God to give an account of the years He’s given us on this earth.

And Paul wasn’t alone in this.  Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,… 

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

This is the basis, the only basis, for that “living hope” Peter referred to.  That and the death which preceded it.

You see, that spiritual struggle I wrote about earlier?  Only the Lord Jesus Christ can do anything about it.  We might be able to turn over some sort of a new leaf, but we’ll mess that one up, too.

It is faith in His death, in His payment for sin, in who He was and what He did that gives poor sinners like me any hope at all for when these 75 years, or whatever God gives me, are over.  He took a place on the Cross that I might be able to take a place in Heaven.

How I long for that day when, in the words of the old hymn, “Nothing between my soul and the Savior.”

“Nothing between” and I will be able to worship and serve Him as He deserves.

Will you join me?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,.., Acts 16:31.

A Wish for Couples Marrying This Spring….

…Or Anytime.

It will soon be the season for weddings.  I’d like to give these couples some thoughts and wishes as they begin life together.

I’ve been blessed to participate in the weddings of our three married children and privileged to officiate in one of them.  Our unmarried daughter finally got tired of my asking if she had found someone and ever so politely and lovingly and in so many words told me to buzz off.  And no, she wasn’t crude about it, just firm.  She’s quite content being single.

I was just going through my files looking for something else when I came across the notes I used in those weddings.  Reading them again brought tears to my eyes as I recalled those happy occasions and am able to reflect on what has happened since then in all of them.  I sometimes joke that I’m where we now live because of my wife, and she’s here because of the grandchildren.  We have others in different states now, but these were the only ones for quite a while.  It’s been a blessing to watch them grow and mature, and to see our children happy and settled.

In the beginning of all things earthly, God created the heavens and the earth, with all the creatures that are in them.  On one level, it was for occasions like weddings that all these wonderful things were made.  We read in Genesis that God made a man and gave everything into his hand, except one tree.  God brought all the animals to Adam, and Adam named them.  There was, however, something missing.  Every animal, every bird, had its own corresponding mate – there were two of them.  Only Adam stood by himself.  God said, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and He set about at once to finish His creation.  When He was done, He brought the first woman to the first man. Now God hadn’t been caught off-guard or surprised and so made Eve as some sort of after-thought.  I think He did it this way to show the special relationship that one man and one woman are to sustain toward each other for life.

For the man: –

There’s an interesting verse in the Old Testament that’s very applicable here.  Most people think of the Old Testament as all stern and unyielding and there are some things in it which do sound strange to us.  And it’s true that we don’t live under its requirements any more. but there’s still a lot of wisdom in its pages.  This verse has some of it:

When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken, Deuteronomy 24:5 (NKJV).

“Bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken.”

“Bring happiness to your wife.”

When was the last time you heard that in marital counseling?

And, yes, I understand that there are sometimes complex issues involved.  After all, we are human beings.

But this is a good place to start.

We men are pretty good, or bad, about what we expect from our wives:  “She’d better” do this or that.  We don’t give much thought to what they might expect from us. However, God said to the man, “Bring happiness to your wife.”  It’s your responsibility to make her happy, not hers to make you happy.

The world has a saying, “When the queen is happy, there’s peace in the realm.” There’s a lot of truth in that.  If you treat your wife like a dog, don’t be surprised if she barks at you.  Of course, that’s the trouble with a lot of men, they would treat a dog better than they do their wife.

It might be objected that that’s Old Testament, and even I have recognized that we don’t live under its rules any more.  However, the same God Who wrote the Old Testament wrote the New Testament as well.  In 1 Corinthians 7:33, Paul wrote, …he that is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife. 

Many consider Paul to have a negative view of marriage and of women in general.  Not so.  In this verse, he explicitly says that it’s the man’s responsibility to please his wife, although he does also say that the wife is to make her husband happy. Being well-versed in the Old Testament, since that’s pretty much all they had in the beginnings of the New Testament, not forgetting the teachings of the Lord Jesus, he likely was thinking of Deuteronomy 24:5.

I suppose there might be some who look at the phrase “the things of the world,” and figure that they don’t have to worry about it.  Marriage is “of the world,” and Christians are “not of this world.”  However, God ordained and instituted marriage, and laid out the guidelines under which it was to be entered and lived.  That those guidelines have been ignored or rejected has a lot to do with the mess society is in right now.

And we can’t overlook Ephesians 5:25, which says, Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it. I don’t know of any man, no matter how much he thinks of himself, who would say that he’s done that!  Also, Colossians 3:19.

He shall bring happiness to the wife whom he has taken. 

For the woman: –

Genesis 2:18 gives us the fundamental reason why God created Eve, as we’ve already noted.  It wasn’t good for man to be alone.  Malachi 2:14, …she is your companion… These two verses bookmark the Old Testament view of marriage.  It is a companionship.  There may or may not be legitimate reasons for “girls’ night out” or “boys’ night out,” but blessed indeed is that couple which finds its greatest joy in each other.

Marriage isn’t a competition.  One is not “better” than the other.  We’re all fallen, fallible creatures and it wouldn’t be until heaven, if marriage were to endure til then, that a wife would have a perfect husband, and the husband a perfect wife.

And there is no condescension in marriage.  Those who disagree with the Biblical view of marriage accuse it of making women second-class citizens.  That’s not true.  We each have different roles and responsibilities in marriage, but one is no less important than the other.  There are physical differences to be sure; I don’t know that my wife could pick up a 40 lb bag of salt to put into the water softener, but then she has mothered five children and birthed four of them.  One went ahead of us, whom we never got to meet, hold or love.  She wins, hands down!  And it has taken a woman of great grace, courage and mercy to put up with me for 43 years!

Eve was to be a completion, a complement, to Adam.  She was the finishing touch to creation.  It wasn’t until after her appearance that God pronounced everything, very good, Genesis 1:31.

A lot of the trouble in marriage is caused because people overlook this basic dictum: He created them male and female. Men are men and women are women.  Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus.  We are both from the hand of God.

A lot of women want their husbands to be more like themselves.  I suppose that has to do with feelings and emotions.  And men want their wives to be more like them.  Or they want to “get in touch with their feminine side.”  If you want to see my feminine side, I’ll introduce you to my wife!

God “made them male and female.”  In every area and in every difference, God has made them that way.

To a young woman standing before me, I would say, “you are about to enter into uncharted territory, so far as you are concerned.”  [I admit that this is an old-fashioned view, that couples don’t move in together without the benefit of marriage “to see if it’ll work out.”  Where’s the fun – and the challenge – of discovering a new country, so to speak, if you’ve already explored all of it?  And this doesn’t consider what God says about such an arrangement, that it is sin.] (continuing – ) “No longer will you be a single young woman answerable and responsible only to God and yourself.  From now on, the young man standing by your side must have great consideration in your plans and in your life.  You are required by Holy Scripture to have respect for him, to obey him.  This does not mean that you are to become a door-mat or a non-person in any way; it simply recognizes that his is the main responsibility before God in your marriage.”

It’s very interesting that there’s no Scripture which tells the wife directly to love her husband, only to respect him.  [Fellows, listen up.  Are you worthy of respect?]  Indeed, there is a verse which counsels older women to admonish the younger women to love their husbands…., Titus 2:4.  It must be tough on you ladies when your Prince Charming turns out to be a frog.  I don’t see how you do it.  The older ladies are supposed to have some experience in this and are to pass it along to the younger ladies.

To both of them: –

Marriage is a “they” proposition:  A man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. “They” speaks of a mutual endeavor. “Shall become” speaks of a mutual effort.  “One flesh” speaks of a mutual experience.  This is very brief.  So much more could be said about it.

To any young couples contemplating marriage who are reading this, I wish for you two that you will become like an ornamental Benjamin fig tree I once saw.  Someone had taken three slender trees and planted and braided them together.  The tree had grown over these three individual shoots and they had become united as one tree. I know it loses a lot in the telling, but the tree was beautiful.  May you two as you plant and entwine your lives grow together as one and become beautiful in the hand of God.

“He made them male and female.”

There is a lot of confusion about this simple declaration of Scripture.  (Of course, that’s the main problem in contemporary society – it’s Scripture.  Very few people really think the Bible has any relevance to or place in 2014.)  This confusion is exemplified in the recent decision by a popular social medium to add a large number of choices for folks to check in this regard as they make their profiles.   Nevertheless, no matter how you dress it, homo sapiens only comes in two models: male or female.

A few weeks ago, the popular star of a reality TV show talked about this in an interview.  I don’t know who was more upset and offended by his remarks: the gay community for disagreeing with their viewpoint, or Christians for talking about the physiological realities involved.  Granted that he perhaps could have been more careful in his choice of words, but he was just telling it as he saw it, the incompatibility of the human body with same-sex relationships.

The human body truly is an amazing organism.  It has a number of “systems” to keep it going.  The skeleton provides the framework which supports all the rest.  Muscles, ligaments and tendons hold it all together and make it possible to move and do things.  The respiratory system brings in oxygen, which the circulatory system distributes to every cell of the body several times a minute.  Not only does the circulatory system distribute oxygen to each cell, but then it picks up “waste” like carbon dioxide, which it transfers to the respiratory system, which then exhales it.  This is all done without our thought, for the most part.  True, one can hold his breath, but eventually will have to breathe.  The body will not allow you to hold your breath long enough to commit suicide.  If nothing else, you will pass out – and then the body will automatically begin to breathe.  Have you ever thought about how amazing the respiratory and circulatory systems are?  How would you like it if the same trucks which picked up your trash, say on Wednesday, then delivered your groceries on Thursday?  Then there’s the reproductive system, by which homo sapiens continues as a species.  It’s heavily muscled, to allow for the exertion of sexual activity and for the rigors of birth.  It’s specifically designed for that.  God made them male and female, and told them to bear children before the Fall. Sex isn’t just some sordid result of it.  Men have turned it into something sordid, but that’s not God’s fault.  Then there is the nervous system, which gives us a sense of touch.  The digestive system allows us to enjoy a thick steak or nice veggie burger, digest it and distribute its nutrients to every cell of the body, and to get rid of what the body doesn’t or can’t use.

The thing is, with all these systems, and others we haven’t mentioned, that while these systems are all interdependent, they are not interchangeable.  Each system has a definite role to play in the life and well-being of the individual.

Further, there’s more to the individual than just the body.  While some may dismiss this as just the result of chemical processes or genetic disposition, where do works of art come from?  Musical masterpieces?  Works of commerce and industry – good or bad. Science, which explores and seeks to explain the world in which we live?  You may say, well, they come from the brain.  That’s true, but every animal has a brain.

The Robin’s nest I wrote about a few months ago is a marvel of construction, still firmly attached to the top of the porch light through wind and rain and 8 feet of snow (not all at once!) though it is protected by the roof’s overhang.  In fact, I couldn’t remove it without literally tearing it twig from twig.  It’s stuck!  I’m waiting to see if Robins use it this spring – if it ever stops snowing!

There was a story several years ago about a chimpanzee.  This chimp was given a handful of rice mixed with grains of sand.  The object of the experiment was to see how she would cope.  There was some water nearby.  She threw this mixture into the water and was then easily able to pick out the grains of rice.  Now, that is truly something to think about – how this chimp figured out how to solve her problem.  But I don’t know of any animal that has figured out how to plant rice.

Given what she did, and there are other stories as well, still, there are no “Collected Works of Apespeare.”  No animal writes books or builds libraries.  Birds can fly and some squirrels can glide, but no animal has ever built an airplane or hang-glider.

There is a difference.  In spite of the evolutionary viewpoint which tells us that we’re just advanced primates, it’s obvious we’re different.

The idea of male and female brings up the topic of sex.  I’m sorry if that phrase offends you, but where do you think you came from?  If you’re uncomfortable with the subject, though I’ll try to be a little more careful than the reality TV star, perhaps you ought not to read the rest of the post.

I recognize that many people don’t believe the Bible.  I can’t help that; it’s there we’re going.    God made every part of His animate creation to yield seed and to reproduce itself.  Every part of animate creation does.  At the same time, sex was never meant to be an end in itself.  For every species except humans, that’s true.  Marlins and moose and myna birds don’t have “gentlemen’s clubs”.  Only humans take sex down into the sewer.

Having said that, make no mistake about it, God made sex to be enjoyable.  If it were like having a root canal, how long would the race have survived?  Even women are meant to enjoy it, contrary to that religious view which practices female circumcision.  In Genesis 18:12, after God had promised Abraham that he would have a son through his wife, Sarah, who had been eavesdropping, said, “Shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 

“Shall I have pleasure?”  The word translated, “pleasure” is from the same root as the word translated “Eden,” as in the Garden of Eden.  Because of their sin, Adam and Eve suffered “paradise lost.”  Satan tries to convince fallen men and women that unbridled sexual activity is “paradise regained.”  It’s too bad he seems to have succeeded.

In His wisdom, God put some limits on human sexuality.  

The first limit was that it was to be between a married man and woman, married to each other, that is.  It was meant to be a privilege, the consummation of a lifelong commitment of one man to one woman – and one woman to one man.  It was never supposed to be “casual,” or the commencement of a “relationship,” or even just “a one night stand.”  It was something designed for a lifetime.  The Bible never countenances the idea that “it’s just sex,” as if it were of no more importance than selecting which clothes to wear for the day or which sandwich to have for lunch.

God made them male and female.  For that reason, same sex sexual relationships are forbidden.  Even human physiology shows their incongruity.  Male/female matches.  Male/male or female/female do not.  It’s like the two poles of a battery.  Opposite poles attract; corresponding poles do not.

The differences between male and female were to extend even to clothing.  It was forbidden to wear the clothes of the opposite sex.  I remember when pantsuits came out. In the church we went to at the time, the pastor was all up in the air about women wearing men’s clothing.  The thing is, pantsuits were designed for women.  I don’t know that I ever saw a man wearing them.  In many cultures, men and women dress similarly, but you can still tell the difference.  If we’re not supposed to wear the clothes of the opposite sex, how much less are we to try to become or live like the opposite sex?

It’s sometimes argued that we’re born with a particular sexual orientation and so can’t help it.  That may be true.  However, we’re also born as sinners, and God holds us accountable for it.  God holds us accountable for every part of our lives.

It’s sometimes argued that Jesus never talked about any of this.  That’s only partly true. Because He was a Jew, born under the Law, Galatians 4:4, He had no reason to mention it.  The Law is quite specific.  Cf. Leviticus 18 and 20, where the word nakedness refers specifically to the genitalia.  Sexual relationship between other than husband and wife – or with animals – was strictly forbidden.  Jesus had no reason to mention these things.  The laws were on the books.

He did, however, confirm the Old Testament’s original statement that He made them male and female. Matthew 19:4, 5; Mark 10:5, 6.

Sex is the one place where mankind can be the most like God, that is, in the creation of life.  Granted, there are huge, insurmountable, differences between us and our ability and God and His ability. Nevertheless, it’s the only way we can bring life into being.   

The second limit follows from the first.  Without getting into the discussion about “birth control,” sexual activity results in children.  In the Bible, children are a blessing, not a burden.

Human children are unlike any other offspring in the world.  Other offspring mature and are able to live on their own in just a few days or weeks.  In some rare cases, it may be a year or two.  Not so with human babies.  They take years.  

The baby robins who were born on my porch were grown and gone in just a few weeks. When I was growing up, we kept tropical fish.  Mama guppy was as likely to eat her offspring as not.  Precautions had to be taken to prevent her from doing so.  The male Siamese Fighting Fish was a joy to watch as he carefully built his nest of bubbles, then gently enfolded the female, squeezing the eggs from her body, at the same time fertilizing them.  Then he would carefully gather the eggs into his mouth and put them into the nest.  It was no “family affair,” though, because after the spawning was done, he was done with her and we had to put her into a different aquarium to protect her.  As the little ones hatched, he watched over them and made sure they didn’t wander too deep into the aquarium.  The pressure would have harmed them or killed them.  However, when it became more than he could handle, he was likely to put them on the menu himself.  So far as I know, there are no “granchildren” in the animal world.  After I was married, I tried to get back into the hobby.  We had some zebra danios who became heavy with eggs.  When momma danio began to lay those eggs – in a community aquarium – the other fish went wild.  Danio caviar!

I joke about it, but children are no joke!  Among our grandchildren are some teenagers. Though they’re getting there, they’re still not adults.  It may be true that children learn the majority of all they will learn in the first few years of life, but no five-year-old is ready for his own apartment.

God intended sexual activity to be confined to marriage, and marriage was to be the foundation of family and the cement which held it together.  Family was to be the foundation of society.  I understand, especially in our day, there are a lot of single mothers – and fathers.  I also understand there are reasons for this, but the main one is that society has thrown out the idea of “the traditional family” to a large extent and made sex an end in itself.  Children are just an unfortunate “byproduct.”  The woman is usually the one who gets stuck with them.  She suffers and so do the kids.  This has become an acceptable norm.  At a place I worked, one of the young women had either become pregnant, or knew someone who had.  One of her co-workers asked who the father was.  The tone of her voice was no different than if she had asked where the first girl got her outfit.  At another place, one of the young men was bragging about the fact that he had eight children by five different women.  He was rejoicing that he had now become a man, because he finally had a daughter!  It doesn’t take anything special in a man to get a woman pregnant.  It does take something to commit to that woman, stay with her, take care of her and help raise the children the man fathers!

There’s something else.  There was a story on the internet about a man who had just discovered that the family he had been in for many years was not his real family.  He was trying to find his original family, in part so “he could find out who he was.”  Our family forms our first sense of identity.

It’s a great shame that the concept of “family” is more far likely to be molded by Tuesday night “comedy” on TV than it is by Scripture. 

Fathers have almost become irrelevant, except as sperm donors, and even that is often done impersonally through third party “sperm banks” or fertility clinics.  Men might want to rethink that, though.  A judge recently ruled that one such sperm donor was responsible for child support (!)

In the original creation, it took male and female to be “complete”.  Eve wasn’t created with some perceived inferiority in herself, but because of the incompleteness of Adam. There’s more to it than this, of course, but a man – or a woman – can’t conceive by themselves.  Neither are they supposed to raise children by themselves.

It’s in the family that we get our first lessons of living with others.  We learn to share – at least in theory.  We learn to get along with others.  We also learn about something called “authority.”  Too often in our society, it’s the kids who run things, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.  Parents are there to teach kids that not only is there such a thing as authority, but that there is an ultimate authority – God.  We need to learn that we can’t just run around doing whatever we want without regard for others.  The chaos in our society and among our youth is there because this basic truth has been discarded and kids grow up with the idea that they’re number one.  This carries over into adulthood and we see the ruin that accompanies that viewpoint all around us.

There’s more to our lives than what happens in the bedroom.  That is why He made them male and female.  

Voices of Christmas: Elizabeth, Mary and John the Baptist.

(“John the Baptist?!”  Yes.  He bore testimony to the Lord’s mother long before he bore testimony to her Son.)

Elizabeth was the first person, aside from Mary, to learn of the coming birth of the Messiah.  Her story is found in Luke 1:36-45, 56-61.  She and her husband Zechariah also provided a friendly environment for the young mother to begin her pregnancy, a place where she could endure morning sickness and all the other things accompanying early pregnancy.  And Mary could make the adjustments without the questions that undoubtedly arose over her condition when she got back home.  The two ladies could comfort and support each other.  The elderly lady with her pregnancy and the young, probably mid-teen, with hers.

Who was Elizabeth?  Luke tells us that she was married to a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. She was of the daughters of Aaron….  And they both were righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years, Luke 1:5-7.

Her husband had a remarkable experience as well concerning his wife’s pregnancy, with a visit from an angel telling him of the conception of his own son.  When Mary showed up, he gave mute testimony to the power and truthfulness of God, Luke 1:8-21, 57-64.

Elizabeth.  Righteous.  Blameless.  Elderly.  Barren.

That last thing was the only one that bothered her.  As we noted in our last post, children were longed-for, a blessing from the Lord, not a burden or an inconvenience.  So she was heartbroken, as well as feeling a “reproach among the people,”  Luke 1:25.

I wonder what it was like when her hubby came home – and he couldn’t talk!  Now, he had had to finish his time in Jerusalem.  “The division of Abijah” referred to the division of the priesthood King David had worked out years earlier to organize how and when each priest would serve in Jerusalem at the Temple.  It’s said that some priests were able to serve only once in their lifetime, so it was something looked forward to, and not even a visit from an angel nullified the priest’s responsibility.  Zechariah was gone for a little over a month.

What was it like when he came home, and had to write down his experiences for Elizabeth?  I wonder what her thoughts were as her long-awaited desire for a child seemed about to be satisfied.  And the renewal of youthful vigor so they could become parents.  To enter again into that joy and enjoyment that God has reserved for married couples, which this world has totally corrupted into something far different than what it’s supposed to be, both as to marriage itself and to marital privilege and responsibility.

When Mary came to Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth was 6 months along.  And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed in the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.  Blessed is she who believed [that] there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord,” Luke 1:41-45.

So the two generations met, united not only by the ties of family, but also by ties of the Spirit.  Mary had conceived by the Spirit, Luke 1:35.  Elizabeth’s child, though conceived normally, was to be “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb,” Luke 1:15.  Elizabeth spoke by the Spirit, Luke 1:41.

Pay attention to Elizabeth’s reference to Mary:  “the mother of my Lord.”  She recognized the unique character, not only of the pregnancy, but of the One Mary was carrying.  He was “my Lord”.  Elizabeth bowed to Him in spirit even before He was born.  How much more should we bow to Him Who has been born – and lived and died and rose again, Who even now, having by Himself purged our sins, is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Hebrews 1:3.

Even as a Babe in the womb, He was “Lord.”  He still is.

Love Is Not A Four Letter Word.

“Sure it is!” someone might say.  “L-O-V-E.  Four letters.”

That’s true, but that’s not exactly what I mean.  The “four letters” to which I refer are those short four-letter words which express profanity and/or obscenity.

“Love” has been so dragged into the cesspool of our modern society that it’s really hard to find true examples of it.  Or to get a correct definition of it.  Hollywood has no clue.  Sadly, neither do a large percentage of people of all ages.

Especially in Hollywood, or on what passes for TV in our time, “love” is almost always limited to the physical – how quickly A and B can get into bed.  Sex has become just “casual,” with couples meeting together, maybe only once, for no other reason than to satiate their physical desires. Even where there is a “relationship,” instead of the consummation of something in which a man and a woman have pledged themselves to lifelong fidelity, it almost seems as if sex has become the commencement of a relationship, which no longer is “til death do us part,” but “til desire does depart,” and one or the other or both go off to find greener pastures.  Or “the love” turns to hate, usually on the part of the male, and he begins to abuse the woman.

There is an OT example of this in 2 Samuel 13 (NKJV): the incident of Amnon, a son of David, and Tamar, the sister of another of David’s sons.  Amnon lusted for Tamar because she was lovely and pure.  Instead of Amnon being honorable and seeking to marry her, 2 Samuel 13:13, a friend of his devised a stratagem whereby Amnon could satisfy his lust.  Without going into the sordid details, we’re interested only in the result of all this.  After he raped her, we read in v. 15, “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her,” and he had her thrown out.

You want to know why there has been such an increase in “domestic violence”?  2 Samuel gives us a lot of the answer.  A distorted definition of “love” has permeated our society, but where there is only a physical attraction and nothing else, the attraction can turn to loathing and hatred.  Since the moral foundation of our society has pretty well been destroyed, violence is often the result.  Even when the couple stays together, because the man has no understanding of his responsibility toward the woman, he often makes her life miserable, with verbal and physical abuse.  There is no excuse – ever – EVER – for a man to hit a woman.

Now, lest we be misunderstood, God designed and created men and women as sexual beings.  One of the first things He told them to do was to have children, and this was before they sinned against Him.  Sex is not some sordid result of their Fall, but an integral and vital part of their creation.

We ought to be thankful that God has made those things which are necessary for the survival and continuation of the human race is pleasurable, not painful.  If eating, for example, always produced severe nausea, or sex was painful like a root canal, or sleep, instead of being restful, was filled with nightmares, how long would the race have survived?

Because sex is pleasurable, and can result in children, God set boundaries in which, and only in which, sex may be enjoyed.  Hebrews 13:4 says Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.  It is only in marriage that sex may properly and with God’s blessing be enjoyed.  And I say, “enjoyed.”  Proverbs 5:18b-19 says, …rejoice with the wife of your youth.  As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love.  And this isn’t just for the husband.  In Genesis 18:12,  after eavesdropping on the conversation of three strangers with her husband, in which they assure him that his wife Sarah would bear his child, she said to herself, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”   And marriage isn’t just two people living together.  In John 4, when talking to the Samaritan lady, Jesus told her that she had had five husbands and the man she was now living with wasn’t her husband. Jesus gave no sanction to her relationship.

Because children may be the result of sexual activity, it is only in marriage that such activity is permitted.  Children need the stability of a family, mom, dad, maybe brothers and sisters in which to grow and learn to live in society.  The woman needs the stability of marriage in order to be able to properly “mother” her children and raise them as they ought to be raised.  The man needs the stability of marriage to settle him down to the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. The children need the stability and security of marriage and the family as they navigate the shoals of growing up and going through adolescence.   And, yes, I can hear the howls of the feminists at such patriarchal “male chauvinism.”  What does the Scripture say, Romans 4:3.

At work one day, I heard a young man boasting about the fact that he had eight children by five different women.  I don’t know if he were telling the truth or not, but he was now talking about having become a “man,” because he finally had a daughter.  He probably had no idea that “a man” would take care of those women and children (even though polygamy isn’t favorably portrayed in Scripture.  Though I doubt he was married to any of the women).  Another man, one of his “achievements” in life was that he had 21 children.

Beyond that, there is the spread of STDs, the poverty of single women trying to raise children by themselves, the misery of the children as they are often neglected or subjected to a succession of men in their mother’s lives.  Debauchery, deviancy, degeneracy, disease, death.  These are just some of the sad results of the abandonment of God’s wisdom in this part of human life.

You see, there is wisdom in the limitation of sex to within the boundary of marriage.

Love is not simply an emotion, or emotionalism, or sentimentality.  It isn’t just feelings, or hormones.  It might involve feelings or hormones, but it is so much more than that.  Even at the physical level, it is so much more than that.  Love is an attitude.  So much of the world thinks that love is about “me,” if you “love” me, you’ll let me do what I want.  It’s all about my happiness, my wants, my satisfaction.  Seldom if ever does such an attitude really think about the other person.  This is not love, it is selfishness.  True love thinks mainly about the other person.

On the other hand, true love is not to be confused with indulgence.  Even God’s love, and perhaps especially God’s love, is not mere indulgence.  Hebrews 5:5, 6 says, My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, not be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.  Read the section down to v. 11 to get the whole thought.  This has something to say about the relationship between parent and child.  Although this post isn’t primarily about parenting, “love” is.  The world has the idea that the child should be able to do, apparently, whatever it wants.  The parent can’t discipline the child, just give him or her a “time out.”  Any sort of physical discipline, i.e., “spanking,” is strictly forbidden.  I remember listening to a lady radio psychologist several years ago when the subject of spanking came up.  The caller was in favor of it.  The lady became so upset and irate at such a thought that she was practically incoherent in her response.  That’s a lot of the attitude today.

There is a difference between a spanking properly administered and abuse, which is often how it’s categorized.  Actually, the abuse comes in, partly because the parent doesn’t understand discipline at all, or because the parent becomes so frustrated that he can’t do anything to the child without getting into trouble that he finally lashes out and oversteps the boundary between discipline and abuse.  Society contributes to this by encouraging the child to turn his parent in if the child doesn’t like what they do to him.  No child is going to like a spanking.

My grandmother used to tell a story.  She was born and raised in Indiana, a few miles south of where I live now.  Became a school teacher.  She never said why, but she moved to Boulder, Colorado – now affectionately known as “The People’s Republic of Boulder.”  (I lived in Denver, 30 miles away, a good part of my life.)  There was a school there looking for a teacher.  She applied for the job.  Remember, we’re talking about 1918 or so. She was around 20.  The school board warned her that there was an unruly student in the school who had driven out the last three teachers.  Did she still want the job?  Would the school board back her up?  They would.  So she took the job.

Sure enough, the boy began to make trouble.  Grandma was the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters, so she knew what to do.  She grabbed him by the ear, or arm, and took a yardstick to him.  Took one to me a few times, too.  I deserved it.  Anyway, fast forward about 30 years to 1947.  On vacation, Grandma and Grandpa were driving through New Mexico on their way to Carlsbad Caverns, when the car began to overheat.  Grandpa stopped at a gas station to get some water for the car, went around the back of the building, and fell over, dead.  The assistant district attorney for this little town out in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, who came to help, turned out to be this same boy, now grown up!  He thanked her for whipping him all those years ago.  Said that without it he probably would be on the other side of the law.

You know what would happen if a teacher were foolish enough to try that today.  She would be the one in trouble and the boy would be soothed and pampered because he was “a troubled youth,” physically abused by an out-of-control school teacher.  You know as well as I do that that would happen.

That’s what’s wrong with our youth today – no discipline.  “Love” has been redefined as indulgence.  I know that not all “troubled youth” go on to lives spent in jail, but that’s no thanks to society.

Ephesians 5:25-29 says, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church,…holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies….  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord the church.

We husbands are pretty good about v. 22, where the wife is to submit to your own husband, as to the Lord, but we fall down pretty badly on the nourishing and cherishing and loving her the way Christ loves us.  This post really isn’t about marriage or parenting, but it is about love, love that is concerned about the other person and seeks their welfare.  That’s where it starts, humanly speaking, between a husband and wife and then between them and their children – and children and their parents.  I appreciated my own mother a lot more after I had kids of my own than I ever did growing up.  But by then it was too late to tell her that.

Finally, love isn’t about “tolerance,” that is, we’re not to judge another person’s beliefs or lifestyle or anything.  It is said that there are no absolutes, at least not the ones taught by Scripture.  While it may be true that love covers a multitude of sins, it is also true that love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, 1 Corinthians 13:6.  John, “the apostle of love,” wrote in 1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  There’s a lot out there that claims to be from God that has nothing to do with Scripture, or Him.

Love, when properly understood, is the best of human characteristics.  Misunderstood, it can become the worst.

I understand that a lot of what I’ve written is controversial, because it goes against the grain of current thinking.  I can’t help that.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.