Saturday, December 03, 2016

Disagree without Disgust

We live in a free society which allows for you to disagree with just about everybody about one thing or another. We are not forbidden to express our opinions and positions (that is, until recently). Because of that, we can listen to people who think differently, and, we can learn from them. Or, we can hate their guts.
It seems we are opting for the latter option rather than the former. Rather than honing our own positions, having properly understood the other’s position, and then clarifying the points at which those positions rub - we stop listening, and we demonize those with whom we disagree. We develop an attitude of disgust. This is not good practice for citizens of a free society. It is not acceptable for those who profess to be followers of Jesus.
Let’s take this problem off the street and see how it plays out at home. Picture a husband and wife. They have a disagreement. Maybe it’s about the kids and what freedoms or disciplines to enact. Maybe it’s about how to communicate boundaries to a zealous in-law. It doesn’t really matter. Disagreements happen. They are allowed. And you would think that this couple could talk and disagree, and talk some more - give it some time - go on a walk together, and listen, think around the issue, and talk some more. Or, on the other hand, they could just stop listening and talking. She (in her head - not out loud) calls him a bonehead, or worse. He (in his head - not out loud) calls her a witch, or worse. And, not surprisingly, they begin to despise each other.
In the first instance of disagreement, the couple eventually comes to an understanding. And, they end up loving each other all the more for having gone through the difficult process. But in the second scenario, they get a divorce. You don’t live long with someone with whom you are disgusted. But know this. The decision to allow disagreement to proceed to disgust was yours, and yours alone. We can absolutely disagree without disgust, whether at home, or on the street.

Are you disgusted with someone who was a political candidate? We disagree with all of them at some point. But are you disgusted? You have then crossed a line that is not civil, nor Christian. The points of disagreement might reach to areas that are very serious, even sacred, like disagreements about the value of human life. But allowing the disagreement in your mind to give way to disgust in your heart - that spillover is your problem. And, it’s a problem.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prone to Wander

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:6 NAS95)

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; 
Take my heart, O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.
from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” by 22 yr old pastor Robert Robinson, 1757

Wandering is a problem for all of us. We know that it was for Moses’ followers - those poor souls of the wilderness wanderings. At first, having just exited slavery in Egypt, they made a beeline from Mt. Sinai’s covenant to the Land of Promise. But no, at the Jordan River’s edge, they would not believe the Lord’s promise and take possession of the land. And so God punished them by forcing them back, to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all that adult generation died.
And our author of Psalm 119 - that longest chapter in the Bible, and most amazing piece of poetry -  in which most every verse in the psalm, nearly all of the 176 verses, hold a reference to the beauty and cruciality of God’s Word - that psalmist saw fit, in the last verse of this psalm, after all of his diligence and devotion, to confess: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep;” and then to beg of the Lord: “seek Your servant.” Even this disciple/follower had a problem with wandering.
So do you. It can happen in the busyness of life. You flit here and you flutter there. Before long, life has gobbled you up, and you can’t tell whether you own your life, or if your life owns you. One way to describe this behavior is “aimlessness.” The old proverb says, “Aim at nothing, and you will most surely hit it.” Sounds like wandering to me. This does not mean that you have done or will do nothing significant. You just will never know the ‘why’ or ‘what for.’
We often wander due to bad directions. In a world where ‘true truth’ is drowned out by the roar of ‘good lies,’ we pursue our paths with hopes of a happy ending at the end of the rainbow, missing the clues that indicate that we have been fooled by the advice of fools. Sophistry never demands that its professors show their work or reveal their sources.
Have you ever been lost in the woods? I have, up at the Dennis’ cottage when I was a boy. I did what many of us do when we wander and are lost. I started to run - to wander harder and get lost even deeper. Yes, I made it out of the woods. But have you? The verse at the top implies how. Turn to the good shepherd, Jesus, who gave His live for the sheep.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Let’s Go Kill Somethin’

It’s the time of year when the hunters head to the woods, intent on killing somethin’. They wear bright orange, just so they don’t go killin’ each other. Seems like a good idea. And just so you know, this isn’t a diatribe against hunting, or, as some wrongly call it, harvesting. It would only be harvesting if they were hunting squash. But killing deer, that’s called hunting. And for a variety of good reasons, go for it.

Not everyone gets into the whole hunting thing. But there’s other killing that should be done. Now don’t mistake, I’m not at all talking about killing people. But we ought to be killers of ideas - bad ideas, that is. We talk and discuss and think, and then we conclude that there are just some ideas out there that should be put to rest. Yes, it might hurt someone’s feelings if we disagree with them. But they need to get over it. You’re not killing them. You’re killing their idea.

We need to teach ourselves, and we need to teach our children, to say ‘no’ to ourselves at the appropriate times. Every urge we feel is not to be obeyed. Some of those passions and desires need to have a stake put through them. Why? Because it has been proven over and over by one sad case after another that the indulgence in certain desires and passions is not freedom of expression, but rather submission to slavery. ‘Sins of the flesh’ (so-called in Bible) don’t prove that you are the master of your life. Rather, they will be the killer of your soul, and do damage to those around you as well. What is needed is a sharp spear in the hand of a zealous Phinehas to nail the sin to the ground and stop the plague in its tracks.

John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” It’s a daily battle, always in season, so that we might be free to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. This Spirit is available through faith in Christ, and nowhere else, and provides the only alternative to dying in our sins. This alternative to dying in our sins - Jesus thought it was worth dying for; and we should think it worth killing for.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


A wave of populism swept across the United States with surprising results. A similar wave recently shocked Great Britain, and there are populist rumblings in such places as France and Spain. Populism wells up when the experts forget whom they serve. Experts often operate from their bubbles, assuming they know best for people they do not know; for people they do not understand. In short, it is easy for experts to become arrogant.

In a way, the formula is not that hard to understand. Experts make things work. They pull the levers of culture and technology and finance in such a way that there is progress, and people enjoy the fruits of the their genius. But when there is no progress, it then becomes apparent that the experts are not so expert. After all, an expert who cannot figure out the puzzle can hardly be called an expert, can he (she)? And when the so-called experts do not perform, well, it’s time to throw the bums out.

It seems that had those experts adopted the mindset of humble servants from the beginning and throughout the process, they would have been better listeners, learners and guides. They would have taken leave for a time from the university campus in order to mix with those on the shop floor; or left the financial district to walk through the slum. Perhaps they would have even wept when faced with the unintended consequences of their latest, great idea and policy. But as we know, these are rare occurrences. More often than humility, we find arrogance.

There is no such thing as an arrogant servant. If he is a servant, then he cannot be arrogant; and she is arrogant, she cannot be a servant. The two words are antithetical to each other.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to humble service. This applies to our lives at home, with spouse and children and parents; it applies to school, and our treatment of schoolmates and teachers; it applies to work, and our interactions with fellow workers, and those above us, and below us. We are to love others, which requires us to consider what is good, not just for ourselves, but for others, and to go out of our way to make your wife’s life richer; your teammate’s role more fulfilling; the custodian’s job more satisfying.

We need to remember that it takes but 2 minutes for the populist to secure a supposed victory, and to go from being forgotten or ignored, to being arrogant and insufferable. Let’s, instead, be like Jesus, and live lives of humble service.

Friday, November 04, 2016

For No Good Reason

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday begins, “Princes persecute me without cause.” That is, they are giving me a hard time “for no good reason.” This complaint is repeated over and over in Scripture, and the the same thing happens repeatedly in our world. Perhaps you have felt it yourself. Someone has done something to you “for no good reason.” 

One verse in the Old Testament Scriptures uses the word twice: “For without cause they hid their net for me; Without cause they dug a pit for my soul.” The phrase “without cause” can hold a variety of implications - legal, financial, personal, etc. My rendering, “for no good reason,” says, “Hey, I don’t deserve this treatment.”

The truth is, there may be no good reason from your point of view, but there may be a very good reason from the other person’s point of view (not “good” as in “moral goodness,” but “good” as in “it suits my purposes, whether noble or ignoble”). Why does someone do something to you “for no good reason?” Well, maybe you have something they want. Or maybe they are paying you back for some real or imagined offense. Or maybe they are just feeling mean, and you are an easy mark. Those may not be good reasons for you, but they seem to work for the perpetrator/persecutor.

But maybe their reasons are not all nefarious. Maybe they know what is good for you, when you don’t yourself. A kid may say that his parents took his phone away “for no good reason,” while, in fact, there may be a very good reason. Maybe there are factors at work that you don’t understand, and it falls to you to suffer something relatively minor for the the sake of some greater good. Maybe when you complain that you have been mistreated “for no good reason,” there actually is a good reason, and that reason is actually good. 

So let’s all slow down the martyr talk about how we are constantly mistreated “for no good reason.” Yes, it happens, and all too often. But here is something else that has most assuredly happened: God has reached out to you in Christ “for no good reason.” He is extending mercy to you that you did not deserve. Jesus died for your sins “without cause.” You, by faith in Jesus, have the privilege of being called a child of God through no fault of your own. In fact, the verse at the top of the page implies that God had every good reason to execute the judgment that rebels against the King deserve, and yet He withheld His hand, and gave His Son - for no good reason, except that He loved you. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Which Beatitude are you Best at?

Last Sunday was review week for children’s Sunday School. We reviewed the 6 stories from Daniel 1-6, and each child picked their favorite (ch. 6, Daniel in the lion’s den was the runaway favorite). We talked about the 10 Commandments, and which one was hardest for us (honoring parents is a struggle, but so also is truth-telling). And then we reviewed the 8 Beatitudes from Matthew 5, and asked which one each person was best at. It’s a tough list. 

To be “poor in spirit” means to be humble. Once you say that you are best at humility, it seems you no longer are. But who is truly good at being poor; at being dependent? Who would boast that life is a continual struggle, just to keep your head above water?

We defined to “mourn” (#2) as being sensitive to sin. I hope those who thought they were good at this remain so. And #3, being “meek,” means that you don’t demand your own way, but give way to others. That’s hard. It’s a different kind of strength. I pray the young lady who thought she was good at this stays soft, and strong.

To “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (#4) means to have a heart for God. It means that you want what God wants. That would be a great trait for any/all of us. 

To be “merciful” (#5) means that you are willing to forgive others, even as God has forgiven you. It was impressive to see young minds grasp the gravity of this obligation. It is not easy, for any of us. But it is necessary, for all of us.

“Blessed are the pure in heart” (#6). Even 5 year 0ld’s were careful not to rush in on that claim. They’ve been caught being naughty often enough to know that there are behavioral battles to win.
#7 is “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peacemakers are not instigators. But neither are they those who hide in their own yards and refuse to face the conflicts of the neighborhood. Peacemakers are those willing to speak up for what is right, and to defend those being wronged. It is dangerous business, blessed by God.

Not surprisingly, not one person in our group, including the teacher, claimed to be best at #8: “Blessed are the persecuted.” We don’t even want to be best at that one. But let’s pray that, with deep roots of faith and faithfulness, we will be ready to stand for Christ, even now when it is not popular, and even some future day when it is no longer permitted.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine was one of the last Christian leaders that we know much about from the classical era. He ministered in N. Africa during the sack of Rome (ca. 400 A.D.), and while education was still available during the fragmentation of the empire, the opportunities for travel and interaction with other Christian scholars and thinkers eroded.

What this means is that Augustine is an important link to the theology of the early church. Peter Lombard (1100’s) quoted Augustine more than any other early theologian, as did Martin Luther, and as did John Calvin (both in the 1500’s). What we find is this: Augustine’s theology was amazingly evangelical. The issues of his day were different. But we share with him wide areas of agreement, because both of us, evangelicals and Augustine, find our understanding of God’s truth in Scripture.
Augustine was trained in rhetoric first, and then became a teacher and preacher. That is, he was skilled in shaping his words and argument to reach and persuade the audience. He could read the congregation, and would alter his approach and message according to how they were receiving the message.

One difference was that, in those days, the preacher would sit, and the congregation would stand. We should try that some day! If he noticed that he had lost the interest of his congregation, he would dismiss early, to be continued later. On the other hand, if he found that they were engaged with him, he would continue the sermon, sometimes for two hours. Should we try that as well?

He was ministering to a congregation whose world was falling apart. Rome, despite its deficiencies, had established an amazing stability through many, far-flung territories. Travel and trade was possible. Tolerance of different ideas was typical, though not guaranteed. But now, Rome was falling apart - from the inside out, with corruption and failed, self-interested leadership; and from without, as the Goths continued to invade from the north, coming closer and closer to the very city of Rome.

It seems that we live on the precipice of a similar situation today. We have enjoyed tremendous prosperity and stability. And yet, as our leaders shrink before our eyes, and self-interest and corruption grows, along with the erosion of Christian values and morality, we see cracks in the foundation of the world that we have enjoyed; the civilization that God has blessed. One of the things that we learn from Augustine is that God is still on the throne, and His truth stands, even when the empire falls.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Looking for Mr. Right

Maybe you are a woman who spent a long time looking for “Mr. Right.” Some of you would say that you found him. And some say that they settled for something less. 

There are some who thought at one time they had found “Mr. Right,” only later to be sorely disappointed. Maybe it had to do with his temper, his drinking, or some secret sin. But what had looked so good at the beginning is now shadowed by a disturbing dose of reality. 

Even for those who say they found Mr. Right, they would admit that there are deficiencies that have been discovered. You have accepted these things; or, you regularly forgive these things. You understand that it is part of the bargain. After all, he has agreed to live in harmony with Mrs. Right, in spite of your shortcomings. 

The truth is, there is no Mr. Right when it comes to romance. But there is when it comes to redemption. In fact, if there were no Mr. Right, there could be no redemption, because the purchase price for our forgiveness and salvation requires right-eousness. And so we find that there is, after all, one, and only one, Mr. Right. Jesus.
He is the one in whom we are not now and never will be disappointed. He will never let us down. He has no ugly side to be revealed. He has no secret sins or hidden agendas. Familiarity does not make him more ordinary; rather, knowing him better only makes him grow on us. His love is an everlasting love, and nothing that a follower of his can do will cause him to give up or turn away. He always keeps his promises; He never forgets a responsibility; He is always available and ever attentive. He always does what is right. He is righteous. 

The problem with being married to Mr. Right is that the spouse suffers by comparison. And that would be true of those who are followers of Jesus as well. Except for one thing. In order to even become a follower of Jesus, as we humble ourselves in confessing our sins and our need for a Savior - it is in that acceptance by faith that he gives to us a most remarkable gift - He gives to us the gift of His righteousness. 

Oh, it is true that we often do not wear that righteousness well. It fits us about as well as Saul’s armor fit young David. And yet, unlike David, we dare not leave the room without it. We can only enjoy our relationship with Mr. Right as we wear his righteousness. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Hypocrisy, and Honesty

Things are often not what they seem. Not just things; people also. Like sod, the pretty side faces up or out, and the ugly side stays covered. We do this in spite of what Jesus says: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2 ESV) We sincerely hope that his words do not apply to us. We are sadly mistaken.
The well-known word for our problem is “hypocrisy.” It is the common habit of putting a pretty face on an ugly situation. It is the covering up of what we are ashamed so that we can maintain our dignity or our pride. Jesus shows little tolerance for it, especially among those who are religious (cf. Matthew 23).
Consider with me two things: most amazing, I think. The first is Jesus himself. There was not a hint of hypocrisy in him. He had no ugliness to hide. No resentments. No selfish motives. No hidden agendas. He came to do the will of the Father, which required him to love sinful people sacrificially, and to have himself turned quite literally inside out for them. He said what he was about, and he executed accordingly. It is unheard of in our world, apart from him.
But secondly, I want you to imagine with me the Kingdom of God, when it comes in its fullness, when every enemy is defeated, and every impurity cleansed. At that point, every member of that kingdom will be completely free from hypocrisy. We will have absolutely nothing to hide; nothing to pretend. It will be like Jim Carrey in “Liar, Liar,” but with no ugly truths blurted out, because the ugliness will be gone. Limitations and weaknesses? Yes. And we will freely admit those things. But no sin. One could dig under the pretty, green sod of your life, and they would find no dirt.
Now, if you can meditate a bit on Jesus and his perfection; and if you can imagine an honest world filled with only honest people; - then what is left is for you and me to begin practicing today. We should practice being like Jesus. Oh, we will struggle, and we will fail. But then we must help each other upward and onward. Have the courage to confess your sins to a brother or sister in Christ. Have the compassion of Jesus to listen to the shocking sins of someone that you would never have dreamed … 
There is an extra-biblical adage that says, “Honesty is the best policy.” The Bible backs it up with something like, “Hypocrisy is the worst.”

Driving in the Dark

One of the benefits of serving on the Lake Ann Camp Board is driving north four times a year, once each season. Fall has got to be one of the best. Michigan is a great state for fall color. Even now, where you sit, you can imagine the yellows and oranges mixed in with the evergreens. And that’s a bit of the problem. Most of it is only imagined. 

Lake Ann Board meetings typically begin at 9 a.m. So if you are trekking that direction in the early morning, most of the route is driving in the dark. Meetings typically end at 3:30 p.m. By the time you spend a bit more time talking with board members and staff members - often including dinner - it’s time to go home, again, driving mostly in the dark. If you didn’t know the color was there, then you wouldn’t know it was there. 

And so, yes, there is a little bit of color, at the tail end, or beginning of each leg of the journey; or looking out the window of the board room at the trees on the grounds; or walking from the Welcome Center to the Dining Hall for lunch. But you know there is so much more. 

I liken this to knowing God, and knowing God’s Word. It’s the awareness of God’s grand plan, and a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. It’s an appreciation of the protection and the provision that He gives each day. We know it’s there, and we catch glimpses, but we always want more. 

But it’s worse than that for others that we know and love. They don’t even know it’s there. They live their whole lives driving in the dark, unaware of God and His many graces. The Bible calls it ignorance, or blindness. The Bible says they are “lost.” They don’t see, because they can’t, until their eyes are opened. We can give information, but they need a relationship with God. They need an experience of His grace. 

Because our God is gracious and merciful, for many, in His time, the light goes on, and the sun comes up. We do our part, pointing out the colors of His grace from under the shadows, and sharing about Jesus. And since we believe and know that God does all the heavy lifting in the redemption of lost souls, we pray and ask that he would open our eyes, so that we can see wonderful truths that He has for us, and that others might see them as well. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Your Everyday Job

Five days a week, and six for some, it’s hit the road, go to work, do the job, and repeat it all again tomorrow. Why? It’s what we do. If you’re going to eat, . . if you’re going to feed your family and pay the bills, it’s go to work, go to work, go to work.

As followers of Jesus in this present world, we realize that we also have a job to do for him, and yet we are often a little fuzzy about what exactly that job is. Let’s let Noah help us out with an example.
Noah lived in a wicked world as a righteous man, along with his wife, three sons, and their wives. God spoke to Noah and gave him some surprising instructions. “Build an ark!” I’m not at all sure that Noah knew what an ‘ark’ was, but God gave enough details, and I assume Noah figured out the rest. What a project! Some big barge sitting in the middle of a field, with no rain, or water, in sight. And he couldn’t have even known if it would actually float.

So here was Noah, building an ark to save his family from a flood that his mind could not fathom, that would transport him to a washed-from-wickedness world that he could not imagine. And I would suggest that the job of the Christian is somewhat similar. We are to prepare now for coming judgment, and to prepare for life in a brand new world that is not presently within reach. Are we to make an ark? No. Jesus was quite clear. We are to make disciples.

How do we make disciples? Well, the verse linked above gives some specifics. In our scattering (going), we are to make disciples by baptizing and teaching. That is, we are to introduce our families and friends to Jesus with the hope of helping them identify with Him in faith and in life. And then we are use Scripture, God’s Word, to teach them the outlines of God’s plan and Christ’s character in all the ways that good teaching happens - through example; by answering questions; by asking the question that begs asking; by illustrating using object lessons; by persuading; and by listening - realizing that the success of our efforts always relies on God, just as Noah’s family trusted God with this floating barn.

Will others appreciate your efforts? No more than they did Noah’s. They thought he was a crazy fool. Maybe even dangerous. But he and his family escaped judgment. And, if you also escape judgment and embrace salvation in Christ, you’ll one day be able to compare notes on the similarities of building boats and making disciples.

Living Straight in a Crooked World

Can a ‘good Christian’ really be a Christian at all? And further: Can a person be a true Christian, and climb the ladder in politics? Can a person stay true to his faith and be a winning lawyer, or a successful businessman? Or, are there too many deals that have to be cut, corners to be rounded, and half-truths to be told? 

Think about these questions alongside the story of the ruler who came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus immediately turned it around and attacked his ‘loose’ use of the word ‘good.’ “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” 

So perhaps we should put the term ‘good Christian’ to rest. True Christians are all, each and every one, sinners saved by grace. We came to Jesus, not because we were so good, but because we weren’t. He alone, as God, is good. And so we will not find Christians who are true to the Gospel going about telling how good they are. We are to be witnesses to God’s grace, not our own goodness.

Now, as for the other questions: Admittedly, we live in a world that works against Christian integrity, like rushing water eroding away sandstone. It is hard to stand for truth and mercy. It is a brutal battle, always trying to put the other person’s interest first. It requires death to self in order to love the unlovely. And, you and I are not all that good. And if you dare enter a field in which the current of this world blows directly into your face, as in politics, or law, or business - can you really expect to rise to the top? Isn’t it just selfish ambition that is going to require you to make pragmatic choices that blur the lines and blot out the light of His glory? 

Not necessarily. God, throughout history, has placed His men and women, and students, in positions of power and influence. And they succeeded (and often suffered). But we must understand that they did not succeed because they were so good. It was not due to their ladder-climbing abilities, nor their skills at slicing and dicing. It was not their highest aim to be powerful or influential or even successful, at all. It was their goal to walk with God, and to honor Him in the small things - to stick close to His Word and His Son - and then to let God chart the course and win the day. In other words, for a Christian to rise to the top in this world and retain his/ her integrity, well, it takes a miracle. Thankfully, miracles happen. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

'Good' Christians

Can a ‘good Christian’ really be a Christian at all? And further: Can a person be a true Christian, and climb the ladder in politics? Can a person stay true to his faith and be a winning lawyer, or a successful businessman? Or, are there too many deals that have to be cut, corners to be rounded, and half-truths to be told?  

Think about these questions alongside the story of the ruler who came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus immediately turned it around and attacked his ‘loose’ use of the word ‘good.’ “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” 
So perhaps we should put the term ‘good Christian’ to rest. True Christians are all, each and every one, sinners saved by grace. We came to Jesus, not because we were so good, but because we weren’t. He alone, as God, is good. And so we will not find Christians who are true to the Gospel going about telling how good they are. We are to be witnesses to God’s grace, not our own goodness.

Now, as for the other questions: Admittedly, we live in a world that works against Christian integrity, like rushing water eroding away sandstone. It is hard to stand for truth and mercy. It is a brutal battle, always trying to put the other person’s interest first. It requires death to self in order to love the unlovely. And, you and I are not all that good. And if you dare enter a field in which the current of this world blows directly into your face, as in politics, or law, or business - can you really expect to rise to the top? Isn’t it just selfish ambition that is going to require you to make pragmatic choices that blur the lines and blot out the light of His glory?

Not necessarily. God, throughout history, has placed His men and women, and students, in positions of power and influence. And they succeeded (and often suffered). But we must understand that they did not succeed because they were so good. It was not due to their ladder-climbing abilities, nor their skills at slicing and dicing.  It was not their highest aim to be powerful or influential or even successful, at all. It was their goal to walk with God, and to honor Him in the small things - to stick close to His Word and His Son - and then to let God chart the course and win the day. In other words, for a Christian to rise to the top in this world and retain his/her integrity, well, it takes a miracle. Thankfully, miracles happen.

Blameless and Pure

Can a parked car avoid the yellow film of pollen as it seemingly descends from all creation upon all creation? Or can the west-facing screens of the sanctuary fail to catch floating dandelion spores as they seek their next garden? No, they can’t. It is almost as though they were designed for exactly that purpose.

And so, we may fairly ask, “Can a human person living in this dirty world stay pure?” Can we breath polluted air and not feel the effects in our lungs? Can we drink contaminated water and not retain the poisons in our system? Can we be surrounded by moral decline, and remain untouched?
But slow down. We have begun to confuse categories. You are not a polished surface, nor a wire mesh. The material parts of our bodies are not to be confused with our rational and spiritual capabilities. You are a human person, created in the image of God, designed to reflect His glory as we duplicate His character in finite ways.

And so, yes, you may breathe in pollen and suffer the affects of allergies. But you can also avert your eyes from that which would be tempting or compromising. You can turn your thoughts from an offense to a song of praise and thankfulness. You can bow your knee and confess your sin and chart a new course for the moments ahead. We are not stationary objects, nor victims. We are trained and capable disciples of Jesus who follow our hearts – those hearts that we devote to Jesus each morning, and as many times during the day as needed.

So stop with the whining and excuses. You are not an oil filter. You, by faith in Jesus, are a child of God, with His Word in your hand, and His Spirit in your heart, and you need not “let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.”

The Old Testament saint named Job was not afflicted as a punishment for sin, but was tested, even as an upright man. He was able to say, “I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent and there is no guilt in me.” Daniel, again, not as punishment for sin, but due to persecution, was able to say from the lion’s den: “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.” May we, blameless and pure, be able to say the same.

‘Excessive’ and ‘Exceeding’ are not the Same

If one eats in excess, he may well eat to the point of making himself sick. He doesn’t eat exceedingly. He eats excessively. And isn’t that our problem with so many things? We just don’t know when to stop. And so it happens with drinking, and spending, and even exercising. If a little is OK, the a lot must be better. But it’s not.

“Exceedingly” is an adverb used in older translations of the Bible. We don’t see it often in our common communication. One instance that comes to mind is in evaluations. “She exceeded expectations.” It is not A work. It is A+ work. It is over and above. But it is not too much. It is surprisingly good.

This is why we often apply the word “exceedingly” to God. He consistently surprises with exceeding goodness; exceeding grace; exceeding forgiveness. And that is difficult. Because once we experience some kind of service that “exceeds expectations,”, well, then we come to expect that kind of service in the future, and so, the same service no longer exceeds. It simply meets. But with God, there is something that we suspect about ourselves, that we do not naturally deserve such goodness, or grace, or forgiveness; and, we do not find such goodness and grace and love so consistently and extravagantly expressed from other persons – that we are constantly surprised by the surpassing goodness of God.

Again, let’s be clear. Excessive and exceeding are not the same. We would never say, “God is so good, it just makes me sick.” Just as a grown person reflecting on his childhood would never say, “I grew up in a home where love was so abundant, it just about ruined me.” No, there are some things with a bottomless depth whose value only grows and grows. We must learn to distinguish from those other things which may be permissible in moderation, but which become a monstrosity in excess.

Psalm 119:4 says, “You (God) have ordained Your precepts, that we should keep them diligently.” I think the word “diligently” is too weak for the Hebrew term that it translates. Often, we would choose the word “exceedingly.” That is, “You have established and revealed to us these slab stones, so that we would be surprising, even shocking, in the way we build our lives firmly on these truths and principles, especially when they run counter to the values of the world around us.

Monday, June 06, 2016

It’s About Time

Last week we thought about our need for both grace and truth. Not just a slice of each, or a balance - but a full measure of grace (mercy, love) and truth (faithfulness). This week, as Henry Cloud has shown in his book “Changes that Heal,” we also need time.
Al and I were talking recently about how our approach to life learning and discipleship are very classroom oriented and bookish. Now, we are not against books, and especially The Book - but God has so designed our learning that it requires a lab - a place to put the theory into practice - an arena in which we can fail, and try again, all in the context of grace and truth. I fear that we are giving out information which is not being integrated into daily life, and as a result, we are wasting valuable days - times for you to grow in the application of grace and truth tested and proven by experience.
Cloud suggests that the verse at the top of the page taken from Jesus’ parable includes all three of these elements. The failure to produce fruit on the part of the fig tree is only an illustration of our own failures and fruitlessness. His promise to “dig” corresponds to the application of truth, and his promise to “fertilize” speaks of giving grace. And then he begs for time; another year in which to properly administer grace and truth in order to bring about healing and fruitfulness. If it could help a fig tree, do you think it might help you?
If we could understand that as followers of Jesus, every day is designed by God in such a way - that every experience is a lab; every people-contact an opportunity; every inconvenience a training session or a test; every pain a sign of God’s breaking pride and stiff necks in order to bring us into conformity with His Son, who is the very image of God. We can try and run away from these experiences, Jonah-style. Or we can try to plow through life without thinking and without feeling, strong man-style.
But why would we do so? What are we afraid of? Afraid of truth? Afraid of having to admit that we are wrong, and that God is right? Or is it grace? Are you afraid of grace? Afraid to admit that you have sinned and failed; or forgotten and wandered? Afraid to be forgiven?
There may be an area of your life that is stuck in time, brittle and fruitless. It’s about time to do a little digging (truth); time for a little fertilizing (grace), so that, in God’s good time, you can be alive and bear fruit.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Christianity to be Practiced in a Political Season

At this stage of the presidential game, it would be difficult to argue that we are left with any good candidates for President. All candidates in all eras are flawed, but these are worse. When two leading candidates who are strangers to decency, civility and virtue face off against one another, we can safely predict that this is going to get ugly. We should not be surprised.

But we should be Christian; and we should act the part.

If you have a favorite candidate, then I question your judgment. But if you have a despised candidate, then you will be tempted to delight and, worse, join in, when the slurs begin to fly. You must remember that this is not Christian behavior, and not only should Christians not take part in it, but they also should not even listen to it.

We should not repeat the cleverly crude lines, whether with our lips, or in our posts. We should not whisper them to our buddies, and chuckle under our breaths. Let’s listen as Scripture speaks:

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:3–5 NAS95)

The media is going to make a killing off this, in more than one respect. The more vulgar it becomes, the more money they will make. And their celebration of the whole sordid affair will only serve to erode, to kill, any remaining sense of decorum and decency that exists in our culture.
I believe Christians should stay out of it - away from it. I am not saying who you should vote for, or against - or if you should vote at all. Just don’t tune in. Tune out. Shut if off. The holiness and righteousness of God does not and will not take a leave of absence for something so exceptional as presidential politics featuring such unexceptional candidates.

Finally, when this drama is played out, there will be a President elected, whether from the existing candidates or someone as yet unforeseen - and we will be called upon as Christians to pray for the person who fills that office, and to honor him, or her. 

Grace, and Truth

Some Christians are big on grace and love and forgiveness. You can’t have too much of this. This is the right response in every situation. And, there is also a group of non-Christians who believe that this is exactly what Christians should be about.
There are also Christians who are big on truth. They believe that there are right’s, and there are wrong’s, and that you should be able to tell the difference. And they are more than willing to help. And, there is a group of non-Christians who fully expect Christians to be exactly like this.
So would it surprise certain Christians, and certain non-Christians, that Jesus is full of both grace and truth? And would it surprise you that the themes of grace and truth have been intertwined through the whole Bible story, both old and new testaments?
God revealed Himself to Moses on the mountain in Exodus 34:6,7 - identifying Himself by both Name and description. This description contains both grace and truth, translated variously as loyal love or lovingkindness, and faithfulness. He is true to His covenant promises; and He is true to His Word. 
C.S. Lewis, in the quote on the back page, reminds us that if God truly loves us, then He will not leave unaddressed or untouched that which is unlovely in our lives. That is, in His grace, He will apply truth. He exercises grace in a way that does not treat sin as though it is invisible or unoffensive. And He also exercises truth in ways that graciously illuminates what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is evil. 
One church-or-the-other’s over-emphasis on either grace or truth does great damage. And we are continually learning how to balance. And, it is not as though one can ever have too much grace, or too much truth. It is just that they must be joined. I love this verse that says it well: Psalm 85:10 “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

So let’s get rid of the idea that we can go to a “grace” church, or a “truth” church.” Let’s reject the idea that women are for grace, and men are for truth. Let’s not accept a theory that truth is for beginners, and grace for the more mature (or the other way around). Why? Because of this: John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Unwitting, or Unwilling Disbelief

We know many of the stories of faith recorded in the Gospels: like the royal official who was willing to take Jesus at his word, and believe that his son, deathly sick at a distance, would be healed; or the beggar woman who argued with Jesus, that she might receive, like a dog, just the scraps from his table. We also know that these stories of faith are often accompanied by conflict, as the with the man who revealed the struggle of his own soul, crying out to the Lord, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
But we may not so easily notice the stories of stubborn disbelief. We often see what we want to see, and dismiss what is uncomfortable. So let’s notice these verses from Mark 16, about Jesus’ disciples, following His resurrection from the dead:
11 When (the disciples ) heard that (Jesus) was alive and had been seen by (Mary Magdalene), they refused to believe it.
13 (Two disciples who encountered Jesus) went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
14 Afterward (Jesus) appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.
16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
And then we have the well-known story of “doubting” Thomas, who said to the 10 disciples, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” “Doubt” is not a strong enough term for Thomas’ position. In opposition to the evidence; in opposition to the eye-witness testimony of his trusted companions - he refused to believe. Unwitting? or unwilling? Bewildered? or hard-hearted? In need of time and patience? or did he need to be warned, “he who has disbelieved will be condemned”?

There is such a thing as doubt. It is real, and it is common. When we doubt, we must come back to the testimony once again, and ask, “what does the Word of God say?” In accord with God’s gracious and authoritative Word, we have a responsibility to believe, and to obey. In this light, we see that faith is not some strange bird with fuzzy feathers. It is you grabbing hold of revealed truth with determination, and believing that God is real, and that Jesus is alive.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dreaming vs. Scheming

One of the key characters in the Old Testament story of Esther, opposed to the existence of the Jewish people, was Haman. He was involved in an elaborate scheme, not a dream. God, intervened, so that Haman’s scheme was foiled, and the dream of a people for God’s own possession continued toward its fulfillment.
On the other hand, another well-known story from Genesis recounts a young man who had not a scheme, but a dream - a real dream - but also a vision, of a glorious, though difficult future. It wasn’t his dream; it was God’s. And he could not have understood how it would all play out, nor would he have wanted to. It was Joseph. The dream indicated that his father and brothers would one day bow down before him. Now, that may sound like a scheme for self-promotion. But rather than being ginned up to benefit self, this dream looked forward to the salvation of a family - of a people - through the suffering, and elevation, of one. In this case, Joseph.
These stories, and more, come to rest in Jesus, who according to the Father’s good pleasure, suffered and died, and was raised from the dead in vindication, so that God might create a people for Himself, drawn not only from the family of Jacob (Israel), but also from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” It is the development of a dream; not the concoction of a scheme.
The verse referenced above indicates that the hearts and minds of these people are “zealous for good works.” The think about zeal is - it’s tough to be zealous for two things at once. We fancy ourselves as multi-taskers. But actually, we major in one area, and pretend in the others. If you are taken up with God’s dream, then you will have little energy for selfish schemes. And vice versa. 
And so, if you are a follower of Jesus, in what schemes are you involved? What flatteries and falsehoods? What hidden agendas and secret dealings? Because it is these to which we often resort when we are building the kingdom of self, at the expense of the kingdom of God. Schemes are not worthy of the kingdom of God. The Father builds His kingdom with the finest of materials - with people who are being purified, and with plans that are prayed-over; with motives that are un-mixed, and with methods that are honest and transparent. 
It is not only that God does not need your schemes to accomplish His purposes. They are, actually, prime indicators that you are not pursuing His dream at all.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Live Like a King

Do you live like a king? I am not talking about ego and extravagance. I’m talking about sphere of influence and responsibility.
There is a sense in which every one of us is called to live like a king, to exercise wisdom and justice in the ‘kingdom’ over which we have authority. The size of my kingdom may be quite small. But it does not relieve me of the responsibility to take responsibility over that realm,no matter its size. 
It might be as small as your own little life. But you are responsible for the choices that you make - for what you allow and disallow - for rules of engagement, and the pursuit of integrity. 
This may involve your role with your family. We must remember that others in our household are kings in their own right, and that we may be in the process of helping them learn to exercise wisdom and justice in their own spheres. But I remember many occasions when my dad would walk past the TV in front of which we were sitting, and turning it off because he deemed what was going on inappropriate. He was living like a king. He was guarding his realm.
Psalm 101, from which the verse above is taken, is David’s manifesto declaring how he would rule his kingdom with regard to moral integrity. It is rather brutal. It is not tolerant. But he was determined to be the king of his kingdom, and to rule accordingly. Further, David knew that he was accountable not merely to himself. He was accountable to God for how he ruled his kingdom, acknowledging that he was but an ‘under-king,’ and that God is the King of the Kingdom, of which all our little kingdoms are but subsets. And so will we. We will answer to God for how we live our lives, and how we rule our kingdoms.
Again, I am not saying that we are to arrogantly seek to extend our authority into the lives of people where it does not belong. I am not in charge of your beliefs, or your morals. But there certainly are lines of authority and responsibility that extend to family, and work, and community, according as we have been assigned or employed. 

A leadership author speaks of areas in which we are to be ‘ridiculously in charge.’ He allows no room for the abdication of responsibility, and the resulting excuse-making and blame-placing. Live like a king! Take charge of your kingdom!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

He Restores My Soul

This phrase, from the 23rd Psalm, that psalm that begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not (be in) want,” - this phrase does not describe a typical relationship between a shepherd and a sheep. Not to offend animal lovers, but a sheep doesn’t have a soul. And even if it did, the shepherd could do precious little to restore it.

Most people shouldn’t even believe that there is such a thing as a soul. If you are a naturalist, then all of our human functions should be able to be explained physically and materially. Every decision; every desire - is solely a product of things like neural impulses and chemical reactions. In fact, for the naturalist, or, the anti-supernaturalist, he/she should not even permit the use of the word ‘psychology,’ the ‘study of the soul.’ 

But many of us are not mere naturalists. We believe that there is something more, so that when the surgeon cracks us open and fails to find a soul, we believe that it is there anyway, immaterial and spiritual, similar to when she goes in to look at your brain and fails to find a mind. His failure to find it does not prove its absence. He/she needs to look with another lens.

And so some, denying the presence of a soul, disregard its need for restoration. And others, believing that there is such a thing, wonder how such restoration can be accomplished.

In children’s Sunday School, where some of the most formidable questions are posed, we watched a digital restoration of great-grandma’s childhood photograph. The photo stock was worn and wrinkled. The image was dull and fuzzy. The color was drab. But with painstaking and detailed work (we watched a time-lapse), that photo was restored so much that great-grandma would have fit right in with the children in the class. Through all that restorative work, she had come, visually, to life.

I do not believe restoring a soul is digital, or much at all like a photo restoration. But what is it like? I picture my soul like a leathery lung, not material, but spiritual. It is the spiritual organ by which we relate to God. And yet, through the pollution of our surroundings, and the pollution of our own person, this lung has been severely damaged. It has become unresponsive. It is not able to apprehend spiritual truth. It does not breathe heavenly air. Until it is restored.

And so, that leathery lung must be made, spiritually, supple and pink once again. It has to be immersed and marinated in a regenerative fluid that will bring back that long-forgotten, oft-forsaken intimacy with a truth and a person that we have tried to ignore.

As far as I know, and this deserves further searching, the Bible does not describe this process of the restoration of the soul. It does, however, speak plainly of the giving of a new (spiritual) heart. This is accomplished as the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to believers. Perhaps, while the new heart is given by grace, the soul is restored by love, as the orphaned and recalcitrant sinner is converted, and as this discovery of the love of God takes place. 

He restores my soul. He immerses and marinates my soul with His love.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Growing into the Clothes of Christ

I don’t share clothes with my son. There’s a reason. He’s 6’5”, and weighs less than me, though I’m half a foot shorter. If we wore each other’s clothes, we would both look ridiculous.
Thankfully, we can all get clothes to fit. We can shop. We can try things on and find what feels comfortable. We want clothes that are suited to us.
I suppose that we would like the whole world to be suited to us - that everything would be fitted to us so that we can remain comfortable, or feel cool. But the world doesn’t work that way. Why? Well, there are at least two reasons:
The first reason is that the world is broken. Everything is bent. Like an arrow that was formed straight, when it warps, it just will not fly straight. And neither does this world - its material parts, and its spiritual parts; its inanimate objects, and its animate, including you and me.
But even if the world were not broken - even if it remained exactly like it was designed by God - and this is important! - the second reason why the world is not suited to us is because it was never designed to be. The reason the world was created, including you as part of this world, was for the glory of God - not for the comfort or convenience of you. And to the extent that this broken/bent world still reflects the glory of God in some way, we will find it more and more uncomfortable so long as we live for the glory of “me” instead of the glory of God.
William Gurnall (1616-1679), in his famous book, “The Christian in Complete Armour,” speaks of the difficulty that we have with God’s ‘prescriptions.’ By ‘prescriptions,’ he means God’s laws or rules. We chafe against some of these, and are tempted to ignore those that are most uncomfortable. We will often hear arguments that they are outdated, and are merely a reflection of an earlier era. But that is not the case. Here is the quote:
(Men’s) laws are often made to fit crooked minds, as tailors alter garments to fit the crooked bodies they are designed for. The commands of God are suited to His holy nature, not to the unholy hearts of men.
We expect that God’s laws, like men’s laws, should have been suited for us. But they aren’t designed to fit us. They are designed to express the holy majesty of God. And if this is true of God’s law,
then it is also true of God’s creation. We, as creatures of God, are designed to reflect His glory, and therefore, we need to be re-shaped to fit His design.

So, the next time you feel the rub of the world against you, stop and think. Yes, the rub could be due to the brokenness of the world. Or, it could be due to the brokenness of you. Don’t ask God to change. Ask God to change you.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Swamp and the Sign

There is a saying that goes something like, “he missed the forest for the trees.” Here is a story about hitting the swamp for the sign.

Imagine a sheriff’s deputy on a Monday night visiting the scene of a traffic accident in which a single car failed to navigate a curve to the right on a gravel road. In the curve, leaving the road to the left, the car and driver ended up in the swamp. The driver was not injured, though the electrical system in the car would probably need some work. “Didn’t you see the sign?” asked the deputy. “Yes,” replied the driver. “That is the most amazing shade of yellow.
On Tuesday night, the deputy finds himself at the same place, with the same situation. He asks the driver, “Didn’t you see the sign?” “Yes, of course,” said the driver. “Why do you think they post that sign on an angle, and not flat?” “You’re missing the point,” the exasperated deputy replied.
On Wednesday night, …, well, you know what happened. Another car; same swamp, similar questions. The driver said, “Yes, and do you suppose that sign is made from metal or fiberglass?” He was an automotive engineer.

The subject of semiotics, and especially its subset, semantics, deals with the relation between signs and the things to which they refer, or, their meaning. The word, semiotics, has a Greek root, the word translated “signs” in the Bible, referring to miracles. In the John’s Gospel, the author consistently uses the word “sign” instead of “miracle.” He wants to communicate that Jesus is not merely interrupting the natural order in order to do something amazing (and he is indeed doing that). No, Jesus is using that act as a sign to point to a truth or reality beyond the sign. If we focus only on the sign, and not the reality, you will end up in a swamp.

The seven signs in John’s Gospel are only a selection of Jesus’ total miracles. But seven is enough. Even one would be enough. In fact, many people come to faith in Jesus without witnessing any sign at all. They simply believe, and they are blessed. But there were many others who saw many signs, and yet they did not believe. They saw the same sign as others, but they did not buy in to the meaning of the sign. Perhaps they were amazed. Maybe they were only amused. Some were irritated at this wonder-worker. But only some saw the sign, and grabbed hold of the meaning behind the sign.

The 4th sign of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Here he provides a meal for thousands of people who followed him out into the countryside, far from the markets. He had compassion for their physical hunger, and used this sign as a pointer to their need for spiritual sustenance, which he made clear, later in the chapter, was himself. “I am the bread of life.” But many who experienced this first free meal only wanted a second. They were interested in supper, not a Savior. They saw the sign, and embraced it. But they failed to embrace Jesus.

You and I are spiritual people who have been trained to live with a materialistic mentality and a temporal time-frame. When a sign points to a spiritual truth, we easily see the sign and miss the truth. When a temporal image is used to refer to that which is eternal, we tend to focus on what is ‘good for me’ in terms of today, or, at best, tomorrow.

Here is one of the saddest verses in the Gospel of John: “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” I hope this does not describe you. Don’t miss the truth for the trees. Don’t land in the swamp because you see a sign and fail to heed its meaning and message.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Double Commands

The fledgling fellowship in Thessalonica was a community of people who had experienced a radical change in their lives. Paul and had come and proclaimed to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their God-motivated response had resulted in a “turn(ing) to God from idols”, expressed in the dual activities of “serv(ing) the living and true God”, and “wait(ing) for His Son from heaven.” It is this “serving and waiting” that I am investigating.

I don’t believe that Paul is making this stuff up on the spot. I do not believe that this is original material. Paul is steeped not only in the Old Testament (which he is), but also in the majestic storyline of God’s plan, beginning in creation and culminating in New Creation, tracing the fundamental promises to Abraham, and seeing their fulfillment in God’s new people. So, I wonder if the dual command has a history, a biblical background, that will give depth and context to what it means for us “to serve and wait.”

In the more personal aspect of creation in Genesis 2 (as opposed to the more formal and schematic approach of Genesis 1) we find that God is personally involved with Adam, and gives him a double command: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15 NAS95) This is certainly not all that God says, but these two commands are notable, and perhaps foundational. A literal translation of the Hebrew word rendered above as “cultivate” would be “serve.” Sound familiar? The word rendered “keep” is often literally “guard,” which could easily be understood and waiting and watching, or perhaps, Peter-ishly, “watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41).

A review of the 43 references1 where “serve” and “guard/keep” are found in association, we find that the servant is one charged with royal responsibility to rule righteously, according to God’s law, which is to be guarded, or kept. “Servant” is who you are as one oriented toward God, and holding/keeping to God’s word/plan is what you do. This line traces through Moses and the prophets, through David, and then finally to Jesus, the ultimate Servant of the Lord who fulfills/keeps God’s word/plan perfectly.

Now, abruptly, come back with me to 1 Thessalonians 4, where I find dual infinitives, a similar construction to what we have in 1:9,10. But here there is a very specific application. With regard to the use/implementation of our physical bodies in sexual relationship, we are to serve and wait. The idea of serving is stated negatively in 4:3, where we are told not to serve the flesh, and by implication, that we must not serve the flesh because who we are as Christians is those who have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” We are servants of God as followers of Jesus, the ultimate Servant, who perfectly cultivates the royal role of righteous representative of God. As servants, we are to keep, or, according to 4:4, “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” We are to wait for our body’s prescribed and righteous fulfillment in the marriage relationship. 

Interestingly, there is another infinitive doublet in 4:6, where we are instructed “that no man transgress and defraud his brother,” antithetical actions from cultivating and keeping. Our abandonment of our role as God’s servants, and thus our responsibility to responsibly wait, is a clear violation of the law of love, also a double command, that we love God and love neighbor.

This talk about a proper relationship reserved for marriage leads me, finally (for the purposes of this post) to think about the dual commands given to the husband and wife to “love and submit” in Ephesians 5:22-33, and similarly in 1 Peter 3:1-7. Is there a correspondence here between the responsibilities to “cultivate and keep,” or to “serve and wait”? It at least gives color to these words - that who we are as royal representatives of God, are those who love/serve. And yet, we are not ultimate representatives - only Jesus is, and so we do not simply plough ahead with our own ideas and agendas, but we submit/wait. As broken out in the Ephesians text, it is the husband who is to cultivate the family’s identity as God’s servants,, and it is the ministry of the wife to exemplify that we are not lords, but stewards, who, while responsible, are not ultimate. That would be Jesus, the One for whom we wait. Going back to my review of the OT verses where the Hebrew terms for “cultivate and keep” are associated, it would primarily2 be the husband who is specifically charged with “cultivating” the identity of the household as those who have be oriented toward God, and are thus His servants, and it would be primarily the wife who is charged with “keeping” and ever restraining the functions of the household in order to be consistent with the home’s proper identity.

1Gen 2:15; Num 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:7; Deut 6:12; 7:8; 11:16; 12:30; 13:4; 16:12; Josh 1:7; 22:2, 5; 24:17; 1 Sam 28:2; 2 Sam 22:44; 1 Kings 3:6; 8:23–25; 9:6; 11:11, 34, 38; 14:8; 20:39; 2 Kings 12:21; 17:13; 21:8; Is 56:6; Jer 16:11; Ezek 37:24; Hos 12:12; Mal 3:14; Psa 19:11; 86:2; 119:17; Neh 1:7; 10:29; 2 Chr 6:14–16

2I use the word “primarily,” because other Scriptures make clear that we all members of the covenant community are called to love, and we are all called to submit, and therefore, we all have responsibility for cultivating our God-given identity and keeping our God-given functions.