Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Basic Temptations

2. The first day that you enter into Christ's congregation, watch out for the temptations.
Bunyan, John (2011-11-22). Prayer (Kindle Locations 371-372). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition. 

One would think that when we come to Christ and enter into His church, we are safe at last. And in a sense, we are right, for there is no more dangerous place to be than outside of Christ. There I am under the lordship of the devil, and in constant peril of being confirmed and confined to eternal punishment. Now, in Christ, we are saved - safe in Him.

And yet, there are temptations for those who enter the fold - temptations that would draw you away from the purity of the Gospel; temptations that would fix your eyes on men with powerful personalities rather than relying on the power of the Spirit; temptations to attempt or expect short-cuts to glory, bypassing the pains and shames of suffering. 

The Apostle Paul has written letters on each of these subjects (and more). He wrote to the Galatians: “I am amazed that you are so quickly turned from the Gospel,” returning to a kind of “approval-by-lawfulness.” He wrote 1 Corinthians to warn people to not be so enamored with gifted men who have been called to be but servants of Jesus who alone is Lord. In addition, Peter wrote his first letter to warn fellow Christians that they “should not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you.”

All of these temptations result from losing sight of the glories of heaven, substituting instead a lesser vision framed by earthly and man-sized perspectives. We trade away approval with God, secured by Christ, for approval in the eyes of men, earned through our own efforts. Our worship slides askew from “faith-in-God-who-cannot-be-seen” to physical or psychological attractions toward mere men. We begin to think that we were saved primarily for our own convenience and comfort rather than for the glory of God, and thus  find rejection and suffering impossible to comprehend and to endure.

But Christian, remember that we are strangers and sojourners. We are not yet what we will be, and we do not yet bask in our Savior’s presence. That is ahead, up the road. Let’s keep going, in the purity of the Gospel, relying on the strength that God’s Spirit gives, enduring suffering as good soldiers of Christ.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Wives, Submit to your Husbands

The subject of a wife’s submission to her husband gives rise to tensions. If you have been part of such discussions, it is likely that you will have heard more about what submission is not than what it is. “I don’t know what submission means, but it certainly cannot meant that!” Let me ask a different question that may help with the context.

Why do people resist coming to Christ?

I suppose that several reasons could be given. If we rule out the problems of the many who have not heard and understood the Gospel, we can say that many people resist on intellectual grounds. They just don’t accept that Jesus is more than a man, that he rose from the dead, and that he is appointed as Judge of all the earth. And they would have a lot of company.

But further, why do so many adopt that position? Well, it is popular. But why is it so popular? I believe that at least a large segment of these objectors do so, not because of the force of their arguments, but because they do not want to come to Christ. I believe that many of us, with reference to many different subjects, tend to adopt the position that we want, and then secondarily marshall arguments that support our position. I suppose that many who resist Christ say that Christians have done exactly that - choose Christ, and then find arguments to support the position.

But my point then exposes what I believe is the largest group of people who resist coming to Christ: they resist him, because they don’t want to submit to his authority. They do not want to accept the yoke of being a Christ-follower. This is not intellectual resistance; it is willful resistance. I simply don’t want to.

If you found yourself under the domination of a cruel taskmaster, you might quickly flee to a kinder master. If you saw yourself in slavery, you would gladly welcome deliverance into a better relationship. But if you view your life as being your own, and that you are the master of your own world, the invitation to turn away from such independence and self-sufficiency is hard. It’s like, well, dying to self. And who is so suspicious of self, that they actually trust someone else more? The common condition of men and women in our culture is that know one knows and cares what is best for me than my own self, and thus we remain willfully independent. And so many - most - resist Christ.

Except we are not truly independent. The Gospel shows that we are enslaved to our passions, and that those passions are actually structured and inflamed by spiritual powers that have the upper hand. We are not free. We are slaves of sin.

Those who would be Christians give up resistance to Christ when they recognize their sin and see their need of a Savior. They bow to his authority, confessing the mess they have made of things on their own, and recognizing that they do not possess the wisdom or the strength to rightly govern their lives. They have come to understand that their lives are not their own (1 Corinthians 6), but that life is a gift, and they act as stewards, so that they are accountable for significant decisions and actions, not to their own selves, but rather to God. We believe that we find our lives when we lose them (Mark 8).

Now, submission doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Submission is admittedly a dirty word when sounded out in the context of American individualism. But against the backdrop of redemption, submission is sweet. God is good, and He is gracious, and, in Christ, He rescues us from sin and from ourselves. For saints individually and for the church collectively, our submission to Christ is illustrated by a wife’s submission to her husband.

Then why is this so difficult? Because, as saints, we are still sinners. And the earliest chapters of the Bible make plain that there is rebellion bred deep into us in the effects of sin. God speaks to Eve, the first woman, in the after-effects of the first sin, and he tells her that “her desire will be against her husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). There will be a contest of wills - willful resistance. And so the Christian bride makes a conscious decision that she will act toward her husband as she acts toward Christ. She will submit, even when it does not come naturally.

But why is this so hard? Another layer of reason is that your husband is not Christ. While Christ is perfect in wisdom and love, your husband is not. And yet, you are to trust him with your life more than you trust yourself. I wonder, if brides really understood this, would there be fewer brides?

The whole history of the human race as described in the Bible could fall under a search for a Deliverer, and a search for a Leader, a Ruler. Every worldly ruler seems to think first of himself, and is often guided by a dangerous combination of foolishness and ruthlessness. Our disappointments with rulers are many, and they give us little reason to trust anyone else. But Ephesians 5 is clear: the husband is the head of the wife. Genesis 3 is clear: the husband will rule the wife. 

If David, the best king ever, were your king, you should still yearn for a better King. And if prince charming is your husband, there are enough chinks in his armor that you will still yearn for a Ruler who will lead and love perfectly. I think that is what wives know and accept - as good as your husband is, there is still something better. There must be. Marriage is not the ultimate experience. You are being prepared for something greater, even as God can and often does bring plentiful blessings in the present.

So, what does it mean to submit? It means to willingly place yourself under a God-ordained order (hupo-tassw). Since God has designed the home to be a place where the husband is to lead and love his wife as her head, then the wife submits to that order. There are other orders to which we submit, whether in society with its laws and government (Romans 13), or in church to the Word and to designated leadership (Hebrews 13).

Submission is akin to obedience. The word-picture in my brain for obedience is standing underneath a reverse umbrella, where, when you stand in its shelter, you are watered with God’s word, and you stay under the direction of that word, not venturing out into the dryness to do your own thing according to your own senses. Obeying means to abide under the direction of God’s word. Submission means staying within God’s order - staying in line as when marching in parade - keeping in step even when the rest of the world runs helter-skelter. The husband/wife relationship is part of that order. And while obedience infers an understanding gained from God, submission infers that you abide in that order whether you understand and agree, or not. Submission is harder than obedience.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Spiritual Advice

A man named Jerry has been a special blessing to me for the past year and a half. He’s an interesting fellow, born and raised in Detroit, and since transplanted. He has faced, and continues to face, several hardships. His wife does not have a strong heart. By God’s grace, she has endured longer than doctors would have hoped, and there is something special about a person who knows that each day they live, it is because of God’s favor. Jerry himself is not what I would call healthy. He looks great - good-looking and strong. But he lost the use of a lung during a heart surgery, and he makes frequent trips to the hospital because of breathing deficiency. He and his wife have welcomed a daughter and her two children back into the home as she seeks to re-train to support her family on her own. He has spent considerable time with an aging mother-in-law. And yet Jerry faces each twist and turn with a smile and a sense of humor.

Jerry does not claim to be perfect. He knows that he’s got a quick temper, and that he can take quick offense. He has not always walked close with the Lord. But he does now. God has placed his claim on Jerry, and Jerry has placed a claim on God. They are bound together, and it shows.

There were days this past summer when I was pretty darn discouraged. Jerry, more than once, came and prayed with me at the start of a day, asking for God’s help. It changes your perspective! We saw God answer prayer in pretty amazing ways, and we were able to thank the Lord together for his surprising provision. Jerry also pointed out, in father-like fashion, some mistakes that I was making, and he wanted to make sure that I could see them. It was a little painful - a dose of humiliation - but it was what I needed. He was a friend, telling me the truth.

Jerry has also been exceedingly kind and generous. He has been generous with his time and energy; with his house and pool; with sharing and with gifts. He has been an open book, an epistle written by the Spirit of grace, and I have benefited from the experience.

I talked with Jerry on the phone a couple of times this past week. In our short conversations, he turned to spiritual themes two or three times - not forced; not preachy - just real and practical. He was right. He was stating the obvious - obvious, that is, to someone who walks with the Lord and is being guided by the Spirit.

One of the clear, first lessons that I have noticed in “the wisdom project,” our reading of a chapter of Proverbs each day through 2013, is that we need to listen to wise counsel. We need to hear spiritual advice. We need the blessing of someone who will speak the truth in the context of the difficulties of life, pointing the way to Christ in the light of the Spirit. I am blessed to have been the beneficiary of this ministry, and I pray that I might learn to do the same for others.