Through the Work of God – Amen

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“As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.  They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1:3-7).

“To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence. He gives us a sense of self-worth or personal significance, because He assures us of God’s love for us. He sets us free from guilt because He died for us and from paralyzing fear because He reigns. He gives meaning to marriage and home, work and leisure, personhood and citizenship.” – John Stott

What are the false or “strange” doctrines of marriage found within the circles of the church today? We may be inclined to immediately turn and consider such controversial cultural issues as same-sex marriage, single parenthood or the laizze-faire attitudes toward divorce – and we would be right to do so. However, I am aware of far more insidious and incongruent beliefs of the heart which impact our unions more than these.

What if the Holy Spirit is saying the “certain people” in this passage is me? Yes, Paul had others in mind in Timothy’s church but what is He saying to me right now? How strange are the codes I live by within my daily interactions of marriage? In my “mind” I am confident I have reasonably sound doctrine and understanding of the Scriptural teachings of marriage – but what about my heart? What about my hands and feet? What if sound doctrine is not all that sound until it finds its expression in heart felt affection and acts of selfless love? “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge… but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Robyn and I have often grieved over the things she and I argue and fight over. In the end, they are “meaningless babblings” and hold no great significance, whichever side of the poll we may lean. With my feet I find myself “devoted” to having to be “right” over the stupidest of things – “myths” really. With my hands I press my point endlessly in some arrogant, misguided attempt to find my identity through marital uniformity – which does not equate to marital union. With my heart I allow my “speculations” (opinions) to fester and grow rather than “advancing the work of God”.

And what is God’s work in our marriage? No doubt His greatest act of love was to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus. It was a gift of grace – not of my works lest I would boast – and I would. It was received through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

So it is in marriage. If regeneration of degenerate mankind is His greatest work, a union of a man and woman is his second. The question is, am I “advancing” that work in my union with Robyn? This too is done through faith. Do I believe that God is greater than my arrogance and self-centeredness? Is He greater than my fears? My hurts? Our differences? It is by grace that God would desire to initiate a “refreshing” of our love on a daily basis. Will I receive that refreshment through faith?

Ultimately the goal in all the domains of my life is love – deep, rooted and enduring love. It is in marriage where that purpose has its most effective laboratory. Here I am called to hone and fine tune my skills of genuine “love making”. I have the opportunity to become more like Christ as I exorcise my lean toward self-obsession and adopt His willingness to become second in order to advance the work of God in Robyn.

Oh Lord, there is such a compulsive drive in me to satisfy myself with what is “false”. I call upon You to work in me to become Your image bearer as I live life with the woman of my youth. Empower me to advance Your work in our marriage. I believe You will complete this work in us and we will know each other as we are fully known by You. Through the work of God – Amen.

 

Be Born to Us Today

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“…but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit….“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”)….

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledthe Son of God…. For no word from God will ever fail….” (Matthew 1:18, 20-23; Luke 1:35, 37)

“O holy Child of Bethlehem; Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in; Be born to us today.” (Philip Brooks)

Oh for a moment to be Mary!

Indeed this young woman was favored of the Lord as He chose her to become the vessel through whom Messiah would come into the world. We have a few hints as to what she may have experienced but really very few details are laid out. What an open door for this inquisitive mind. I wonder – what was it like to be visited by an angel, especially one as prominent as Gabriel? What did Mary experience as a child was conceived within her of the Holy Spirit? What would it have been like to be “overshadowed” by the power of the Most High?

Think of it – “overshadowed by the power of the Most High!” Selah – stop and listen.

I doubt seriously this was a passive occurrence; one in which she was only aware of after the pregnancy became evident. Any other time in Scripture where God directly invaded His chosen instrument there was a clear understanding and experience of His presence in their lives – the visitation of Abraham, a burning bush for Moses, a vision of the enthroned Lord high and lifted up by Isaiah….

So it was with Mary.

Though we don’t know the specifics of Mary’s overshadowing allow me to speculate a bit. The virgin conception and birth of Jesus is rich in meaning to the foundations of our faith. God becomes man and clearly pronounces the Lord’s desire to be intimate with His people – Emmanuel, God with us.

“Intimate!” Selah – stop and listen.

Paul recites this theme that had been broadcast multiple times in the Old Testament: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16b; Leviticus26:12; Jeremiah32:38; Ezekiel37:27).

“Walk among them…!” Selah – stop and listen.

It should not surprise us that God would reveal Himself through the humiliation of becoming one of us – fully human. He could have come to us as He had done in the past by briefly taking the form of man and communicating His message for a given occasion. But in the coming of Messiah He chose to display His nearness in a much more tangible way. He chose conception. He chose a birth of the Spirit.

In human relations there is no greater expression of intimacy than the sexual union between a husband and a wife. There is no greater demonstration of vulnerability, oneness and love than the sexual union in marriage. Therefore it is not unexpected that God used a pregnancy to begin to reveal the ultimate intimacy He desires with all of us. I do not want to suggest that there was any kind of sexual behavior between God and Mary but we cannot miss the significance of God choosing to come to man through the “overshadowing” of this young woman. How could He have made it any clearer than through the “birth” of Jesus – the Son of God becoming a baby?

The overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit is a picture of what the coming of Messiah means for us all. As followers of Christ we too have been enveloped by the Spirit and thereby are empowered to give birth to the fruits of the Spirit.

“… but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6b-8).

“For we were all baptized (immersed, overshadowed) by one Spirit so as to form one body … and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Without our own personal overshadowing by God we would not be able to experience the things of the Spirit. But through the incarnation of Jesus into our world we now have access into the deep things of the Spirit. Merry Christmas indeed!

“However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2: 9-16).

So what is the significance of the incarnation of Messiah to my marriage? What does Christmas have to do with my bond to Robyn?

EVERYTHING!

Because God is with us – Emmanuel – we now have the ability to love one another with a supernatural depth of knowing. We are now empowered to first see the incarnation of Jesus in one another and not the flesh. We find Him in the delights and doldrums of everyday human experience thus making every moment holy and sacred. We are roused to forgive in those moments when sin appears insurmountable and then call one another to return to Bethlehem. Because of the manifestation of God in the flesh – because of Christmas our union can live in the hope of a greater love tomorrow than today; a deeper peace and stillness and a joy magnified because He has become nearer to us than any earthly thing.

“We are the Lord’s servants,” Mark and Robyn answered. “May your word to us be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

I guess we’re not that different from Mary after all.

 

“….I’m so glad you came to earth.

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“When I reflect on my life and the type of person I could have become, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I think of the hurt and pain I have caused, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When by Your grace I am able to heal, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I think of what I have used and abused in an attempt to fill the emptiness of my life, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I am filled with your Spirit, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I see the smile of a little child, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I see that smile turned to grief, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When my band-aids have no effect upon the broken hearts of those I love, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I see the Great Physician skillfully mend a wounded heart, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When the world says darkness is light and light is darkness, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I look into the light of your face, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When my body no longer functions with the vitality of youth yet my inner man flies like an eagle, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When my heart and mind have said there is no hope, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When you give me courage to face a hopeless situation, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When everything in me says, “panic, run, turn away” and yet somehow I turn and face those shadows of fear and uncertainty, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When sin claims to be my master, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When by the Spirit I put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When those I have trusted no longer walk side by side, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I see your faithfulness in the lack of mine, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When my children leave the nest to step out on their own, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When filled with confidence that they too will walk with you, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I regret yesterday and can’t see tomorrow, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I see your hand of providence, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When my brother and I disagree and I don’t get my way, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When something supernatural in me touches something eternal in him, I’m so glad you came to earth.

When I face the last days of my life, I’ll be so glad you came to earth.

When I see your face and know as I am fully known, I’ll be so glad you came to earth.

Christmas ’98

A Union of Sweet Freedom

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1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control…. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:1,18, 22-23, 25

“To serve God, to love God, to enjoy God, is the sweetest freedom in the world.” Thomas Watson

There are few things in life more debilitating than to live under the weight of “law”. As I consider this “truth” I picture the tragic scenes of people being buried in the rubble of a collapsed building. They are “under” the weight of a structure that has failed them. Usually survivors of such a catastrophe are unable to free themself without the help of others. They are powerless in their own strength to liberate themselves.

So it is in marriage when we attempt to find freedom, self-worth and identity by perfectly keeping a set rules and external expectations. This futile way of life is well defined as the “tyranny of the oughts”. The weight of life remains and we are buried under its mass. How drawn to me would Robyn be if our relationship was based on mere obligation, duty and “law”? Certainly there are times when we must choose to love as the tides of romantic affections have ebbed. But if being in union with another person is solely founded on obligation where is the delight and freedom of love? Joy? Faithfulness?

In contrast, Jesus calls us to a path of freedom leading to the qualities of character we all hope are descriptive of our relationships. The path leads to these qualities. As I allow the Spirit of God to take hold of my relationship the natural outcome will be the production of His qualities.

We don’t get this! Our tree does not bear fruit, so instead of finding the source of its fruitlessness we run down to Safeway, grab some apples, affix them to the tree and believe we now have a fruitful tree.*

Absurd?

So it is when we try and produce any “fruit of the Spirit” without first being rooted in the Spirit; when we seek the gifts rather than the giver; when we seek in our own labors to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, etc., instead of being filled with His Spirit who would supernaturally produce these fruits. Our own efforts result in law keeping. Law keeping never makes us more fruitful but its journey will bury us.

Is a strong marriage really the results of us “trying harder”? The Bible is packed with stories of men and women who tried endlessly in their own efforts to better themselves and yet were entombed by their inability to do it right. The gospel steps into marriage and declares these kinds of efforts have created a “slave system”. In turn, God calls us to emancipation by the ever-present work of His Spirit. “Stand firm then” and do let your marriage be burdened again by the slavery of duty. Instead, live by the Spirit; keep in step with Him and enjoy a marriage released to liberty.

Lord, we habitually seek to function in the power of our own self-will and wisdom. Though we are tired and weak, we somehow carry on with the misguided belief that we’ll get it all together someday. It must grieve You to watch us hobble along when You’ve rescued us from the rubble and have breathed new life into us. May we inhale this breath and may our marital lungs take in the newness of life in You. Thank You for the full access we have to You. In that sacred place we ask for a greater measure of your deliverance. Amen.

* Gary Tribbett

 

Come and You Will See

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“When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’  ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).” John 1: 37-42

“We must have the glory sink into us before it can be reflected from us. In deep inward beholding we must have Christ in our hearts that He may shine forth from our lives.” Alexander MacLaren

Jesus turned to Mark and Robyn and asked, “What is it that you want?” They said, “Rabbi, where do you live? How can our love more fully reflect your love for us?” He looked at them and smiled. “Come and you will see.”

I confess I spend woefully little time just observing Jesus. Even as I am writing this page I am aware of the fact that Sports Center is on in a few minutes so I need to “hurry” and complete this thought. It is pervasive in this husband to be distracted from intimate times with Jesus by the cotton candy of this life. Intimacy with Jesus demands my time and attention, but I get so pleased with myself when I’ve had a 30 minute “scanning” of Jesus. Deep in my heart I desire more but I suffer from a spiritual attention deficit disorder that draws me away from simply stopping to gaze and wonder at the detail of His love and the contours of His character. Recognizing this I could try one more time to “do better” in my private devotions but to what end? My self-determination alone has always ended in frustration.

As with my salvation, this search for a fuller intimacy is a work of God’s grace in my life. It is His creation and my only proper response is to take hold of it in faith and allow Him to chip away at the barriers I erect in drawing near to Him; resting in the fact that His investment in our relationship is greater than mine will draw me to spend the “the day” with Him.

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed at my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I might know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus name, Amen.” (A.W. Tozer, Pursuit of God)

The disciples in this story spent the day with Him. They followed Jesus to where He was staying…. “Where Jesus was staying”? …. What if Mark and Robyn regularly spent time discovering where Jesus was staying? This causes me to reflect that when we do seek the Lord we are usually asking Him to come to us – and often He does just that. But what if in the course of our daily walk we sought to discover where Jesus was? What if Mark and Robyn asked the question, “Where is Jesus staying in the midst of this misunderstanding? Where does He live when there is tension and hurt in the room? Where is His dwelling place when we have reached the limits of our self-effort?” In other words will we take the time to travel spiritually to where Jesus resides? Yes, I know the gospel declares that God came to make His home among us (Emmanuel), but as with any friendship He also invites to His home as well.

So where does Jesus abide? Some days He sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for our marriage, longing to remind us He sits enthroned in the heavens and nothing evil said or done to one another will prevail – He is sovereign! (Colossians 3:1-3). Some days He’s in our living room holding our hands consoling and imparting wisdom through times of hurt and conflict – He is comfort (John 14:15-17). Then at other times He abides in our neighborhood where there is loss, anger and fear and beckons us to take the focus off ourselves and onto another – He is the least of these (Matthew 25:40)…. And some days He inhabits the sweet and tender refreshments of love as we simply enjoy and delight in one another – He is joy (Song of Solomon 1:4). All these places and more for the purpose of seeing and  sharing in His glory!

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).

Now here is the beauty in marriage of fixing our eyes on Jesus and finding Him where He resides. When we have beheld Him there is a renewed awareness of the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17) – a revelation of the image of the Son of God in our lives. When Andrew had this experience he had to tell someone he loved – not only telling Peter but bringing him to Jesus to see for himself. What if instead of bringing myself to Robyn with all my wounds, I brought her (and my wounds) to Jesus in the new place I had found Him? A new place where there is new wisdom and revelation meeting us in the places our relationship needs Him most. There Jesus meets us and gives us “new names”. He changes who we are and transforms our identity. No longer are we defined by our roles, “appropriate” behavior or past mistakes but are transfigured into the male and female image bearers He intended.

Lord, let us go together to those quiet places where we can hear your voice and witness your great tenderness toward us. Let us go into the rush of everyday living but hear the crashing power of your living water louder still. Let us step into our inevitable differences but maintain your peace and behold your humility and grace in each other. Let us be swift in our feet to follow you and keen with our eyes that we may see You. Stretch us in our hearts to be actively still before You. May the amazement of Your glory be seen us. Amen.