biblemike wonders

There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me. www.ucfm.net
UCFM Evangelistic Association

Thursday, July 28, 2005

 

THE GREAT MYSTERY OF MARRIAGE

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When we talk about the mysteries of God, so many come to mind. There is the very mystery of God Himself. He is the only eternal being. He has always existed outside the boundary of time. In fact, He invented time when He created. The moment of creation was the beginning of time. Time will come to end, but some of us will not end with it. That leads us to the grace filled mystery of the Gospel. The sacrifice of Christ that opens the door for our relationship with God and our potential entry into eternal life with Him. There is one mystery of God’s that constantly amazes me and about which I am enlightened more each day. Paul calls it “the great mystery” in Ephesians. I prefer to see it as the great gift, marriage.

Those of you familiar with my website or my e-mails know that the road I have traveled and am traveling is filled with pits and valleys, but overwhelming covered with grace and joy. One of the most important sources of that joy is my wife. I wasn’t perfectly healthy when we married, but I was in pretty good shape. I was a hard worker and a loving spouse and father. It was not that difficult for either of us to promise to love and honor in sickness and health until death do us part. It should have been more difficult for my wife to keep that vow by the world’s standards, but by God’s grace it was not. Why not? Because we both discovered what the mystery was all about. The secret of marriage isn’t about what you get from it. In fact that is the least important thing about marriage.

Examples of this truth abound in my life with Rhonda. I remember discovering that I had dementia and feeling my wife’s hand slip into mine as the doctor spoke with us. Despite the tenderness of that moment, she turned to me and quietly said, “Don’t suppose that will excuse you forgetting my birthday.” Those weren’t her exact words, but hers were similar in tone. We both laughed as did my doctor. We have laughed together at this disease ever since. I remember awaking from a coma and seeing Rhonda looking me in the eye as she said, “You’re not going anywhere and neither am I!” As I awoke after surgery recently, she sat beside my bed holding my hand and said, “I still love you and I am still here.” She has expressed her vow to love until death do us part under the most strenuous of circumstances you can imagine and it has never been a strain for her, because the love she has for me is the same love she has received from God. She once said, “How could I leave him? Don’t you suppose God’s heart would break as much as mine would?”

GOD’S APPROACH TO MARRIAGE IS THE BEST APPROACH TO MARRIAGE

I don’t remember where I read this story, but it surely represents today’s society. A little girl was discussing the story of Cinderella with an adult friend of her mother. The friend said to the child, “I know what happens at the end.” “What?” asked the little girl. “They lived happily ever after,” the lady replied with a smile. “Oh, no they didn’t!” exclaimed the girl, “They got married!” Reality in this child’s world and the world of most children in America is that marriages do not go on happily ever after. What a sad statement on our world. What a sad statement about ourselves.

“Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:18-19 NIV

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, and present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Church – for we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Ephesians 5:21-33 NIV

God’s approach to marriage is largely dismissed in our culture today.

People say that sexual purity before marriage is “impractical”.

More and more couples are choosing to “live together” without benefit of any
commitment before they get married. After all, what difference does a piece of
paper make?

Any suggestion that marriage should be confined to one man and one woman is
met with cries that we are being “judgmental”. Of course we are not being
judgmental – those are God’s standards not ours.

You can watch television talk shows every day that parade experts telling people to do “what’s right for them”. These so called experts are offering wind instead of substance, useless theories instead of wisdom. The world is running faster and faster, but it is still only running in circles pursuing the same ideas and concepts that proved themselves failures in earlier civilizations.

One of the reasons for where people are today is the lack of intimacy. We buy products that focus on me and my needs and my self image. We are taught how to make others believe things about us that are not true. No one is teaching us to be honest about ourselves or to ourselves. We have not been through a sexual revolution. We haven’t! What we have been through is a desperate search for a substitute for the intimacy that we naturally crave. Most people do not want the physical aspect of sex. They have just been taught to substitute that for the caring they desire. They want someone who truly cares for them and they truly want to be able to care for someone else. They want intimacy. We have allowed our culture, our society to dictate to us that the only way you find intimacy is through the physical. That is just not true! Ask couples who have been married for a length of time and they will tell you that sex is an important part of their relationship, but it is not the most important part. The most important is found in the quiet times when hands reach out to each other and two people share with each other from the depths of their souls, often doing so without making any sound at all..

If you have a problem with your computer who would you rather talk to about it: a friend who owns a computer or the manufacturer of the computer you own? If you have a problem with a machine at work, where do you turn for help: to someone who has read a lot about machines in general, a person who has talked to lots of people who have these machines or the person who designed and built the machine you are using? If you want to talk about home runs do you talk to a TV commentator or Mark McGuire?

All these answers are obvious, but what about marriage. If you have a question about how to have a good marriage do you want to talk to a social scientist who has studied marriage, a friend who has been married previously, a counselor who has read books about marriage or the one who invented and designed marriage? Again the answer should be obvious.

The biggest problems in marriage stem from one thing and one thing only: disobedience to the one who has instructed us about marriage. We have ignored the designer and tried to remake marriage in our design. God has clearly told us the approach to take. When we ignore His counsel we are in rebellion against God. Perhaps if we were more attentive to the instructions from the designer we would find that marriage works much better. The best marriage is the one built on the foundation of God’s word.

PAUL’S PRINCIPALS ARE NOT CULTURAL

Whenever people start looking at biblical instruction about marriage someone is bound to say “these instructions are clearly the cultural preference of the day.” This is not even close to being true.

Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was a possession of her husband, just as much as his house or his flocks or his other material goods. She had no legal rights whatsoever. Under Jewish law, a husband could divorce his wife for any cause, while a wife had no rights to initiate a divorce of her own. Both under Jewish law and under Greek custom, all the privileges belonged to the husband and all the duties belonged to the wife. Roman culture was just as chaotic. The Jewish Historian Jerome wrote about a woman who had married her 22nd husband and she was his 21st wife!

These are the people Paul wrote to. To all these cultures Paul’s words were not the norm but were a radical departure from the norm. Paul was not talking about the contemporary view of marriage. He was confronting it with a Biblical alternative. He tells the Roman women they need to respect and encourage men in the area God has placed them. He tells the Jews and the Greeks that women are not mere objects but individuals who are to be cherished, nurtured and enjoyed. Paul was not denigrating women, but elevating them! This was a revolutionary concept then and continues to be so today.

If you want to start a revolution, tell someone that you are going to try things the Biblical way. That will start the gossip mill! There is nothing revolutionary about refusing to submit or refusing to love in a sacrificial way. In our self-absorbed society this is the prevailing public opinion. When you take a stand for Christ, you are bucking the trend for sure. Many people dismiss God’s teachings on marriage because they don’t think they like the teaching. I would contend that those who do not like what Paul teaches have not understood what he is teaching.

MARRIAGE IS MORE ABOUT GIVING THAN IT IS ABOUT GETTING

Whenever men and women look at these passages husbands and wives tend to focus on the wrong things. The husband hears Paul’s word to wives and says, “Alright! This is the way I like it. I am the Boss and she does what I say.” But that means he has never read beyond to the commands God has for him! The wives hear the teaching to them and say, “You don’t know my husband. Why should I submit to him. I am equal to him in every way and superior in most!” Then the wife points to the teaching for men and says, “If I had a husband like that, I would follow him anywhere. This kind of man does not exist.”

Rather than come into these passages with our boxing gloves on, we need to come seeking to understand what God is directing us to. Where is He leading us? Soon you see that marriage is not about women serving men, it is about men and women serving each other! If we focus on what the other is supposed to do for us we are missing Paul’s point by several football fields. The emphasis is on what we give to each other. When each of us focuses on what we should be bringing to the relationship, that is when the relationship really begins to work. As someone once said, marriage is not a fifty –fifty relationship; it is a one hundred – one hundred one instead.

Let’s take a look at Ephesians 5:21 and the following verses. Paul begins his instruction with the direction that summarizes what it is all about: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The context of these commands is mutual submission. The focus is on giving not getting. Contrary to the mistaken view of Biblical instruction, the Bible teaches that marriage is not one-sided. It is not about women being servants of men. It is about two people working hard to give of themselves to enrich and encourage each other.

In 1 Peter 3:1 we see similar instructions, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands.” Notice verse 7 “husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives.” What should be our key question here? The “same way” as what?

In 1 Peter 2 Peter tells us to submit to authorities (13), and show respect for everyone (17). He tells slaves to submit to their masters with all respect and then he tells us that our example of this attitude is Christ.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:23-25 NIV

After describing the sacrificial way Christ lives he says, “Wives, in the same way” and “husbands, in the same way…” Jesus did not live for what He could GET from others. He lived His life and GAVE His life so that we might KNOW Him and therefore we might know life.

The Biblical teaching about marriage urges us to put the other first. Our concern should be what we can give to the relationship. This is the same for men and for women. This is what made the teaching unique and revolutionary. The same is true today. We live in a time when everything is about self. What’s in it for me? What do I get? How does this make me feel? Jesus wants us to change that focus. When we do, we become more and more like Him and we experience what He was talking about when He said He wanted us to have life more abundantly.

Finally, let’s take some time here for self examination. Are you self-absorbed? Be careful here. I would contend that most of us are self-centered in our marriages for the most part. We are still sinners and still fall short of the glory of God. We all readily notice what we have been denied.

He should have helped me clean up
She should have been more receptive to my idea
He does not meet my needs for intimacy all he thinks about is physical
She never has my clothes ready when I need them

These are the common kinds of gripes we tend to voice in relationships. The truth is we tend to think of others as if they exist to make our lives complete. It’s not just men. It’s women too!

What would happen if everyone began to turn things around? What if the complaints were something like this:

I am having trouble finding more ways to demonstrate my love
I’m struggling looking for a way to be more encouraging to my mate
I am frustrated that I don’t do more for my spouse
I wish I could love him/her more completely

Spouses would be more responsive, attentive, appreciative and loving toward each other. They would walk around smiling and telling others how wonderful their spouses are.

Does all this sound too simple? Frankly, it is simple. Everything about Christ is simple if we will let it be so. On July 9, Rhonda and I were married eleven years. We celebrated eleven years of being gifted with a relationship we did not realize was possible. It is a relationship that would not have been possible without Christ and most importantly without us trying to imitate Christ to each other.

Before I depart this topic I want to be sure to clarify something. I know divorce happens. It happened to me. Sometimes one person is committed to giving everything they have and the other isn’t. Sometimes one person is committed to being faithful in marriage, but the other isn’t. Sometimes one person is living responsibly and the other is living recklessly and putting family members at risk. I truly understand that divorce happens.

I also know that divorce is painful. I don’t want to increase that pain by making anyone feel condemned or that they are failure. Such thoughts are not from God and it is not my intention to bring such thoughts to this discussion. As I write about marriage, I am less concerned about what has been done wrong in the past or what has been done wrong to anyone else than I am about where each of us is going from this day forward.

When I was married before, I did not live my married life the way Christ would have me do. Without Christ as master and king of my life, how could I have expected anything I did to succeed as it should? It was only in making Jesus the KING of all that I am and all that I do that I had any hope of getting the intimacy and love I so desperately desired.

God brought Rhonda into my life and when He did, we both realized that the other was a gift we should cherish for they were a gift from God. All I have wanted since the day I fell into her emerald eyes is to give her all the love I ever wanted for myself in this life and more, to give her all the love I knew I was receiving from God as well. I did not place her on a pedestal. God is on the pedestal and the throne. She is the gift He gave to me in my need and one that I return to Him each minute of every day as my necessary worship. Each time I give to her I gain. Each time I give her back to Him I gain even more. That is the simplicity and the secret of marriage - God’s way.

This coming week my wife and I will be apart physically as I go to spend a week with thirty teenagers from our church. Mostly I will cook and clean and pray for them all. Pastor Eric will lead Bible studies and worship. Others will supply worship music. My ministry on these trips is generally quiet and simple. I look for those who are hurt and see if I can help them find their source of healing. I respond to the ones who are hungry for more than food. I listen to those who need to be heard. I pray, all day, every day, constantly, that His Spirit will stir in all of us that which needs stirring. Pray for us during this time of growing and learning to be servants of the King.

As always, I am yours in Christ.

Monday, July 25, 2005

 

The Foolishness of Christian Self-esteem

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Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

The world today seems burdened with a load that that the people of Jesus’ day would not recognize. It seems that one of the highest goals of daily experience is to feel good about one's self, to realize a positive self image. In America, the message pours from the television screens, screams from the billboards, fills every newspaper and magazine. These incantations for self-worth, self-acceptance and self-love ooze from every orifice of information surrounding us in hype. From birth to death, self promoters promise to cure all society’s troubles through doses of self-esteem, self-worth, self-acceptance and self-love. Everyone, or nearly everyone, seems to echo that refrain that we need only love and accept ourselves for the way we are and all else will be fine.

The religious rationale for this movement is usually taken from a statement made by Jesus, "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12:31) The gurus of self-love confidently interpret this to mean that before you can love others you have to love yourself. And to help us love ourselves, they advise, we should look in the mirror and say, "I love me so much; I love my face, I love my nose, I love my nostrils, I love me."

We should remember that Jesus also said, "Love one another; as I have loved you." (John 13:34) Just in case the disciples didn't get it the first time, Jesus repeated Himself in John 15:12, "My command is this: Love one another, as I have loved you."

When this is put together with the "second" commandment, "love your neighbor as yourself," it's clear that what Jesus had in mind was merely another way of expressing the Golden Rule - love others as you would like to be loved. Do you like the way Jesus loves you? Then love others in that same way, which of course is the way of self-sacrifice, a far opposite to self-love.

There are many problems with this emphasis on self-esteem. The call for self esteem leads to:

False praise;
An unwillingness to accept criticism or guidance;
Selfish and self-serving demands;
An attitude of entitlement;
Personal comparisons that lead to thinking less of others in order to improve my own self-view;
Focusing on external measurements of worth;
The misunderstanding that it's important for us to feel good all the time.

If we asked various individuals from the Bible about self esteem, how do you think they might respond? If we asked each of them how they felt about themselves, what might they say?
Obviously Adam lacked self-esteem when God called for him in the Garden of Eden. He said, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." (Genesis 3:10)

On the other hand, Samson had a healthy dose of self-esteem - he felt good about what he could do. The only problem was, he was mistaken! ("…He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him.” (Judges16:20b NIV).

Isaiah clearly didn't feel very good about himself, "’Woe to me!’ I cried, ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)

Artaxerxes' right hand man, Haman, possessed self-esteem. When the king asked, "'What shall be done for the man the king delights to honor?' Now Haman thought to himself, 'Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?’” (Esther 6:6 NIV)

Jeremiah was short on self-esteem when he lamented, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." (Jeremiah 1:6 NIV)

Of anyone, Daniel should have felt pretty good about himself when the angel said, "O man highly esteemed, peace! Be strong now, be strong." (Daniel 10:19 NIV) The angel understood that Daniel wasn't feeling very positive about himself. That's why he spoke to him this way.

Job clearly lacked self-esteem. He cried out, "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:6 NIV)

David understood that it would not be good to have self-love. "My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1 NIV)

John the Baptist made a rather dramatic statement which sounds more like a self put-down than a self-affirmation. Speaking of Jesus, he said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30 NIV)

Jesus understood that his own self-worth came from the Father. "If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me." (John 8:54 NIV) and again He says, "By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30 NIV)

The Disciples were told that if anyone wanted to follow Jesus he should take up his cross, deny himself and follow Christ. Denying oneself doesn't sound like a promotion of self-esteem.

Paul told the Christians of his day, we are not "...competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (II Corinthians 3:5 NIV)

To the Romans, when he wrote "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10 NIV), Paul was suggesting that "other-esteem" would be more Christian than "self-esteem".

Earlier in that same chapter Paul had written , “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3 NIV)

There are several ways to think about this matter of self esteem. First, there's the obvious superficial worldly way of striving to feel good just for the sake of feeling good. Is my feeling good sufficient motivation for the cost it might cause to others? For that matter, what makes any of us think that we should feel good all the time? Most of what I have learned, I have learned from those experiences that did not make me feel good about myself or anything else. Burned fingers, stubbed toes and broken hearts teach us more than we might realize at times and they certainly do not make us feel good at the time that they occur.

Those still very much of this world see self esteem as evidence of their competence. They point out that self-esteem comes with the awareness of one's own gifts and abilities, and is built on truth and reality, revelation, experience, and fruitfulness. These people are not content to merely brag about what they accomplish, they feel best when they are actually doing well. We all recognize the value of positive evaluation when it is truly deserved. If I brag about what I am not or do not yet have, aren’t I basing my esteem on a false image?

But we must also recognize that whether our self-esteem is based on praising ourselves or receiving praise from others, these are still built on the humanistic philosophy that says, "At the core, you are good, only waiting to be recognized as such." But Jesus' response to a questioner who called Him good was, "Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.” (Mark 10:18 NIV)

Over against these humanistic ideas is the religious idea that self-esteem comes by recognizing one's position in Christ. Aren’t we, after all, God’s children, redeemed by love's blood, destined to rule with Christ? Isn’t that sufficient self esteem for anyone?

The Christian basis for self-esteem goes something like this. You are a special creation of a good and powerful God. You are the climax of His creation, the masterpiece of the greatest artist in the universe. You are created in His image with capacities like His own such as the abilities to think, feel and worship that set you above al other life forms. You are one distinct being unlike any other. You are as different from other persons as one snowflake is from another. As a Christian you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He has given you special gifts that set you apart from those who do not know Him. Your destiny is to live forever in a magnificent kingdom, to reign with Christ forever. Now, how does that make you feel? How is that for self-esteem?

My, doesn't this sound good? But with all of these ways of viewing self-esteem, we still have missed the point, we're barking up the wrong tree. Even with that last paragraph, we find ourselves at the top of the mountain, but it isn’t the mountain we need to climb after all. Imagine getting to the highest peak. You are exhausted and can barely breathe. The man who meets you at the top says, “Everest? No, no. That’s Everest over there!" Now how’s your self-esteem?

About fifteen years ago California created a "Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility." The legislature put up a total of $735,000 for a group of professors to "Seek to determine whether self-esteem, and personal and social responsibility are the keys to unlocking the secrets of healthy human development so that we can get to the roots of and develop effective solutions for major social problems and to develop and provide for every Californian the latest knowledge and practices regarding the significance of self-esteem, and personal and social responsibility." (California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. "1987 Annual Report to the Governor and the Legislature," p. V.)
Eight professors from the University of California were hired to look at the research on self-esteem as it related to six areas:

1. Crime, violence and recidivism.
2. Alcohol and drug abuse.
3. Welfare dependency.
4. Teenage pregnancy.
5. Child and spousal abuse.
6. Children failing to learn in school.

These professors researched, summarized the results, and published a book titled "The Social Importance of Self-Esteem." Did they establish a relationship between self-esteem and social problems? Save yourself the $40 cost of the book. The conclusion of all that research was that there is precious little evidence that self-esteem is the cause of our social ills.

While this scholarly study found no cause and effect link between low self-esteem and problematic behavior, more recent studies have indicated the very opposite; there's a definite relationship between violent behavior and high self-esteem. That’s right, violent people tend to think they are doing just fine!

Now let's go back to the first verse: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." The message as it relates to our subject is simply this, "Let's stop striving to feel good about ourselves." The quest for self-esteem only places on us one more burden too heavy to bear. Give it up and give in to Jesus. It's not my relationship with myself that is of utmost importance, it's my relationship with God that counts. I am not just talking about “accepting Jesus Christ as your savior.” The issue isn’t whether I am saved. The issue is who is in charge of my life.

What I think about myself will always be prone to self-deception. What God thinks about me is all important truth. Is it good to encourage one another by providing words of affirmation? Of course. Such edification is one of the primary goals of our fellowship. Is it good to praise our children when they have done well? Of course. As long as we are also willing to correct them when they have done wrong. But when it comes to ourselves, we praise not ourselves the creatures, but we praise Him the Creator.

When we recognize God as KING of our lives, then we are prepared to deal with whatever comes our way. We have nothing to fear for God is greater than anything that may threaten us. We have nothing to be prideful about, because all we have is God’s. It comes from God and belongs to God. When we truly recognize our position in Christ, we find that self-esteem is a false image. God-esteem is all we need concern ourselves with. Honoring Him, loving Him and serving Him fills our hearts, minds and spirits so that there is no need for any of the self nonsense at all. True joy comes when we lose ourselves in Him.

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