February 27, 2015

Unworthy Servants

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”
Jesus, in Luke 17:7-10

My little girl and I have a bedtime ritual. We read from one of her storybook Bibles, then read the corresponding passage from the Bible itself, followed by a hymn and prayer before I put her in bed. However, occasionally the story which is portrayed in the kids Bible is only a few verses in length, and so I read some of the surrounding context. Such was the case the other night, and it brought us across Luke 17:7-10.

This of course is not the first time I had read these particular words of Jesus, but I was most definitely struck by their timeliness to my soul. You see, I have something of a messiah complex. I think that I am really important, probably the most important person in the history of ever. Or at least currently living. I am going to do great things, accomplish important things. But that's not what Jesus says here. He says that any one who serves the Father is, ahem, a servant. Of course, some of us may well not be servants of God the Father, we might rather be His enemies (see Romans 5 or Ephesians 2). However, it is clear in both of the mentioned passages that the way to not be an enemy of God is to place one's faith and hope in Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and reconciliation with God. I've done that. I need not worry about His condemnation. I just need to serve Him. Which is perfect, because I'm totally competent, extremely gifted, infinitely valuable, and just generally an indispensable part of God's plan...wait, what?

Serving God is a really cool thing. In fact, looking to Jesus as merely some sort of life-preserver who keeps me out of hell without affecting my life in any practical manner is,
a) dishonoring to Him
b) way less than He has called me to.
Those who have been redeemed have been made in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Part of the gift of salvation is being given work to do, a purpose here on the planet. My wife likes to call them special jobs. I think that is a fitting description. God has a special set of things for you to do. So do them, enjoy them, serve Him.

But here's the rub: if you're anything like me, those jobs can turn from service to the Master, and quickly become a way for me to try and validate and justify myself, no different from how anyone else in the world is living. I never cease to be haunted by Jesus words in Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

 It's possible to do a lot of things in His name with an attitude not fixated on Him at all, but rather on what I am doing, what I am giving, what I am accomplishing. To roll this back to Luke, Jesus makes clear that none of this was about me to start with.

I don't believe Jesus is making a point necessarily about how God the Father treats His servants, as God is not only our Master and Lord, but also our Father. His point, I believe, is to make clear to us that we have no right to expect anything from God, because we are but unworthy servants. Anything He gives us is a gift. That seems like a redundant statement, but let the weight of it hit you. Everything God gives you is a gift. You did not earn one single piece of it. Don't you find that offensive? I do.

We, and by we I mean I, need to realize that our labors on behalf of God are good. But they are not praiseworthy, in and of themselves. They are but the reasonable actions of one whose Master is the Lord of all the universe. To offer up my life is, as Paul says in Romans 12, but a fitting response to the astounding mercies of God poured forth in Jesus Christ. I am an unworthy servant.

February 13, 2015

Does anything go?

This will be far shorter than it ought to be, and grew out of what I intended to be a reply to a comment on my comment on my wife's Facebook status related to the releasing of a movie about a number and a color (confused? I am). The gist of the question I want to answer is this: who determines what does or does not go in the bedroom? 

What is sex?
Before we can address what is "okay" sexually, we have to first lay a groundwork, or perhaps better, a framework for understanding this issue in light of the Scriptures. If you read this blog very often then you're probably aware that I care a lot about what God says in His word, as I believe it is the only place we can go to find out how this life really is supposed to work. 
The first question we need to ask is, "what is sex?" The first place we look in answer to that question is the opening part of Genesis:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; because she was taken out of Man.” she shall be called Woman, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.(Genesis 2:20-25 ESV)
We see here in Genesis chapters one and two that sex is, at its foundation, two things:
1) a creation of God Himself. This fabulous thing called sex is God's idea. Some people, often calling themselves Christians, have tried to paint sex as bad, disgusting, or filthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. God makes man and woman naked, tells them to multiply, and calls it very good. It's His idea, He calls it very good, and who in the world am I to argue with God about that?
2) a command of God. This does need some qualification, as this command is given to a man and a wife in the context of their marriage. But part of His charge to the human race is to multiply. And being as they didn't have laboratories back in those days, there is only one way that was going to happen. [It is important to note that all biblically approved sex occurs within the context of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, a fact which deserves some longer treatment, but you can read a few of my thoughts here]
We also can look at other places in Scripture to get a glimpse of what God intends in marriage. The Lover in the Song of Solomon says,
Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
His bride comes back with this reply,
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
(Song of Solomon 4:16 ESV)
If you take the time to read through the Song of Solomon, you will find an unrestrained celebration of married love, including its sexual aspect. In this book, as illustrated in the poetic quotation above, sex is shown to be a pleasurable gift from God.
Continuing on, in the epistle to the Hebrews we read the following,
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.(Hebrews 13:4 ESV)
Here we encounter the concept of the sacredness of sex. God has created the marriage bed, and it is to be held in honor among all, undefiled.
In summary, sex is a creation of God, commanded to those whom are married, but not commanded as some form of punishment, Rather, it is a beautiful and pleasurable gift, one that is to be held in high esteem among all. Sex is sacred. Sex is, in a very true sense, holy.

The Holiness of Sex
We saw above in the passage from Hebrews that God will judge the sexually immoral and the
adulterous. The assumption behind that is what we saw in Genesis, namely, that God is the creator of our bodies, and the creator of sex. As creator, He has absolute rights and authority over His creation, and thus sets the boundaries of what constitutes good, acceptable, and ethical behavior. We, of course, do not like this. Ever since our first father, Adam, took of the fruit and plunged humanity into sin (Romans 5:12-14) we have been rejecting God's authority over our lives. Thus we run headlong into all sorts of sins. Included in this sprinting away from God is a run headlong into sexual transgression. Scripture contains innumerable passages listing different kinds of sexual sins and their consequences (eg, Leviticus 18, Romans 1, Galatians 5).
As I stated above, God created sex to live and flourish inside the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. I'm trying to decide if there is a more unpopular concept than that today. Definitely a top three candidate. We hate this, because all the promises the world offers for sexual enjoyment, like fresh experiences, quick hookups with hot babes, passionate lovemaking all the time...yeah, that's not the reality of marriage. You marry one person. You spend an incredible amount of time with that one person, mostly outside the bedroom. You make each other mad, irritate one another, and are quite simply: human. This complicates the matter of sex. Because what Hollywood told me was supposed to be a constant rip-each-other's clothes off passion becomes in fact a self-giving, a sacrificing my needs for the needs of another.
Don't read this wrong. Sex is absolutely the beautiful gift we said it is earlier. The exposure, the intimacy, the one flesh (Genesis 2:24) can be one of the most enjoyable things God gives us on this earth. But the joy, while including the physical pleasure that God intended, goes a whole lot deeper and past that. When God said that the man and woman became one flesh, He wasn't just saying "piece a fits into slot b." The oneness that takes place in marriage, and in the marriage bed, is one of physical, emotional, and spiritual unity.
When we remove sex from the realm of marriage, we make it a very dangerous thing. All of that exposure, intimacy, and oneness has now been offered to one who has promised me nothing in return. If I open myself up like this to my wife, I can feel safe. She has pledged to walk with me, stay with me, and love me until death parts us. Not so with another. In casting off God's law here, we cast off not a burden, but a safeguard for our soul.
I titled this section the Holiness of Sex, and you may be wondering why I am saying so little about that. The word Holy carries the idea of being set apart, and this is exactly what I'm attempting to communicate here. That God has set sex apart, in the bond of marriage, for the safety, well being, and lasting pleasure of His creatures.

So: does anything go?
So now we come to the question we set out to answer: does anything go? The answer, I believe, must be a resounding "No." There is much freedom within marriage (see again the Song of Solomon). But if we are to embrace the biblical model of marriage there are very clear principles as play. This merits a longer discussion, but because the original context focused around the idea of BDSM, I will focus on one passage in particular.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV)
The overarching principle for husbands in all of marriage, including in sex, is simple: love your wife as Christ lived the church. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself up for her. He never exploits her, abuses her, mistreats her, does violence to her. The gentle nature of this picture strikes me afresh as I read it even now. He washes her in the water of the word, that he might present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle. Never does He handcuff her or beat her with a whip. Never does He use His power over her to manipulate or hurt her in any way. He loves her with the kind of love that lays down His life for her. Can we not see how much more beautiful a picture this is than any love the world has to offer?

We pursue sex, as we pursue everything, in an endless drive to satisfy our lusts. We have a craving that we haven't been able to satisfy. We fantasize, and we chase those fantasies into life wherever we think we can get away with it. But the biblical picture of love, the biblical picture of sex, is utterly different. Sex was never designed to fill me up. It is a place for me to give of myself to the one I have covenanted myself to; to model the love that Christ pours into the one He covenanted Himself to, the church. This is the purpose of sex; and it places very real limits on what is "okay."

February 03, 2015

The Stench on Holiness

In his book, "Til We Have Faces", C.S. Lewis uses one of the most captivating phrases I have ever come across:

"The stench of holiness."

I want to briefly explain why this phrase has been gnawing at me for over a year.  I grew up in church and I've owned a Bible since I was a very small child. I've read the Bible quite a bit over the last 18 or 19 years; even that intimidating section at the front which we refer to as the Torah (though I spend less time there than I ought). However, the problem one has when reading any part of the Bible, but especially parts discussing the sacrificial system of the Israelites and other nations, is that I am a 21st Century American. That is to say, there is a rather wide culture gap between my world and theirs. And what this phrase from Lewis did was awaken my senses to the reality of their world.

How easy is it to read over and over about the blood of sacrifices being poured out on the altar, of cows and sheep and pigeons being slaughtered frequently? Really easy. How often had I thought about the feel, the sight, or the smell of God's prescribed worship in the Old Testament? Never.

Consider just the first chapter of Leviticus:

The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock. “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; but its entrails and its legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And he shall cut it into pieces, with its head and its fat, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but the entrails and the legs he shall wash with water. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. “If his offering to the LORD is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.(Leviticus 1 ESV)

Kill the beast. Cut it to pieces. Splatter the blood on the side of the altar. Tear the bird by its wings. Drain the blood down the side of the altar.

Feel the warm blood dripping down your hands. Listen to the bellowing of the cows, the noise of the sheep and the birds. Smell the burning of flesh and hair on the altar. The demands of God's holiness, namely, that our sin must be paid for by blood, carry a stench about them. The stench, of course, is not intrinsic to holiness itself. God was holy in His eternal nature long before sin ever came into being. But when we sin, God ordains that the payment must be in blood. Over the course of the Israelite nation there were thousands, if not millions, of animals slaughtered to atone for the sins of the people. However, these served only as a temporary appeasement of God's wrath. Ultimately, the blood of bulls and goats can't take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). We needed a more perfect sacrifice, someone who could drink the full cup of God's wrath. Someone whose shed blood not only could cover my sin temporarily, but remove it from my account permanently. That's Jesus (Hebrews 9:12).

The only way for the holiness of God to move from being a stench in our nostrils, a reminder of our coming day to burn, is if we have placed our trust in Christ. If my sin is on Him, I can love the beauty of holiness, rather than fear it's consequences.

Vanishing Girls

Following up on the poem I posted yesterday, here is a quote from Wayne Grudem:

A tragic example of male dominance was reported on the front page of USA Today: International Edition (Sept. 6, 1994): "No girls allowed: abortion for sex selection raises moral questions" was the caption on a photo of a doctor performing an ultrasound on a pregnant woman in India. The cover story, "Asains' Desire for Boys Leaves a Deadly Choice," reported that according to Dr. Datta Pai, a Bombay obstetrician, "99% of those found to be carrying female fetuses aborted their unborn children." (2A). The story explained that "modern technology, the strong cultural desire for boys and pressure to reduce population have joined forces in a deadly combination in India, China and much of Asia to produce a booming business in sex selection...the practice of aborting female fetuses appears common judging by the emerging statistics that show lopsided sex ratios throughout Asia and into North Africa. Nor is the practice of sex selection limited to abortion. Female infanticide, the abandonment of baby girls, and the preferential health care and feeding of boys contribute greatly to the imbalanced ratios" (1A-2A). The story goes on to quote Harvard professor Amartya Sen as saying that there are now more than 100,000,000 women "missing" in the population of the world, including 44,000,000 fewer women in China and 37,000,000 fewer in India than should be alive according to normal sex ratios at birth (2A).
This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions. In addition to the harm of these lost lives, we must think of the destructive consequences in the lives of those women who survive. From their earliest age they receive the message from their families and indeed from their whole society, "Boys are better than girls," and "I wish you were a boy." The devastation on their own sense of self-worth must be immense. Yet all of this comes as a result of a failure to realize that men and women, boys and girls have equal value in God's sight and should have equal value in our sight as well. The first chapter of the Bible corrects this practice and corrects any lurking sense in our own hearts that boys are more valuable than girls, when it says we are both created in the image of God.
Wayne Grudem, Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2002), 20-21

100 million women missing from the world. That was almost 20 years ago. God help us.

February 02, 2015

Trash-Can Tomb

Unborn life, inside the womb
headed for a trash-can tomb

She moves, feels, hears, dreams
oh! that we would hear her screams

Precious life, how can't we care?
This blood guilt we all shall bear

When you and I leave earth's strife
God shall ask, "did you save life?"

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).