I’ve been here before: fasting.

Fasting is an intriguing spiritual discipline that I readily admit I do not fully understand.  Thus, though I started to regularly fast several years ago, somewhere along the line I got sidetracked.  We know that God does not “bargain,” as though we could approach Him and say, “Okay, I fasted ‘X’ number of times this month; therefore, You have to do ‘Y’ that I have asked for in prayer.”  We remember that HE is God, we are not, and that He is never under obligation to His creatures.

Fasting does not particularly make us aware of spiritual realities more than if we simply pray with focused attention on Heavenly priorities.  For me, prayer while fasting has never been an occasion of visions or angelic appearances, at least in my very limited experience.  It just makes my stomach growl a little louder than usual, especially after drinking a little water.

Now, I must admit that fasting is not difficult for me.  My body is unusual in this regard, and I hope on an autopsy someday, some researcher will look at my gut receptors and try to find some that would signal appetite, because I have never felt hungry.  Even after going three days without eating (for whatever reason), if someone offered food, it was more a matter of “Oh, yeah, I guess I should probably eat something” than “OHHhh, I crave food sooo much.”  If fasting is supposed to alert us to denying ravenous desires to promote spiritual ones, maybe that is why I have been lax with developing this as a regular discipline.

However, Jesus specifically expected His disciples to fast after He left the earth.  “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.” (Mark 2:20)  I have addressed fasting before, so will not repeat all of that blog, but to say it is appropriate for a Christ-follower to fast at times.  Specifically, Jesus mentioned fasting in Matthew 6 with a couple of prescriptions: go about normal business, don’t show off, focus on Heavenly things (Matthew 6:16-21).  Like giving and praying, fasting was to be a normal part of a Christ-follower’s life.

Fasting should not be merely a time of dieting or controlling one’s intake for weight control (although that is one obvious side-benefit for us gluttonous Americans).  It should also involve devoted time to prayer, utilizing time usually spent in meal prep or eating to a new routine of praying.  And prayers should be more than merely, “Oh, Lord, teach me to pray.”  We should know how to pray longer prayers than just “Our Father…” or announcing our “grocery lists.”  (See A Catalog of Prayer here.)  Be careful not to get caught in vain repetition.”

Fasting also can involve immersing yourself in the Bible.  In our busy lives, most of us spend every moment in moving from one task to another with very little time in Scripture meditation.  Unlike Eastern meditative techniques that call us to “empty our minds,” Christian meditation is intended to fill our minds with what the Bible teaches, often focusing on Scriptures that we have not yet applied to our lives.  This can overlap with prayer that is simply waiting on the Lord.  “Remember that for the Christian, waiting is not about what you get at the end of the wait, but more importantly about what you become as you wait.” (Paul Tripp, The Gains of Giving Up)

The result of fasting should be to draw us closer to The God Who Is and to His word, and by that to reveal to us what kind of people we should be, where we are not measuring up yet, revealing hidden sin and opening our minds to new commitments that we should make.

There is a danger in any of the spiritual disciplines.  Whenever we focus on what we do rather than on what Father is doing, there is always a risk of marking off a checklist, “There I fasted this week, so I am spiritual.”  This was the major problem with most of the Jerusalem Pharisees in Jesus’ day: they thought that detailed observance of regulations was the way to serve God.  With fasting, there is an additional danger if one is not prepared physically for it.  It is not glorifying to Father when we put our health at risk or damage our “temples.”  Look up Daniel fasts if your body or doctor tells you that you should not do an absolute food fast.  I do not recommend absolute fasting that includes water avoidance.

So I have blogged on this before, but I have never developed the habit to do a “regular” fast, which is what this blog is inviting me to begin.  You probably will not read here about any benefits I experience per Matthew 6:18, but enjoy exploring fasting on your own.  Be thankful to a God who supplies our daily bread and then some!  And let a growling tummy remind you of His blessings and how His steadfast love is new every morning.

,

Rated PG-13: Christianity and Sex

Why Do Christians Make Such a Big Deal about Sex?
September 26, 2022 by: Rebecca McLaughlin (in Crossway.org, an excellent free resource for book reviews.)

Beliefs about Sex
One day, to try and catch him in his words, the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3).  Some Jewish rabbis allowed divorce for any reason.  Others only allowed it in cases of adultery.  The casualties of the more permissive view were women, who could be abandoned freely.  Jesus replied, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:4–6)

Jesus goes right back to the beginning of the Bible, when God creates us — “male and female” — in his image. (Gen. 1:28)  These are the first words the Bible says about humanity.  They are also the first planks in the raft of human equality.  We tend to see equality for men and women as a self-evident truth.  But it is not.  It started as a Judeo-Christian belief.1

Beliefs about Equality
Jesus connects God’s creation of male and female in Genesis 1 to a pivotal verse in Genesis 2.  God makes man first, but then says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen. 2:18)  This role is not inferior.  In the rest of the Old Testament, God himself is most often described as a helper.  What is more, the creation of the woman is not an afterthought.  In Genesis 1, humanity is told to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).  It is literally impossible for man to accomplish this mission without woman!

In Confronting Jesus, this follow-up to Confronting Christianity, Rebecca McLaughlin shares important biblical context to help all readers explore who Jesus really is and understand why the Gospels should be taken seriously as historical documents.

Right after God says he’s going to make a helper, he brings the animals to the man and gives him the chance to name them.  But no animal is a fit helper for the man (Gen. 2:20).  God does not discover this by trial and error.  (Maybe an orangutan? Nope. How about a chimpanzee? Nope.)  God already made the animals before he said he would make a helper for the man.  Parading the animals before the man emphasizes that the woman is different from them.  Instead of being like an animal, she is like the man.  To underscore this point, Genesis describes God putting the man to sleep, taking a part of his side — almost like taking a cutting from a plant — and making the woman.  On seeing her, the man exclaims, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” (Gen. 2:23)

Just like in English, the Hebrew word for woman (ishshah) includes the word for man (ish).  The first words God speaks about humans in the Bible were that he would make them — male and female — in his image.  The first words a human speaks in the Bible celebrate the relationship between male and female.  They are followed by the verse that Jesus quotes in his response to the Pharisees: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24)

Man and woman are cut from the same cloth.  Marriage is in one sense a reunion, as man and woman become “one flesh.”  In case we missed the role of sex, the narrative concludes, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen. 2:25)  This is the picture to which Jesus points when he’s asked about divorce.  If a husband and a wife are “no longer two but one flesh,” if God himself has joined them together, then who are we to tear them apart?  But we do.

The Spiritual Significance of Sex
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful short story, Zikora, begins with a woman in labor.  As the story and the labor progress, we see Zikora texting the father of her baby.  He was her long-term boyfriend who abandoned her when she declined his proposal — not of marriage, but of abortion. 

“’I’ll take care of everything,’ he said.”2  She had told him she was stopping birth control and thought he was on board.  But he had said they had miscommunicated.  “‘Kwame,’ I said finally, in a plea and a prayer, looking at him, loving him. Our conversation felt juvenile; an unreal air hung over us. I wanted to say, ‘I’m thirty-nine and you’re thirty-seven, employed and stable, I have a key to your apartment, your clothes are in my closet, and I’m not sure what conversation we should be having, but it shouldn’t be this one.’”3

We find out later that Zikora had an abortion at age nineteen.  She was pregnant by a guy she had met in college.  “’I don’t do commitment,’ he had said, ‘but I didn’t hear what he said, Zikora recalls; ‘I heard what I wanted to hear: he hadn’t done commitment yet.’”4 

In the first century, poverty and fatherlessness often led to infants being left outside to die.  Today, they are the biggest drivers of abortion — which is often less the flower of a woman’s so-called right to choose and more a bitter fruit served up to women who feel like they don’t have a choice.5

Jesus locates sex in the one-flesh union of marriage between a man and a woman and gives it spiritual significance.

In some ways, the divorce of sex from marriage that we’ve witnessed in the twenty-first-century West is not unprecedented.  Some form of commitment-free sex for men has been a feature of most societies throughout history, and women have borne the consequences: social, emotional, and physical.  But Jesus locates sex in the one-flesh union of marriage between a man and a woman and gives it spiritual significance.  This makes sense of his hard words about adultery and other forms of sexual immorality.  Sex is not just a pleasurable act.  It is not even just a means for having kids.  It is an expression of a one-flesh unity, made by God to picture Jesus’ love for us.

The Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matt. 19:7).  Jesus replies, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:8–9)  This teaching protected women and children from being abandoned.  It presents marriage as a permanent commitment that can only be undone by adultery.  As usual, Jesus takes what the Old Testament law said about sexual ethics and tightens it up.  Even his own disciples are shocked (Matt. 19:10).  So why does Jesus — who never married — see marriage in these uncompromising terms?  Because it is a picture of his own love for his church.

Whenever people ask me why Christians are so weird about sex, I first point out that we are weirder than they think.  The fundamental reason why Christians believe that sex belongs only in the permanent bond of male-female marriage is because of the metaphor of Jesus’ love for his church.  It is a love in which two become one flesh.  It is a love that connects across sameness and radical differences: the sameness of our shared humanity and the radical difference of Jesus from us.  It is a love in which husbands are called not to exploit, abuse, or abandon their wives, but to love and sacrifice for them, as Jesus did for us.  In Adichie’s story, Zikora’s college boyfriend often said, “‘I don’t do commitment’ with a rhythm in his voice, as if miming a rap song.”6  With the same consistent rhythm in his teaching, life, and death, Jesus says to us, “I do.”

Notes:

  1. Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, vol. 2, trans. J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), 65.
  2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zikora: A Short Story (Seattle, WA: Amazon, 2020), Kindle.
  3. Adichie, Zikora.
  4. Adichie, Zikora.
  5. For more on this, see Rebecca McLaughlin, The Secular Creed: Engaging 5 Contemporary Claims (Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021), 75–80.
  6. Adichie, Zikora.

This article is adapted from Confronting Jesus: 9 Encounters with the Hero of the Gospels by Rebecca McLaughlin for Crossway.
Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin (PhD, Cambridge University) is the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today’s 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Her subsequent works include 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about ChristianityThe Secular Creed; and Jesus through the Eyes of Women.

 

Europe Is Burning – Only A Portent of What Is To Come – (almost) Wordless Wednesday

Pray for Europe!  Wildfires in Europe’s forests and grasslands as of July 19, 2022!

2022-07-20 Europe is Burning

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:9-10)

How to Pray When Someone is EVIL!

I have often wondered how our worship songs always reflect on the mercy, the glory or the forgiveness of Father for our sins, and neglect the “imprecatory psalms” that call for justice or destruction of those who refuse His grace. (To imprecate is to invoke or call down curses, as upon a person”.)  A recent article in Christianity Today sheds some light on this idea, and I seriously doubt we will see many songs like “I Will Sing Unto the Lord” coming along again, “the horse and rider thrown into the sea,” sometimes cheerfully sung by children.

No one seems to be writing Psalm 109 hymns for the worship team:
8May his days be few; may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children!

And perhaps this is okay, in that there are times we tend to excuse our own inclinations to vengeance, when it is God who is the Judge, not us.  In these times of polarization where even families cannot gather because of differing views on everything from masks, vaccines, border control and anything political, it may be more vital than ever that we focus our worship times on God’s mercy for the undeserving… like me.  Remember “Standing in the Need of Prayer?” 😉

2022-07-16 The Woman Caught in AdulteryIn line with this, often our reluctance to condemn the guilty is lodged in our own guilt because we do know we are not without sin.  Like the accusers in John 8 who wanted to condemn a woman “caught in the act of adultery” (so where was the man who was also committing sin???), none of us wants to cast the first stone, knowing that we have been just as bad.  But it leaves a sour taste in our mouths when someone does something so heinous that we would never do (or at least we think we would never do).

Then we feel justified in condemning the sinner, and therein lies the deceit of our enemy.  OUR tendency is to condemn the person, more than the action.  And that is the reason Father tells us to leave vengeance up to Him!  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:19-21)

But what we do in reaction to a person’s sin can be quite apart from how we pray for a person caught in sin!  Leaving the actual judgement up to Father does not mean to ignore the sin, and we may even be called to justify or condemn an action based on the Law, not on our personal guilt or absolution.  Jury duty, anyone?  If we absolve a criminal driving offense because we have been guilty of the same, we abuse the law intended to protect us and others from criminal effects.

However, this is very different from personally attacking the person who has violated the law.  Rather, it is allowing the law to proceed as it was intended.  And it should serve as a warning to us to not abuse that law… again.

And this is very different from participating in national or tribal action against one acting criminally as in warfare, but that is a subject for another blog someday.

Anyway, I thought you might do some introspection on the theme of this article from CT, Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.”  It is less “imprecatory” than the title suggests. Good reading in the magazine when you subscribe.
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/march-web-only/prayer-ukraine-russia-putin-imprecatory-psalms.html
And check out these acapella Amish boys reminding us how holy Father is!

Today is The Day of the Christian Martyrs

The links on this paint file will not work, but you can get to the site if you go here: https://www.persecution.com/.

2022-06-29 Wordless Wednesday - VOM

For more on John Chau, see https://capost2k.wordpress.com/2022/06/18/who-will-take-my-place-the-john-chau-story/ or for the full story see https://capost2k.wordpress.com/who-will-take-my-place-the-john-chau-story/.

Guest Blog by Thompson Lengels

Personal Meditation on Death and Dying
by ThompsonLengels / March 19, 2022
(with minor edits for spelling, syntax and references)

Fear of Death

Satan has a season when he loves to prick the saint’s conscience — their dying day!  Alas, he comes with all those failing spots to which the saint has succumbed! (Psalm 90:7-8)

When he comes, we may as well say to him:  It is true, Satan. I have failed often, more so, broken asunder to despair and despondency.  But also, listen.  Christ accepted me in my wicked state; died for me while a whore, a swearer, a guiler, an idolater, adulterer, a fornicator, and all the filthy exercises about which you think.  I say Christ died for me in all this mud of sin (Romans 5:8).  All that is good in me is but by His unmerited grace, undeserved mercy.

Death, to a Christian, is a doorway to glory.  To live in Christ is to keep in step with Christ.  So also, he that would die well must never put off the inevitability of death — he must live as a dying man.  The Christian’s death is the ending of his troubling sins, an entrance to a land where sin and sorrow are no more.  We must look at death as a thing we must meet, and look upon ourselves as a thing with which we must part.

It is never too soon to make friendship with death.  We never get what we think we want because God always gives us what we need.  One day our need will be death.

SkullDeath is gain; freedom from doubt and unbelief.  In Heaven our faith will be turned into sight.  Here the best are liable to doubt about their personal piety, and often experience many an anxious hour in reference to this point.  In Heaven doubt will be known no more.

Death is the grave of all temptations.  A Christian’s death delivers them from the second death.  Put another way, a Christian dies natural to live eternal.  In Heaven there are no graves, but eternal grace.

After our death, we will be met by our believing loved ones who went ahead of us to be with Christ.  O beloved Christian, why fear death?  It is natural to fear death, but we may meet it with faith in Christ.

Time PassingWhen death knocks at your door, don’t murmur and grumble about it.  Rejoice, you are going Home at last!  Does the prisoner, long confined in a dungeon, dread the hour which is to open his prison, and permit him to return to his family and friends?  Does the man in a foreign land, long an exile, dread the hour when he shall embark on the ocean [or the sky] to be conveyed to where he may embrace the friends of his youth?  Does the sick man dread the hour which restores him to health; the afflicted, the hour of comfort?  The wanderer at night, the cheering light of returning day?

And why, then, should the Christian dread the hour which will restore him to immortal vigor?  Which shall remove all his sorrows?  Which shall introduce him to everlasting day?  Smile at death when your time draws nigh.

Death is an awful reality to men who have made this world their only home and the things of this world their only possessions.  Do not waste any unnecessary time below here.  Let us live as diligent laborers in a field full of harvest, harvesting men to Christ Jesus.

Live as men who appreciate the world, but let us live like men who are more in love with the world to come, the world of Christ Jesus.  To die and be with Christ is the final pilgrimage of the wounded saint.  The saint finally meets with Eternal Rest and Blessed Felicity.

The door of death is inscribed thus: “Prepare to meet your God!”  Christ is best!

Death is sleep. “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” (Luke 8:52)  The natural man is tempted to laugh.  You’re wise and know how to apply.  Death will very soon reveal the children of God and the devil.

We must have our heart and mind in Heaven if we are to look at death with courage in Christ.  “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Beware of head-knowledge in the face of death!  It will not comfort you.  How is your heart and way of life instructed by your accumulated knowledge on the things of God?  Do you know God, or things about God?  That’s the question!  Be honest with yourself!

I’ve observed humble men die well.  Improve life by dying daily to self and enrich the soul by being alive in Christ.  I am homesick for Heaven.

You’re not too young to die.  Make peace with God.  This old fellow knows his time is nigh.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  Make no permanent nest in this world.  Death is a golden carriage that lifts the soul to a golden city, a celestial city.  Fellow mortal, cease playing Immortal.

Cemetery at GettysburgThe whole world is a big cemetery of dead men walking.  Those that resolve to repent tomorrow intend to be wicked today.  A delay of repentance breastfeeds and strengthens our sin — and the wages of sin is death!  (Romans 6:23)

The conversion of the thief at the cross is not a canon that all of us are guaranteed conversion to Christ at our death-bed.

We read in the Holy Scriptures of men who were called at their infancy such as Jeremiah, Samuel and John the Baptist.  Some were chosen in their prime age of youth like the four Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel.  Others were called in their advanced adulthood such as the disciples, John, James, Peter, and Andrew.  Other were called while carrying out their business of the day as Matthew, the tax-collector and Luke, the physician.  Others were called while in their sin-business as the forgiven harlot and the woman at Jacob’s well.  Others while gazing at a fig tree or climbing a sycamore as Nathanael and Zacchaeus.  Still others were called in their old age as Joseph of Arimathea and the Jewish scholar, Nicodemus.  And last of all, at their death-bed — the thief at the cross!

Dead TreeThere’s no such thing as purgatory and indulgences.  When you die, you are dead!  And all must die!  If not now, tomorrow.  If not tomorrow, the next day.  If not the next day, then, the following day.  If not the following day, … then the next!

We can only sing, “Death has lost its sting,” (Hosea 13:14; 1 Corinthians 15:55) if we truly understand what the cross of Christ accomplished for us.

Rest In Peace

Death laughs at bags of gold.  Death is a level ground where the rich and poor; proud and humble; high and low; prince and peasant, all lay and become wholesome meal for the worm. (Job 21:23-26)  A man’s life, however great it was, is always summarized by this little word — Death!

Jesus Christ not only died.  He conquered death by death itself!  Christ stung death to death!
He is our resurrection!

Law vs. Grace – An Artificial Dichotomy? A Guest Blog by John Leonard

With minor edits this is an excellent balancing article about accurately assessing law versus grace.
by humble Theology | January 5, 2022

2022-02-05 Law vs GraceWhen reading the Bible most Christ-followers hear the word “law” and immediately have a negative connotation form in their mind as being conditioned on the premise that we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). The argument goes something like this: Christians, being under grace, no longer need to obey God’s law. This is a false conclusion for a few reasons, but to get started, we need a bit deeper understanding of what the law even is, and how many ways it can be taken to mean.

First is the law as the moral character of God. When we talk about God being a God of love, we are also saying that He is therefore necessarily a God of law (Matthew 5:48). Love and law are predicated upon one another in any covenant relationship (John 14:15). We see this as the summary of the law is to love God and neighbor, and in the marriage/bride illustrations within Scripture. A bride both loves the groom, and as such willingly submits to laws that typify the exclusivities of marriage. For example, a bride does not seek other lovers any more than someone who loves God goes after idols. This perfection of character is both of the nature of God, and perfectly displayed in the person and life of Christ.

As we are to be a reflection of God’s glory to the world, and take Christ as our example, we are no less expected to love than to follow the laws that God expresses (John 6:38). Some may say that the Christian law is to love, and yet we see what that law looks and acts like in the Ten Commandments (as well as some of other laws of Exodus and Leviticus) (1 John 2:3, 1 John 5:2). There are three uses of this moral law. Within many Presbyterian, Calvinist, and/or Reformed circles the moral law is found to have three main uses.

  1. The first is that the law shows us our sin, and thus the need for grace. Because the law is the perfect reflection of God’s righteousness, we see (as in a mirror) that we do not meet that standard.
  2. The second use is that of a civic standard for law and order. The law cannot change the heart, but its threats can have a restraining effect upon all who are subject to it.
  3. Third, the law is a guide for the Christian (as already mentioned) that shows us the perfect will of our Father. These laws, commands and such direct us as His kids, as to what pleases Him, and what we can do to glorify Him. We do not and cannot do so for any merit, but we submit to them in gratitude.

Second, the law is also seen as civil code. Throughout scripture there are laws by which civic order is established and wrongs can be righted. These are not salvific in nature, that is they do not earn salvation, but are meant to preserve the common peace of the community so far as sinners can submit to them. These are the rules of the land and can be as simple as the “golden rule” (Matthew 7:12). Christians, so far as they are a dual citizen of Heaven and their land, are to observe the national rules/laws, so far as they do not conflict with God’s laws (Acts 5:29).

Third, law in Scripture is understood as ceremonial practice. There were many ceremonial laws prescribed to Israel as a theocracy and under the rule of kings. These have passed with time, and yet the things they foreshadowed in practice are still shown with greater clarity in the New Testament practices (like Communion and Baptism). Although fewer in number, and salvation is by grace through faith, these practices extend and show salvation visually, as expressly confirmed by the Word. Ceremonies do not save, but they are the sign and seal of God upon His people to show that they have been called according to His Word and such ceremonies are the outward exhibits of faith (Colossians 2:11-12).

Law is not salvific, that is, effective for our salvation. The law does not and cannot save. Even under the covenant of works, the main premise was not law keeping, but for Adam to love God to such a degree that to obey would be a daily joyful act of gratitude, not a chore. Think of a marriage where the two do not reflect on their legal obligations to each other nor the prohibitions against seeking love in another. They simply love one another and seek each other’s happiness and welfare.

Scripture proposes that the law is opposed to grace when it is incorrectly taken from its moral sense and used or interpreted to suggest that following the law is effective for man’s salvation before a Holy God. In these instances, as in Romans 6:14, Paul can say, as should we, that we are not under the law as a system of salvation, but under the covenant of grace, as our rest for salvation. This does not free us to be disobedient children, as we still have our Father’s rules to follow, but we are not following them, as if some sense of merit accompanied them.

The law is always a good thing, when used lawfully (Romans 7:7-12). Paul, as well as Jesus, criticized many of the religious leaders of their time because they missed grace and had made the law into something it is not. So, we have to understand that condemnation of the wrongful use of the law, is not the same as condemning the Law as given by God. When Jesus says that He has come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), then it can hardly be said that there is anything wrong with it (as Jesus becomes its fulfillment). Yet if taken from that context and used as any type of merit system, even if combined with grace (penance), it is to be condemned as not a true and accurate use of the law.

Law was part of the Covenant of Works. Certainly, there are commands within the Covenant of Works, under which Adam was directly told to be fruitful and multiply, and was commanded not to eat of the tree in the center of the garden. The law was to be followed, not for the sake of earning something, but out of love, reverence, and awe of God, he was to keep the relationship going. Adam was already created good, and so enjoyed a harmonious relationship with God. Yet with the option to sin, Adam fell from this original estate by not only breaking the law, but also refuting his love for God. Those not “in Christ” by His grace, die and go to an eternal hell based upon the results of this covenant breach of Adam, imputed to all. It is this breach and all other actual sins of believers only, that are atoned for on the cross. Jesus took the penalty they must exact upon Himself.

2022-02-05 Law And GraceLaw remains in the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant). Since the fall, and now, man is only ever saved by grace, whereas our performance to keep the law is not a factor. But law keeping is a factor of our salvation (James 1:22). Jesus kept the law on our behalf in two senses. First in a passive sense, Jesus kept the law to prove He was the spotless lamb of God, able to bear the sins of sinners on the cross. Actively Jesus kept the law throughout His life so to have accomplished what Adam did not do, thus earning the righteousness which He gives freely to us. If Jesus just forgave sins, we would be back at square one like Adam, and we would have to maintain our relationship with God, by our love and works. But because Jesus imputes to us His righteousness, there are no other works that can be added to His own to earn any other higher standard of relationship with the Father.

So, the Law is not a merit system for getting into heaven; it cannot and does not function that way. Those that try to make it salvific (effective for salvation) are condemned in the Bible for their abuses of the law, and forsaking grace. Yet, the Christian (in grace) should always strive to keep the commands of God, in gratitude, as those actions we know please our Father and bring Him glory. 

One Minute Past Midnight

2021-12-31 One Minute Until MidnightThere is something sobering about getting a couple phone call messages, texts and emails from your favorite doctor concerned with your latest lab results, especially on December 30, so close to the year’s end.  Sobering, but not frightening, as it may be for those who do not have hope in Jesus.  I know where I am going and I know the One who knows the way. (John 14:1-4)

All six of my strokes since 1999 have been ischemic (clot) strokes, meaning my body likes to throw coagulated blood at my brain.  But getting a lab result that suddenly and without warning shows one’s ‘blood-thinning’ medication makes you at significant risk of a hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke is cause for concern.  No changes in diet, no alterations in activities, no travels to strange lands (like Norway 😉), no deviations in sleep nor major stresses; so why the drastic change in medical results that two weeks ago were fine?

Suddenly my mortality faces me like an impressive off-season Halloween costume, trying to scare me by telling me I could have died this week if a significant blow had struck me, or I had fallen with just a simple trip on the sidewalk.  But the Spectre does not alarm me; death has lost its victory; the grave has lost its sting because my life is hidden in Jesus, the Christ, and nothing will happen to me that my loving Lord does not allow for my good, even it the event is to take me Home. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57)

So as 2021 comes to its finale, I consider the New Year’s Resolution I made in 1969 at 18 years old and have faithfully kept every New Year: “Resolved, I will never make another New Year’s Resolution!”

This is not to suggest that we should not look back at the fading year and evaluate what we could or should have done differently.  Nor does it mean that we should not plan some improvements and developments in the approaching New Year.  However, as noted on , most resolutions do not make it to January 31!  And none of us has any guarantee of tomorrow, much less the whole year ahead.  Whether one runs like James Fixx or manages one’s food with self-control like Ang, there are no warranties we can claim any more than righteous Job.

Thus, I encourage you at this changing of the days to consider your life: its value, its impact on others, its final destination.  And walk in fear of The God Who Is, one who loves you more than we can grasp in this life, and who has revealed Himself most clearly in the God-Man, Jesus. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Then you will not fear when the clock turns to midnight, just because one minute after midnight you could find yourself in His arms and in His kingdom in Heaven.

2021-12-31 One Minute Past Midnight

Happy New Year to all who are reading this, and with all my heart I hope to meet you someday around the Throne of God to praise Him together.

yours and His,
c.a.

___________________________________________________

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God; Psalm 90

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of Adam!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands!

A Last Look at Love, Marriage and Sex in 2021

Today I will take a last look (for the present time) at love as it applies to marriage and then next week we will begin to look at some current issues in the news.

2021-12-04 Wedding BandsAs I have mentioned in previous blogs, there is one and only one distinctive that defines a marriage.  Every service and provision except one that a husband and wife give to each other can be done by another.  This is evident in how The 5 Love Languages and Love and Respect can easily be applied to other relationships.  Even in His Needs, Her Needs, many of the emotional needs can be met by someone other than one’s spouse.  In fact, that is what Dr. Harley warns against, simply because if someone other than one’s spouse meets some of those needs, this could result in the development of an affair.  Thus his text is subtitled, Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.

Yet, many spouses may be handicapped or have some disability that prevents them from supplying one or more of those basic emotional needs, and there are people who make their living supplementing what a spouse cannot; e.g., companions who take people to shop or provide recreational outlets, financial advisors who regulate purchases and manage a spouse’s money, housekeepers who supply domestic support, etc..  But there is one service that others cannot supply without significant consequences.

James notes that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”  That is to say that all sin IS sin, and that the most important issue is WHO is sinned against.  In his thinking, there is no difference between the various sins listed in the law as all of them are offenses against God’s holiness.  However, the apostle Paul makes a distinction of one sin that is different from any others,  He says in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that “Every sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  Furthermore, Jesus even indicated there are differences in ‘levels of sin’ when He told Pilate, “He who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

So it is that the distinct aspect of sexual copulation is reserved for those in a committed relationship, a covenant of marriage.  This is more than a contract.  In a contract, Party 1 says, I will perform function A if Party 2 performs function B; Party 2 agrees to perform function B as long as Party 1 performs function A.  Contracts are mutually accepted constraints and responsibilities that remain dependent on the performers.  If Party 1 fails to provide function A, Party 2 is released from being required to provide function B, and vice versa.

But the Bible sets up marriage differently: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  (Genesis 2:24)    Notice, the first responsibility is on the husband; nothing is said in Genesis about a wife’s role in the marriage, other than the sexual union of becoming one flesh.

This is consistent with the rest of Scripture that puts the onus on a husband to love his wife as he loves his own body; to be faithful to the point that even the Lord’s disciples said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)  There is a mutuality to this relationship as Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians, but it starts with a man’s responsibility to provide conjugal relations and affection for his wife, and then moves on to instruct that neither the husband nor the wife has final say about their own bodies, but rather the other party is in charge.

So where does that leave us in the covenant?  The current emphasis on “covenanting” in marriage is that even if one party does nothing to fulfill his or her part, the other party is still fully responsible for doing whatever they agreed to in the marriage ceremony: to love, honor, cherish, keep oneself only for one’s spouse, etc.  One friend once explained, “Any marriage that is based on a 50-50 agreement is dangerously close to dissolution.  Only a marriage based on 100-100 is safe.”

Drs. Harley and Eggerichs both point out in their books and websites that if someone attempts to do the exercise of providing for a spouse’s needs based on the idea, “I’ll try this for a couple of weeks and see if I get feedback that is acceptable,” he or she is likely to be sadly disappointed.  The issue is not to get your way in the marriage, as if The 5 Love Languages, the Energizing Cycle or supplying emotional needs for a spouse were means to manipulate a spouse into doing what you want them to do!

The bottom line for the Christ-follower, whether man or woman, is to please our Master, Jesus.   Suppose a husband said to his wife, “Let’s not talk any more.  We have enough memories of all our conversations and I have no desire to converse.  We can always text, email or even write letters, but let’s stop talking.”  Or imagine a wife who says, “Let’s not have sex anymore.  We have enough memories from our bedroom and I have no desire to do it anymore. We can always cuddle and hug, but let’s stop lovemaking.”

The responsibility to provide your spouse’s needs are not dependent on their willingness to provide for yours!  Our responsibility is to the author of life, our Creator, and He will judge or reward us according to what we have done while in these bodies.  NOTE: this is not about salvation, which is accomplished by the blood of Jesus and His resurrection, but He will reward us based on the work we have done as His followers. (See 1 Corinthians 3:10-14.)

So whatever your relation to your spouse is like, it is up to you to fulfill your responsibility to speak your spouse’s Love Language, to show Love and Respect unconditionally, to provide for their basic emotional needs, and to enjoy The Gift of Sex that is exclusively reserved for those in a covenant of marriage.  It is that which expresses most clearly our relationship to Christ as part of His church.  It is the distinctive that defines a marriage and no one else is allowed by the Creator to supply.

The Gift of Sex – A Review

The last three weeks (1, 2, 3) I covered book reviews of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love And Respect by Emerson Eggerichs and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley.  Today’s book review, The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner, more than any of the others, is for married people, although singles can benefit by understanding some of their married friends’ issues.  Remember, the best expert on ANY relationship is Jesus, who was an adult single and never experienced sex, even though He “invented” it.

Gift of Sex“Men and women are different.  Women desire sex and open up sexually when they feel loved by and connected with their husbands; men connect and feel loved through sex.”  This preliminary explanation in the preface sets the tone and direction for the rest of the text.  Men traditionally start this connection by asking a woman for a date and getting to know her.  The Penners compare this process to Christ loving the Church and initiating the model by which a man is supposed to love his wife illustrated in Ephesians 5:22-33.

“The husband loves, adores, and connects with his wife;
His adoration allows her to open up sexually;
His affirmation ignites her passion;
She invites him sexually;
He feels validated, so they both end up happy;
It’s a win, win!”

Two major contentions of the Penners are 1) that a man is never truly satisfied unless his wife is; 2) that a woman must believe she is worthy of pleasure and that she has a right to be sexual; her body is designed not just for reproduction, but also for sexual satisfaction and pleasure.  They note that there are many individual permutations of the assumptions they lay out in the book, but there are general principles that can be applied to enhance sexual function in marriage to make the partnership most satisfying to both.

2021-11-27 Milky Way LoveThe first major section of the book is subtitled “A Biblical Perspective.”  They point out that sex was not a result of the fall or a human idea.  Maleness and femaleness was God’s design to enable humans to understand the relationship between Him and His creation.  “It is part of the original perfect creation of mankind.”  There is nothing dirty or sinful about sex as long as it is practiced in the guidelines the Designer set up: an exclusive monogamous husband and wife in a covenant commitment for as long as they both live.  Throughout Scripture the husband-wife sexual relationship is used to symbolize the Divine-human one.

The Bible teaches sex is for unity, procreation and pleasure and assumes a healthy passion.  “Our sexuality is not something to be diminished as we become more ‘spiritual.’  It is part of us as spiritual, godly persons and is good.”  Its guiding foundation is that men and women are equal – not identical in either roles or behavior, but in terms of value, ability and position before God.  We are expected to give ourselves to each other in marriage under the mutual command of 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband… Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time.”

Paul recognized, that while he would prefer people to be unmarried as he was (he was most likely a widower), human passions are very strong and for many, marriage is the best way to avoid falling into sins of adultery or fornication.  “Let them marry (i.e., and enjoy sexual release) – it is no sin.”  (7:36)

From this basis, Penners go on to describe as clinicians in “The Physical Dimension,” the body parts involved, with more details about the sex organs than many need to read.  However, this also provides helpful material, especially if one is in any measure uninformed about sexual responsiveness of the opposite sex from a biological perspective.

Following this, Penners characterize “The Total Experience” with such chapter titles as “Getting Interested,” “Having Fun,”… “Meshing Your Worlds,” … “By Invitation Only,” “Letting Go,”… and “Cleaning Up.”  With skills developed by teaching hundreds of Christian Perspectives in Sexual Enjoyment seminars, they adeptly address pragmatic details many texts on marriage relations omit, usually on the assumption that Christ-followers will discuss intimate details – an assumption that is often inaccurate.  Frequent references back to the basics of 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5 ground their advice solidly in Scripture.

2021-11-27 When Sex Is Not WorkingAlthough “The Total Experience” mentions a few obstacles that may come up, “When Sex Isn’t Working” goes into great detail to help couples find and explore the roots, evidences, and solutions to problems in a sexual relationship.  The longest section in the book suggests that there are lots of dysfunctions that may occur within marriages.  From “You Want To Do What?” to “Pornography and the Internet,” the Penners take us on a survey of some of the most common obstacles to sexual fulfillment in marriage.

Parts of this section hark back to The 5 Love Languages, Love and Respect, and His Needs, Her Needs“The starting point for resolving any difficulty is always effective communication.”  While the Bible strictly confines sexual activity to the marriage relationship, no guidelines are given about what is acceptable in lovemaking activity.  Again, using Biblical ethics (e.g., Paul’s concern not to offend a brother by eating meat sacrificed to an idol; see Romans 14:13-16) they proficiently address differences in views husbands and wives may hold toward lovemaking actions and move a couple toward a satisfying acceptance of each other.  The entire section is filled with very practical and explicit advice for how to meet and overcome apparent dilemmas in sexual satisfaction.

2021-11-27 Happy CoupleThe final brief section, “Enhancing the Sexual Experience,” explores how to invite God into the bedroom.  Remembering that sex was His idea, the Penners go on to address how to talk lovingly with each other about sexual issues, if outside help in the form of counseling is needed, and they close with some questions asked in various seminars.

Good reading for any couple considering marriage, for enhancing an already good one, and great helps for any in conflict over sexual issues.  And it is helpful for the unmarried to sympathize with married friends.  The underlying assumption, only addressed specifically in Love and Respect, is that the involved parties are people of good will toward each other.  If this in not the case in your life, there are other issues that need resolution first, with books and resources available to help.

“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”  Hebrews 13:4