Jun 222012
 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and 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 2:24-25 (ESV)

We read in Genesis 2 that God made Adam first, then put him to sleep, took one of his ribs and made the woman from it, and then brought the woman to the man (verse 22). In His great wisdom, God has given to mankind the wonderful gift of sexuality and marriage. From the Scriptures we read that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. Let me make it very clear that this is the only way marriage is defined. Any other way is outright rebellion against God. Do not call a “union” between a woman and another woman marriage, neither a “union” between a man and another man. It is not so according to God’s Spirit-inspired, absolutely true and inerrant Word.

Today (June 20, 2012), Beth and I celebrate 20 years of marriage! I can’t believe it has gone by so quickly. In August of 1989, God “put me to sleep” and brought this amazing woman to me. At age 18, when I least expected it, Beth and I met at Toccoa Falls College. Almost 3 years later we would marry. Beth is absolutely a gift from the Lord. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). At the time we married, I thought I could never love her more than I did then. Was I ever wrong! As we have grown and matured, so has our love one for the other. Beth and I can take no credit for this. We know that it is only by His grace that this is true.

We spent much of our afternoon today talking about the things, biblically speaking, that make a godly and Christ-honoring marriage. We actually thought of a scenario: if a young man comes to me or a young woman comes to Beth and asks us what makes the difference in our marriage, what would we say? First of all, let me say that Christian marriages should not only look different, but really BE different from those in the world. I’m not after how your marriage “looks”. You and your spouse can give the appearance of harmony and love when in reality it’s just not there. We are masters of the cover-up. I’m talking about how your marriage really is. There’s a huge difference!

Well, what would we say if we were asked that question? I will let you in on our discussion: What would we say if asked what makes our marriage different and attractive?

First of all, it is of greatest importance to understand that marriage is a covenant union. A covenant is not a contract. A contract is based upon distrust. We draw up contracts because we want to protect ourselves from the other party’s negligence or lack of trustworthiness. A covenant is based on promise.

A covenant union is a primary union. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” As we see from the text, the man is the initiator of the covenant, he leaves mom and dad, and his new primary union is to his wife. The newly married man and woman are certainly thankful for all that mom and dad did for them (generally speaking), but they realize that they now no longer answer to mom and dad! They have made a covenant before God and they now cleave one to another.

A covenant union is a precious union. God designed the man and the woman to fulfill His command to fill the earth through the means of procreation – which means, sex! The fruit of sex is babies![1] In addition to this, God gave sex for pleasure! That’s right! Many of the early Church fathers taught that couples should only have sex for procreation. Thank God for Martin Luther and the Reformation. From the Reformation came a recovery of Biblical marriage as well as the Gospel. God designed sex for marriage, and our sexuality is a precious gift of God. The two become one flesh. They are naked and unashamed. Further, God designed sex for protection. It protects the partners from temptation and from pursuing immorality. Married couples should have sex even when they don’t feel like it. They should not withhold it from each other. If you only have sex when you both “feel” like it, you will find that those times don’t happen very often, meaning that sex doesn’t happen very often, leading to a lack of intimacy in the marriage. There is something powerful in sex that protects your heart in many ways. Maintaining the intimacy will lead to greater affections. I encourage all the married couples out there: “Give it a shot!” For many years I taught abstinence classes in the local Junior High and High schools. I used to tell them, “I don’t believe in abstinence!” They would say, “Why are you here?” I would say, “You see this ring on my finger? I believe in abstinence until marriage, but sex inside of marriage is a most wonderful thing and I would encourage you to wait until you make that covenant commitment. Sex outside of marriage only creates more troubles and heart break. Sex within marriage is a sweet symphony that brings great pleasure to a married couple.”

A covenant union is a permanent union. It’s “until death do us part.” It is not disposable, like the baby’s diapers! It goes beyond your feelings and gives the proper foundation for your marriage. Beth and I talked again about the covenant union we made 20 years ago. When we go through difficult times, we don’t threaten to leave and we don’t point the finger of blame. That’s immaturity and manipulation. These are ungodly responses that reveal a selfish heart. Rather, by grace we press on, remembering the promise we made to stick together, work things out and trust God through difficult times – even if my affections are weak. The covenant will see you through!

Our second response would be that love and covenant must go together. Many people today are cohabiting, even some who are members in evangelical churches! And they think nothing of it! How sad this is. Why? Because, when couples cohabit rather than make a covenant in marriage, they are saying, “I will not close all available options. I will keep the door open for someone or something else.” This type of attitude is not love, is it? No!! Real love is when a man asks a woman, “Will you marry me? I want to make a covenant between God and you that I will be yours and yours only until death do us part.” Now that’s love. Some say, “All I need is love. I don’t need a piece of paper.” Well, the covenant gives evidence that you really do love. To neglect the covenant is to be a user of the other person. It makes a mockery of marriage and makes the relationship self-serving. Beth and I long for Christ to be glorified in our marriage. We do not want to use each other for our own selfish ends. We want to love from the heart and seek, by God’s grace, to honor the commitment we made to each other.

Our third area of discussion would be on the importance of living in our God-designed gender roles. This is huge and could occupy many more posts. Genesis 3 tells us how the entrance of sin brought a corruption of gender roles. “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” I could talk a lot about this but for now let me make clear the following: the Bible teaches that the man is the head of the wife. He is to love His wife as Christ loves the Church. He is to provide, nurture, tend and protect his wife. He is to be gentle with her and love her in words and deeds. O how desperately we need men to repent and seek forgiveness for neglecting to fulfill their God-given role. Also, women must be subject to their husbands in everything. They are to honor and respect their husbands and they should be careful to fight an independent spirit. Ephesians 5:22-33, must however be seen in light of its context. In verse 18, all believers are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” and then there are four evidences that this is the case given in verses 19-21. I find very often that when couples have issues, it is because they are not walking with Lord and are not filled with the Spirit as they ought to be. They don’t read their Bibles, they neglect prayer, they neglect fellowship and accountability with other believers, and Christ is not the center of their thoughts or their lips. We cannot submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21) if we are not controlled by God’s Spirit.

Lastly, Beth and I would say that the greatest factor contributing to the strength of our marriage is the transforming power of the Gospel. We are two sinners that have said, “I do.” As Dave Harvey titled his book, When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, that is absolutely true of us. We are sinners by nature and inclined to evil. Our only hope to restore what sin has corrupted and distorted is the Gospel. Only through the Gospel can our marriage picture the love Christ has for His Church. By His Grace, God saves sinners and imputes to them the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ as they come to him by faith. It is not enough for two people simply to profess that they are Christians and think that they will have a great marriage. On the contrary, many who profess Christ have no idea how the Gospel applies to their lives. They give very little thought to it. They do not seek to uncover the hidden sins of the heart, confess and forsake them, and find forgiveness in Christ. After all, who likes having their evil heart exposed? That’s why churches preaching a “feel good” message are full. People run from churches that call believers to search deep within, confess and forsake their sin, and learn how to fight using the Gospel. Understanding the doctrine of justification by faith is critical in the fight for your marriage.

I know that Satan will do all he can to destroy our marriages. We have an adversary who despises the biblical picture of marriage. He cannot stand to look upon a union that pictures Christ and His Church. So, I encourage all of us to guard our hearts and our marriages. Please do not take them for granted. Remember the covenant you made before God, your friends and family, and each other. Look to the cross! Mortify the flesh and put off anger, bitterness, resentment, selfishness, unkindness, rudeness, unforgiveness, etc., and put on love, forgiveness, understanding, gentleness, graciousness, and humility. Time is too short to hold on to resentment, pettiness, and unforgiveness. Renounce those things and fight your tendency to go in that direction. Learn patience and fight for genuine, deep affections. I want our marriages to be different, to picture the Gospel. Our community and our world is watching us. Do our marriages reflect the difference the biblical Gospel – the Doctrines of Grace – has made in our lives?

How do I know if my marriage doesn’t just look healthy, but actually is healthy? Try this: have someone ask your spouse how you really are doing, telling the spouse not to try to protect your image. To tell it straight. Can your spouse do that in absolute truth or does the spouse have to lie to maintain your good image?

Every day that Beth and I share is a gift of God’s grace. It is a great privilege and joy for me to go on this journey of grace with her. Jonathan Edwards dubbed his union with his wife Sarah as an “Uncommon Union.” Our lives and our marriage are in His hands and for as long as He will grant, I want this to be true of us and of you.

– * –

[1] Notice in Genesis 2:24 the mention of “father and mother.” Remember, Adam and Eve did not have a human father and mother. But children would naturally be the fruit of the union between a man and a woman! It is this pastor’s opinion that couples should marry with the intention of bearing children. God, in His providence, may not open the womb for His sovereign purposes, but couples should seek to procreate. It is my view that deliberate childlessness is a sin against God’s design for marriage. In other words, my position is that it is a sin for a couple to get married and then do all they can to prevent conception because they simply do not want the inconvenience of raising children. No – biblically, we get married to have sex and have children!

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Jun 122012
 

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV)

We saw last week that whatever crook is in our lot is God’s making. There can be secondary or immediate causes, but, as the Heidelberg Catechism so rightly declares in answer to the question of God’s providence, “The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven, earth and all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.” Who can make straight what God has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Just think with me for a minute: each and every person’s life is unique. There are no two lifetimes that are lived with the exact same circumstances. Even those that grow up in the same household can have radically different experiences on a day-to-day basis. I think of my own two children… one has a math test, one has a science test. One goes to fish while the other plays video games (I’m sure you can guess which is which!). One is with a friend, one is riding the four-wheeler. There is a train of events orchestrated by the providence of God for every person in the world. Each train of events may widely differ according to the will and sovereign design of the Divine Conductor. Every event in every life follows the Conductor’s plan perfectly. The Conductor perfectly cues all parts to work according to His design. “Our God is in the heavens. He does all that pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:5)

As we saw in our text above, God designs the straight and the crooked. Very often, the crooked lots in our life become the focus of our attention. But please do consider that there are agreeable lots in life. They might not seem to be there as often, but they are there. Agreeable lots come mixed with crooked lots. Let me give you an example: having a loving church family (agreeable lot) is a gift from the Lord that helps us through the crooked lots that He himself has ordained. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” It is a blessing to have people in our lives whom God places there to help us through the rough times. My encouragement today is that you would not miss the agreeable lots that are mixed in with your crooked lots. If you are experiencing a crooked lot, the last thing you should do as a believer is to make yourself scarce to your Church family. Life in the body of Christ was designed for your endurance. “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that we might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Everyone’s lot has some crook in it! Please don’t think that you are the only one with a crooked lot. Also, resist the temptation to compare your lot with others. We might think that their lot is straight, but in reality it might not be. A great example of this is Haman in the book of Esther. Haman’s lot looked straight. He lived in luxury and he was the chief of princes of the Persian king. Haman’s crooked lot came as judgment for his plot to exterminate the Jews. But God straightened the lot of the Jews by placing Esther as queen, using Mordecai to expose a plot to assassinate the king, having Haman plan a parade for Mordecai, indicting Haman for his plot to destroy the Jews, and ensuring that Haman was hanged on the gallows he had made for Mordecai! His lot appeared straight, and was for a time, but God designed a crooked end for his life. So don’t compare lots! Another’s lot can change in an instant!

In every thing, we are to give thanks. Look for the straight lots amongst your crooked ones. You might find that there actually are more than what you first thought. As I close, I want you to remember this straight lot from Lamentations 3:22, “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (KJV). In a moment of personal devotion I would encourage you to ponder the words of this hymn and, using the link below, sing it with all your heart. Once again, I can give no consolation to anyone except what is in the Spirit-inspired Word. He is sovereign, He loves us, and He won the victory through Jesus Christ His beloved Son! Soli Deo Gloria!

Day and with each Passing Moment

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,” (Deut. 33:25)
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/713#ixzz1xVwvzyJG

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Jun 052012
 

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what He has made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV, emphasis added)

This is a jaw-dropping verse! I bow in awe and humility before the One True and Living God who is sovereign over all things.

In God’s gracious providence, He has allowed me to pastor the most wonderful and caring people in the world! Though we are small, the sheep at RBC are very significant and precious in God’s sight. Every single one is worth every sacrifice I need to make. My dream is that the Doctrines of Grace would fill these mountains through a faithful, Reformed Baptist Church. The people at RBC have given so much of themselves for the church as a whole and for me as their pastor. I write today with a heart burdened for our people. I sense the weight of helping our people through the crooked lots in their life.

A “lot” is a word that describes all the things that God has ordained for our lives. The famous hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” says it like this: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’” As you can see, Horatio Spafford, the hymn writer, uses the word “lot” in reference to every circumstance, whether straight or crooked, that God has sovereignly ordained for us. Prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, triumphs and trials, have all been ordained by our loving Father. As we are learning in our catechism time, each comes not by chance, but by His Fatherly hand. Spafford’s words are very difficult to live out. Can I truly say that whatever God has ordained for me, it is still well with my soul?

Ecclesiastes 7:14 says this: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that (or “for the purpose that”) man may not find out anything that will be after him.” Oh the wisdom and power and sovereignty of God! God ordains all things so that we would constantly depend on him, because only He knows the big picture. We have no clue as to what might happen next. We can only guess what tomorrow will bring, and that truth reminds us that we are the creatures and that He, the Creator, rules.

I have been pondering the lots of our people (what God has ordained for us) and the entire ministry of RBC. I woke this morning to find an email ad for a reprint of an old Puritan book, written by Thomas Boston, entitled The Crook in the Lot. I found that I could download it on my Kindle for $.99. I quickly did, and as advertised, Amazon had that book in my hand in less than one minute! Then I began reading… and I couldn’t help but see that the message of this book was so desperately needed for me and our people. It is based on Ecclesiastes 7:13, the verse quoted above.

Only by the means of faith can we have a right view of our lots. Believers must “walk by faith and not by sight.” What does Solomon say here? The crook in our lot is His doing. Yes, you read it right. The crook in your lot is His doing! There is absolutely nothing we can do in our own power to make straight what God has ordained to be crooked. Boston says, “Such a view of the crook in our lot is very suitable to still improper risings of heart, and quiet us under them.” What are the improper risings of heart that you are experiencing right now? Only the biblical view of God’s sovereignty can quiet them. Listen further: “As to the crook in your lot, God has made it; and it must continue while He will have it so. Should you ply your utmost force to even it, or make it straight, your attempt will be vain: it will not change for all you can do. Only He who made it can mend it, or make it straight. This consideration, this view of the matter, is a proper means at once to silence and to satisfy men, and so bring them to a dutiful submission to their Maker and Governor, under the crook in their lot” (empahsis mine).

God designs our circumstances for His glory and for our everlasting good. He is faithful to conform us into the image of His Son. Do we want to become more like Jesus? Do we want to grow spiritually? As Beth and I were talking about these things this morning, she reminded me of a hymn written by John Newton. It’s one you and I should memorize and carefully consider. Here is “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow,” by John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace.”

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

To my brothers and sisters at RBC, and to whomever reads this post, please read this carefully. God wants us to find our all in Him. Let your lot, which God has graciously designed, cause you to pursue Him with all your heart. Do we want to be like Jesus? This is the path. Yes, the Bible does say that if we trust Him He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6), but remember that Proverbs are not promises![1] They are general principles of life that are meant to guide us in wisdom and grow us in the fear of the Lord. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 does not mean everything will be smooth for us; it does not teach that if things are not smooth, then we must not be trusting God. This is a great error. God is sovereign, and He designs crooked lots in His wisdom. I will write about this more, but what we see in this world of sin is that God might straighten one thing and then make another thing crooked. He might ease your headache today, but the car might break down tomorrow, and then the headache starts again!

“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him, how I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er. Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus, O for grace to trust Him more.” L. Stead, 1882.

I need grace to trust Him in my crooked lot. How about you? Let us cry out to Him together and love Him and trust Him more!

– * –

[1] A prime example is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he old he will not depart from it.” I have known many children that have been trained in the ways of the Lord that are not walking in God’s truth. God is sovereign over every heart. This verse is a general principle. It simply means that wherever our children go, their training goes with them. They can never escape the lessons that godly parents have taught them, but such teaching does not guarantee that the child will walk in God’s ways. Only God can change a sinner’s heart.

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