Monday, March 31, 2008

Age and Idolatry

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GROWING OLDER?

Today is my 34th birthday. Over the weekend my mother remarked, "You're getting old, Jen!" and then in a softer voice, "It's scary." I ignored the comment. There is absolutely nothing more I can say to change her perspective and stop her from saying that year after year. She said it when I was 10. She said it when I was 16. She said it when I was 21. She said it when I was 30. Apparently, it bothers her a great deal that I am aging.

Most folks without Christ and even some who do profess to be Christians have a real problem with growing older. I believe the reason is twofold: a) This culture worships youth. Loss of youthfulness is a threat to one's perceived self-worth because youth is what is valued by the culture. b) Growing older means we are one step closer to death. For many who have not come to accept their own mortality, this is a very uncomfortable truth to be reckoned with. Let's look at both of these issues from a biblical perspective and see if we can come to a different conclusion about aging and dying.


THE IDOL OF YOUTH

The worship of youthfulness is one of the key ways we can assess the condition of our hearts according to the Word of God. The world values youth purely for physical reasons. Young people are considered more attractive, more physically fit, and more open-minded and "lively." The elderly, on the other hand, are often portrayed in the media as being slow, set in their ways, less physically attractive, and dim-witted. But just as with everything else, the Bible takes the way the world sees youth and age and turns these concepts upside down.

According to the Bible, it is age that makes a person more attractive because with age comes great wisdom. Wisdom is a coveted quality in the Bible. Much of the imagery in Proverbs especially asserts the high value the Bible places on the type of wisdom that only comes with experience, but other Scriptures such as the Fifth Commandment also stress the importance of giving honor and respect to our elders. We would think, after spending a lifetime honoring our elders, that we would be happy to actually "graduate" to that status ourselves. But instead of being ecstatic over turning a year older, we lament, "What a drag it is getting old," right alongside the Rolling Stones.

It isn't easy for us to keep their eyes focused on the ways of God instead of the ways of the world, particularly women. The world puts a heavy emphasis on youth as being a prerequisite to beauty. Women have done some torturous things to themselves all in the name of beauty. Each year, millions and millions of dollars are spent by female consumers to thwart the aging process. I'll let you all in on a little secret: It doesn't work! The only way true, lasting beauty can be achieved is when both men and women alike embrace the Bible's formula for attractiveness.

THE IDOL OF LIFE

The second reason why many people fear getting old is because youth is also associated with vitality. The older you are, the closer you are to dying because you are nearing the end of your life. This is true. In fact, every single day, each of us grows one day closer to the appointed time of our death. If this disturbs us, we have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask, "why?"

For some, growing old and dying is a frightening idea. Some of us, as I noted above, are simply uncertain of where we will end up when we die. If you are not sure you will enter heaven upon the event of your death, please click here.

Others are certain they are headed for heaven, but they are still not looking forward to death. There is only one reason why, and I'd like to credit C.J. Mahaney for putting it so brilliantly:

Death is a limit God puts on creatures that wish they were Him.

That is a very pithy statement. Think about that. Death is actually a limit that God puts on us to keep our pride in check. Wow! I bet you never looked at death in that way before, have you? I sure haven't. But it is true. The reason why each and every one of us does not want to die, if we are not so much afraid of death, is because we have absolutely no control over it. There is only One who has the power to call the shots when it comes to death. And we're not Him. Death is a limit God puts on creatures that wish they were Him.

The Bible says that God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This is because we were created in His image. It is natural for us to yearn for immortality, because God is immortal. But because of sin, we cannot handle immortality in a responsible, holy way. For this reason, God has appointed a time for each man to die, and then the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The good news is, we do have the opportunity to cheat death. There's just one catch: you can't do that without special permission from Jesus Christ.

If you are disappointed over the truth of your own mortality, ask God to search your heart and give you the grace to repent of this sin. This is pride. It is the very sin of Satan, who wanted to be God. Isn't it interesting how the Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever? He never changes. The fact that we age reminds us that we are not eternal.

CONCLUSION

A birthday is not only a celebration of the day of one's birth, but also, a mile marker of grace. Each year that we are permitted to exist on this earth is a gift from God, who has ordained each of our steps from before the dawn of time. We are here for one reason and one reason alone: to glorify God. I think it is interesting how we all recognize God's indescribable beauty, although we've never seen physically seen Him. The shedding of our youth is a divine opportunity for each of us to embrace the true beauty which lies within, and is in direct opposition to the beauty of this world, which is just an illusion. I believe it is also true that God never fully allows us to reach complete sanctification on this earth as a way of setting another limit on us. With each year of life comes a new wrinkle and a few gray hairs, but also the tests and trials that produce the wisdom of a mature faith. Each time you notice your hairline receding, think of it as a way of slowly but surely shedding the superficial exterior to reveal the likeness of Christ that you are cultivating day by day.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Taming of the Shrew

LESSONS FROM SHAKESPEARE

My favorite Shakespearean play of all time (ironically, even before I was interested in Biblical femininity) is The Taming of the Shrew. Not many people know this about me, but I studied theatre in college and there was once a time when I wanted to be an actor. There are still some traces of passion for the theatre flowing through my veins, as I reflect on some coveted roles I never got the chance to play. Kate was one of those roles.

I was fortunate enough to perform at least one speech from this play for my acting class. It was, as most Shakespeare buffs may have already guessed, Kate's final monologue. The speech in itself meant so much to me, because so much of it reminds me of my relationship with my beautiful bridegroom Jesus.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, Kate is a rebellious, uncontrollable, and downright nasty woman. No one wants Kate, as she is the least desirable woman in town. But when Petruchio shows up wishing to marry her, she has finally met her match. For the remainder of the play we watch him "tame" his bride by sometimes putting her through difficult testing and trials. In the end, Kate proves to be the very picture of femininity, and brings great honor to her husband when he calls for her obedience to him in public. She not only obeys his command, but reprimands the other wives present for rebelling against their husbands.

Naturally, this play is criticized by feminists worldwide as being sexist and misogynistic, but it is in fact a very symbolic and beautiful picture of how our dear Lord tames each one of us. I will not offer my own commentary on the monologue's imagery, but rather, I will let you meditate on the words for yourself. On this Resurrection Sunday, remember all that Christ had to suffer to tame the wayward shrew in each of our hearts. See how much of Kate's speech you identify with (I have pasted it in its entirety below):

KATE: Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning unkind brow
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience--
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
Whey they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Reformation in the Family


Reformation in the family? What do I mean by Reformation in the family? Using the life of Jacob I will show you what the Lord highlighted in my life which was followed by action on my part. It is my prayer that this will speak to someone who is going or has just gone through similar situations.

Jacob had served twenty years in Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:38) when the Lord commanded him to return to the promised land. It is with uncertainty as to the kind of reception he will receive from his brother, Esau, that he prepares to cross over back into the promised land. As he prepares to send gifts on to pacify his brother and to make arrangements to protect his family, Jacob spends the night alone with the overwhelming desire to pray. This is where we read of His wrestle with God.

Come morning Jacob limps into the promised land and is reconciled with his brother. We read in Genesis 28:20-22 of the vow Jacob made to God;

Then Jacob made a vow, saying “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

And then in Genesis 31:3:

Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”

A Disastrous Move

Not only was Jacob told to return to the promised land but also to his relatives. But Jacob chose to live near Shechem. And as we read through chapter 34 we see the disastrous consequences of this decision. Jacob failed to fulfill his vow.

Why did Jacob settle in Shechem? Not only was it a practical location in terms of rich pasture for his animals but it could also be regarded as a sentimental place as it was the place the Lord had first appeared to Abraham, his grandfather, on entering the promised land (Genesis 12:6-7). We know Even with a clear direction from the Lord Himself of where he was to go, Jacob bought a piece of land in Shechem on which he pitched his tent.

Whether or not one of the reasons was sentiment, we can be certain that in our walk with the Lord it is very dangerous to be led by sentiment. I can unfortunately relate to this.

Back in 1999 I moved over 200 miles from home to start a new life when I was 20. I left behind all I had ever known, both family, friends and a fantastic job, house, everything. I thought the place I moved to was going to be a temporary place to live until I decided what I was going to do next. I wasn’t in this place for more than a month when I met my now husband and months later gave my life to the Lord and remained in this city to the present day. Now during all these years I longed to go back to where I had "come from" purely for sentimental reasons. The grass began to look greener (though it never was) and every time I revisited my old home I felt that God was not with me. Now of course He was but I didn’t feel I was where I was supposed to be. But sentiment and my own sinful desires kept pulling me back. It became my "Shechem" so to speak. I knew God wanted me in "Bethel" but last year, after going through very difficult circumstances I wanted to "buy a piece of land and pitch my tent" in Shechem. Needless to say all sorts trouble occurred while I was there.

Then, thankfully, after going off in my own sinful ways and despairing of the situation God mercifully intervened, brought me to my senses, showed me my sin and called me to repent, give up my idols and "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there". My family and I are now having a fresh start right here in "Bethel". Before moving to our new house (this move has coincided with our fresh start!) God showed me what my idol was through the story of Jacob and what I had to do. I went through the house and bagged up anything that linked me to Shechem, all items that had sentimental value that linked me to my old life. I then that evening, with my husband, burnt everything surrendering all to God. While all the remnants of the old life burnt on that fire I became overwhelmed with a feeling that something was lifted from me. A burden that I didn’t even feel before until I willingly gave it up. I kissed my husband and told him that this was not only a symbol that I was committing my all and surrendering to God but also that I am giving myself wholly to my husband as his wife and that this is our fresh start.

Now I know I don’t really come from a place called Shechem or that I live in THE town Bethel, and I am not Jacob, but God used this point in the patriarch's life to speak to me and show me the "idols" in my life. It is the beginning of a "Reformation in my family": a new chapter in my story. I not only burnt those links to the old life but I also removed myself from all worldly and unhelpful associations: any external influences that so easily contaminate and drag us down.

If God has highlighted any idols in your life do as Jacob did and respond immediately and "bury them", repent and seek the one true living God. If we look to Jesus and what He has done for us and we cannot help but be humbled and repentant. Idols can be anything that we value more than Him and place before Him and therefore distract us and cause us to stumble. This could be your call to make a fresh start!

I highly recommend the following book: Theophany: Close Encounters with the Son of God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wicked Influence

Perhaps one of the best exchanges of dialogue in the 2002 comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding occurs between Toula and her mother Maria:


Toula: Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. "Ah, the man is the head of the house!"
Maria: Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants!

The reason this line is a classic is because it is entirely true. God may have given men a leadership role, but He gave women influential power. However, I do not think women realize how much power they have over men. Unfortunately, those who do understand this incredible power tend to exercise their influence in wicked ways. In fact, I did it just this past weekend.

Last week my dad had a cancer scare. He had a bone marrow biopsy and we were waiting to hear the results whether or not he had leukemia. Neither of my parents are saved. I have tried to witness to them ever since I became a Christian in 1993.

About three weeks before I learned my dad may be sick, God put it on my heart to begin praying more prayers focused on his salvation. My parents were very upset and afraid, not knowing what would happen. They asked everyone in creation to pray. Then on Thursday, we learned he did not have cancer after all. I took the opportunity to invite my father and mother to church. They said they’d think about it.

On Saturday night I went out of town, but I called my parents to confirm that they were going to church the next day. My mom told me that they were not going to go because they’d rather go to a water park. I was floored! Here is a man who just had a cancer scare and he gets a clean bill of health, just to blow off an opportunity to learn more about God. I was so angry. I flat out told my parents over the phone, "That's a real snub! Those test results did not have to turn out the way they did. And now you're going to a water park? That is just not right!"

My parents wound up coming to church with me the next day. Throughout the service, they appeared extremely uncomfortable. As soon as the worship began, I immediately felt sorry for manipulating them to come to church by laying a guilt trip on them. I wished I had just offered them the opportunity to come to church on Resurrection Day. But what was done was done.

God is sovereign and He did use the situation. But throughout the entire service I could not shake the feeling that I had manipulated my own father with a wicked use of my female influence. I persuaded my father to come to church out of guilt. I felt awful. I knew I had sinned. In addition to wickedly influencing my dad, I did not trust God enough to work in my dad's heart. The Lord knew my father was going to have to undergo this biopsy -- He nudged me to pray for my dad three weeks before I even knew what was going on. But I had to usurp control from God and from my father by making a decision for my entire family that we were going to church together that weekend.

Why was I tempted in the first place? It was because I rationalized the situation and in my mind, my sin became justified. I assumed that because we live in Orlando, and it is hot all the time, they could go to the water park any time they wanted to -- but we are not guaranteed our next breath. Therefore, it was far better for me to get them to church now, and let them enjoy the water park later, rather than allow them to have fun today when they are not promised tomorrow. I reasoned with myself that they may never have another chance to go to church and hear the gospel. I reasoned that this was the perfect time since my father had to seriously contemplate his own mortality. I assumed my dad would want to come to church out of gratitude for receiving an answer to prayer. And in my mind, that was plenty reason to take control and start calling the shots. As a result, I put my father, whom I am supposed to honor, in a position of submission to me. Ugh. I cringe every time I think about it. Men are visual. We need to influence them by demonstration, not dissertation. There is absolutely no amount of words we can use to convince them of anything.

It is absolutely permissible to influence a man. In fact, God intended that to be woman's primary function. But we should be influencing men in an effort to edify, not to manipulate. Usually, our influence is most successful when we follow this formula: Show, Don't Tell.

Men are visual. We need to influence them by demonstration, not dissertation. There is absolutely no amount of words we can use to convince them of anything. In fact, the more words we use, the more likely the man's eyes will glaze over. We cannot speak to them in our language and expect them to understand. This serves us, but it doesn't serve them.

I have known my father long enough to know that he would not be comfortable at church. My dad has known me long enough to know that there is no place in the world I'd rather be. If I had simply kept my mouth shut, perhaps my father would have asked to come to church. Granted, that is highly unlikely, but if he did, not only would it have been his decision, but he would most likely have done it in an attempt to please me. When I nagged and manipulated, it was my decision, and my father did it out of obligation.

When a man does something for a woman, it usually stems from one of two motives: he is either genuinely trying to please her because he wants to, or he is trying to avoid her criticism. It's clear to me which of those two motives was in my father's heart when he came to church for me. Which of the two motives would the men in your life most likely say drives them to make you happy? Have you been influencing the men in your life in such a way that drives them to want to do whatever they can to genuinely serve you? The difference could cost you the greatest compliment of your life:


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Twisted Singleness


You gotta love personal ads. Have you ever really analyzed a personal ad? Here are folks who are seeking companionship because of what it will offer them. Think about it. The average personal ad adheres to the following format: "SWF, possesses characteristics that are highly exaggerated because I think more highly of myself than reality would dictate. Seeking SWM, 30-40, for stuff that I think is fun and pleases me, and meets my needs. Must have the following qualities that I find attractive: superficial quality #1, superficial quality #2, superficial quality #3. If you fit this description, contact me." The hilarity of this is that every single person reading the ad thinks this describes them perfectly! Oh, we are just too full of ourselves, aren't we?

Singleness is a season of life that is so often twisted between two extremes: we either want to hurry along singleness because we want a spouse for our own personal happiness, or we want to preserve the season of singleness far beyond what God has ordained for our own personal happiness. In both scenarios, the attitude toward singleness is not one that glorifies God. Do either of these seasons of "twisted singleness" apply to you?

Before I understood what the purpose of marriage was, I used to read John 15:13 only in the physical sense. That verse reads, "Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." I really used to think that the greatest expression of love was to die a physical death for another person. But I have since learned that even greater love is the act of laying down one's daily life: it is dying to self on a daily basis, and sacrificing my needs and desires to put the other person first. That is what marriage is about. It is an opportunity to mimic what Christ did in His life here on earth. It's pretty obvious that wanting a marriage partner to make ME happy is antithetical to the idea behind this passage. But so is remaining single so you can continue laying down your life for yourself.

I am happy the way I am right now. Sure, I am serving the Lord. But is that truly my motivation for remaining single? Or is my motivation for remaining single avoiding the sanctification that comes with laying down my life for another? This is no different than the single person who desires to get married for selfish reasons: "I'm lonely. I want someone to love me." In either scenario, you cannot become more like Christ when all you are thinking about is yourself.

Earlier this week, while on the phone with a friend, I caught myself teetering dangerously close to the edge of twisted singleness. I am deliberately looking for reasons why I am content in my singleness that indicate I am single for my sake, and not for the glory of God. This is a vicious cycle in my life and it goes something like this:

I discover I'm content in my singleness for selfish reasons.
I repent and tell God I am willing to be open to a marriage partner.
The fruit of my repentance is I become truly content in my singleness for the glory of God.
That contentedness radiates in my countenance -- and a man notices me because of it.
That man expresses an interest in me, and I yield to his leadership in the relationship.
It doesn't work out for whatever reason and I wind up crushed.
I discover I'm content in my singleness for selfish reasons.

So I heard myself saying things that lead me to believe I am rationalizing that it is far better to be single because I can live the Christian life on my terms, without having to take into consideration the precious man that God has ordained as my future husband. I am the only one I need to consider when making my decisions. Sure, when a potential relationship doesn't work out, it stinks, but there's this nasty little gremlin inside me that says, "YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!"

It's not the kind of yes that says, "Yes Lord, as Thou wilt Lord, have Thy way with me Lord, Thy will be done!" No, it's more the kind of yes that says, "Awesome! Now I can continue living my cushy little life without having to be bothered with some man and his pain-in-the-neck needs. Oh thank you Lord that I can serve You on my terms, the way that fits my schedule and makes me experience no pain or suffering whatsoever! Woo-hoo!"

When the Apostle Paul said that it was good for the unmarried to stay as they are (1 Corinthians 7) he did not mean that singleness was actually better than marriage. He simply meant that we are not to seek release from God's current plan for our lives. This passage is not necessarily talking about lifetime celibacy, either. (Hasn't God held you in one place for awhile, only to change the direction of your life in the proper time?) It is talking about trying to hurry along the season of singleness that God has for us. If we are single, it is because God has ordained for us to be single in that season. Likewise, there are those who try to get out of their marriages because they are equally unhappy as the poor, lonely, discontent singles. Both of these situations are rebellious toward God. The point is, we are to stay true to our calling until He calls us otherwise. Singleness is a season of life that is so often twisted between two extremes: we either want to hurry along singleness because we want a spouse for our own personal happiness, or we want to preserve the season of singleness far beyond what God has ordained for our own personal happiness. In both scenarios, the attitude toward singleness is not one that glorifies God. Do either of these seasons of "twisted singleness" apply to you?

Regardless of what your current situation is, the fact remains that 1 Corinthians 7 applies to all of us, because left to our own vices, none of us would be content with where God has us. If you are single, don't seek a spouse. If you are married, don't seek to be loosed from a spouse. God has you where He has you and thinking the grass is greener on the other side is a lack of gratitude for His perfect plan for your life. Once God has called you to a different season, that is the time to start seeking a change. But it must come from a deep recognition that He is changing your circumstances for His glory, and not for your personal happiness. We seek to be joined to a spouse because we are selfish. We seek to be loosed from a spouse because we are selfish. Left to our own wisdom, it's all about the glory of ME, isn't it?

Today I rewrote the traditional personal ad according to how it really should read, and had it published it in all the newspapers of heaven. It says:

SWF with very little to offer, seeks man I surely don't deserve, for a lifetime of complete devotion to you and your needs. I have depraved quality #1, depraved quality #2, and depraved quality #3. I can be difficult to love at times, but I promise I will do my best to forsake my selfishness and serve you. If interested, please pray before contacting me.

Who knows? Maybe I'll get a response. (*gulp!*)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Happily Ever After?



It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This cartoon is no exception. From left to right we see Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel (The Little Mermaid), and Sleeping Beauty, all complaining about their husbands. What is so funny is that these are all Disney characters, and Disney World is known for being "The Happiest Place on Earth." Yet, these "desperate housewives" don't seem very happy. Each one of these ladies married a Prince Charming. Who would have ever guessed that these women would ever become disenchanted with the "perfect man"?

It's funny -- I have never been married -- but I have seen through the eyes of others what complaining can do to one's perception of what life is like in the "Happily Ever After." Don't get me wrong -- marriage is definitely hard work at times. But at other times, we can make our marriages harder than they have to be when we focus on the negative and start complaining. It may seem like just some innocent venting with the girls. But if left unchecked, this "venting session" could become a destructive habit that could prove deadly to our marriages.

Everyone has their quirks. And everyone certainly has their sin. But when we start to focus on the things that we don't like about our husbands, we become discontent. We can even become disinterested. When we lose interest, we seek to find fulfillment elsewhere. In a marital situation, this can be very dangerous. When we seek excitement in other people and things, the gap between the husband and wife widens. And as we grow further and further apart from our husbands, they begin to seek solace in other people and things as well. Before we know it, the marriage is in real jeopardy.


In the soon to be released film Fireproof, Kirk Cameron plays a firefighter whose marital relationship is terribly strained. In the movie trailer, he says, "Marriages aren't fireproof --sometimes you get burned!" His friend Michael responds, "Fireproof doesn't mean the fire never comes, but that when it does, you'll be able to withstand it." Bitterness resulting from discontentment can leave us thinking we wish we didn't get married in the first place. It can leave us thinking we've made a mistake. But we must fight to restore the joy in our marriages. They are our most important human relationships, and we must sacrifice everything to protect and preserve them.

Now, some of you may be wondering, "How do you know? You've never been married!" Well, I have never been married in the human sense, that is true. But I have been married to my Lord and Savior for fifteen years, and I am sorry to admit there have been times I have lost interest in Him.

When we lose interest in the Ultimate Bridegroom, the problem is not with Him, but with us. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If we lose interest, we cannot point the finger at Him and say, "You changed!" What changed was our fickle passion for Him. His beauty remains forever.

Interestingly, this was the very message given at my church last Sunday. Danny Jones, our senior pastor, presented a very compelling sermon on the human tendency to become bored with our biggest blessings in life. Sometimes, the most important things in life that we experience every day in the mundane can become very boring after a while because they seem familiar. As with newlyweds, when the things of God are new to us, we find our new relationship exhilarating. But after a few years or so, we not only become bored, we expect to be entertained! In times like these we need to examine our hearts and ask ourselves, "What is my motive here? Am I looking to serve or be served? Am I wanting to please or be pleased?"

Perhaps the biggest pitfall in our marital relationships is the idea that getting married is supposed to make us happy. Hence, the closing line of every Disney fairy tale, "And they lived happily ever after." My church is famous for quoting this little nugget of wisdom: "Marriage is not for our happiness, but for our holiness." Isn't that also true of the Christian life? Did any of us really come to Christ because we thought He'd make us happy? Jesus promises us persecutions and trials. He tells us it will not be an easy road. But it is in these trials that we are sanctified. Our holiness is at the forefront of our relationship with God. Our happiness is a by-product of this holiness, yet not the primary focus.

The Gospel should be at the center of everything we do. And if it is going to be the center of everything we do, it is going to be mundane sometimes. We cannot use this as an excuse to become lazy in our love and service to our Savior. We cannot allow this to become a justification for us to search elsewhere for fulfillment. The only way to keep ourselves Gospel-centered is to focus on the majesty, beauty, and glory of our wonderful Savior, instead of focusing on the things that are less than perfect in our lives and turning those thoughts into murmuring and complaining.

There is no perfect relationship. Even our relationship with God is constantly in need of repair as we sin against Him and ask for His forgiveness. We need to drive out the tendency to complain by focusing on all there is to be thankful for, lest we become like the women in the cartoon above. The Bible calls us to be transformed through the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Every time that tendency to become bored or that temptation to complain rears its ugly head, we can renew our minds through thanksgiving and praise: praise for our Savior, and praise for our husbands. "Happily Ever After" really is possible, but it can not come to us by any means other than through pursuing holiness.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Guard Your Heart


Are you familiar with Proverbs 4:23? This verse is most often quoted from the KJV, and reads as follows: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." It is probably one of the most misused verses in the Bible.

Now you might be wondering, how is this verse misused? Well, let's consider that there are two reasons to "guard" something. We will either guard something in order to protect that object from others. But we will also guard something in order to protect others from that object. Which do you think is a more Biblical perspective on guarding the heart? Let me give you two illustrations.

#1: Imagine you are in a museum. You notice an exhibit that features a beautiful sculpture. It is very old and appears very fragile. Other exhibits are openly displayed, but this particular sculpture is so fragile it is encased in glass. Furthermore, the area surrounding the glass is roped off so that no one can even attempt to tap on the glass.

#2: Now imagine you are at the zoo. You notice an exhibit that features some ferocious tigers. The tigers are chained so that they cannot get too close to the bars of the cage. Furthermore, the area surrounding the cage is blocked off so that no one can get closer than six feet from the cage.

Most people interpret Proverbs 4:23 in terms of Scenario #1. The idea is to guard one's heart so that you can avoid having to suffer a broken one. Not only is this a misapplication of the scripture by taking it out of context, it is also completely antithetical to Biblical Christianity. We are not to protect ourselves by building walls around our hearts. We are called to love others, and that involves giving our hearts and lives away. Yet most people quote Proverbs 4:23 keeping in mind Scenario #1, which portrays the heart as being fragile, delicate, and easily broken. Like the sculpture in the museum, it must be protected at all costs from the outside influences that can pollute its "purity."

But the Bible describes the human heart differently. The Bible portrays the human heart as being very dangerous. The Bible says the heart as the most deceitful thing there is (Jeremiah 17:9). It is "desperately wicked" (NKJV) if not downright "sick" (NASB). We must guard our hearts, not because they are fragile, but because they have the power to destroy others. Jesus said "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders" (Matthew 15:19). No wonder we are advised in Proverbs 4:23 to keep it under close watch!


The context of Proverbs 4 shows that we must constantly feed the heart a diet of wisdom or it will turn into a monster. Psalm 119:11 states, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee," (KJV). The Word of God is the muzzle that silences the rabid pitbull inside each of us. If we want to protect others, we need to keep our hearts on the leash of God's Word so that no one gets hurt.

Bridges (2001) looks at this verse from the opposite angle. The heart does need to be protected, not from people, but from sin. In any case, the conclusion is the same: "If we do not know our weak points, Satan is well aware of them . . . the question arises, can I guard my own heart? Certainly not. This is God's work, although it is carried out through the agency of man. Resist the evil world, even in its most plausible forms. This will be a confict until the end of our lives," (p. 39). We are not to guard our hearts from getting "hurt." Rather, we are to guard our hearts so they do not run after the things of this world and in turn cause us to sin against others, God included. MacArthur (1997) writes: "The heart is the depository of all wisdom and the source of whatever affects speech (v. 24), sight (v. 25), and conduct (vv. 26, 27)" (p. 882).

This is especially important in relationships between men and women. We have the absolute power to destroy one another if we do not guard our hearts. It reminds me of two friends of mine, whom I'll call Gina and Steve. Steve began to pursue Gina very aggressively. But Gina was not sure if she was interested. So in an effort to guard her heart (and not defraud Steve), she told Steve she wasn't going to return the sentiments unless she knew she really liked him, and not just the attention he was giving her. She knew Steve had been betrayed badly in a past relationship and she wanted to protect him from her own wickedness. Gina held Steve at bay for a while so she could pray and fast over the situation. Only when she was absolutely sure she could return Steve's feelings honestly did she begin to verbally express her attraction for him.

But as soon as Gina became interested, Steve cooled off. He had said things to make her feel as though he really liked her, but once she returned the feelings, he stopped talking to her. When Gina confronted Steve about his behavior, he responded, "Gina, I'm sorry if I mislead you. I guess I just liked the pursuit. I hope in the future you guard your heart more."

Even though Steve had misused the verse, it turned out to be good advice, because Gina wanted to lash out at him. Not only did she feel cheated and deceived, she now had to bear the burden of fear: how can she ever trust the next man who tells her "God put you on my heart?" Words were exchanged and an argument ensued. Steve became very agitated. As Gina sensed his anger escalating, she remembered something she had read: "Anger is often a man's response to feeling disrespected . . . if he's angry at something you've said or done . . . there is a good chance he is feeling the pain or humiliation of your disrespect" (Feldhahn, 2004, p.25). Immediately, Gina yanked the choke chain on her heart and began to apologize to Steve. Yes, he had hurt her. But she knew the only way to stop the cycle of sin was to take control of her own actions and guard her sick, desperately wicked heart before it took another bite out of Steve. Proverbs 15:1 tells us, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." As soon as Gina began to protect Steve from her own wickedness, he did not feel so attacked. As a result, he was able to check himself and guard his heart too.

Perhaps the worst thing about misusing Proverbs 4:23 is that it promotes selfishness. When we are constantly "guarding our hearts" in the sense that most people interpret it, we are focusing on ourselves. When we become preoccupied with "looking out for number one," we have no energy left to serve others. But when we guard our hearts as the Bible really instructs us to do, we take the focus off ourselves and are free to look out for the well-being of others.

The Bible asks, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1). Our sinful desires are what fuel the heart. This is what we need to guard others from. Gina desired to be right and have the last word. Steve desired to be released from any personal responsibility in the matter. When we are in these types of situations, we may not feel that we are deliberately in sin, but because our hearts are sick, depraved, and desperately wicked, they need to be restrained and muzzled before they do some real damage.

The next time someone advises you to "guard your heart," implying that you need to protect yourself, remember that the Bible teaches you do need to "guard your heart," but in an effort to protect others from you.

References

Bridges, C. (2001). Proverbs. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Feldhahn, S. (2004). For women only: What you need to know about the inner lives of men. Atlanta, GA: Multnomah.

MacArthur, J. (1997). The MacArthur study bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.