Archive for July, 2008

The Eye of the Beholder

July 30, 2008

Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.  Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun.  My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.  Song of Songs 1: 5, 6.

She’s scared she’s not acceptable because she’s darkened by the sun.  The women of that era considered skin made darker by the sun as a sign of poverty or low esteem.  It meant that one had to work for a living rather than being able to be served.  So she’s a working girl, basically pressured or forced into it by her brothers and tanned dark by the sun.  I don’t know what the tents of Kedar look like but working off her comparison, they must have been dark brown. 

She doesn’t say here why her brothers were angry with her, though it might be inferred in the context, I’m not sure.  What we do know is that she has to spend so much time caring for the family vineyard that she neglects her own–in other words herself.  A working girl doesn’t get to take care of her skin and looks the way someone who has more leisure time would, so she doesn’t get to do the primping to make herself a work of art.

Yet the man who loves her doesn’t see the imperfections, or if he does, he considers them to be characteristics of her beauty.  In verses 9-11 he tells her what he sees and it sounds like he sees her already bejeweled and pampered.  Actually, now that I think about, he sees her potential beauty with all these jewels and decorations adorning her and framing her face.

One other thing strikes me that is rather profound:  She tells her friends not to stare at her because she’s darkened by the sun.  Their response reveals what they think of her,  “If you do not know, most beautiful of women…”  Now whether she’s beautiful in a general public opinion or not is of no consequence, her lover and friends think so and this should be enough.

C. S. Lewis wrote a reinactment of the Eden story through a science fiction book called “Perelandra”.  In this story his “Eve” character is being tempted to look into a mirror by the serpent character.  He keeps telling her to study her own beauty and discover how lovely she really is–in short to be become vain.  Her reply went something like this,  “The king is my mirror.  I see myself through his eyes and he through mine.”

In a world where people put each other down so often the above sentiment might not be the wisest choice.  Yet it is the best of choices when there is love for it ensures that we don’t become self-absorbed.

The lover and friends assured her that she was lovely despite the standards of the day.  This is how it should be.

The Language of Romance

July 29, 2008

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth–for your love is more delightful than wine.  Song of Songs 1: 2.

In an older time people spent more time on their entertainments and stories could go on for a long while.  Solomon’s song (an assumption of tradition) to his “beloved” is blatantly romantic and sexual in its theme, using metaphor liberally to get the point across.

For instance, we see the comparison of the lover’s kisses to wine.  Whether they were speaking of freshly pressed grapes or carefully aged juice is hard to determine.  I would lean to toward the the latter simply because in almost every era aged wine was considered to be the most precious.  Still, what we have here is a woman telling us her lover’s kisses are intoxicating, dizzying, and she experiences the warmth throughout her body just like wine gives, only better.

The openness and seductiveness of Solomon’s song, should give us pause about our own relationships.  I’m not trying to manufacture a “moral to the story” here but point out that if we have a record of such a romance, it would stand to reason that our own relationships should be celebrated more openly and with more romantic expresson than we sometimes allow ourselves as believers.

The beloved was intoxicated by her lover’s kisses.  Her desire was awakened by the pleasurable ache for his company and yearning for physical contact.  She’s so taken with this man that his very name is like a perfume, not just the essence of it but the overpowering sense of it poured out and dominating everything.  She can’t wait to be married to him, saying quite clearly,  “Take me away with you–let us hurry!  Let the king bring me into his chambers.”

That last request is definitely a longing for intimacy and sexual contact.  Her eagerness isn’t just a mirror of his but uninhibited, independant wish to be in his bed and part of his private life.

Solomon’s Song

July 29, 2008

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth–for your love is more delightful than wine.  Song of Songs 1: 2.

Here’s a quote from my NIV Study Bible as to the theme and message of this book:

In ancient Israel everything human came to expression in words.  In the Song, love finds words–inspired words that disclose its exquisite charm and beauty as one of God’s choicest gifts.  The woman’s voice of love in the Song suggests that love and wisdom draw men powerfully with the subtlety and mystery of a woman’s allurements.  God intends that such love be a normal part of marital life in His Good creation.

The intro to this book is a far cry from what I heard in Theology class back in the early 80s.  They taught it as a love song to God not an expression of human passion.  As I agree with the latter now more than the former, I would like to explore the book a bit.  I haven’t read it or really studied it for years now and I think it’s about time I actually explored its perspective.

Passionate love is a theme in the Bible, it goes almost without saying that God wouldn’t use human marriage to illustrate His love for His people if there weren’t such a close connection in it.  God celebrates marriage, sex and companionship throughout the whole Bible and I have come to a better understanding of what it means to be whole psychologically through its teachings.

So this is where my specific study is heading–not that I won’t have little side trips to take along the way.

Godliness Pt. 2

July 28, 2008

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred; discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.  Galatians 6: 19-26.

What Paul describes here is the contrast between godliness and the sinful nature.  It isn’t something I actually need to reiterate for it’s stated pretty plainly.  What I would like to discuss is the fact of the two POVs and how they work.  Whether we agree or disagree with this complete list, we have to see that those who live according to the plan of God have a beneficial attitude toward all life.  To love someone means that we don’t harm them, care about their needs and generally make sure they are valued.  Yet each of these attributes come as a result of the Spirit in our lives not from us manufacturing them out of hand.

Those who follow Christ open the door to His Spirit to live in them.  That last phrase confuses many, but all it really means is that we open our hearts and minds to His heart and mind.  It’s really not that complicated a thought.  If we open ourselves to the influence of any teaching, it becomes a part of the way we reason, our attitudes and habits.  The same here.

Those who live a life of discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc., cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  Now we need to understand that the kingdom of God doesn’t come later, it arrives now.  It’s among His people, within our hearts and should be demonstrated daily in His church.  Jesus told us that we would see the kingdom of God among us (see Luke 17: 21).  So we see that the demonstration of the kingdom of God is among His people and arrives now in its beginning phase.  Those who give in to the sinful nature do so to their own hurt and damage those around them.  They grow divisive and careless of the needs of others when these needs interfere with what they want.  Whereas the kingdom of God grows in us a community beneficial habit.

Jesus told us again that the way the world would know us is by our love for one another and love shows itself in our joy, peaceful attitudes, faithfulness to our word and others, patience, etc.  Godliness is only illustrated not preached.  It can be taught but not to those who don’t understand the gospel for it will sound like foolishness.  In other words, godliness is about being like our God, plain and simple.  Those who don’t understand God will find Him confusing, offensive and totally other.  Those who know Him in ever increasing measures will find themselves becoming more loyal than ever.

Godliness

July 22, 2008

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6: 6-8.

Paul surrounds this extremely important instruction with two thoughts:

1.  Those who teach false doctrines have an unhealthy delight in controversies and quarrels about words.  In other words they like to be thought of as smart, informed and authoritative, and show their superiority by using their knowledge to destroy others.

2.  Those who are eager to get rich will fall into traps.  The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for those who seek it as a substitute for inner wealth, grow willing to do almost anything to get it.

I’ve noticed one thing about godliness:  it’s practical.  There’s nothing forced about it or out of character for the human psyche.  Though there are arguments against it, godliness from a Scriptural point of view is about enhancing the quality of our freedom not limiting it.  Our lives take on not merely quantitative value but quality because we develop relationships, care about our good name, work to provide not only for ourselves but others and generally build a community of the blessed rather than just a select few.

This is godliness.

If we define the word itself, it simply means piety (an old word, I know), devoutness, to be like God or take on God’s traits.  To complicate it anymore than this would be counterproductive.  Through the context, we learn what godliness isn’t for it states pretty clearly that those who delight in controversies and quarrels about words and are eager for wealth are without the Spirit of God. In other words, they are not like God.

Devout is also an old word that in modern usage has come to mean deeply religious rather than devoted.  From its primary definition I get this:  if we are godly, then we grow more and more devoted to our God.  This makes more sense to me than being “deeply religious” because that sort of thinking points to something we do to appeal to God rather than being devoted to His way of thinking, reasoning and acting.

Contrasting this ideal with the passages which come before and after our text we then know that godliness has nothing to do with quarrelling about words, controversies or the love of money.  Anyone who is eager to get rich has a hole in their relationship with God for He doesn’t need them to be rich, rather they need to be devoted to Him.  Devotion to God then leads to devotion to others for our devotion to God feeds our sense of compassion and love for all His creation as well as commands.

If, for example, someone claims to be devoted to God yet is completely careless of humanity, we can say authoritatively that this person missed out on godliness.  1 John 4: 20, 21 makes clear that our love for one another comes out our devotion to God, and if we cannot love our brother, then the love God is not in our hearts.

This is a radical difference from the popular piety that history has shown us growing in religious circles.  Many times we think that being religious in the Christian sense means just acting right rather than reaching out.  But this has never been the singular meaning of Christianity, for our very teaching (even in the OT) claims that if we do not reach out to our community, we don’t have the nature of God in us.  This should tell us a lot about the nature of God.

Paul then throws a monkey wrench into our soup by stating,  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

What?!!  Who can be content with just that?  The whole notion is ludicrous and illogical.

From a worldview, it is definitely outlandishly simplistic and over the top in devotion to an ideal.  Paul was told by Festus that he was mad from too much learning, just because he expressed some of these same points–including the resurrection of the dead.  But his view was and ours should be,  Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Arguing over who’s right about these things will never accomplish what we wish it would–namely convincing one who is unwilling to be.  So, Paul tells the church in another book and passage to learn to lead quiet lives that our example ought to speak louder than our words.  (See 1 Thessalonians 4: 11, 12.)  The effectiveness of our teaching is based not on words but a demonstration of godliness.  This will offend those who don’t want anything different to what they want to do–in other words control freaks who can’t stand anyone saying, being or doing anything differently than themselves.  In God’s view, however, we have just passed from death to life.

Thankfulness

July 21, 2008

Today I am just grateful for God’s continued presence, blessing and provision.  May be time and chance have just worked in my favor, I can’t prove it one way or another.  I know I lucked out by the grace of Providence being born into a good family, with a loving mother, a prosperous and open country that allows us to believe, practice our lifestyles and businesses, and we can move about our country with no interference or border patrols.

Yet may be those people who live with constant resistance are actually the blessed ones, for they must decide how serious they are about their choice to follow Jesus right out of the gate.  In many countries to serve Jesus means imprisonment or death if they are discovered or too overt about expressing it.  This places them at a clear crossroads which determines which way they will go; it also dictates that they study all the harder to know what they believe and why, because to commit to Christ may lose them all their possessions, family and social standing.

I am blessed because I have work, though I’m broke right now; blessed because I have seen in the past the impossible provision that comes from faith; blessed because this week I have a chance to see how God will come through yet again despite the circumstances that look so ominous.

GPF Sermon

July 20, 2008

The sermon tonight at Grace Point Fellowship was revealing, fascinating and informative.  And this all after my son kept getting up and running out of the room while I lead worship.  Both Jerome (pastor) and I had to close our eyes to focus.  But still his teaching struck home, at lest for me.

God is Personal

July 18, 2008

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7: 13, 14.

Hell’s gate is wide, impersonal and about mass destruction.  The narrow gate to life is about individuals, not just because few find it, but for the simple reason that God is our shepherd who counts us one by one.  The way to Hell is impersonal, detached and careless of the individual; the way to life is careful about each and every person that goes through it.

A wide gate allows many people through it; counting that many would take skill beyond my ability to accomplish.  The gate to life allows one to two through at a time because it’s narrow.  Jesus used this illustration to show not only the difficulty of being saved and how few find it, but to make sure we understood God’s personal interest in each one of us.  A sheep pen in his day would have a small gate for the animals to go through in order for the shepherd to count the sheep.  Now more than one sheep could enter at a time but the narrowness of it allowed the shepherd to keep track of who was present and who was missing.

To further emphasize my point let me give some references from Scripture:

Isaiah 40: 26; Revelation 3: 20; John 10: 3; Luke 15: 3-7.

And these are just a few references, there are many more, I assure you.  If God has the stars numbered (a thing astronomers can only approximate) and knows them each by name, we have a God that is intricately involved in His creation.  The act of standing at the door of our hearts, knocking, willing to come in and eat with us speaks volumes about how personal our God is in Jesus.  In the disciples day to eat with someone meant you were on personal terms with them–especially if you ate with them alone.  What would it mean for us if we knew that God considered us His children?  If He calls all His sheep by name, He knows mine and your’s.  For Him to go out after just one sheep on a rescue mission means so much in the argument for a personal God.

Those who argue against a personal god have a point, I guess, but not in the teachings of Christ.  God wants to be personal with us, it’s part of His nature for that is how He created us!

How does God get involved in our lives?  Is it through giving us everything we want or desire?  Isn’t that more like an impersonal Santa Claus who comes into our lives once a year?

Ask yourself this:  Do we give our children everything they ask for, allow them to go anywhere they want or teach them adult themes before they are ready?  Then why would God do any different?  To understand God even a little, we have to grow up to the faith of a child and get rid of childish ways.

Sounds like an oxymoron or dichotomy, but really it points to taking on the childlike faith and ridding ourselves of self-absorption.  I disagree with those who say we must be others centered, for that is a world view rather than a godly view.  Instead our view must be Christ centered.  All other people and issues must be filtered through this POV.

Last point:  If God is personal with His children and knows them each by name, what does that tell us we need to be with each other?

Between Stumbling and Falling

July 17, 2008

If the LORD delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.  Psalm 37: 23, 24.

If you knew me, you’d know that I would have to test this promise out.

It works for me–or otherwise I’m pretty damn lucky.  I have been in business since my brother’s business closed and have rarely been out of work more than a couple of days on average or a week at most.  Something always turns up.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I don’t experience my share of down times, what it does mean is that through all of the heavy days, I just choose to trust the promise of this God I serve.  After a long time of almost losing, falling on my face and looking like I’m gonna’ fail, I’m still working.  I believe it’s because He gives me the breaks.

Do I need to follow up on the leads He gives me?  Absolutely!  But I’ve gone one week to the next not knowing if I would work and out of the blue from nowhere I would have thought to even ask, a job turns up with just the right amount of money in it to help me survive.

Of course, I can’t make you believe it, it’s just happy coincidence to some of you.  But those who follow after Jesus with all their hearts know what I’m talking about and concur.  I don’t think of God working miracles for my sake or changing the way of the world to adjust it to me.  What He does do for me and anyone who serves Him is direct through His influence circumstances that meet the need.

I honestly don’t know how.

One thing I do know, by experience as a matter of fact, is that when I’ve looked like I was gonna’ fall on my face or bite the dust and gravel, I stayed on my feet.  Yeah, I wobbled, tottered and stumbled, but I didn’t eat rocks and that goes along with this promise David claims God makes to His children.  As I’ve read the Bible, I’ve concluded this God really likes us, that it’s more important to Him that we just live the best lives possible than it is to punish us, and finally that He’s well aware of how hard it is to live down here.  Jesus came in one of the best and most violent times  in history; we don’t think of His era as such but if you look at the history, it was.  The fact that this peaceful man grew out of that at all is simply a miracle to me.

I can’t imagine God “delighting” in my way all the time because I know I’m not always the best example of good Christian conduct.  Knowing this it is all the more interesting that God keeps me from skinning my nose.  I believe what He delights in is more the fact that I keep coming back to Him as my bottom line.  It can’t be due to my sinless life because that isn’t a fact at all.  It has to be something else and I think it has to do with the fact that I believe He’s right, the only one who’s right and love incarnate.

God holds me up through my failings and successes.  If He’ll do it for a nobody like me, He’ll do it for anyone.

The Art of Stillness, Patience and Waiting

July 16, 2008

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.  Psalms 37: 7, 8.

I’ve waited for many things I still have yet to receive.  One thing about not receiving I have learned is that stillness brings a certain amount of security to my head no matter what happens around or to me.  Ok, I know some will think I’m a fool for continuing to believe when my requests aren’t granted but I won’t stop just because I don’t get my way.  That would be childish and foolish.

The thought that we should refrain from anger and fretting leads me to think there’s a purpose to the waiting period.  The fact that both of these emotions and the state of mind they encourage leads to evil also impresses me to be think that being made to wait is also a part of the teaching.

I don’t do well with waiting.  I bring a book or entertain myself somehow someway.  This evidence of impatience makes me wonder whether or not I just need to suck it up or there’s something in the way of my finding whatever is in front of me.  Sometimes we just blind ourselves by being preoccupied with our thoughts and obsessions.  Ever been driving and had to slam on the breaks because your thoughts put you in another world so much you weren’t paying attention to the traffic?  Or missed that turn off and had to backtrack a couple of miles or more just to get the exit?

I think there is room for stillness, patience and waiting on the Lord.  While I don’t believe our lives are micromanaged by Him, I do believe in guidance and roadsigns along the way telling us,  “This is the way, walk in it!”  God isn’t gonna’ make our choices for us so we better listen up to the advice He does give or we might end up in  a world of pain or bogged down.

“In repentence and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”  Isaiah 30: 15.