Monday, January 16, 2017

Following Blues - Part 2

...yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you...
Genesis 3:16

As hard as it is to submit, knowing that it is God's will for wives to follow their husband's lead should be enough for us to choose to do it.  But God wants more than forced obedience.  He wants you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  So spending some more time on the submission command may give us more insight and understanding to our calling.

What I want to focus on today is why submission is so hard.  We think we know why it's so hard and here's what we tell ourselves:
  • I know more than him in this situation
  • He's not seeing the big picture
  • I don't trust his instincts
  • He's blown it before
  • He doesn't know what he's talking about
  • I'm smarter than he is
  • He's not trustworthy
  • This is not how my parents did it
  • We are equals in this home 
  • I make more than he does, he can follow my lead every once in a while
  • I don't know another woman who would put up with this
  • What? Submit?  Have you met my husband?
These are excuses but not the real reason why submission is so hard for women.  The real reason is given to us in the third chapter of the Bible, where God records the story of humanity's fall from grace.  There are a lot of things about this story that I'd love to know, but we aren't given every inflection and every detail.  For example, it says, "...she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate...", so how was he with her?  Was he there for the whole conversation?  I think I want the answer to be yes, just so that there is complicity in the act, but that's just me trying to make women less guilty.  

Which leads me to the actual reason why submission is so difficult.  In Genesis 3:16-19, God is laying out the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin.  For Adam, to provide for his family will now be hard work and not the joy that God intended.  We see this in our society's attitude toward work - we hate it.  We long for three-day weekends.  Work less, play more is our mantra.  And the truth is, all over the world, to provide and care for a family is hard.  Not only does the ground not produce as it should, but people are dishonest and mean.  The competitive work environment is not meant for unity and growth, but for self-promotion.  To get ahead you have to be willing to fight for what's yours and sometimes take what is not.  

For women, the consequence of sin is different.  It's two-pronged.  First is the difficulty of bearing children.  This is not simply the pain of childbirth, but all the complications that come from being able to bear a child:  periods, cramping, infertility, high blood pressure, low iron levels, menopause, labor and delivery complications, stitches, hysterectomies, ectopic pregnancies, tilted uterus - and the list goes on and on.  All of these things are not God's perfect plan for the female body, but because of sin and the brokenness of even our genetics, there is much pain and sorrow.

But the second prong is why we struggle to submit.  God said, "Your desire will be for your husband and he shall rule over you."  Our desire, what we want more thank anything, deep down, at the core of who we are - our desire is to rule over our husband but God is keeping him in his created place, as the head of the family.  Man's headship is not a consequence of the fall - it was a pre-sin assignment.  God created woman in a helper role and in a perfect world, it would still be our calling to willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority.  But because of sin, we now have this inner, fleshly force, pushing against his rule.

Submission is hard because our sin nature is so strong.  I know many of us think that since we've been saved, all our sin has magically disappeared but all we have to do is take a look in the mirror when our husbands make a decision we don't like and we'll find it bubbling to the surface.  That inner turmoil, that voice that lists out why we shouldn't follow his lead is our sin nature talking.  

Sigh.  Take a breath, ladies.  And then, when your done arguing in your mind why this is not true, let the actual truth sink in.  Our wrestling with God's command is that inner struggle that Paul described in Romans 7, where he says, "...For the good that I want, I do not do, but practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me..."  

The struggle is real.  We want to obey the Lord and everything in us is fighting against it.  We talk ourselves out of obedience, justifying our defiance rather than humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord and before our husbands, knowing that it is our sin nature that we are truly wrestling with.  

I love how Paul reconciles his struggle:  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!  There's our answer, ladies.  We must take our eyes from the horizontal position and get them on Jesus.  We must close our ears to the droning of our sin nature and listen the Spirit. And we are able to do this because Jesus broke the chains of our bondage to sin.  We have another voice to hear because of His mercy and sacrifice.  

So for those of you who don't think you have this problem, when you come upon a disagreement with your husband, write down what you are saying in your head, word for word.  When you are done, compare your thoughts to God's call, Wives, be subject to your husbands as unto the Lord, and determine, are the thoughts in my head of God or of my flesh?  The answer to that might surprise you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saved to Serve

It is the Lord God whom you serve.
Colossians 3:24

I am sharing my teaching this year with my daughter, Katherine.  What a joy it is to watch her grow, not just in her teaching skills but in her study of the Word.  This year we are using material that I had put together years ago but for next year, we are working on a new study.  So here's what happens, as we study we call each other, all excited about what we're learning and it is at that moment that I experience the joy of my daughter's love for the Lord!

So today I have one nugget from my study that I just have to share.  I am not worried that I am jumping the gun for next year because I am pretty sure you will all forget it by next year, but it's a matter of perspective that I think, heading into the new year, would be valuable for all of us.

When Moses went before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Israelites he famously said, "Thus says the Lord, Let My people go!"  He said it over and over and over.  Songs have been written about it and if you walked up to a stranger on the street, he could probably tell you what Moses said, as well.  

But did you know that is only the first half of the command from God? The whole quote is, "Thus says the Lord, "Let My people go, that they may serve Me."  Hmmm...a little different than what we originally thought.  When we think of God's saving of Israel, it was from slavery to freedom, right?  

Kind of, but not exactly.

God wanted Israel free to serve Him.  In captivity not only were they serving Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, but they were serving false gods.  Four hundred years had passed and though they cried out to the Lord, their hearts were turning form the God of their fathers to the gods of Egypt.  And the Lord said, Enough is enough!  He wanted them out of Egypt and He wanted their eyes back on SERVE Him.

We all serve someone.  We either serve God or we serve ourselves or Satan or others. Every choice we make is one of service.  When you choose to watch a certain movie or listen to certain music or friend certain people on FB or pick out an outfit or make a meal - it is in the service of someone.  The question to ask yourself is who, who am I serving with this decision.

The scriptures are clear.  If you are a child of the King, you serve the King.  If you are not a child of the King, you serve Satan.  I John 3:10 says, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."  Ephesians 5:22 tells wives to be"...subject to their own husbands, as unto the Lord."  When we willingly place ourselves under our husband's authority, it is an act of service to the Lord.  Even in Colossians above we see that our service in all things is service to our King.  

So when God wanted the children of Israel to leave Egypt, it was to serve Him.  They were saved so that they could change masters, serve another freely without the bondage of a godless king's constraints.  This is true in our lives today, as well.  When the Lord saves us, He saves us to be free to worship Him without the constraints of our previous, godless master, Satan.  Are we free to run into His throne room and approach the Father as a loved child? Absolutely yes, but the child still is serving the Father by the choices he makes.

As we start this new year, let's remember Who we serve.  Our obedience is service, not to the church or to our spouse or to our family or to our neighbors, but service to the Lord.  And if it truly is service to the Lord, then we should give our very best and be VERY careful to be thorough in what He commands us to do.  We have been freed from the bonds of darkness, from not being able to know or love or comprehend God at all.  Because of that freedom, we now can serve the Lord with gladness, we can come into His presence with great song, knowing that our Lord, our Master...He is God.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

New Year, Same God

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

A new year.  

A clean slate, right?  Well, maybe not a clean slate but a new opportunity to make some changes.  Well, maybe not a new opportunity, because actually every day is a new opportunity to make changes.  But a new year for some reason feels like a new start, so why not run with it?

I've heard people say they want to get in shape, lose weight, start exercising, read through the whole Bible this year, read some books on their list, travel, pay off debt, find the man of their dreams - there's a whole lot of adventures that lie ahead in 2017.  The one thing no one has said is this:  I want to be exactly the same on Jan. 1st, 2018 as I am today.  There is something depressing about that.  We want to be better, more experienced, not in the same place, richer and fuller, and perhaps a bit skinnier by next year.

This is just another example of how we are not like God at all.  He doesn't sit around and long for a better version of Himself, a richer life or deeper relationships.  He is God and He never changes..and it never gets old.  That might sound boring to you but I have to admit, it's the fundamental character trait of God that we build our faith upon - His immutability.

If God would change, then His Word would be outdated.  What the Bible reveals about the character of God from thousands of years ago would be null and void, because He'd be different.  What the Bible teaches about roles and duties would be null and void, as well, because God would have possibly changed His mind about those things.  And what the Bible instructed about relationships would be worthless, because God might have decided to handle things differently by now.  

But God is immutable.  He is unchangeable.  Therefore what He has revealed about His character and His will is never changing, as well.  We can have confidence as we see His holiness in scripture, that He is the same today as He was in the past.  What He has revealed to us is exactly who He is today and will be forever.  He is perfect, pure and holy and completely consistent today with those attributes as He has been in eternity past.  

So as we seek to make changes, let us remember the goodness of our God.  Let us review His activity in our lives this past year and long for His hand to shape and mold us in 2017 in even greater ways.  Let us seek His word and long for the consistency of character that we see in Him.  

One more note:  it's never boring with God.  Consistency of holy character is a wonderful existence and  immutable does not mean a lack of newness.  As far as excitement, how can it get better than this:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; 
for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, 
and there is no longer any sea.  
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, 
coming down out of heaven from God, 
made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.  
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, 
saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, 
and He will dwell among them, 
and they shall be His people, 
and God Himself will be among them, 
and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
and there will no longer be any death; 
there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; 
the first things have passed away."  
And He who sits on the throne said, 
"Behold, I am making ALL THINGS NEW."   

Revelation 21:1-5

Happy New Year, friends.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Difficult Counselor

He shall be called Difficult Counselor...

Isaiah 9:6

We have to be fair.  If we're going to use "wonderful" in place of "difficult" in the story of Sarah, let's see if they can be exchanged in a descriptor of Jesus, since as we learned in our last post, they are the same word in Hebrew.

For those who have tasted of the goodness of God's grace and mercy, we quickly and clearly testify that He is a WONDERFUL Counselor.  His words bring healing.  His words bring peace.  His words transform every aspect of our lives.  He is wonderful and we want no other voice in our ears but His.

But it is also true that He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  I would be lying if I did not agree that this statement is true.  But let me be clear on this - His counsel is difficult because of my sin nature.  My sin nature is incredibly self-focused and selfish.  I am totally self-conscious, as in completely conscious of what I want, what I need, what I think will make me happy and what I demand from myself and those around me.  That's my existence because of sin.  

Salvation defeats this nature and gives me a new identity.  My new identity is encapsulated in my Savior.  I want to be like Jesus, because He has given me life.  It's not my flesh that is now ruling my heart, but it's Jesus - He is alive in me and guess what, He's a pretty sacrificial guy.  He's giving and loving and patient and kind and merciful and honest goes on and on.  And He's not sinful, fleshly or selfish.  So when my sin nature shows up, and trust me, it does, His counsel is right in my face, telling me to deny my natural tendencies and follow Him.

Therein lies the rub.  This is why He is a DIFFICULT Counselor.  His words can be hard to hear, almost like the one on top of the mountain, instructing the struggling climber on what to do next.  But like that instructor, He's been there and He knows.  So listening and acting on His counsel, while it may be hard, it is the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the most rewarding and the most Christlike way to live.  

What are some of the hard things Jesus says as our Counselor?  Glad you asked. Here's a list from one sermon found in Matthew:
  • Anger is murder - 5:21
  • Don't offer anything to the Lord with outstanding issues - go reconcile first -5:23,24
  • Lust is adultery - 5:27
  • Radically amputate whatever causes you to sin - 5:29,30
  • Divorce can lead to adultery in the sight of God - 5:32
  • Be a man of your word - 5:33-37
  • Turn the other cheek, be generous with your enemy- 5:39-42
  • Sacrificially love your enemies - 5:44
  • Give quietly - 6:1-4
  • Be sincere in your prayers - 6:7
  • Be a fantastic forgiver - 6:14,15
  • Fast privately - 6:17,18
  • Serve Jesus, not money - live with an eternal perspective - 6:19-24
  • Do not be worried - 6:25
  • Seek God first in all things - 6:33
  • Don't be judgmental - 7:5
  • Be careful with the gospel - 7:6
  • Pray sincerely - know your Father well - 7:7-11
  • Treat people how you want to be treated - 7:12
  • Be a fruit producer, a fruit inspector and take your calling seriously - 7:13-27

Looking at the list, you might think what He tells us to do isn't that hard.  That tells me that you are not dangling on the line right now.  But you will be and when you are hanging there, struggling, thinking there's no way out of your predicament, your best option is to stop wrestling with your flesh and just do what He says.  Remember, He is not only a difficult counselor but a wonderful one!

As you head into the Christmas holiday, may the words of the old prophet Isaiah ring true in your heart...