Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Heart of the Problem Is the Problem of the Heart

In Judges 16:15 Delilah pointed out that the failure to love in action was a heart problem. I know that is the problem I have. There is something in the way I think or the way I feel that often keeps me from having that commited will to act lovingly in the moment.

Jesus put it this way, "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders. These are the things which defile the man. I can readily admit that I have at least had thoughts of all of these sins. It shows me that there is something wretched and vile within me. As Jesus says, I'm defiled.

Meditating on that for awhile is a real eye opener. I have really stopped being amazed at how often evil thoughts or impulses arise. Yet, I also know that the Gospel gives us hope. I am not given the impression anywhere in Scripture that I just have to consign myself to a life of defeat and depression over continually being plagued by and falling to sin. That would be antithetical to the Gospel.

The Gospel offers hope to sinners. And that hope is not just justification and forgiveness of sin. I know that in more defeated times of my life I certainly have found comfort in the doctrine of justification; and what Christ has done for me is certainly motivation to live for Him. But I find that the Gospel also holds out hope for real change in this life as well.

The Bible speaks of transformation. 2 Cor 3:18 says, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

This verse indicates that as I gaze into the glory of Christ I am continually being transformed into Christlikeness. This is the ultimate goal of the believer in regards to change, to be like Christ in heart and thus, speech and action--love.

Paul tells us that he has confidence that God will carry this work on to completion (Phil 1:6). So, we can be sure that God is changing us and that we can change.

I know also that God has given us His Spirit to enable us to manifest this Christlikeness and produce love (Gal 5:22-23). What must change then is our hearts. By the Spirit the heart must be controlled, made gentle, faithful, good, kind, patient, peaceful, joyful, and loving.

The process of change is called repentance. More on that later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Does Biblical Love Look Like in Marriage?

Recently I was asked about what headship & submission look like in marriage and how I would counsel a couple going through certain problems. Here was my reply that I hope will be helpful to anyone pursuing love.

My counseling these days is very simple. Every problem in marriage boils down to one simple thing: a failure to love. I would not start with role relationships. The glue that holds marriage together, the oil that makes it work without friction, and the cleanser that makes it shine is love. Colossians 3:14 says that love is the perfect bond of unity.

What we all need more than anything is to learn how to love God and our neighbor. Our most opportune neighbor to love is our spouse. What I would do first is work through what biblical love is. There are many places to go for that, but my favorite place is 1 Cor 13:4-8a.

This passage is very familiar to us all, but I think that the key to our lives is to really see the beauty in what is described and desire it, evaluate our lives by it to see where we need to change to be more loving, request the gift of repentance, resolve and try to change, and rely upon God to sanctify us into more perfect lovers. And I would add that love is seen here as actions. Paul makes clear that if you just say you have love, but you don't really have the active love he is talking about then you are just making noise (clanging gong, clashing cymbal).

There are a lot of things listed in this passage, but the first two descriptions of love are the summary of all the others. Love is patient and love is kind. If we could just be patient with each other through no matter what we do and be kind in every action toward others, we would have wonderful marriages.

Patience involves basically putting up with the other person no matter what they do (now of course there are things that have to have legal or discipline, or other types of consequences, but short of those), the overarching passive response is patience. It involves restraint, self-control, and unselfishness. Patience also involves believing the best and hoping for change.

The other side of love is kindness. This is the active side of love. It should characterize our speech and actions. It involves gentleness, tenderness, compassion, mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, etc. It is just treating someone nice in all of the ways that you can do that.

Now the way that Paul proceeds shows us that if we are going to be patient and kind it is going to involve self-denial, a death to self has to occur. This is what I constantly bear in mind each day. How do I need to die right now so that I can love better next time? Just as Jesus' love was displayed in death, I must die to my selfish desires.

He gives eight ways:

1) Love is not jealous, so I need to die to my desires to have what others have or to have no objects of shared affection.
2) Love does not brag, so I need to die to my desire to talk about myself in a way that I get the glory or look better than others.
3) Love is not arrogant, so I need to die to my desire to be made much of or to think of myself as better than others in anything.
4) Love does not behave rudely, so I need die to my desire to act in a way that unnecessarily offends others.
5) Love does not seek its on way, so I need to die to the desire to be dominated by my own preferences.
6) Love is not provoked, so I need to die to the desire to live a frustration free life.
7) Love does not keep a record of wrongs, so I need to die to my desire to hold a grudge, bring up past wrongs, or not forgive.
8) Love does not rejoice in iniquity, so I need to die to my desire to enjoy any sinful attitude or action against anyone.

Finally Paul ends with 4 statements of hyperbole to emphasize that love must dominate our lives by bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things. Again these are just patience & kindness.

Once I have a couple really working on loving each other by examining themselves, dying to selfishness, and practicing love by patience & kindness, then I show them that God's will for our lives involves being imitators of Him. Ephesians 5 starts with that. Then it goes on to teach how we are to imitate Him in His love, His light (or holiness), and His wisdom. This imitation is accomplished in our lives as we pursue it by being filled by the Holy Spirit (5:18). It is in this context of Spirit produced love, light, and wisdom, being imitators of God and His Son Jesus Christ that we then finally can enter into a discussion of roles. And these roles are simply examples he gives of Spirit filled imitation of God in His wisdom, light, and love.

It is no wonder then that as God says that a husband is his wife's head he simply commands him to love her. I certainly believe that being head in the context implies authority, and there are other passages that make him responsible to lead, protect, manage, oversee, take care of, etc., but what a man first needs to grasp is that his ultimate leadership is to lead in loving--that is--being patient and kind. Then in the context he needs to lead in wisdom and holiness.

I think a crucial thing which is part of that is for him to value his wife as his helper. God providentially arranged that his wife would be packaged with certain wisdom, knowledge, gifts, abilities, talents, interests, and insights, that he would need to accomplish what God has called him to do for the glory of Christ. He must become skilled at drawing these things out of her and unleashing her full potential or he is acting foolishly. This is what I strive for. I don't want to miss anything she has to give.

Now, after all of this, (and even more I would go into), we can talk about submission. I think it is essential to see that in the Greek the word for submit is actually a participle that is in a string of participles that all go back to modify being filled with the Spirit. These are all results of the Spirit's filling. A wife's submission is simply one of God's designed results of her walking in love, wisdom, & light being filled by the Spirit.

She simply treats her husband with love, manifested by patience and kindness, as she understands that God has placed her in a relationship where her husband has authority over her and she is called to respect him as that authority, but it should be kept in mind that she is really ultimately serving the Lord by doing so.

One very important thing to point out is that it is NOT the husbands responsibility to make his wife submit. She must do this voluntarily. This is her responsibility. He is simply called to love her. Likewise, it is not the wife's responsibility to make her husband love her. He has to do that. When a husband will not love her properly she should follow 1 Peter 3:1-6 and seek to win him through love, wisdom, and holiness which manifests itself there by a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in the sight of God.

What is ultimately at stake in our loving headship and loving submission is the picture of the gospel to the world. Eph 5:32 indicates that marriage is really ultimately about portraying the relationship of Christ to His Church.

So, finally I think that headship looks like this: a husband loving his wife with patience and kindness, leading in loving God and loving others, walking in love, light and wisdom, seeking to promote her growth in grace and wanting to gain from her in every way that God designed her to be a helpmate, recognizing her value as a gift, partner, and co-laborer. Submission relies upon the Holy Spirit to see her husband as her God ordained leader, respect him as that, and in love, light, and wisdom, submitting all that she has and all that she is to her husband to help him in all that God has called him to do. Letting him know all of her wisdom, knowledge, talents, gifts, resources, strengths, weaknesses etc, to complete him yet being willing to let him bear the ultimate responsibility for their family's leadership.

In practice it involves a lot of communication, listening, reading the word and prayer together as we seek to simply treat each other with patience and kindness. There have been a few times where I have had to ask her to just trust me in certain decisions and to ultimately trust God to lead her through me and to deal with me whatever the consequences, but most of the time it involves a mutual agreement.

Friday, March 7, 2008

An Opportunity to Love the Government God Has Given Us

A California Court just made a ruling that basically outlaws homeschooling in California. This of course affects us and we will be very interested to see what happens regarding the law and the appeals process. Already various homeschool families and legal entities are responding with outrage, fear, legal action, etc. It is understandable. But what is so important is to see that this is an opportunity to love those in authority over us and love those who may not understand why we do what we do. How do we manifest patience & kindness toward the courts, truancy officers, reporters, lawyers, legislators, etc.?

I have posted Al Mohler's blog about this situation below:

A Bolt From the Blue -- A Homeschooling Decision in California

Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008 at 4:08 am ET
Like a bolt from the blue, a California appeals court has ruled that the state's parents have no constitutional right to homeschool their own children. In a flash, a child welfare case that no one had noticed has become a flash point of controversy in the nation. Will homeschooling be ruled illegal in California?

Here is how The San Francisco Chronicle introduced the story:

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.

The homeschooling movement never saw the case coming.

"At first, there was a sense of, 'No way,'" said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. "Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation."

From The Los Angeles Times:

Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California's home schooling families. Advocates for the families vowed to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Enforcement until then appears unlikely, but if the ruling stands, home-schooling supporters say California will have the most regressive law in the nation. "This decision is a direct hit against every home schooler in California," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents the Sunland Christian School, which specializes in religious home schooling. "If the state Supreme Court does not reverse this . . . there will be nothing to prevent home-school witch hunts from being implemented in every corner of the state of California."

The court's decision states that California's compulsory education statute does not allow for parents to teach their own children as an exemption. Instead, the only teachers qualified to teach children under the law are those with official teaching credentials.

The decision is sending shockwaves across the homeschooling movement nationwide. In California alone, over 160,000 families homeschool their own children. Some believe that the number is actually far higher.

In any event, the requirement of teacher credentials has long been used by the public school systems and teacher unions as a ploy to shut down competition.

In the most important section of the court's ruling, the 3-judge panel ruled that California parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children. As the decision reads [see
full text here]:

The trial court's reason for declining to order public or private schooling for the
children was its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home. However, California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children. Thus, while the petition for extraordinary writ asserts that the trial court's refusal to order attendance in a public or private school was an abuse of discretion, we find the refusal was actually an error of law.
The words, "parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," are nothing less than explosive. Even as the court's decision is expected to be stayed pending appeal, some parents are already making clear that they will move their families from the state if necessary.

As The Los Angeles Times reports:
Glenn and Kathleen, a Sacramento-area couple who requested that their last name not be used for fear of prosecution, home school their 9-year-old son Hunter because their Christian beliefs would be contradicted in a public school setting, Glenn said. He is troubled by the idea that his son would be exposed to teachings about evolution, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and sex education ."I want to have control over what goes in my son's head, not what's put in there by people who might be on the far left who have their own ideas about indoctrinating kids," he said. If the ruling takes effect, Glenn vowed to move his family out of state. "If I can't home school my son in California, we're going to have to end up leaving California. That's how important it is to me."

This is a controversy that demands the attention of all parents. After all, if parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent's choices for their own children lack protection? This question reaches far beyond educational decisions.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Learning Love From A Can of Green Beans

As I sit at the dinner table tonight I know that there is a half empty can of green beans sitting on the kitchen counter that needs to be put away. I cannot quite see it from where I sit, but I know that it is probably still there. Of course there is no guarantee because you can never tell what will happen in this house. I am aware of the green bean can because it has taunted me all day long. I am not quite sure when it appeared or who opened it, who knows maybe I even opened it, but I have seen it several times today in passing and I have remembered it from a distance on numerous occasions.

You might be saying, "Why don't you just get up and put it away?" Well, the reason is that I am certain that between my departure from the table and my arrival at the kitchen there would be some interruption and a string of circumstances that would have my next conscious thought arise in some place like the back yard, garage, street, or head in the refrigerator wondering, "What am I doing here?" or "What was I looking for?"

No, I am not a total lunatic, nor do I have Alzheimer's, I have just been keeping seven of my children for the past five days while my wife is in Alabama visiting her parents. The green bean can has special significance for me for two reasons. First, it represents my own inadequacy and inability to accomplish all that I am called to do in this task. Second, because it teaches me how to love my wife in a more understanding way.

You see, I remember coming home from work one day a few months ago and seeing a half empty can of green beans sitting on the counter. As we were putting kids to bed I passed through the kitchen and mentioned to my wife the presence of the can and asked how long it has been out and whether it should still be put away. She said, "I think it has been there since lunchtime." I remember thinking, "I wonder why she didn't put it away," but I didn't say anything. I knew that she was extremely busy and decided that I would just be understanding and take care of it myself. I thought I understood then, but now I really do understand.

I serve as the Dean of a seminary where I also teach language classes. Last Wednesday I taught & administered seminary education from 7:30 AM to 5:40 PM. Then I took my son to basketball practice and headed home to teach my Bible study. After the study we put our children to bed and then I headed to the SF airport to send my wife to Alabama. I finally arrived home about 1:30 AM. So, needless to say, I started this whole adventure very tired. But that is okay. It dawned on me this week that my wife does this all the time. She is often up early and retires late, constantly working. I was simply feeling what she does regularly.

Then it started. I entered the adventure with the naive thought that I would still accomplish my work from home while homeschooling and taking care of the children. I soon relinquished that dream. Very quickly the realization that this was more than a full time endeavor seized me. Now, five days later as I prepare to pick up my dear wife from the airport I have come to understand her very much better. In 1 Peter 3:7 it says for husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. This is my endeavor by the power of the Spirit and the grace of Christ.

Walking a mile in someone else's shoes definitely goes a long way to help you understand them and learn how to love them better (being patient and kind). This week I have experienced the types of burdens my dear wife carries - the weight she feels of being concerned with homeschooling seven children . . . are they learning? . . . am I doing a good job . . . is CPS going to show up and take them away . . . am I doing what is the wisest? - the concern over their character . . . reading to them, disciplining, discussing -- holding them accountable for their responsibilities and chores, three meals a day . . . are they eating well . . . giving out medication . . . making sure the guinea pig and the fish don't die . . . the cooking . . . the cleaning . . . getting them to swim team and basketball practice, changing diapers (7 times a day), getting them up, putting them to bed, overseeing their hygiene (brushing teeth, doing hair, getting dressed, taking baths, wearing deodorant), managing the mountains of laundry, the washing, the drying, the sorting, the folding, the putting away . . . living through the very simple constant demands --the questions, the requests, the social agenda of each child, the whining, the rebellion, the hugs and kisses, the hurts, bumps, and bruises . . . being the nurse . . . going to buy necessary clothes, supplies, food, etc. . . . cleaning up spills and bathroom accidents . . . getting them up and ready for church on time, doing pew training, . . . And this list could go on and on. I found that often I experienced unexplained fears and surges of emotion.

While I was at home I didn't even have to concern myself with homeschooling the youngest school age children because she had finished their work up through my days with them. I also did not have to be concerned with pleasing and serving a husband as she does.

Besides all of these things my wife also somehow does discipleship, ministers to people in various ways, answers e-mails, writes a blog, engages in photography, graciously handles interruptions, and TAKES CARE OF ME all while maintaining her spiritual devotion to Christ.

In the midst of my adventure many things went undone. The first thing that went out the window was any time or energy spent on myself. I didn't even think about shaving for four days. It was hard to find time to eat, get dressed or go to the bathroom. The newspapers piled up in the driveway, I cleaned no bathrooms, did not clean out the fridge, did very little yard work, and no extra things around the house. and there is the weight of looking at the things you cannot accomplish like putting away a green bean can. So it was easy to see how some things just never get done.

Let me say here, to exonerate my children, that they were very helpful throughout the five days. They have been taught to do many things, but even then there is the weight of overseeing their work in their responsibilities.

After all of this, it would be an understatement to say that I marvel at how well my wife takes care of all of her charge. She truly is an excellent wife far more valuable than rubies. I feel that many daughters have done nobly, but she excels them all. I will praise her to her face, before the children, and in the gates. But I marvel even more at what Christ can do in a life. I marvel at His grace, because having experienced a small slice of her life I marvel that she would not only be able to do this and do it well all the time, but that it is her choice to do this and she loves it and would choose nothing else. She serves her Lord in this way every day with joy.

I think I understand my wife better and her needs. I need to be constantly vigilant in remembering to pray for my dear wife, to encourage her, to give her rest and breaks, to give her adult conversation, to rescue her out of her burdens, to treat her to dates, to find ways to help her, to support her with the children, to demand nothing, to treat her with extra special graciousness, gentleness, tenderness, and affection.

One last thought that occurred to me during this process was how difficult it must be to be a single parent. My heart is broken to think of doing this all without a partner. Again, how amazing the grace of our loving Lord must be to enable single parents to persevere and even have great joy in raising children without other help. Lord make us all more understanding and compassionate toward each other. Teach us how to minister to each other.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Learning Love From Samson and Delilah (Part 2)

Despite the fact that Samson's three recorded "love" relationships leave very little to be desired regarding an example to emulate, his third fling actually gives amazing insight into the key to genuine love. We have a cycle of Delilah asking Samson how he can be bound; he lies; she tries; he breaks loose. Then Delilah makes this statement: "How can you say, 'I love you,' when your heart is not with me?"

She sees an inconsistency between his saying, "I love you," and his lying. She diagnoses the problem with his inconsistency as related to the heart. It reminds me of Henry Krabbendam who I once heard say in his deep golden voice, "The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart."

Now never mind that the same thing could be said of Delilah, after all she is trying to betray him, but she really does get to the heart of the problem. If you look at the references to the heart in the OT you get the idea that the heart is a way of referring to your mission control center--the place in the core of your immaterial man that includes all of your thinking, willing, & feeling; and action comes from how you think, will, and feel. So we learn from Delilah that the kind of love that we want is one that will start in the heart. She wants Samson to think, will, and feel, about her in such a way that his actions are consistent with his profession of love towards her. Isn't that the kind of love we want to have? Isn't that the kind of love we want to give?

That is the kind of love God has toward us and the kind of love He calls us to and empowers believers to demonstrate in Christ by His Spirit.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Interim Post - Keeping Kids

I plan to follow up with the Samson story soon, but I am in the midst of keeping seven children while Myra goes to Alabama for five days to see her family. It is times like these when I am reminded what a wonderful, patient, incredibly hardworking woman she is -- a precious gift!