Thursday, June 29, 2017


David Mathis post:  The Most Important Text on Marriage

June 29. We couldn’t help but enjoy all the free publicity Apple was giving to our special day.
It was the spring of 2007, and our upcoming wedding date was plastered on billboards and seemed to appear just about everywhere online and in print ads. Months before we had landed on this date for our wedding. But long before that, the tech giant had pinpointed June 29, 2007, for the much-celebrated release of a new device called the “iPhone.”
So, on the same day, ten years ago now, we debuted with the iPhone. We promised each other, “Till death do us part,” and thought we’d easily outlast this new iPod with a monthly phone bill. We’ll see. The iPhone may still be strong a decade later, but our for-life vows to each other are much firmer than a for-profit’s commitment to a product, even if it has sold more than a billionunits in ten years.

One, Simple, Impossible Verse

Ephesians 5:22–33 is the classic Bible text on marriage. It’s a critical place for Christian couples to regularly return to get their bearings. It’s often read at weddings, and often referenced in articles, sermons, and books on marriage. But in our ten years of marriage, it has not been the most significant biblical passage for us. If I had to pick one, it would come a few verses earlier, before the focus turns explicitly to marriage. It’s just one, simple verse:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Looking back on our ten years, what we have needed most hasn’t been the pointed charge to love and submit (important as they are!), or the popular vision of love in 1 Corinthians 13 (wonderful as it is!). And what we’ve needed most hasn’t been practical tips and techniques from veteran counselors and famous Christian couples. What we’ve needed most is to learn to be Christians — with all that entails — as we live with each other inside a covenant.
Even though Ephesians 4:32 isn’t explicitly about marriage, it’s been the single most important verse for us because it’s a penetrating summons to being Christian in a way that is especially poignant in the daily rough and tumble of marriage.

Be Kind to Each Other

As for marital tips and techniques, new research is discovering the power of what Ephesians 4:32 has said for almost two millennia. For the last four decades, psychologist John Gottman has been watching married couples — both “the masters” and “the disasters,” as he calls them. What makes the difference between a great marriage and a bad one? When Gottman boils it down to one thing, he says kindness.
Gottman and his wife have observed the regular “requests for connection” couples make to each other throughout any given day — call them “bids.” They are the small talk we make as we ride together in the car, or take a walk, or sit together over dinner. Each bid is an opportunity to “connect, however momentarily.” Spouses can respond to these bids for emotional connection by “turning toward” each other or “turning away.”
People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.” (“Masters of Love”)
But how do we cultivate such kindness when we have no simple switch just to turn it on? The Gottmans’ guidance only takes us so far. They commend ways to practice kindness: “being generous about your partner’s intentions” or “connecting over each other’s good news” (pursuing “shared joys”), but the researchers can’t drill much deeper than more specific external actions.
What’s missing is a pathway for internal transformation. How does an unkind heart change?


Where secular research comes to its end, God has more to say than simply “be kind.” Ephesians 4:32 doesn’t leave us at the level of behavior. Are kind words and actions essential? Absolutely. But where do they come from? Not mere willpower, but a tender heart.
We chose Colossians 3:12 as a reading at our wedding: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” God not only calls us to kind actions and words, but to a certain heart: a kind heart, a tender heart — what Colossians 3:12 calls “compassionate hearts.” God doesn’t mean for us to merely produce kind actions, but to have the heart to back it up.
The word for “tenderhearted” in Ephesians 4:32 appears twice in the New Testament. The other place is 1 Peter 3:8–9:
All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
It’s another spot-on text for marriage that’s not just about marriage, but the whole Christian life. Or to flip it around, the most common problem in “disaster” marriages, according to the Gottmans, is contempt. And contempt is in the heart. Beneath actions that are unkind, or “mean” (to talk in terms of a common marital complaint), is the feeling of deep frustration and low-grade anger called contempt. But a “tender heart” is the opposite of such inner hardness toward each other. Contempt produces meanness, but a “tender heart” or “compassionate heart” produces genuine kindness.
Ask yourself, is my prevailing heart-orientation toward my spouse one of compassion or frustration?

Forgiving One Another

Marriage in this age is always marriage to another sinner. Acknowledgment, confession, and forgiveness of sin will be a regular part of any authentic marriage. Expect to find something unforgiven beneath a heart of marital contempt.
Now, forgiveness is not the same as trust. Marriage is the most intimate of human relationships, and with that comes its explosive potential for betrayal and hurt. The call to forgive is not a call to feign trust. Sin has consequences; trust is quickly lost and slowly restored. But for the Christian, we never have a reason to withhold forgiveness.
No human, even our spouse, has wronged us as much as we have wronged God, and if we claim the name of Christ, we claim he has forgiven us.
Part of what it means for me as a husband to be head of our marriage is that God calls me to go ahead and apologize first. I cannot recall a single instance in ten years in which any tangle was totally her fault. In our spats, tensions, and run-ins, we’re not always equally at fault, but we both have been imperfect and sinful in some way. I always have some problem in me to identify and confess. My calling as a husband is not to save face, but have the egg on my face first.

What We’ve Needed Most

What makes the vision of Ephesians 4:32 distinctively Christian is those last six words: “. . . as God in Christ forgave you.” It all starts with our Father’s heart and actions of forgiveness toward us. Kindness toward each other begins with God’s kindness toward us in Christ. God has forgiven me, therefore I can forgive her. Therefore, my heart can be tender, compassionate — not just in general, but specifically toward her. Therefore, I can act with kindness.
Ultimately, it is the kindness of God that melts an unforgiving spirit, softens a hard heart, and transforms unkind actions.
What we’ve needed most in our ten years has been to be Christian toward each other. And what’s been most catalytic is kindness. Greater than any need for my wife to hear the charge to submit has been my hearing the charge to be kind to her — because of how kind God has been to me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Holy Presence

Deuteronomy 32:51-52The Message (MSG)

51-52 “This is because you broke faith with me in the company of the People of Israel at the Waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin—you didn’t honor my Holy Presence in the company of the People of Israel. You’ll look at the land spread out before you but you won’t enter it, this land that I am giving to the People of Israel.”

Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Will Complain Yet Praise

 Scott Hubbard post:  Learn How to Be Brought Low

You don’t need to be anyone special to know what it means to be brought low.
You don’t need to be Job to know that God gives and takes away (Job 1:21). You just need to know the heartsickness of hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12), or the bitterness of solitary pain (Proverbs 14:10), or the ache of God’s seeming silence (Psalm 13:1). In other words, anyone with a pulse knows what it means to be brought low.
But can we stand up, square our shoulders, and say with the apostle Paul, “I know how to be brought low” (Philippians 4:12)?
Can we say, “I know how to face financial disaster,” or “I know how to be betrayed,” or “I know how to endure years of chronic pain”? The words stick in my throat.

School of Faithful Suffering

There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to be brought low. We know that because he says a verse earlier, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
There was a time when Paul didn’t know how to give thanks from the dirt floor of a prison cell. But God taught him (Philippians 1:3–5). There was a time when he didn’t know how to rejoice when others in ministry stabbed him in the back. But God taught him (Philippians 1:17–18). There was a time when he didn’t know how to gaze at the blade of Caesar’s sword and say, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” But God taught him (Philippians 1:21).
And God can teach us. So, let’s take a seat in this bittersweet classroom and learn, with Philippians as our study guide, three lessons in being brought low.

1. God works wonders in the low places.

When Paul drafted his plan to evangelize the known world, he surely didn’t write at the top, “Get stuck in prison.” We can safely assume a jail cell didn’t fit neatly in his five-year personal ministry goals or church-planting strategies.
But it fit into God’s. And at some point, shackled to a Roman prison guard, Paul realized as much. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:12–13).
Paul’s imprisonment did not sabotage God’s plan to advance the gospel. Prison was God’s plan to advance the gospel. And the same is true for us. Being brought low may ruin our plans, but not God’s better, wiser, kinder plans for us. If we will learn how to be brought low, we will one day testify, “I want you to know, brothers, that this bankruptcy has really served to free me from money’s stranglehold.” Or, “I want you to know that this betrayal has really taught me how to forgive.” Or, “I want you to know that this sickness has fueled my hope for heaven like nothing else.”
It’s okay if you’re still too low to look back and chart the sweep of God’s good purposes over the expanse of your sorrow. But while you’re there, remember this, on the testimony of Scripture and a thousand saints: God works wonders when he brings us low.

2. Jesus knows the low places.

Perhaps the most painful part of being brought low is the loneliness. Even the most faithful comforters cannot plumb the depths of our sorrows, or always speak the right word in the right tone, or discern our ever-changing needs. But there is one who has promised, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). And he is one who knows the low places.
For us, being brought low is usually a passive experience. We’re thrown, dragged, and kicked into this pit; we don’t jump in ourselves. Who would choose this grief?
Jesus would. He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6–7).
Jesus traveled from the highest place to the lowest place on purpose. He left the praises of angels to face the scorn of men. He left the happiness of heaven to feel the horror of Gethsemane. He left the right hand of his Father to endure the forsakenness of the cross.
Jesus has seen every shade of sorrow, heard every tone of grief, and tasted every flavor of pain. So, as Zach Eswine writes, “When we search for someone, anyone, to know what it means to walk in our shoes, Jesus emerges as the preeminent and truest companion to our afflictions” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, 85).
The time will come when we’ll sit in the bright light of hindsight, and praise will cascade from our mouths in fountains. But until then, we are not walking this trackless waste alone. We have a man of sorrows who is acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3), and he leads our way.

3. God will raise you up from the low places.

But Jesus does more than comfort and console when he meets us in our pain. He also promises, with all authority in heaven and on earth, that we will not stay there.
Jesus embraced a lowly station, and he submitted to the lowliest death humans have devised — “even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) — but he did not stay low, and he did not stay dead. He rose up from his humiliation in a blaze of resurrection glory, and took his seat in the highest place, receiving from his Father “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
And now this King of heaven pledges to all who are his that he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21). Jesus’s living, glorified, death-conquering body declares that the low places do not last forever, that the grief of the tomb gives way to Easter gladness. Whereas God’s wonder-working power (lesson one above) assures us that he is doing good things right now that will bear fruit for this life, his promise to raise us up guarantees that one day we will be done with pain altogether. We will be done with being brought low.
When Jesus breathes life into your lowly body and raises it up in glory, you can be sure it’ll be the end to everything else that’s broken. Your poverty will turn to riches, your heartache to healing, your loneliness to steadfast love. You’ll finally gain Christ himself (Philippians 1:21–233:8). You’ll bow and sing beneath his lordship (Philippians 2:10–11). You’ll know the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10).
Your citizenship does not lie under this shadow of sadness, but in the bright skies of heaven, from which “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Grieve and Give Thanks

Those who know how to be brought low do not play the stoic, as if these lessons could shield us from the stabs of our sorrows. Instead, we move forward in faith, learning to let joy and sorrow mingle together in the same heart, learning what it means to feel, and speak, and act in a way that is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
We are not sorrowful only, as if this low valley has swallowed all that is high and lovely and good. Nor do we only rejoice, as if the valley is not really a dreadful place after all. No, we grieve and give thanks. We sob and we sing. We say with George Herbert, in his poem “Bittersweet,”
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

Don Carson Deuteronomy 26Psalms 117 — 118Isaiah 53Matthew 1
WHEN I WAS A BOY, a plaque in our home was inscribed with the words "This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Apart from the change from "hath" to "has," similar words are preserved in the NIV of Psalm 118:24.

My father gently applied this text to his children when we whined or complained about little nothings. Was the weather too hot and sticky? "This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Were the skies pelting rain, so we could not go out to play? "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." What a boring day (or place, or holiday, or visit to relatives)! "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Sometimes the words were repeated with significant emphasis: "This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

It is not that Dad would not listen to serious complaints; it is not that Scripture does not have other things to say. But every generation of Christians has to learn that whining is an affront against God's sovereignty and goodness.
But the text must first be read in its context. Earlier the psalmist expresses his commitment to trust in God and not in any merely human help (Ps. 118:8-9), even though he is surrounded by foes (Ps. 118:10). Now he also discloses that his foes include "the builders" (Ps. 118:22) — people with power within Israel. These builders were quite capable of rejecting certain "stones" while they built their walls — and in this case the very stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. In the first instance this stone, this capstone, is almost certainly a reference to a Davidic king, perhaps to David himself. The men of power rejected him, but he became the capstone.

Moreover, this result was not achieved by brilliant machination or clever manipulation. Far from it: "the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23). In his own day Isaiah portrays people who make a lie their refuge while rejecting God's cornerstone (Isa. 28:15-16). The ultimate instance of this pattern is found in Jesus Christ, rejected by his own creatures, yet chosen of God, the ultimate building-stone, and precious (Matt. 21:42; Rom. 9:32-33; Eph. 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-8) — a "stone" disclosed in all his true worth by his resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:10-11). Whether in David's day or in the ultimate fulfillment, this marvelous triumph by God calls forth our praise: This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24).