Monday, February 15, 2010

The devotion for Hannah's bridal shower

Someone asked me to put the talk I gave at my friend's bridal shower this weekend on my blog...for those of you who are interested, here it is (at least this is what I took with me...I always ad lib a bit):

     Thank you for giving me the privilege of sharing a few words at your shower.  What an exciting time this is in your life!  Proverbs 14:1 tells us “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands.”  Building a house is no easy undertaking, but it is what you are signing up to do.  With such a statement concerning a woman’s power to wisely build or foolishly destroy, it shouldn’t surprise us that there is a great deal that could be said to encourage you as you begin your marriage; so many different directions this talk could go.  As I’ve prayed about what to share, a few main ideas kept returning to my mind so I will focus our time today on those.
     You and Zack plan to marry soon.  You’ll begin to walk through this life in the context of a covenant relationship you’ve never experienced before.  There will continue to be many voices bombarding you with ideas of what that should look like, what your experience should be, and how you should be feeling.  My first word of encouragement would be for you to lend your ear with loyalty to the voice of God’s word and the leading of your own husband.  Your friends, neighbors and extended family may offer all kinds of bits of wisdom for you, well intended and very often worthy of your consideration.  BUT if you want unity and contentment in your relationship with Zack (which I am confident you do), make it your practice to run other people’s input by him, maintaining a heart that desires to follow your own husband’s leadership, keeping the truths of God’s Word your united anchor.   Godly people have opinions about everything: budgeting, communication, date nights, family size, diet, and every other topic under the sun; and those opinions are not all the same.  If God adds children to your family, the list of topics begin to include discussions of whether to immunize or not, schooling options, and all kinds of other things you may not even have imagined could be controversial yet (even within your own circle of friends).  It is pretty amazing how quickly you can find yourself drowning in a sea of confusion, and at such times you need to remind yourself that your Father is heaven has told us that He is not the Author of confusion.  He makes it clear that you are to follow Him and to submit yourself to your own husband.  You and Zack together will face many decisions and once you have unity on a matter, and it is in accord with God’s word, walk it out with confidence and in dependence upon God whose grace is always sufficient.  My mom used to say that “every couple needs to learn how to dance with each other.”  I think that’s right.  We serve an amazingly creative God who has filled the earth with variety that pleases Him.  One couple’s dance may be like a God-honoring Waltz while another couple may dance the Christ-exalting Tango together.  That’s part of the fun...enjoy the variety of godly couples you build relationships with.  And learn from them.  But seek your unity with Zack and let your marriage shine for Christ in the dance He’s ordained for you. 
     The next encouragement I would give you comes from the passage 1 Tim 6:6-10 which says: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  Money itself isn’t the problem.  Ecclesiastes teaches that money answers everything (10:19).  Greed is the issue, and the remedy for it is repentance and the exercise of godliness with contentment.  Chew on this, especially as a young married woman who will be living in the context of American fog that screams from every nook and cranny: “get it now; you deserve it.”  Remember your Father is the One who gives and withholds, all for your good.  We’re in an impatient McDonald’s culture that wants what it wants immediately and wants it their own way.  So be countercultural for the glory of God.  Practice patience and contentment and live each day with a love for God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Watson in his book All Things for is: “If it is good for us, we shall have it; if it is not good for us, then the withholding of it is good.”  This quote, along with the Timothy text, has helped me often to receive what God, in His wisdom, has given with thanksgiving, without throwing what looks very much like a two year olds fit over not getting something I want when I want it.  This is a wonderful way to bless your husband who wants to give you good things, but does not always have the means to give you everything you may want (like a home with acreage right away, and maybe never) see you trusting God’s timing and provision, and being content with what you have, can encourage him to do the same, and together this will help transform the sphere of influence God places you in.  God will give you what you need to accomplish all He is calling you to do.  Michael Card sings a song titled “Things we leave behind”...its chorus reminds us that:
Every heart needs to be set free
From possessions that hold it so tight
‘Cause freedom’s not found in the things that we own
It’s the power to do what is right
With Jesus, our only possession
Then giving becomes our delight
And we can’t imagine the freedom we find
From the things we leave behind.
     There is great truth in those words.  Don’t allow yourself to become consumed about “stuff” about loving and enjoying Zack and serving the Lord together with him.  Remember Whose you are, that Jesus purchased you with His own blood, that He’s promised to never leave you nor forsake you, that He does not withhold anything that is good for you, and that you have exactly what you need to live a life honoring to Him alongside your husband with joy.  These are good things to think about when discontentment attempts to work itself into your heart. 
     In Titus 2:4-5, part of the sound doctrine Paul tells Titus to speak directs older women to teach “the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”  What a joy it is for me to be married to a man who understands His God-given role of protecting and providing and nurturing what God has given him...I’m so thankful that Zack seeks to be such a man for you.   And you get the joy of loving him and making a home for him (and any children God may add to your family) in a way that honors God.  That sounds so happy and easy, doesn’t it?  In many ways it is, but sin and circumstances will provide challenges along the way.  Hannah, I know from my own relationship with you that you’ve already made friends with at least this semi-older woman.  I encourage you to continue to cultivate relationships with godly women older than yourself, whose lives you note as worthy of imitation, because they can be a great aid to you in this journey of love.  Take initiative to involve yourself in their lives and learn from them how to better love your husband, to love children, to manage the affairs of your home, to make your home (in unity with your husband) a base of ministering life and hope in Christ to as many as God brings across your path.   I’m 44 and still learning from the experience and wisdom of friends older than me...these friendships are gifts from God, but they often require initiative to open them up and enjoy them.  Cultivate such teachable, humble, observe, ask questions, offer your help when opportunities present themselves as a way of interacting and serving the body of Christ...then discuss what you glean along the way with Zack, like I mentioned earlier, so the two of you can decide what is useful to graft into your own practices.  
     A few days ago, on my Face-book status, I asked the question: “What one thing would you say to a soon-to-be bride to encourage her to start her marriage well?”  There were quite a few responses; here are some of them (paraphrased):
§         Encourage him
§         Extend grace
§         Always make time to welcome him home from work
§         Tell him how much you appreciate him
§         To remember you are held by the love of God through the good times and the more challenging
§         Don’t go to bed angry at each other
§         Leave thank you notes or appreciation notes for him to find
§         Pray often for yourself and family...the Lord knows better than we do what is needed and in His way He reveals it.
§         Take care of yourself and your home so your husband can dwell in a place of peace, beauty and rest...enjoy your job
§         Laugh together
§         Do not take everything personally...realize that when he is upset, it does not mean he is upset with you.  Listen, and be willing to work it through until the real issue comes to light rather than reacting or automatically getting defensive.
§         Be his cheerleader
§         Try to always think the best of him
§         Keep your bed made (but not when you’re in it)
§         “say I do”
     Most of those could be elaborated on, along with scores of other encouragements, and they will be in the course of your life as each one takes on fuller significance for you via experience.  Theory will very soon become practice for you.  And God will be with you every day.  He will be with you as you set goals with Zack and make plans for working towards those goals.  He will be with you when conflicts arise, giving you both the tools to use to work things through for His glory and your increased joy.  He will be with you in your laughter.  He will be with you in your pain.  He is giving Zack to you and you to Zack.  Enjoy each other in His presence with thankful hearts... enjoy unity and intimacy unlike any you have ever known as a gift from His hand.  Seek the joy of the Lord to be your strength. 
     I asked my kids what they thought I should say to you in this talk, and I’ll end with this... Rebekah answered that I should tell you to love Zack.  Then, I asked her how she thought you could best love him, to which she replied “by loving God most.”  I smiled and told her that is EXACTLY one of the notes I had already written down to share with you.   It’s simple, but important.  One of our common temptations is to love God’s gifts more than God Himself, but when we do we forfeit the joy intended and rob God of the glory He deserves.  Rebekah didn’t pull that idea from thin air...she has heard me say over the years that I love her best by loving God most and she simply connected the dots that the same would be true for you and Zack.   I believe that wholeheartedly.  Hannah, love Zack and love him best by loving God most.  If that, or anything else I’ve said, needs clarifying, you can ask me about it when you come see me before your wedding.
     I love you Hannah, and I love Zack.  I thank God for your friendship, and I look forward to seeing what God will work in and through you two together over the years.  God bless you both! 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Mom

My mom died Christmas day in the year 2000.  Though she is gone from the earth, I continue to learn from her.  Strangely enough, I’ve been thinking about her funeral.  There was a gigantic picture of her family displayed in the front of the parlor.  My brother Richard officiated the service and drew everyone’s attention to the picture as my mother’s “Magnum Opus,” which translates into Great Work.  This is what she gave her life to!  She was steady in a shifting world.  Richard talked about how she raised 10 children on a single income of a mill worker; how she taught us all that liberty is the freedom to do good, not a license to do evil; she held tightly to the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s prayer and the Apostle’s Creed and tried to teach us all to do likewise; she lived in a complexity of relationships and responsibilities including her husband, 10 living children, the memory of her departed son, her siblings, her parents, her neighbors, and her parishioners; she was amazing at the daily task of stretching pennies into dollars in a frugal but not miserly way; she had the reputation of praying for every child and grandchild by name every day.  I'm the youngest of the eleven children she gave birth to...she was tired by the time I came (go figure!), and I sadly grew up resenting that, but looking back I give thanks to God for my mother who gave everything she had left to give to raise me.  By God's grace, I am a part of my mother's Magnum Opus.   And by God's grace, our relationship in the latter years of her life were very sweet.

God has prepared good works for me to walk in...I do not know in advance all of what that will entail in the time He grants me on earth, but I do know HIM.  I love Jesus and want to follow wherever He leads me.  And whatever the picture of my life will display when loved ones gather to say their good-byes as my body is laid in the ground, I know right now without a doubt WHO I want my life's work to magnify.  I want more than anything to see Jesus face to face and to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.  Enter into the joy of your Lord."  THAT goal is foundational to the choices I make...and all those choices will play into what the portrait of my life will be.  

One of the simple chorus type songs we sing as a family has these lyrics:
Fill my cup, let it overflow
Fill my cup, let it overflow
Fill my cup, let it overflow...let it overflow with Love.

I was listening to John Piper this week as he talked about love being an overflow of joy in God.  That is what I want to be about...I want to be a vessel through which the joy of God is overflowing through me in love to others.  

My mom died the day before my first child was born...but sometimes I think she's still around because I hear her voice coming right out of my own mouth.  The fruit of her life carries on...thanks Mom!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Surgeon or Butcher?

A man named William Secker lived in the 17th century.  I know very little about him other than he was  a preacher of the gospel in London and he wrote a book titled "The Nonsuch Professor."  This book came into my hands a couple of years ago and I read it thoughtfully and with delight.  My copy has many marks and underlines throughout because it is filled with pithy lines worth quoting, like this one:

"That is a choice friend, who conceals our faults from the view of others, and yet discovers them to our own…Reprehension is not an act of butchery, but an act of surgery."

I have become more thankful over the years for the surgical friends in my own life.  Friends who wound me in faithfulness (Prov 27:6), that I might become more like Jesus.  I memorized Psalm 141:5 years ago as a reminder to myself to be says "let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness."  

Rebuke isn't easy to take...the temptation for me (maybe you're an exception to this) is to become defensive, attempt to justify myself, and self-righteously dig my heals even deeper into my own position.  Oh how I have cried for God's mercy...and He has been a generous Giver!  By His grace He has grown me in the ability to silence my tongue long enough to consider whether the person rebuking me has any validity (which at least in my life's experience, they very often do).  With God's grace upon grace, I end up thanking the friend who has loved me enough to approach me about whatever it is.  Just like God tells us in Hebrews 12:11 "No chastening seems joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."

But this morning, the question in my mind is how well am I doing at being a friend to others?  In Proverbs 19:11, God tells us: "The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression."  He has also told us in Proverbs 17:9 that "he who repeats a matter separates friends."  And in James 5:19-20 we read: "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."

The quote by Secker combines those ideas. Not every offense requires surgery (there are many things that happen between people that can and should simply be overlooked).  But with the ones that do require attention, am I acting in love like a surgeon or am I more like a butcher? A surgeon will do what is required for the good of the patient...the patient's well being is the concern.  Whereas a butcher wields the weapons of a slaughter.  Slaughter tools can be seen here by way of analogy as a repeating of matters in a way that separates friends or a refusal to try to turn someone from their error or attacking someone who may indeed be wrong with an aim to destroy rather than restore.  Galatians 6:1a tells us "if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness."

Here's a caution: Hasty surgeons can resemble butchers who just love the thrill of cutting.  We've all heard the stories of organs being removed unnecessarily due to lack of proper investigation or the wrong limbs removed due to inaccurate information.  A good surgeon runs tests BEFORE surgery to make sure the surgery is required, and if so, what tools and plan are needed to have optimal health with minimal scarring.  What a helpful reminder to ask questions, investigate, and be a good listener.  Afterward, the surgeon runs more tests to make sure the tool applied did what was intended...if it hasn't, more repair work needs to be done.  The goal is restoration and life in Christ.  I really appreciated Doug Wilson's sentiment expressed in the movie "Collision"...the goal is not to win the argument, but to win the man.

Lord, make me a good and faithful friend (and parent).  Grant me discernment in knowing what attention and what kind of attention each relationship needs.  Does the offense of  a friend or child need a band-aid (cover it), a knife applied in love, or some other tool?  Please grant me Your love and grace to apply the right remedy.  And Lord, help my friends continue to be good friends to me.  I thank you for them!  They are truly gifts from Your hand.  Help me to not be overly critical of the tools they use in attempts to love me, but rather to be gracious knowing how difficult it is to bring correction correctly.  I pray this in the name of Jesus, for His glory and the joy of His people, amen.