Book Review: Living Without Worry

Lane Worry

Tim Lane is becoming better known in the Biblical Counseling movement and has written a workman-like book on the subject of worry and anxiety. In 11 short chapters, Lane’s book, Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, lays out the basic problems associated with worry and anxiety and how it should be addressed from a Biblical perspective. In this regard, Lane spends a good deal of time pointing the reader to Scripture instead of psychological remedies. He canvases a great deal of different passages from the Old Testament (particularly the Psalms) and New Testament, where he focuses equal time in Jesus’ teachings in the gospels along with Paul, James and Peter’s epistles. He even looks at the worry Paul suffered when ministering in Athens and Corinth from the book of Acts.

Lane defines the problem from several different angles throughout the book. For example, he says, “The essence of worry is attempting to find your ultimate hope, comfort and meaning in something that is temporal and fleeting” (p. 24-25). He says, “What you worry about is a good indicator of what you truly value and rely upon” (p.93). Essentially worry is turning our eyes off of Christ and upon things that consume us in this world. Lane points out that “worry is a sign that you believe that God is not good or that he is not in charge, and that he therefore cannot be trusted to care for you” (p. 138). Worry becomes a crisis of faith and doubting the character of God. Wrong thinking about God leads to wrong living. However, Lane helpfully points out that right thinking does not always lead to right living. In chapter 9 he says change in the Christian life can be elusive and we should not always expect instant results even when our focus is centered upon Biblical solutions.

The book has a very practical focus. Lane examines many different scenarios that can produce anxiety such as relationships, marriage, parenting, finances, suffering, and even past sins and traumatic experiences. He shows how anxiety relates to our perspective on the past, the present and the future.  Lane makes some helpful distinctions as well. For example, worry should be distinguished from concern. It is okay to be concerned about matters, but concern can become “over-concern” (p. 20) which degenerates into sinful worry. And worry simply reveals what our hearts really cling to. “Over-concerns reveal over-loves” (p. 30). On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons to worry, for example when we contemplate the destiny of our souls if we have not genuinely repented of sin and placed our faith in Christ. In chapter 5, he points out that the prospect of eternal hell should produce a great deal of fear and anxiety. In fact, no worrisome matter on this earth can compare to the fear hell generates. The remedy is to have a secure future in heaven. The assurance of salvation not only dissipates hell as the worst of fears, but it can dissipate all lesser fears.

The ultimate solution to fear, worry and anxiety is not terribly difficult to understand. It is simply cultivating renewed faith in a God who loves us beyond measure, whose comfort and care exceeds our worries, and who maintains a good purpose for all the believe goes through. He is in utter control of our lives. But moving from doubt, exasperated by various worries, to confident trust in the Lord is never an easy path. But thankfully Lane points out that we serve a patient and merciful God.

Although Lane’s book is nothing extraordinary, it is quite helpful to the Christian struggling with worry and I warmly recommend it. I do have a few caveats. First, I did not like the fact that when other authors were quoted, references were left out. I like to know where quotes come from. Secondly, the construction of the book itself made it a little difficult to read. Its pages, cover and binding were particularly stiff requiring some hand strength to keep the pages open.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Advertisements

The Shattered Visage

Man is a god in ruins – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Broken mirror

What Are We?

What is man? The question has captivated this worldly existence no less today than it has in the current of history. The Greek philosophers saw man as rational. The Eastern religions saw man as mystical. The Scientific Revolution saw man as material. The Postmodern age sees man as existential. None of these has captured the essence of man. Is man a glorified animal? Is he a demythologized god? Or is he nothing more than a mystery? Christianity offers an answer to the question that remains un-assailed. It maintains that man is a creature of unique dignity, however marred he might be. The account of man’s creation in Genesis says he was created in the image of God. He and she bears the imago Dei. But Eden could not sustain the man and the woman for long. Soon after the forbidden fruit stained the lips of Adam, mankind saw his visage shattered, and God’s image was obscured. Emerson may be unwittingly accurate.

If man bears this unique resemblance to God, what is it? The Reformer John Calvin maintained that man cannot know himself until he has first looked into the face of God. Jonathan Edwards carefully pondered that the two most important kinds of knowledge are of God and of one’s self. To understand who man is most certainly entails knowing his Creator. The imago Dei in man is a reflection of what God is. The notion of “image” and “likeness” in the creation account is not merely the equation of God with the original and man with the copy. Man is not just a “Xerox” of God; a cheap imitation. Human beings in their very essence retain an authentic correspondence with the nature of God. But does this make them little gods?

Man is certainly not an animal, but neither is he divine. There will always be a remarkable distinction between the Creator and the creature. God is the supremely self-sufficient being in that He depends on nothing outside of Himself.  All things outside of God are in fact dependent on Him; they derive their existence from the creative power of God’s self-existence. God simply spoke and out of nothing all came into being. As a creature, man’s being is derivative, he is not his own. God has indelibly impressed upon the essence of mankind, including all of his innate capacities, a finite reflection of the infinite God Himself.

Although humans by virtue of their finite nature could never attain certain attributes predicated of God alone, nonetheless, the imago Dei is not merely the possession of attributes that are like that of God. We must reach deeper for what alludes us. The Bible never precisely defines the image of God in man, and since knowledge of man requires knowledge of God, the panorama of God’s self-disclosure is necessary to define it. The more we know who God is, the more we know man. Theologians have understood the image of God as focused on the immaterial nature of God as reflected in man. However, some have wondered whether the image is reflected in the physical body. The Bible makes it clear that God is spirit and has no body, yet there is some argument that the Bible views the material and immaterial aspects of man as a unity. Perhaps it is best to say that the body reflects the image of God only in a functional way as an instrument of the image retained in the soul.

How Like God We Are

The immaterial dimension of the imago Dei takes features that liken humans to the Creator and distinguishes them above all other creatures. Of all God’s creatures, man alone has the capacity for self-transcendence, self-reflection, and spiritual awareness. Such allows him to even ask the question, “What is man?” The following characterizes what Calvin called the sense of the divine in all human beings.

(1) God created man as a spiritual being. He is by nature religious and has an instinct for worship.  He must satisfy his need to relate himself to something sacred. He cannot exist in the lonely charters of the profane.

(2) This shows man is also a relational being. He must bear some kind of relationship to his Creator and to his fellow humans. God did not create Adam as an androgynous creature; “. . . male and female he created them.” Man is complimented in his social dimension by a counterpart in marriage and needs other humans for fellowship. But above all, man is in desperate need to always be rightly related to his Creator.

(3) God created man as a moral being. He has a conscience so that he knows right and wrong. He also knows this ethical sense within him did not originate there, but elsewhere. Man’s ethical self-awareness unequivocally points him to a righteous and just God, who alone is the standard of all moral judgments.

(4) Man was created as a volitional being. He is able to make informed choices and is granted freedom.

(5) Man was created as a rational being. Man alone can think intuitively, making logical connections between disparate realities, drawing inferences from either concrete or abstract propositions and forming cohesive and intelligible arguments.

(6) This also demonstrates that man is a linguistic being. He can string together abstract thoughts, turning all sorts of metaphors and ethereal symbols into meaningful concrete expressions of communication. His natural knack for language sets him apart from all other creatures who communicate.

(7) Man was created as an emotive being. He displays a complex web of various affective dispositions in varying degrees allowing him to appreciate every other dimension of his immaterial nature.

(8) Man was created as an aesthetic being. He derives a particular significance from beauty. It stimulates his soul to rise above the mundane that would otherwise corrupt meaning in his environment. He has a playful and purposeful imagination involving him in all manner of arts.

(9) Man was endowed as a creative being. God alone is genuinely creative, able to make something out of nothing. However, man can creatively reconstruct out of pre-existing resources all sorts of practical and efficient devices and inventions. His command over the rest of creation progresses to unprecedented limits.  He is technological and always advancing in knowledge. In contrast, the animal kingdom ever remains inert.

 These features of the imago Dei serve as the structural or formal component. They are those aspects which endows humanity with personhood. The functional or material dimension of the image corresponds with man’s responsibility as a representative of God on earth. Properly speaking, this is the manifestation of the image and not part of it. God called Adam to exercise dominion over the creation. As God’s representative man is to reflect the will of God in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness to one another. When viewed as a whole, the various elements described of the imago Dei (by no means exhaustive of all that is implied) form a network of interdependence that distinguishes man as the crown of creation, a being of unequaled gravitas. It thrusts man high upon the pinnacle of the universe and boldly manifests his nobility within the cosmos. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet put it, “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How express and admirable! In action how like an angel. In apprehension how like a god!”

In spite of such accolades, all is not well with man.

How Unwell We Are

The mirror has faded and has been grossly fractured. Man can no longer look at himself and see with clarity the radiant glory of his God.  The face of man has dimmed. As Calvin said, the imago Dei after man fell into sin remains but a “frightful deformity.”  In fact, fallen man has worked hard to erase any trace of God. He has sought to replace God.  What remains of the likeness, man supposes has emanated from himself. Thus he has become a god, a god of his own making—“a god in ruins.” The self-absorption of humanity has swept the Creator under the cosmic rug of his consciousness and he can no longer relate to God or make sense of his own existence. He must create his own meaning and despise responsibility. As Reinhold Niebuhr astutely judged, man’s penchant for self-deception and self-justification in nearly infinite. This leaves man in a state of forlornness, though so often he scarcely recognizes it. J. Gresham Machen has pointed out that sin has not destroyed the image of God in man; however it no longer makes it “a blessing but an unspeakable horror and curse.”  All of fallen man’s divinely reflected capacities are used not to glorify God, but himself.  What Adam formerly retained in perfection is now exercised in corruption by his progeny.

How Well We Can Be

The broken hopes of man are not lost on his own disavowal of what was good in the original creation. The Creator has provided for reparations on our behalf. For the true follower of Jesus Christ the renewal of the imago Dei is being carried out in a methodical transformation of his shattered visage via the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Christians are being re-conformed to the image of the true God in Christ, or as one theologian has said, they are experiencing “Christiformity.” Once, Moses walked into the midst of the camp of rogue Israelites with his countenance ablaze with the shekinah glory of God, having conversed face to face with Him at great length. Moses needed to veil his radiant appearance. Paul tells the Corinthian believers that they too bear the glory of God in their faces: “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 by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). God is taking scrap from the heap of smoldering ruins and is fashioning a magnificent edifice to honor His glory and majesty. Each man or woman who has given their life to Him for that purpose becomes one of the glorified building stones. Whereas, Adam before the fall was posse non peccare et mori (able not to sin and die), when believers receive their final glorification they shall non posse peccare et mori (not be able to sin and die). They will live in eternity in confirmed holiness as perfect bearers of the image of the perfect Christ.

The Grandeur of Grace

Grace. Amazing Grace. It is a theme richly woven within every fiber of the tapestry of the Christian faith. Yet, it has become so much a banal staple of the parlance of Christian discourse that the term has lost its luster. It no longer excites the passions of believers beleaguered by indifference. But, Oh! How glorious is that grace that set the captives free—the fountainhead of God’s love for a world trapped in its own destructive melee.

venusmoon_pascual

God’s grace in its simplest expression is unmerited favor. It speaks of a particular kind of love largely unrecognized in even the most compassionate enclaves of human kindness expressed in this world we inhabit. It is reserved for those who embrace it and thus become privileged to be named as His children. It is a moving display of affectionate passion that forms the very ground of God’s redemptive actions toward rebel souls. This grace is a gratuitous, ill-deserved reward; a prize conferred for no achievement. It issues forth from the incalculable benevolence of its heavenly source. God’s grace is unfettered and free, bounding forward into the hearts of receptive sinners like you and me.

This is to say no one is able by the strength of moral will to gain God’s favor. Virtually every religious system conceived by mankind is rooted in the ability accorded to ourselves. Religious man is transparently focused on the self. He thinks he is fully capable of appeasing what ever powers he imagines through his own self-inflated perception of success. However, God’s grace only extends toward those who recognize their utter failure in meeting the terms necessary to attain salvation.  Ironically, the force of grace is only apparent when such individuals recognize how unworthy they are of its benefits.

While grace is without cost to its beneficiaries, it incurred an incalculable expense to God. It required Him to send His Son to this sin stricken earth as a vicarious sacrifice on behalf of others; to pay the price of punishment for crimes He did not commit. The condescension of Christ to bear the burden of sinful creatures on a shameful cross casts a transcendent light upon this unearthly love—pure and undefiled. He was whipped and beat, spat upon, cruelly mocked and despised. He was left to die a cold and lonely death outside of Jerusalem while His detractors retreated into the warmth of the city gates. Christ’s physical agony pales in comparison to what He experienced in His spirit. Few are those who appreciate the magnitude of humiliation the divine Son of God underwent so humanity might have the proffer of the only genuine freedom that exists.

The abundant character of God’s divine mercy is unbounded in its ability to meet every need of every sinner. No amount of malice that seethes through the veins of the vilest offender can thwart the designs of grace to erase the impossible stains left in the wake of such transgression. One need only look at the Apostle Paul—a formerly horrible blasphemer and violent persecutor of Christians—in order to see God’s kindness toward His enemies. The tenderness of God invaded the stony regions of  Paul’s heart and led him to instruct his readers, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

That the Creator of the universe died for His special creatures is nothing less than astounding. Perhaps the only thing more astounding than this marvelous extension of love, is how so many refuse it. But for those who do not, the love of God for as wretched sinners as they is grace—nothing less than Amazing Grace.

Are We Alone in the Universe?

I recently read some interaction on a blog site in which some Christian responders were wondering if the discovery of life on other planets should cause our faith to be shaken since the Bible seems to assume that God created life only on earth. The consensus was that such a discovery would not be so earth shattering (!).

Andromeda_galaxy

This got me to thinking. Should we have any reason to expect that God created life elsewhere? Actually, I think the question needs to be more focused. Do we have any reasons to reject the idea that “intelligent” life exists elsewhere?

First, we must understand what is meant by “intelligent” life. What most people think of as intelligent life is some sort of beings that are human-like. We usually have in mind sentient beings with self-awareness, complex systems of language and communication, and the capacity to grow in wisdom and knowledge. Intelligence involves imagination and complex creative skills that are put to use in various aesthetic pursuits and technological advances.  Such intelligence requires the capacity for problem solving in a multitude of disciplines. Others of course would add that intelligent beings are moral beings, those who have a conscience and are endowed with some sort of free agency. It includes the ability to express a wide range of emotions. We expect such intelligent creatures to form intimate personal relationships on a small scale and complex societies and governing structures on a large scale. Other things could be added, but you get the picture.

When the Bible speaks of such intelligent life it is centered on the creation of human beings. We humans are distinguished from all other living creatures by the existence of these features. But some may ask about angels. Certainly angels (fallen and unfallen) are endowed with many of the components of intelligence, but they differ from humans in two ways. (1) They are incorporeal beings, and (2) they do not procreate. Thus, they do not fit the biological conditions of the rest of living creatures that we associate with the possible existence of life on other planets.

But there is another feature that distinguishes humans in the Bible. The creation narrative in Genesis points out that humans are uniquely created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Theologians generally have two concepts in mind when they speak of the Imago Dei. It indicates not only our essence—bearing some of the characteristics of God—but also our function—that is, we are God’s representatives on earth. In fact, the creation account clearly indicates that the earth is the central theater of God’s glory and we were placed here to make use of the resources of earth to magnify God. In fact, the whole tenure of Scripture places the earth at the center of God’s most important activities. This does not necessarily mean that the earth is the physical center of the universe (however, there is evidence that our galaxy is. See here). Nonetheless, it is certainly the center of the conceptual universe the Bible paints. Our planet is unique and at the center of its existence resides the pinnacle of God’s creation—human beings. Even angels are at best secondary and in fact function in part to serve God’s purposes in the lives of earth-bound humans.

This geo-centric focus is especially clear when we consider what the Bible describes as God’s greatest work—the redemption of human beings. Furthermore, this work is most magnified in the incarnation of Christ. When Christ took upon himself the specific flesh and blood of a human being it happened upon the earth alone—in the little town of Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. The incarnation culminated in his death and resurrection in the city of Jerusalem 33 years later. God’s greatest work is not centered anywhere else in the universe and of course it is not centered on any other intelligent creatures except those He created to inhabit the earth. Christ is forever the God-man—the second Adam (Rom. 5:14). Adam was originally designed and created to rule and represent God only on earth. His failure set up the plan of God to redeem His fallen creatures through the promise that a descendant would arise from the seed of Eve—a human redeemer with a divine origin (Gen. 3:15). This is why Luke traces the genealogy of Christ back to the beginning as the “son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38). He died once and rose again once on earth for earth bound humans. He lives forever as the glorified God-man and the center of his eschatological rule will be upon the restored “new earth” with His redeemed earth-bound human creatures.

What is the significance of this for our question about extra-terrestrial life? Some Christians like to say that if God created intelligent life elsewhere in the universe that He has a redemptive plan for them as well. But it obviously could not involve the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, God’s only Son, since those are unique consummative events clearly accomplished once for all. The Bible pictures Christ as forever tied to his incarnation as a human being with the present and future earth being the center of all His activity. Thus, I do not see how it is possible for God to have any kind of focus upon intelligent creatures elsewhere. I suppose it is possible that non-intelligent life could exist elsewhere and that such a discovery would not shatter our faith in the Biblical worldview. However, I think there is good reason to suppose that intelligent beings reflecting the image of God exist only on earth.

What About Free Will? (Part 9)

I am writing a book on the ever thorny, controversial, misunderstood topic of free will.  Over the course of several few weeks, I am blogging about the issue.  I invite your feedback, as this will help me fine tune the contents of my book.

time-bomb 

Libertarians say we are only held liable for our actions if we could have acted otherwise.  In some cases, this may be true, but that is not principally where liability lies. Compatibilism holds that we are held liable for our actions in direct proportion to the degree that we voluntarily (intentionally) engage in such actions. Let us consider this proposition.

To the Degree we Act Voluntarily we are Liable for our Actions

Almost all human actions are voluntary, but some actions are more coerced than others thereby mitigating their voluntariness. The more voluntary one’s actions are the more one is liable for those actions and vice versa. Thus, if a compelling force causes a conflicting motive within a person to act in a way one would otherwise not act, such a person is not as liable for the action. If one feels forced to act against what his conscience tells him is clearly wrong then he is not held as liable for such actions.

Freedom from coercion and the ability to act voluntarily and responsibly is reflected in most systems of jurisprudence where just measures are used to assess guilt (blame) or innocence. Manslaughter is the killing of another without malice of intent, whereas murder is the killing of another with malice of intent. Voluntary manslaughter involves intentional killing, but when mitigating factors make the intention less culpable.  For example, a sudden provocation leads to a fight resulting in the death of the provocateur. Involuntary manslaughter refers to accidental killing in which the death occurred without intention. For example, a person driving her vehicle hits and kills a pedestrian by accident. One is held less liable for something they did accidently or reluctantly under duress. Conversely, one is held more liable for an immoral action if they did it freely (i.e. more intentionally). In fact, what makes it immoral is directly connected to the intentions of the perpetrator (James 1:14-15).

Sam Storms relates a poignant illustration that highlights this proposition. The story involves a pizza deliveryman named Brian Wells who robbed a bank while an explosive device was strapped to his body. He fled the scene with the bomb intact and was later apprehended by the police where he pleaded for their help. He claimed he had been forced to rob the bank by the real perpetrator of the crime who forcibly placed the device on him and threatened to detonate it if he didn’t comply. If his confession was true, what other choice would he have? Under such circumstances our justice system is obligated to exonerate him of culpability for the crime even though he robbed the bank.  The compelling motive to rob the bank is not rooted in some mal-intent but the preservation of his life.

However, under such circumstances one would not be without an alternative choice. Technically, due to the absence of absolute constraint, he was not forced against his will to rob the bank, it was done willingly. The difference is it was also done reluctantly due to extreme duress. All things being equal we can suppose his conscience would not allow him to engage in such a criminal act. But the strongest of any motive or compelling desire within a person at any given moment is always the one that directly influences the will, in this case the coercive influence of the main perpetrator. However, he could have taken his chances and refused to commit the robbery. He could have said I would rather die than cause distress to the bank and its customers and risk their deaths should the perpetrator detonate the bomb in the middle of the robbery. In this sense, he is free to act contrary but only if corresponding contrary motives prevail. The point is the will is the absolute servant of the motive that most powerfully influences it and it never acts in a contrary manner.

People are also not considered liable for actions if other legitimate hindrances prevent them from acting responsibly. For example, Christians ought to attend church on Sunday morning (Heb. 10:25).  But if they are sick and bed-ridden we do not hold them liable; they have a natural inability to act otherwise. But if they don’t go to church because they preferred to watch a football game, they are more liable because they had a natural ability and a moral responsibility to do so. They were under no constraints preventing them from acting responsibly. Likewise, one would not be held liable for saving a drowning victim if he was unable to swim. His natural inability prevents him from doing what is morally right. However, if he is able to swim and doesn’t make the effort to save the drowning victim he is held liable. In this case, he is held liable not because he is unable to swim but because as Stephen Holmes wrote, he is “unable to care.” Thus, liability lies not just with natural ability but as always with one’s intentions.

8 Truths about Marriage from 50 Words of Jesus

Many people assume that because Jesus had little to say on marriage during His ministry on earth that He was open to the flexibility of this institution including the acceptance of same sex marriage. But is this true?

While Jesus said little about marriage, what He did say is packed with such depth of insight that only Jesus could unfold so much in so few words. We need not consider what He said about the issue of divorce and remarriage. The substance of what Jesus said on marriage can be ascertained from His positive affirmation of the institution in Matthew 19:4-6. These 3 verses contain 50 words Jesus spoke on the subject. From these 50 words (in the Greek text) we discover 8 truths about marriage.

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” (vs. 4)

  1. Marriage is Heterosexual

Jesus goes to the beginning – to the creation itself to substantiate the divine design for marriage. He quotes from Genesis 1 to say God made humanity male and female. If God had designed marriage between people of the same sex then why would Jesus lay the foundation for marriage by making an appeal to this fundamental distinction in genders? The institution of marriage is rooted in the way God created human beings right from the very start. He did not create a suitable marriage partner for Adam by creating another male. He made a female. Some say Jesus never condemned homosexuality. The fact is, He did something better. He pointed to the blueprint.

  1. Marriage is Complementary

Because God made male and female, he made marriage to be a complementary union. Marriage is not about sameness between partners. What makes marriage exciting and causes it to flourish is in the diversity that exists between male and female, between masculinity and femininity.  Men and women complement one another in every way – physically, sexually, psychologically, and even spiritually. But because men and women are each created in God’s image, even though they are different and fulfill different roles, they stand on equal ground before their Creator.

  1. Marriage is Monogamous

When God made Adam and Eve, He made only one of each.  He did not make a plurality of females to be joined to Adam. God did not design marriage to be polygamous. Now of course as soon as sin entered the world so did non-monogamous marriages. Polygamy proliferated in Biblical times, even among God’s people. But Jesus indicates it was never meant to be that way.  Even though we don’t generally practice polygamy today, people frequently violate monogamous marriage by joining themselves to others as if they were married. The culture of hooking up in our society today has virtually replaced monogamy with something that just as well be polygamy.

“And said, ‘A Man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (vs. 5-6a)

  1. Marriage is Exclusive

When a man gets married he is called to leave his parents and be joined to his wife. This means that a new partnership in matrimony grows out of a previous partnership in matrimony. Notice the previous partnership involved a male and a female. This indicates the exclusive nature of marriage. Marriage is the most important human relationship God ever made and that explains why it is also the first relationship He made. No other relationship should be allowed to interfere with the marriage relationship – neither parents nor children nor outside interlopers. Marriage requires absolute fidelity.

  1. Marriage is Mutual

When a man and a woman leave their parents to join in matrimony they are making a voluntary commitment to one another.  Fidelity and mutuality go together.  Marriage is not about one’s self. It is not about meeting personal needs.  It is not about setting conditions upon the marriage partner. “I will love you, if you do this and that.”  Marriage is an unconditional covenant bond not a contract. 

Our society views marriage like a contract.  In a contract two parties have certain obligations for a particular period of time.  If at any time one of the parties violates the terms of the contract and neglects their obligations then the contract is terminated and the other party is free to walk away.  Contracts are conditional. 

Marriage as the Bible describes it is covenantal and that means it is unconditional. When two people come together in marriage, they are vowing to serve one another, to lift up the well-being of the other as their first priority.  This means exercising steadfast love and grace because people are sinners.  Contract marriages depend on the ability not to sin if they are to work.  Biblical marriages are designed to operate on grace because it recognizes that sin is real and it can never be avoided in one’s spouse.

  1. Marriage is Intimate

When a man and a woman are joined together Christ says they become “one flesh.” Many think this refers simply to the consummation of marriage in sexual union. That is true and it is one of the wonderful and exclusive gifts that God grants married people. Nothing destroys marriage more when a sexual union is established outside the bonds of marriage. It is a gift that people have repeatedly trashed and trivialized to point that it no longer reflects the intimacy it was designed to enhance. 

But the fact is, the exclusive sexual union in marriage is the result of a deeper kinship that marriage is designed to create. God purposed spouses to be soulmates. He designed a man and a woman to be so drawn to one another that an indissoluble bond of trust and confidence is developed between one another.  This soulish union brings the joy of sex to a place of deeper intimacy than just physical. But it also shows that when sexual infidelity takes place, that oneness is utterly shattered and sometimes irreparably. 

“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (vs. 6b)

  1. Marriage is Permanent

Marriage was designed to be permanent.  In Malachi 2:16, God says with all the authority and power invested in His being as the Lord of this universe: “I hate divorce.” There is nothing more tragic in God’s eyes then when two married sinners cannot extend grace and forgiveness toward one another and they break the marriage covenant they vowed to uphold.  Certainly sin wreaks havoc in marriages and the Bible makes some exceptions for believers in which divorce as a last resort is justified.  But even in those exceptions, the first thought should always be grace and reconciliation. When Christ betrothed the Church as His beloved bride His promise is to extend His devotion to her for all eternity. His grace rescued us from our own rebellion and even when we stumble badly as God’s children, he forgives and restores us to fellowship with Himself.  This same undeserving grace should be extended towards spouses when they violate God’s design for marriage.

  1. Marriage is Sacred

When two people get married we say it is a relationship sanctioned and honored by the government, our family and friends and of course the two people getting married.  But marriage is not merely a civil bond that generates only human approval. It is something that God Himself approves and sanctions.  In fact, it is a bond that He Himself oversees. 

When you got married did you ever think that it was not the minister who married you? It wasn’t the justice of the peace.  Rather it was God Himself that joined you and put His stamp of approval upon your marriage. When you make your vows of marriage you are saying,

God, I offer this marriage to You so that You might be honored and glorified. Should I do anything to mar my marriage vows I stand accountable to You, because You are the one who joined me to my spouse. I answer to You for how I conduct myself in this marriage and I pray You will infuse me with all Your grace and power to love and cherish my spouse no matter what transpires that seeks to constrain me from doing so.

When these essential features of marriage embodied in the infallible words of Jesus are upheld then marriages abide by God’s design. Only when people listen to the voice of Christ will marriage experience a long needed revival in our day. Only then will married couples experience deep satisfaction and joy. Then perhaps we might see marriage flourish again, and in turn society will flourish. 

What to Look for in a Girl

I have 4 boys, 3 of whom are teenagers. So this means there is a good deal of talk about girls, dating, marriage and what not. When our oldest started thinking about girls a few years ago these discussions began in earnest. I decided to put together a guide to help them think about what to look for in a girl they wanted to date and eventually of course the girl they would like to marry. This is not our philosophy about dating. It’s just about girls. So here we go!

Qualities to Look for in a Girl to Date or Marry (mostly in order of importance):

This is a guide, not a set of rules. It contains mostly questions to start thinking about what to look for in a girl. The qualities represent something of an ideal set of circumstances. You must realize that nobody is perfect and you should never look for somebody perfect because there is no such person. We are all sinners in constant need of God’s grace as well as grace from one another. If you set your expectations too low, you will be disappointed. Likewise, if you set them too high you will be disappointed. Of course set your expectations reasonably high but be prepared to extend grace. Also realize that you yourself don’t meet the perfect ideal in a man. So you should expect grace to be shown to you too. The first section is non-negotiable, a girl must be committed in her relationship to Christ. Some of the questions in last two sections are somewhat more flexible and subjective. Some things might be more important to you than others and you might think of still others.

Non-negotiable Qualities (needs to be determined ASAP):

  1. She must be a genuine Christian.
  2. She must be a committed Christian.  How do you know if she is? 
  • Does she knows the gospel well and she can articulate it?
  • Is she consistently involved in a Biblical Church by participating and serving?
  • Does she express humility and joy in her relationship with Christ?
  • Does she read her Bible and pray regularly?
  • Does she consistently seek to grow in her faith and obedience to Christ and God’s Word?
  • Does she enjoy being with other Christians more than non-Christians?
  • Does she show spiritual (Biblical) discernment and avoid worldly behavior?
  • Does she enjoy Christian media, music, books and movies with God-honoring Biblical content?

 Initial (but also long-term) Qualities (as you are getting to know her):

  1. Is she ‘forward’ or reserved? Does she show respect for male leadership? Does she let the man lead and initiate things without trying to undermine or manipulate him?
  2. Is she attractive not just on the outside but especially the inside?
  3. Does she dress modestly and not wear too much make-up? Does she make herself appear alluring in a sexual way? Does she appear and conduct herself like a ‘lady’?
  4. Is she guarded with her emotions and affections? Is she quick to express her emotions in a way that draws attention to herself? How quick is she to express affection with words (e.g. flattery) or physical gestures (e.g.hugging) especially publicly?
  5. Does she have a pleasant personality, one that is not too wild, giddy, pretentious or stuck up (arrogant)?
  6. Does she like to gossip? Does she know when to speak up and to remain silent? Does she show respect for others  and act respectably herself?  Does she exhibit integrity (does she have her act together)? 

Long-term Qualities (once you get to know her more):

  1. Does she show respect for her parents? If she has no respect for her parents (particularly her dad), then chances are she will have no respect for you.
  2. Does she see her highest calling as being a wife and a mother, or a career person? Does she love kids?
  3. Is she kind, compassionate and understanding? Is she easily angered or frustrated? Is she patient with difficult people including yourself?
  4. Is she willing to forgive when wronged and to ask forgiveness when she is wrong?
  5. Does she tend to be encouraging to others or put them down?
  6. Is she selfish? Is she mostly concerned for herself, or does she think of others too?
  7. Does she show courage and strength of conviction for what is right and good and true? Does she tend to be wishy-washy about important matters?
  8. Does she have intelligence and good common sense? Does she show wisdom and discernment in practical matters? Is she smart or foolish in how she spends her money? Is she a compulsive buyer?
  9. Is she conservative politically and socially (e.g. abortion, same sex marriage, etc.)?
  10. Does she tend to be lazy or a diligent worker? Is she sloppy or careless?
  11. Is she flexible in matters that are not important and teachable in things that are? Does she express her opinions respectfully and respect the opinions of others including yours? Is she argumentative?
  12. Does she enjoy some of the same things you enjoy? How similar are your tastes?
  13. Does she have a good sense of humor and enjoy laughing? Is her humor compatible with yours?