On Our Knees

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Abraham Lincoln one said that there are times when he found himself falling to his knees before God, for there was no other place for him to go during the darkest days of Civil War.  I think there are times like that for all of us.

We don’t even need to be enduring bad times to respond in this way, in fact there are times to jump for joy to the Lord, and there are times to fall on our knees in thanksgiving as well.

The most important thing, whether we are living in good times or bad, is to remember that we need to be near to God…

Come, let us bow down in worship, 
   let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; 
 for he is our God 
   and we are the people of his pasture, 
   the flock under his care.

Psalm 95:6-7

God is my joy and my sustenance; my happiness and my comfort.

God is my life and my strength; my creator and my redeemer.

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Living Water

Memorial 057

There’s nothing worse than being thirsty, seriously thirsty!

Millions are slowly dying of thirst in our world, but theirs is a different kind of thirst.  Spiritual thirst is pandemic and has been all through the ages.  The symptoms are fairly easy to identify: people grabbing at anything and everything in a vain attempt to satisfy the longing, and never succeeding in quenching their need for more.

In many cases they find a substitute that can mask the symptoms for a time, but the crisis always returns…

Jesus Christ offered Mankind living water, a kind of water that could quench a spiritual thirst for all time.  He said that this would be like a spring of water within, welling up into eternal life.

Spiritual thirst can be quenched; all we need to do is take a big long pull from the right cup!

 

Building Strong Personal Relationships

Ephesians 5:22-31

Suppose someone asked you for advice on how to have a successful marriage; would you have some ideas about what a successful marriage requires?  I would guess that everyone could make a suggestion or two, maybe something simple like time, communication or effort. You might say that a successful and happy marriage requires things like honesty, mutual respect and caring. You might say that the husband and wife need to spend time together, they must actually talk together, work together and pull the weight of everyday reality in the same direction together.

You might say that a successful marriage relationship would need to be based on love and intimacy and transparency; there should be no secrets. If we were all sitting together around the kitchen table, somebody would say that a marriage relationship needs for husband and wife to be equal partners, the kind of partners who can always rely upon each other.

Oh just think about it; as the conversation continued, how the list of ideas would grow!

In our text, Paul has a fair amount to say about the way husbands and wives should live together, maybe we could take all of the ideas that we came up with and write them up into some kind of a questionnaire or quiz, with a score at the end that would give a person an idea of how well they are doing as a spouse.

And then we could drop the next two verses on them (verses 32-33) and point out that Paul was really talking about our relationships with Jesus…

Using the same quiz, how would we all be doing in our relationships with Him? Do we spend time together, do we communicate, tell the truth, try to keep secrets and all the rest?

To be honest with you, I have actually done this in class settings and used the same “catch” at the end. Can you guess what happens at the end? Most of the time, there is a bit of sound, kind of like a gasp. Then there is silence…

We all know what can happen in a human relationship when one or both parties take it for granted. What can happen in our relationship with our Lord when one of the parties takes it for granted?

There is only one possible party who will take it for granted; do we need to make some changes?

On a Personal Note…

This past Sunday I had an odd experience. It all began when I awakened and realized that I had no recollection, no idea really, of what I was teaching that day. Oh I had set it all up the previous Monday, and I did remember that it was easy… but I couldn’t even remember my text. It was a little disconcerting to be honest…

Of course I knew it was something about spiritual gifts; I should remember that after being here 3 weeks, but which text was it? I also knew that I had it saved on the computer, that it was all printed out in a huge font that I can more or less read and sitting on the table in the church office… but what text was it again…?

No clue.

I fired up the computer and opened the file… OK, I did 1 Corinthians and Romans already, so this is either Ephesians or 1 Peter; it started to come back… 1 Peter is only 2 verses, so this must be Ephesians, but it didn’t look familiar. I read it; nothing. I read it again; nothing again. Then I read it the third time and poof… oh yeah, I remember now: easy!

I was relieved.

A couple of hours later, I was ready to get up there and get started, and a young lady named Ashley was “doing the prayer” and she began with a string of words I’ve never heard before: “Father, we thank you for Don Merritt…” I have no idea what came next, because those words hit me like a truckload of bricks. My initial thought was something like “Huh? What? I didn’t do anything… what are you talking about?” My second thought was along the lines of “Oh **** teaching the Word of God is an awesome responsibility! I’d better get this right…”

No pressure…

It isn’t that I’ve never thought of the responsibility before; I have for sure and I get it. Yet in that moment Ashley’s words took me off guard and I had the sensation of my life passing in front of my eyes: Who am I to have such a responsibility, such an opportunity? I’m nobody! It was humbling to be sure.

I normally approach teaching the Word of God, whether in a blog or in person, from a missional point of view: God saved me out of death, literally as it happens, gave me a spiritual gift and called me to service; simple. Now, let’s get to work…and the biggest part of my job is to show up on time and to get out of His way. The other side of this, the one that Ashley put into a word string almost never occurs to me, probably because I am so clear on how little of this has anything to do with me; I’m really not that good. Last Sunday, I couldn’t even remember what I was supposed to talk about when I got up. See what I mean? “Don” is of no consequence; the Word is all that matters, building up the Body of Christ is what matters, making disciples who make disciples is what matters.

And yet… there are those relationships that we form along the way; they begin with a higher purpose to make disciples, and then they grow into something else, something called “community” or “family.”

I want to thank Ashley for blowing my mind last Sunday, because I think that caused me to see something more fully than before: The “fullness” of Christ resides in the community of believers and that is not merely a concept or a doctrine, nor is it an “ideal”. No, it is a real and present reality… even I can see that now, and I am notoriously slow about these kinds of things.

Song of Songs: Epilogue

We’ve been all the way through the Song of Songs. We’ve discussed many of the issues and the theology that surround the book; there isn’t much left that I can say about it… except for the best part of all.

Do you remember how desperately “She” yearned for “He” in the story, how close and intimate she wanted them to be together, and how “He” also yearned for that closest of relationships? That relationship of intimate personal contact has come, and is available to all of Christ’s followers, TODAY.

We may not yet be perfect in this relationship, and many would say that this perfect image of His likeness will only be attained in eternity, and I would tend to agree with them. Yet that does not mean that the intimacy pictured in the Song is beyond our reach.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

To attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ is to attain this intimate personal relationship with Him, and this is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which His followers receive. This indwelling is by the way, the most erotic of all images, if you’ll pardon me for pointing it out.

It has been pointed out to me recently that many, maybe most Christians do not have such a close relationship with Jesus Christ, but that is not because it isn’t attainable, for look closely at this little passage above, and you will see the linkage between the spiritual gifts mentioned being used to build up the Body of Christ, and the attainment of maturity in the faith and unity of the Body, with the fullness of Christ. If you want to hear more about this, then listen to the sermon podcast I posted yesterday, which is about Ephesians 4:7-16.

I must tell you that it would seem to be no coincidence in my life that I am here in the last week of my most excellent adventure in Illinois teaching spiritual gifts over the past month, and writing a series of posts on the Song of Songs. I had no intention of having each influence the other, but they have. To be more precise, it never occurred to me that they might coincide, but they have. I can now see that the exercise in humility of our spiritual gifts with which our Lord has blessed each of us, to build the Body of Christ by making disciples who in turn make disciples leads us directly to the maturity in Christ and unity of purpose that leads us to that fullness in Christ that is so yearned for in the Song of Songs. Yes, dear reader, it is not only attainable for each of us in this lifetime, but it is supposed to be a byproduct of following Jesus on this great adventure in life on this earth.

Song of Songs and the use of Erotic Images

Who can argue with the assertion that Song of Songs contains strong erotic imagery? For this reason, many have considered this book to be “too hot to handle” in churches over the years, while others see it as a book about “godly eroticism”; it is neither. More than any book I can think of, the Song conveys the yearning of both God and His people for a closer relationship, with the hope that such relationship will come, and for us, this glimmer of hope is all the more awesome because that hope has indeed come to pass.

First, let’s consider the use of imagery in general. Imagery is used in Scripture primarily to convey a concept, idea or truth for which human vocabulary or frames of reference are inadequate. Clearly, passages that attempt to describe such things as heaven or hell must use human imagery that would be understandable to those who read it, for we do not have vocabulary or frames of reference to describe such concepts in a more technically accurate way. Imagine for a moment that we had a time machine and went back to the first century and we picked up the Apostle John and brought him to the 21st century and put him on a flight from New York to Los Angeles on a 747. After the flight, we send him back to his time and give him the job of writing a letter to the churches describing his adventure. How is he going to do it?

Even if we gave him our words for things, nobody would understand them. The only thing he could do is to use references and words that existed in his time and place and say things like… “It was as if…” and “It was like…” He couldn’t even tell them where he flew from and to, for his readers have never heard of North America. Therefore, whatever he would come up with would be written in highly metaphoric language and could not be taken literally… just like Revelation can’t be taken literally in its description of thing he saw in heaven.

Thus, if you were Solomon nearly 1,000 years before Christ, how can you write about the love and yearning between God and His people a thousand years before Christ, and not try to do so using human comparisons that the people could comprehend? After all, everyone understands human attraction, and what human attraction is more powerful than love?

That, dear reader is exactly what Solomon did in the Song of Songs, and that is also why there is a danger in letting a literal understanding of his work overwhelm the actual message he is trying to convey; a message that is ultimately more amazing and awesome than human intimacy.

With an idea of why the erotic imagery is used, we can now deal with what we can infer from its use. First and foremost, we need to see the message being conveyed in this story about God and His people, and the ultimate arrival of the Bridegroom for His Bride the Church. Next, we can infer from the imagery that such attraction between Brides and Grooms is OK and not a shameful or sinful thing. How sad it is that so many people think of physical intimacy in marriage is shameful or wrong to enjoy. It is a gift from God; it is a blessing, not a shame. In fact, feelings of shame for sexual intimacy in marriage are as ridiculous as feelings of shame about the human body itself!

Where do we get such notions? They certainly are not from Scripture, where humanity is taught to be the very pinnacle of God’s Creation, not something of the gutter.

Thus, we recall Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:32-33:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Just as Paul was teaching a larger spiritual truth in Ephesians 5 that also contained a practical human element, so also is Solomon teaching a larger spiritual truth in the Song that has a practical human element to it. As such, it is a wonderful book that we should all read and treasure for what it actually contains, and avoid wild speculations about its imagery.