Would You Like to be Able to Avoid the Greener Grass Syndrome?

I don’t believe any marriage between two human beings can be made “affair-proof” any more than any product is 100% waterproof or unbreakable. Do you?

For instance, I have a nephew who heard that his mother’s diamond ring was “unbreakable,” and so he was surprised (and distraught) when he hit it with a hammer and broke it. Humans are frail, fragile creatures capable of great love…and great failure. Only God is perfect and unfailing in his faithfulness. Still, I think this book is an excellent resource for couples, not only those who have failed to keep their marriage vows, but also for those whose love is (at present) strong and steady.

The author, Nancy Anderson, had an affair early in their marriage, although she and her husband walked the painful path through confession, forgiveness, restoration…and have now been married forty years. That makes her more and less qualified to give advice, but before you stop reading based on her character being suspect, let me share what her father had to say when he heard that she was planning to file for a divorce: “No, you’re not!…Happiness has nothing to do with it…You’re acting like a selfish child, and we won’t support you in this separation. The only way we’d ever support you is if you’d exhausted all possible ways to save your marriage.”

Hard words from a girl’s father, but isn’t that exactly what we should all say in such a situation? I thought the book was worthwhile just for the example of how God will intervene when godly parents stand on biblical principles rather than caving in to their kids’ wishes.

The book explains the difference between saying you’re sorry and asking for forgiveness, the importance of earning trust, and the power of “planting hedges” of protection around your marriage that are rooted in Christ. I’m going to share the six “hedges,” but only to inspire you to read the book, not so you think you know everything and therefore don’t need to study further!

Anderson uses the mnemonic device, HEDGES:
*Hearing: listening and speaking with patience and understanding
*Encouraging: helping each other
*Dating: keeping it fresh and fun
*Guarding: agreeing on your boundaries—and enforcing them
*Educating: becoming an expert on your mate
*Satisfying: meeting each other’s needs

Nancy shares a plethora of ideas about how to build safety and health into your marriage…ideas I liked so well that I’ve been implementing some of the ones that were new to me! Also, she includes excellent teaching on “Affair Repair” and how to recover when there’s been a major breach in the relationship.

Whether you’re trying to figure out what went wrong or would like to build a stronger, sweeter, more satisfying marriage, I highly recommend this book. What a great way to start out the new year!

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9)

Rise Up, My Love (269): What’s the Result of Being Sealed?

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm.” As the seal upon the heart speaks of guarding and protecting that which is the source of our affection and love, so the seal upon the arm speaks of guarding that which is the source of our power and strength. Once our affections are secured, they are proven true by our actions.

Have you ever noticed the little verse in John 3:33? The literal Interlinear translation from the Greek into modern English is, “The one receiving his testimony has certified (sealed) that God is true.” What was John saying? He was saying that those who truly believe and receive the words of Jesus are verifying the truth of what he said. We are “setting to our seal” that God is true. It’s as if, by the life we live every day, we are designing our own seal—our own signet ring—with which we give our “stamp of approval” to life.   This imagery is based on the ancient customs of kings, who had a uniquely and personally designed signet ring that they used for giving their official approval to documents. Our “seal” is translated into a living “ring” if you will, and a life lived in obedience to God’s Word carves out into living testimony (in effect) “God is Right.” We certify God’s perfect character and rightness by our actions, thereby building upon the foundation of our new affections, which has been laid by our Lord: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19).   What is the result of having Jesus as a seal on our arm? We “depart from iniquity.” We become the Lord’s miraculous “garden enclosed…a fountain sealed” (Song 4:12). On the negative side, we resist doing evil, but on the positive side, we actively do what is right. In Romans 4:11 it speaks of the “seal of the righteousness of the faith.” Our actions will speak of our God whose judgments are “true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9; Revelation 19:2). As we bear upon our arms the seal of Jesus, we will become wise in our actions and begin to experience the fruits of such a walk:

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding…She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her” (Proverbs 3:13; 15-17).

What is the result of having Jesus as a seal on our arm? What we’ve always dreamed of having…happiness! Think about it for a minute. What is it that we cling to as our inalienable right as Americans? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” How do we attain these goals? Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is “the truth” that makes us free…that provides for our liberty (John 8:32). And, and we just discovered in Proverbs 3, the pursuit of wisdom will end in the attainment of happiness. So simple, yet so profound!   What is it that the world desires more than anything? Happiness! What creates happiness? The verses above give a pretty apt description of what would make most people happy…a long life of wealth and honor full of pleasant, peaceful days. Who wouldn’t like that? The trick is, Satan deceives people into thinking that such a life can only be carved out by the exertion of self-will, when in fact, it can only be found by submitting to the will of God. It’s not in the pursuit of happiness, but in the pursuit of holiness. Not the pursuit of wealth, but the pursuit of wisdom. Not the pursuit of pleasure, but the pursuit of peace. Not the pursuit of gold, but the pursuit of God.

“Set me…as a seal upon thine arm.” Why? So that we will be strong to resist evil and do good. What will be the result? We will find happiness and peace in the love of God…”that the love wherewith thou [God] hast loved me [Jesus] may be in them [believers] and I [Jesus] in them” (John 17:26). O, beloved, have you set Jesus as a seal upon your heart and arm? Are you allowing him to guard and protect your affections and actions?   Just as the high priest wore an ephod with twelve stones… “seals”…upon his chest and shoulder, pledging his love and strength to care for Israel (Exodus 39:4-14), even so does Jesus, our great high priest, pledge his love to us. May we also set his name, like a glowing jewel, upon our breast, so that every breath and sigh speaks of our love and loyalty to him. May we fasten his name like a jewel upon our arms, bearing his love on our shoulders so that every time we lift our arms it is to engage in loving service for him. As the sacrifice was bound with cords to the altar (Psalm 118:27) so that it could not be moved, even so may we bind the love of Jesus as a seal upon our heart and arm so that our commitment will never be shaken.

Where Are You?

(The following devotional was written by my friend, Lisa Walkendorf, and I think it’s a great reflection to begin our journey into the new year. As Pastor Rick taught me, “Wherever you are, be all there!”)

We spent a day touring Athens, Greece before flying home from a mission trip recently. We saw amazing sights and marveled at history mixed within current culture… current sites built along historic ones.   Ruins were visible in the midst of town.   We (like many others) came as tourists to study and reflect on the past.  It is incredible that items from the 5th century BC have survived  and are still preserved for us today! We marveled as we toured the archeological museum.   When we reflected on the day, our group shared what most impressed us,
and there were certainly many options to choose from:  *The Acropolis   *Mars Hill where Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians, noting their worship to “the unknown God” and introducing them
to the known God, who created everything (read more in Acts 17:16-33).  *The delicious, cultural food *The archeological museum  and ancient artifacts.   * All the sites in town.   *And, fellowship with our team members!

One friend shared that she took a picture that impressed her most, but it was not a pretty picture!   It was simply a sign giving directions that stated: You are here. She reflected on the literal reminder “You are here.”  This is where we are.  This is the only life we get to live.  There’s not some other life to live than the one we have.  Some day people may be looking back to this time frame, perhaps viewing it through a museum lens of what was important to us culturally, relationally, and spiritually.

We are here now.  We have this time to love family and friends, to reach out to others and share the good news about Jesus.  It can be helpful to reflect on the question, “Where are you?”  and to be reminded, “You are here!”

Colossians 4:5-6 (NIV) – “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Psalm 90:12 (NIV) – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Where are you today?

Rise Up, My Love (268): Sealed and Safe

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm:” What is a seal? It is something that stands as a visible confirmation of a finished transaction. In a way, it is a contract. It bears the impress and often the image of the contractor. Here are some enlightening points gleaned from Tenny’s invaluable Biblical encyclopedias:
* “The earliest method, as far as one knows, to distinguish a person’s property was by use of the seal; this kind of seal has been found in Neolithic settlements in Mesopotamia.”
* “The earliest seal developed from an amulet and therefore maintained some of the amulet’s magical power. The seal would deter anyone from breaking open the sealed object for fear of the evil that might overtake him.”
* “Though the principal use of seals was for signing documents, they were also used to make safe for shipment jars containing valuable papers or goods.”
* “The unbroken seal was evidence that the merchandise was intact upon arrival” (1).

Wow! Let’s consider Tenny’s commentary in spiritual terms. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 we are told that God “hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” In Ephesians 1:14 and 4:30 we are told that the Holy Spirit himself is the seal…that we have been sealed by “the Holy Spirit of promise” until “the day of redemption.” God is the contractor; he has contracted us to himself in love for our redemption, and he has sealed us with his Holy Spirit of Promise…which bears the impress and image of our invisible Creator, revealing his nature to us and guarding us until the day of our complete redemption, payable upon our death!   Notice also that the seals possessed some assumed “magical” powers which would deter tampering lest evil overtake the one who opened the seal. God’s power is not “magical;” it is beyond magic and imagining…God is all-powerful—omnipotent! It is absolutely correct that every man should fear to tamper with one of God’s elect children…to attempt to “open” or defile his bride! Consider the awesomeness of the judgment that will befall you should you become entangled with sin yourself or attempt to ensnare another believer in a web of sexual immorality or any type of sin. Woe to us for even allowing our minds to wander!

Yet, from time to time we are tempted, and then, with the songwriter of “Come Thou Fount,” our hearts cry out: “Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart—O take and seal it. Seal it for Thy courts above.” “Set me (the Lord Jesus) as a seal upon thine heart.” We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. All we have to do is open the eyes of our hearts and see the seal that is there. Make the spiritual reality more real than the physical reality.

No wonder the Israelites used to carry Scripture portions on their foreheads and their arms. They were making God’s commands literal realities. Can we do less? We do not typically walk around with Bible verses on us (although I always keep a Bible in my purse), but we can keep our love for Jesus as a seal upon our hearts by memorizing and meditating on his Word. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Perhaps Solomon’s father, the man “after God’s own heart,” modeled a worthy example of how to set the living Word as a seal upon our hearts in Psalm 119:11: “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”   As a last point of spiritual parallelism, note that the seals were used to make jars safe for shipment, and an unbroken seal signified that the contents of the jar had arrived intact. What a beautiful picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives! Not only is he our seal, but he is also the one who provides for our safe conduct from this world to the next, serving as guide (John 16:13), teacher (John 14:26), and comforter along the way (John 15:26), bearing us up on eagles’ wings to bring us safely to the Father (Exodus 19:4)!   Are you familiar with the way eagles teach their young to fly? Eagles build their eyries (nests) very high in the tops of tall trees near water or on high cliffs in the mountains. When the parent perceives that the eaglet is prepared to fly, he will push the fledgling out of the nest, immediately diving beneath him as the young bird flaps and struggles to fly. If the eaglet is unable on the first attempt to learn to use its wings to support itself and fly, the parent will literally soar up underneath his fledgling, bearing it up on his own wings so that the young eagle doesn’t dash itself to pieces on the rocks below. In the same way, our faithful, loving Holy Spirit bears us up on the wings of his love as we struggle to learn how to fly spiritually through this world.

Oh, Lord, thank you for the wonderful seal you have given us in the person of your Holy Spirit! Thank you for his ministry in our lives! Thank you that he bears us up on eagle wings to bring us safely home to heaven and you!

(1) Merrill C. Tenny, ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp., 1977), Vol.5, 322.

Happy New Year’s Day, 2018!

Have you ever read the Bible through? If not, why not read it through this year? Wouldn’t that make a great New Year’s resolution? My father, who was not a believer during his long career as a college professor, still considered the Bible the best literature in the English language, and I’m sure it’s been the world’s best seller over the centuries! Doesn’t that make you curious to know what it says? Here are a few inspiring quotes by famous Americans to encourage us in starting out the year well…by treasuring God’s message to us.

“A man has deprived himself of the best there is in the world who has deprived himself of a knowledge of the Bible.” Woodrow Wilson

“Here is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.” Patrick Henry

“I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man.” Abraham Lincoln

“If we abide by the  principles taught in the Bible our country will go on prospering, but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury our glory in profound obscurity.” Daniel Webster

“The more profoundly we study this wonderful Book, and the more closely we observe its divine precepts, the better citizens we will become and the higher will be our destiny as a nation.” William McKinley

“The Bible has been the Magna Carta of the poor and oppressed.” Thomas Henry Huxley. (I don’t know that Huxley was a Christian, so he may not have meant this comment as a compliment, but I think the Bible could rightly be called the Magna Carta, not only of the poor and oppressed, but of all men!)

“As a sailor locates his position on the sea by shooting the sun, so we get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God. We are right when and only when we stand in a right position relative to God, and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.” A.W. Tozer

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him” (King Solomon, who was said to be the wisest man in the world, in Proverbs 30:5).

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Jesus, in the Bible, the book of Matthew 4:4).

 

 

Rise Up, My Love (267): Faithful Husbands and Faithful Wives

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Set me as a seal upon thine heart…” This seems to be clearly a continuation of the bridegroom’s thoughts, and yet, I’ve read wonderful sermons on this verse as if it is the wife desiring her husband’s constancy. On the human level, probably every woman on earth can identify with and echo such a heart cry for her husband to love only her among all women… with all his heart and strength…until death parts them.

But, in The Song of Solomon, which also teaches the mysteries of Christ and the church, it is not the wife making this heartfelt supplication; it is the husband. Why? Because, from Scripture we know that Christ is perfectly immutable in his love for his bride! His heart and arm are already sealed! In Isaiah 49:16, the Lord declares: “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” We are not only as a seal on his heart, we are carved into his hands!

Those of us who have dived into the depths of Jesus’ love and found we could not begin to find the bottom or edges of it, may cry out for his arm to help us, but we cannot doubt his love. If your circumstances are so painful, or if you have strayed so far away, that you find yourself doubting His love, meditate on Romans 8:35-39: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?…I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (By the way, beloved, we are included in that “any other creature.” No one can pluck us out of our Father’s hand [John 10:29]…nor can we jump out ourselves. We cannot even separate ourselves from the love and power of God!) His love is unfathomable and incomprehensible!

Oh Lord, draw us nearer; hold us closer; hide us deeper; teach us to rest more completely… Here is a tiny poem by an anonymous author that is such a comfort: “The stars may shine for a million years, for a million years and a day, But Christ and I shall live and love when the stars have passed away!”   No, we do not need to cry out to Jesus to set us as a seal upon his heart and arm. Our hearts may cry out for such faithfulness in our husbands…and oh, that husbands could be so like Christ that we would have no cause to doubt their love! I believe that it is only a rare and deeply twisted woman who would ever leave her husband if he loved her with steadfast faithfulness… because I truly believe that a woman’s deepest need is for the security and comfort of an unfailing, godly love as described in I Corinthians 13.

However, let’s go on to consider what the passage is primarily teaching. This verse records the cry of Jesus (and husbands) for their wives to be faithful!! It is a sad commentary on women indeed to have penned into the eternal Scriptures King Solomon’s lament, “One man among a thousand have I found: but a woman among all those have I not found” (Ecclesiastes 7:28). What was he looking for? Uprightness? Faithfulness? I’m not sure.

I’ve been tempted to think that he couldn’t find one woman in a thousand who was truly faithful and upright with him because he had a thousand women instead of only one. If he’d had only one wife (which is what God specifically commanded for kings [and is his intention for all of us from the beginning of creation]), perhaps she would have been loyal to him! …or is that just my feminine prejudice coming out?

Sadly, my King Jesus is totally loyal and upright with me, and I have failed him repeatedly, so doubtless we as a group of women would still struggle to be faithful even if our husbands were perfect. But, let’s consider the plea and be inspired to rally to the greatness of loyalty to our husbands!

London Broil: Fit for a Feast

On our honeymoon, I tasted “London Broil” for the first time, and it’s been a favorite ever since! Although it sounds British, it’s really a North American dish made from marinaded flank steak that’s been broiled (or grilled) and cut across the grain into thin strips. If you like beef, you’ll probably love London Broil!

I think it makes a great holiday feast,
and here’s my personal favorite way of preparing it:Succulent London Broil
(serves 6-9)

1 thick flank steak (2-3 pounds).  You can ask the butcher for a “London Broil” cut, or sometimes they’re sold by that name at supermarkets; Meijer here in GR sells them so named. One pound serves about 3 people.

Sprinkle one side of the flank steak with a heavy coating of meat tenderizer and then use a meat tenderizer to puncture many holes into the steak. Rub in 1 tablespoon of Italian dressing. Turn the steak over and repeat the process on the back side of the steak.

Next, rub onto each side of the steak:
1 tablespoon of fresh-squeezed garlic
2/3 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Place the steak in a covered dish on the counter for an hour or in the refrigerator for several hours. (This part can even be done the night before.)

Grill (or broil) on high heat, searing the meat on each side for about two minutes. Then, reduce the heat and continue to grill the meat for 2-3 minutes per side. Don’t overcook it, or it will be tough! For medium rare (considered the best flavor), you probably won’t want to grill it more than about 8-10 minutes total, but you can test it and see if it’s done enough for you.

Once it’s done, set the meat on the cutting board, and let it “rest” for five minutes, then slice it with an electric (or other very sharp) knife into thin slices. If you can’t serve it immediately, put it in a covered dish in the oven to keep warm (about 200°F.), but do serve it as promptly as possible after it’s cut.

We served it over Christmas with baked potatoes, but it goes very well with rice too. Other sides might be vegetable salad, fresh bread, fruit salad, and Brussel’s sprouts or some other hot vegetable. As we had 24 members of our family for the holidays, and a big group that night, I got so busy serving that I forgot to take photos of the completed meal, but it’s one of those memorable dinners that everybody loves!

Happy New Year to you!!

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
(1 Corinthians 5:8)