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)

You Must Strengthen Your Core!

Here is a meditation and some beautiful photos that my friend Charylene Powers shared with me, with a spiritual analogy that the Lord gave her during her morning prayer time recently. As the end of 2017 approaches and we consider where we’ve been and where we’d like to go next year, perhaps this will encourage us.

From the side of the therapy pool my Back Splash instructor looks down at me with compassion and understanding in her eyes and says, “You MUST strengthen your core.”  It is a bone chilling January morning. As I back out of my driveway, the snow crunches under the weight of my car tires. I’m leaving for the MVP therapy pool in the darkness of early morning. My back pain has pretty much put a halt to life as I have known it. Immersing myself in the warmth of the therapy pool every morning is about all I can do.  One morning a week, I am attending a Back Splash class offered at MVP. There are usually ten ladies in attendance; all of us with muscle and joint problems. Our instructor directs us to the deep end of the pool, which prevents us from touching the bottom of the pool.  She continues to instruct us saying, “place the swim noodle under your arms and hang straight down, straight as a pencil, back straight, legs together. Look straight ahead; your head is the eraser.” These instructions sound easy enough. However, as I try to follow her directions, my legs float off to the right. I struggle in the water trying to control my body, and I attempt the pencil formation once again. This time my legs float off to the left….and this is when I hear, “You MUST strengthen your core!”   After weeks of daily trips to MVP and attending my Back Splash class, faithfully practicing all the exercises that I am being taught, I am finally able to hold a perfect pencil formation as my instructor counts off the seconds.  Spring is approaching, I am back on my bike….riding down the bike path, enjoying a strengthened core and the freedom that brings.   I have another core: My spiritual core. How do I strengthen my spiritual core? The same way that I strengthen my physical core. Daily, I must practice the spiritual disciplines that keep me on the path that God has asked me to walk. “Not turning aside to the right or to the left.”  In Celebration of Discipline, R.J. Foster tells us “God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”  ……hence as I practice spiritual disciplines, it is God who strengthens my spiritual core.   As I read and mediate on God’s Word, the Psalmist tells me, “His Word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.” The path God has chosen for me. “The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This is my powerful promise from God.  Prayer is how I communicate with God. I hear His “gentle whisper” and feel His “Divine nudging.” In Luke one of the disciples asks, “Lord teach us to pray.” The Lord will teach me to pray as He taught His disciples. When I do not know what to pray the Holy Spirit directs my thoughts. The more I pray the more, I long to pray and “praying without ceasing” becomes a reality in my life not just a desire.   Fasting has been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries. It is a discipline that Christ talks about in Matthew… “when you fast.” Why am I not pursuing this discipline like I do the other disciplines? Probably because I think it sounds like too much work and sacrifice. Maybe this is the discipline that would bring me closer to God ….. The key to my success in strengthening my physical core has been my daily trips to our health club and practicing all the exercises my caring instructor has given me….hence leading to the healing of my body and the freedom that brings.

The key to my success in strengthening my spiritual core is the same: Daily coming to my heavenly instructor and embracing the spiritual disciplines that He is teaching me….hence leading to the healing of my soul and the freedom that brings.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice
behind you saying ‘this is the way; walk in it’.”
(Isaiah 30:21).

 

All I Want for Christmas is…What??

Ever since Donald Gardner was wishing for “two front teeth” when he composed “All I Want for Christmas”  back in 1944, the idea of thinking about what we personally want for Christmas has been a popular part of  America’s Christmas culture.  When our children were young we used to have a music ministry, and I think the broadest smiles we ever got from an audience occurred when our youngest—who was indeed missing his two front teeth that Christmas—sang the song as a solo.                                             What do you want for Christmas?
If you could reduce all your hopes and dreams to one big wish, what would it be?  I noticed that over the past thirty-two years, the name “All I Want for Christmas” has generated more Christmas movies than any other single topic. In 1982, a Happy Days episode told the story of a little girl who wished for her mother to make up with the girl’s estranged grandmother.  In the 1991 movie by the same name, a brother and sister’s ardent wish (and plot) was to get their divorced parents back together. In the  2007 version, a little boy enters a national “All I want for Christmas” video contest in the hopes of finding a new husband for his widowed mother. (We watched this one, and it’s really cute! In fact, if you’re looking for a sweet, romantic comedy this December, I think this one is a family-friendly winner!)In the 2013 version,  All I want for Christmas is a playful tale about a lovely young lady who meets Santa’s helper, “St. Nick.” You might be able to guess what she wishes for…  The 2014 All I Want for Christmas features a  young boy who wishes for a different set of parents…and learns that money isn’t everything!           This year’s edition (2017) is about a little girl who wants a pet dog. All this to say, although people may sing about wanting two front teeth for Christmas, the enduring theme over the years concerning what people really want revolves around relationships, restoration, reconciliation…about loving and being loved. After all, isn’t that what all of us want all the time? But, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we be giving birthday gifts to him? What do you suppose Jesus wants? The Bible teaches us that Jesus wants the same thing all of us want: Love, reconciliation, and unity. He wants us to love God and be loved by him! God began by loving us. He sent his son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life and die in our place so that we can be forgiven for our sins, be reconciled to God, receive eternal life, and have a wonderful love relationship with him. This Christmas, can you give Jesus the gift he’s longing for? He wants you! He wants you to believe in Him, to love him, and to trust Him always. In the last prayer recorded before his death, Jesus expressed his heart’s desire: I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23, ESV).  If you want to give Jesus a gift this Christmas, how about giving him the gift of your love and devotion? By the way, have you heard that God also has a gift for you? If you feel estranged from God, please know that he’s offering you a chance to reconcile: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you haven’t received his gift yet, it is my prayer that this Christmas you will!


Rise Up, My Love (266): Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Today as I write this, it is Christmas Eve, 2017 and the perfect time to consider our verse from the Song of Songs, because there is a beautiful old English carol that speaks of “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” Do you know it?

Song of Solomon 8:5 says, “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth…” The bridegroom carries out the developmental nurturing of his beloved bride in the same protective environment as that which his bride had experienced during her early training. He declares, “I raised thee up under the apple tree.” Where? “Under the apple tree.” What does that mean? Does it mean that the bridegroom lets his wife live in the same community where she grew up so that she never has to move away and can always live close to her mother… “under the same apple tree?”

As pleasant a thought as that might be to some of us, that is obviously not what the bridegroom meant, because we have seen from the preceding chapters that the bride was physically drawn away to many different (and sometimes very challenging) geographical environments. So, symbolically, to what does the “apple tree” refer?

Do you remember our earlier discussion on the imagery of the apple tree from 7:8? “A composite of all the other occurrences used in Scripture depict the apple as symbolic of that which was central to one’s heart, attention, and affection, full of wisdom and discretion, joy and abundance…that which was the greatest of its type, providing delightful protection and sweet sustenance, stabilization and comfort. Could that be anything but a picture of Christ himself?”

Our family has sung in many places at Christmas time the old English carol, “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree.” The bridegroom is declaring that in all his nurturing he used the same influences and standards as his wife had been taught from birth (and spiritually—from “rebirth!”): The gold standard—Christ and his Word. Husbands, are you raising up—lifting up—nurturing your wife under the apple tree of Christ? Are you teaching her to become more like him by living his life in your relationship with her?

Or, are you pushing her to become more like “you,” trying to force her to see things your way and live with “your liberties” and ideas of right and wrong? Don’t be guilty of expecting your wife to live by your standards, which was the condemnation of the apostate Israelites during the days of the judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

There is a king…our Lord Jesus. He is our standard and our “apple tree.” Here it was that your wife was brought to spiritual birth, and here it is that you should continue her nurturing. As you “bring up” your wife, be sure you are using the same standard as that she was taught from her new birth: Jesus. What would Jesus do? Be as gentle as a nursing mother, providing for your wife all the very best of spiritual meat and drink…not forcing her to eat your meat and drink from your cup, but allowing her to take as she will so that together you imbibe Christ and become “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone” (Genesis 2:23).

Hot Mulled Cider to Make Your Holidays Merry and Brighter

Do you go Christmas caroling?  When I was little, our family sang carols around the piano, but as an adult, I’ve also gone out caroling almost every year and have many special memories…a friend trying to play his coronet in the freezing cold…babies bundled with rosy cheeks, starlit nights, snowball fights, heavy snowfalls (which can be romantic too!), rolling to make angels in the snow, and best of all—seeing elderly people light up at the sight of the younger generations coming to their doorstep to serenade them with joyful songs heralding the birth of Christ!  Whether you sing at home or around your neighborhood, it’s always important to warm up afterward with a good, hot cup of cocoa or cider. Here’s a simple but pretty sensational recipe for hot, mulled cider that’s guaranteed to warm you inside and out this Christmas!

Merry and Bright Hot Mulled Cider
(8 Servings)

Pour into a large saucepan:
1/2 gallon apple cider 2 sticks cinnamon (Just as a tip: we’ve found that sometimes Asian markets sell cinnamon sticks for much less than regular grocery stores; check around!)
1/2  teaspoon allspice
1/2  teaspoon ginger1 orange, cut in half. Squeeze the orange hard to get all the juice into the pan, and then pierce the rinds with 18 whole cloves. Add to the brew and simmer for 15 minutes, then let it stand (covered) until 5 minutes before you’re ready to serve it. Just before you serve it, heat it to a simmer again, so it’s piping hot when you pour it out. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:11).  “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

A Humble Servant

Have you ever thought about how Mary would have felt as a young woman, hearing for the first time from an angel that she was going to become the mother of the Messiah? My friend, Cynthia Wedge, reflected on this:

Read: Luke 1:26-38
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38

Humming as she worked, Mary smiled, dreaming of her future wedding; a day filled with great anticipation and excitement. She had already celebrated with some of her friends on their special day; soon it would be her turn. Even her daily, mundane duties seemed almost pleasant as she worked.

Mary started with surprise at the sound of a voice. She had thought she was alone. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” In awe and yet fearful, “Could this really be an angel?” she wondered.

“Don’t be afraid for you have found favor with God.” The angel went on to tell her that she would give birth to a son whom would be named Jesus, that He would be great and “would rule over the house of Jacob forever.”

Hardly able to believe her ears, Mary asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” “It will be by the Holy Spirit. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.” Was her humble reply.

As silently as he had come, the angel left.

Alone, her mind swirling, Mary hardly dared to move. Had she imagined this? Had she really been visited by an angel? Was she really the one chosen to bear the long-awaited Messiah, the King of the world?

Little did Mary know how this brief encounter with an angel would change her life for the rest of her life. First there was the shame of being pregnant before marriage, then the hardships of traveling to Egypt, a new, unfamiliar country, leaving family and friends she loved, later the pain she would suffer as she watched her son, the man Jesus, being ridiculed, mocked, beaten and finally crucified.

Mary called herself a “servant.” A servant in this sense is one who voluntarily serves another. We are not forced to be a servant of God, but choose, out of love, to be available for His service. To do whatever it may be that He calls us to do or be for His glory.

While it was an honor for Mary to be chosen as the mother of the Messiah, it was not without its heartaches and hardships. There is no record that she ever complained; rather she submitted to each new turn in her life as a servant of the Lord God, choosing to serve God in whatever way He asked of her. Being a servant is not always easy, but when we have the assurance that God loves us and is always with us, we can learn to choose to respond as His humble servant.

Have you ever found your world turned upside down in just a brief, unexpected moment? When this happens, is your response like Mary’s, “I am your servant, Not my will, but yours be done”?

Do you sense God asking you to do something, even a little thing that you are resisting? Will you right now tell God you are His servant, willing to do whatever He asks of you?

Copyright© 2017, by Cynthia Wedge