Category Archives: Marriage and Family Counsel

Rise Up, My Love (261): Supernatural Love

Song of Solomon 8:3 “His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.” Let’s think more about how to develop the type of desire for your mate that the bride expresses here. If your natural first response is to blame your spouse, then join the huge club of people (myself included) who like to deny our own faults.  “Well, if he were more —————(fill in the blank with whatever he’s lacking), I would be more drawn to him.” I’ve used the same excuse.  But, let’s stop ourselves right there. None of us is perfect, and most of us are far from it. As certain as the day is long, King Solomon—like every other person living on the face of the earth—was not a perfect man. This bride didn’t simply love Solomon because he was perfect, and even if we study the story with Solomon as a type of Christ—who was perfect—we see that the wife did not always have such a passion for her husband. Remember? She was the one in chapter 5 who couldn’t be bothered to get up and open the door for him!  No, if we want to grow to really love our spouses with passion, we must come from another perspective. Rather than asking God to change our mates into such attractive people that we can’t help but have a passionate desire for them, we need to ask God to change our hearts so that we truly have a pure and fervent passion for our spouse today and every day, not based on our spouse’s perfection, but based on God’s miraculous love.  How does that occur? Well, first, I’m not suggesting that every woman should (or that it’s even possible to) feel ravenous sexual passion toward her husband every moment of her life. As humans, we have natural rhythms of emotion and sexual desire. But, I am suggesting that passion can be both a natural and a supernatural response. There have been many times in marriage when my passion was a natural response, but there have also been many times when my passion was a supernatural response in order to enable me to meet the needs of my husband.  Where did it come from? It was the direct result of prayer. Have you ever prayed or sung the song, “Give me a passion for souls, dear Lord…” In the same way, we can pray for a passion for our mate. 1 Peter 1:22 says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” In Colossians 4:12 we see the example of Epaphras, who was “always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”  If Epaphras could pray fervently for the Colossians to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God,” then certainly we can labor fervently in prayers so that we might love our spouses fervently, which is also the known will of God for us! Isn’t that true? I am not suggesting that husbands use this as a club to hang over their wives’ heads: “If you’d just pray hard enough, God would make you amorous tonight!” The Bible is clear that the husband is to love the wife and live with her “according to knowledge,” (and I presume that means a knowledge of her needs, capacities, and natural desires as well: Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19; I Peter 3:7). But, I am suggesting that the wife, out of a desire to love her husband, can utilize the resource of prayer and may discover (as I have on many an occasion) that God will supernaturally grant her a passion that is not naturally within her.  It is an amazing experience to feel the miraculous filling of the Lord to become a conduit of his love. What is the spiritual application? Know and rejoice in the fact that what you have done for “the least of these my brethren” you have done unto Christ. Do you love Christ? Then you have every reason to love your spouse, regardless of the limitations in your relationship. You can love him as a way of living out your love for Christ and mirroring to the world the love of the church bride for her heavenly husband. (PS—I hope these photos made you smile, but I didn’t intend for them to in any way be demeaning of men!  Most of the images—including the mastodon—are from the Rochester Museum and Science Center in New York, taken during a recent trip to visit our son Stephen, who’s at Eastman School of Music [hence, the bust of Beethoven].  There is also one of our son Michael, who was [at the same time] visiting Martin Luther’s home in Germany and posed behind one of Martin’s robes. The stained glass of Jesus and the Lamb is from Stephen’s church, where he serves as pianist.)

Rise Up, My Love (260): What Do You Want Most of All?

Song of Solomon 8:3 “His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.” This verse is almost an exact repeat of 2:6, where the wife says, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.” The only difference is in the verb. Here in 8:3 it is “should be…should embrace” rather than stating the fact that he “is.” The first three verses of this chapter are all in the subjunctive voice, expressing a desire for something to be true which has not actually happened up to this point, but the present tense, imperative charge in verse 4 makes it evident that the bride’s wish for communion did at last come true.

What a blessed thought that the Lord honors our ardent spiritual desires by eventually making them into spiritual realities. If we desire no barriers…there will at last be none! In our earlier discussion (2:6) the emphasis was on the spiritual nature of this loving embrace, and well it should have been, since the Song of Solomon, as the only biblical picture of the mysterious relationship between God and Israel (as well as the mystery of Christ and his bride), is ever and foremost a guide to spiritual love.

However, with this expression of a desire for the experience to be repeated, let’s consider the physical relationship as well. What exactly was Solomon’s bride wishing for here? It is obvious from this verse that the wife desires to intoxicate her husband not only with those loving preparations meant to relax him and bring him joy, but also with the expressions of her love in the deepest sense…to partake of him and give back to him…to become one with him with the intimacy only allowed in marriage.   Many of life’s most beautiful thoughts are conveyed in the unspoken eloquence of silent action, and I truly believe that for the great majority of men, the most profound way for a wife to express her love to him is through giving and accepting sexual pleasure, which is what we see developing in this verse. If the physical reality is that the wife is wishing for sexual communion with her husband, what does that say for us today, and what are the spiritual implications of that wish?   First, it seems that this is the perfect time for every wife (and husband too, really) to take a personal inventory of her-his secret “wish list.” If you could have anything you wanted, what would it be? What is your heart longing for most of all? Is it something material: a new house, a new car, a cottage on the lake, a special vacation…new clothes, a new appliance or power tool, new jewelry or sports equipment; new music? Do you want something more, or just something different? Maybe new friends, a new church, a new school situation for your family, or a new job situation? Oh, there are so many things we could wish for.

Dig deeper. Is there something even more important that you’re wishing for? Maybe a better relationship with someone you love…or don’t love? Maybe restoration of a broken friendship, or the healing of a strained relationship? Or, do you just long for more of a good thing…more happiness, more joy, more peace, more love…to know God better and love him more dearly…to understand your spouse better and love him with a deeper, sweeter, purer love?

The Song of Solomon records the cry of the wife’s heart, and it is to love and be loved by her husband in a very tangible, literal, physical way. Is this the cry of your heart? If it is, then praise God for such heat! If it is not, and rarely ever or never seems to be, then ask God why, and ask him how to change your heart so that you do truly have a passionate desire for your spouse.

Rise Up, My Love (258): Spiced Pomegranate Juice

I want to tell you that everywhere we visited in India, I kept thinking of scripture verses that seemed to spring to life right before my eyes! This was even more true than in Israel, I think, because life in some parts of India today has striking similarities to what I imagine life might have been like in ancient Israel 4,000 years ago!  One of the common sights in India was vendors pushing carts loaded with lovely fresh fruits. (This was probably not so true in ancient Israel.) I don’t know how the vendors preserved their precious cargoes in the intense heat, but they were usually neatly stacked in orderly piles and looked very appealing.  Because of G.I. issues (which were constant for many of us) and very different bacteria in India, we were advised to abstain from fresh fruits unless we could personally wash them in bottled water and peel them, but on a steamy, hot day the thought of a glass of fresh-squeezed juice was certainly tempting! It’s with that thought in mind that I offer this Sunday’s commentary on the Song of Solomon:

Song of Solomon 8:2 “I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” As we’ve discovered from earlier studies, the pomegranate was considered the choicest fruit in Israel. It was also conjectured by some to picture a mind filled with true and beautiful thoughts of Christ, and if this interpretation is correct, it sheds a special radiance on the bride’s ardent declaration.

What is the bride wishing to do? She is wishing to influence her husband to enjoy the “spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.” What exactly is that? According to one commentator, a kind of sorbet made from the juice of the pomegranate was a popular drink in the East.* Probably the bride had some such delectable specialty in mind, perhaps even one that was made from an old family recipe, since she refers to it as specifically coming from her own pomegranate and in the context of her natal home.

What is our Lord trying to teach us from this tiny gleam of Scriptural revelation? What are we as wives to desire for our husbands? What are we as believers to desire for Christ? If the pomegranate of the “temple” (forehead) is a mind filled with lovely thoughts about our husband, then the spiced wine made from “the juice of my pomegranate” would seem to be an offering of rich, flowing thoughts made by meditating on the one we love…in this physical world, our husband, and in the spiritual world, our Lord.

It is the bride’s desire to invite her husband to become intoxicated with the overflow of her thoughts and emotions as she meditates on his uinque beauties. What offering can you bring to your husband (or wife!) as a result of mulling over all the positive memories you have stored in the files of your mind? What are your thoughts about Christ? Go beyond simply describing who your husband and the Lord are, but also share what have they done for you. If you are reading this with your mate, why not take a few minutes right now and share your thoughts together?

If you can’t right now, would you consider writing out your thoughts now or this week sometime? Will you take time…maybe even just a half an hour for each mini essay…and write one for your Lord and one for your mate? If you’re looking for a “new fruit” to bring on your next mini honeymoon…why not bring along your thoughts to share? They will be even more thrilling to him (or her) than spiced wine (and shouldn’t cause any G.I. distress)!  🙂

* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 554.

Rise Up, My Love (257): Love’s Apprentice

Song of Solomon 8:2 “I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me.” Ah, here is a ready topic for a woman! How are young women to learn how to love their husbands?  In the home, under the ready tutelage of their mothers, who have already spent an entire generation of time practicing the art of love…trying to learn what works and what doesn’t, what is wise and what is foolish, studying which paths lead to success and which to failure. As with any art—be it painting, playing the piano, cooking, sewing, or loving—it takes years of devoted study to do things well.

Think of your ability to love your mate as if you were an artist painting a mile long mural that will take many years to complete. As you work, you will inevitably learn more about perspective…more about how to make the shadows fall in just the right places and how to make the highlights jump out at you…how to make the colors look richer and blend into more pleasing shades. As you work, your talent will gradually develop until at some point you will say, “Oh! How wonderful! I’m finally starting to actually be able to express myself on canvas so that others can see what I can “see” in my heart!

How do people learn an art? Well, they can experiment on their own throughout their lives, but by far the quickest way to learn is by studying under a tutor. A tutor can teach someone else all the tricks of the trade that have taken the master a lifetime of study to learn. For example, Michelangelo, thought by many to be the world’s greatest painter and sculptor, studied under Donatello, who was the world’s greatest sculptor before Michelangelo. Similarly, Donatello spent from age eighteen to twenty-two apprenticing under the world’s foremost bronze-worker, studying his techniques for casting sculptures…and on it goes. Generations of artists and craftsmen have apprenticed people to learn their trade secrets and carry on family businesses.

What is the chief “business” of a wife? You may completely disagree with me, but I think a wife’s #1 “job” is loving her husband…learning how to be his “help meet”—his uniquely designed helper. What are the family “trade secrets?” How does one learn more about perspective in a marriage? How does one learn to soften the shadows of sorrow and highlight the happy times? How should all the elements of life be mixed to make the most pleasing “picture” of love and home so that your relationship with your husband will truly model the mysterious love between Christ and the church? How can you get the onlooking world to eventually exclaim, “Oh! I can see you living out what has been the desire of your heart all along!”

How does one learn all these “trade secrets?” Well, I’m still no expert and feel like learning to love is a lifelong study which will never be completed, but I think the lessons are learned most naturally and easily in the “apprenticeship” of home.

But, what if you’re not from a home where love is taught? Then, just like a young, aspiring artist, apprentice yourself to a master (mistress) craftsman! I learned perseverance in my home, but not Christian love, so I tucked under the wings of two extremely godly sisters who became my spiritual mothers. This is also the New Testament pattern, where the older women in the church are charged with the responsibility of being “teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5).

Learn from watching godly examples, both at home and in the church. Learn from reading good resource material. Learn from observing and asking, and then prayerfully practice. Ask God every day for wisdom and grace. Practice communicating with your mate. Practice with creative and prayerful experimentation. Ask questions. Study. Meditate on the examples and instructions given in Scripture. Ask God to make you into a shining example of His love. And above all, study the master of love…the Prince of Peace. Be joined as one with him, not only positionally, but in your soul and spirit, because it’s only as we become a little more like Jesus that we’ll begin to know how to truly love our mates (and all those around us) and minister to their needs.

 

Rise Up, My Love (256): Afraid of Being Despised

Song of Solomon 8:1 What keeps the bride from immediately acting on her inspiration in this verse? Fear of being despised by others. How true the proverb: “The fear of man bringeth a snare.” Her lament is the core thought as the bride begins to paint this last poetic picture, and it should cause us to pause for serious introspection.

What keeps us from public displays of affection for our Lord? What keeps us from coming away with him during the day for a time of communion? Is it the fear of public ridicule? Are we afraid of being despised? Immediately verses begin to swirl through my brain, such as those prophetically spoken of Jesus: Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected of men… he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” and Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.”

Jesus was clearly despised by those who rejected him. But…what about the New Testament admonitions such as 1 Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,” and Titus 2:15: “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”

Those two lines of thought seem incongruous. What exactly does it mean to be despised? Is it something to be avoided, or is it something that we will inevitably suffer for the Lord’s sake? If Jesus, perfect as he was, was despised, how shall we escape such degradation? According to the dictionary, to despise something is to regard it as “unworthy of interest or concern” or worse yet, to regard it with “utter contempt (1)”. Our Lord was regarded as something unworthy of interest by those who rejected him. How often we find that true among unbelievers today!

How often I’ve tried to share Christ with those I love, and their response is often something like this, “I’m too busy. I don’t feel a need. There are too many other things going on in my life right now! Who cares?” Wow! I believe it is against this calloused indifference that our Lord admonished us to be examples of true faith and to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:15). Don’t let people ignore their need! Speak. Tell them. If they refuse to listen, then exhort them: “urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal (2).”  If they still refuse to acknowledge their need of the Savior, then rebuke them: “criticize or reprove sharply; reprimand (3).” Point out to them their sins “with all authority”…based on the authority of the Word of God!

So, in the final analysis, it looks like the bride is afraid of being despised but should not be. King Solomon wrote in his proverbs that “the fear of man bringeth a snare,” but “whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). Perhaps he taught these very lessons to his wife long before they were recorded for posterity, because—happily—as the next three verses unfold, we see that the bride overcomes her fears in order to bring her husband into communion. And, for us as believers today, we should take heart, not fearing the ridicule of man, but rather pursuing our Lord…morning, noon, and night!

(1) The American Heritage Dictionary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992, 507.
(2) Ibid, 642.
(3) Ibid, 1507.

Rise Up, My Love (255): Holy Fire

Song of Solomon 8:1 “O that thou wert as my brother…” Although Solomon has used the term of intimate endearment, “my sister my spouse” four times in the Song, this is the first and only time that his wife uses the word “brother,” and then…she doesn’t really call him brother, she simply expresses the desire to be as affectionate with him in public as one can be with a true biological brother.

The  complete phrase (which I’m going to ask you to look up lest it sound inappropriate for anyone who reads on Face Book) implies a full, rather than only a half brother, since multiple wives but not multiple husbands sometimes occurred during that period. This is a significant differentiation since we know from the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Amnon and Tamar, etc. that half brothers and sisters could and sometimes did marry in ancient times, and therefore—apparently—public affection was socially uncensured only between true biological offspring of the same couple.

I was surprised to find that there is precious little commentary from anyone on this verse. Is it because we—as products of modern western culture—find it hard to understand what she’s feeling? From the remainder of the section (verses 1-4), it seems clear that her desire is not simply to be able to give him a sisterly greeting in public places, it is the desire to be able to draw him away from the public concourses into the privacy of home and initiate intimate communion without incurring public ridicule.

A biological sister could greet her brother affectionately in the market place and take him home to their mother’s house without arousing any suspicion or derision because it would be assumed that she had come on a legitimate business errand. But, this bride was on a romantic errand instead!

Why did she experience such a passion for intimacy during the day, and was the fear of being despised good or bad? As a wife, I can think of times when I’ve daydreamed about “kidnapping” my husband to carry him off for a romantic interlude. There are two common motivations, one selfish and one unselfish.

On the selfish side, such fantasies are often the result of feeling overwhelmed by present responsibilities or burdened by present griefs and trials. There is something almost irresistibly appealing about the thought of escaping to “somewhere” away from the fray with “someone” who loves you and will make you forget your worries. Haven’t you felt that sometimes too?

Although there are proper places and times for coming apart for refreshment (as modeled by our Lord Jesus, who would go apart with his Father and pray), I suspect the Lord doesn’t intend them nearly as often as we imagine! On the unselfish side, the ardent desire to be in communion with the one who is the object of our affection is ever a good thing, and although the pressures and responsibilities of the day often keep us apart for long periods of time, the eagerness of our hearts for reunion is simply an indication of the depths of our love.

Since the text gives no indication that outside pressures are distressing the bride, it seems reasonable to assume that her passion for union is driven simply by the intensity of her love. I wonder, do we share a similar unselfish passion for communion with our Savior…just to be with him not because we need something but because we want him? What about in our marriages? Do we long to be with our mates—not to get something from him or her such as help, reassurance, or sexual release, but “just because”…just because we love being together?

Dear God, please give us a passion for communion with our mate and with our Savior! Please grant us a passion for Christ like the passion we feel for physical union! Please develop in us a hunger and thirst for Christ that’s even greater than our drive for food and water! May we burn brightly with your holy fire.   PS—It didn’t occur to me 15+ years ago when I first studied this verse, but I think a very high percentage of adulterous relationships develop when people feel overwhelmed by life and work stresses but fail to go to God and their mate for help. As mates, we really need to be available to listen and soothe one another. If we’re always busy complaining and adding to our mate’s stress level, then pretty soon our mate will be tempted to go somewhere where they can feel less pressured, not more. However, that’s absolutely WRONG! If spending time with your mate makes you feel more stressed, tell your mate! Work together to find times when you can declare a “no stress zone,” and have times when you concentrate on bonding and having fun together instead of always grinding through issues and problems. The problems ye have with you always!

Even in Crisis

(Used by permission of a young friend awaiting her wedding day, Debbie R.)

I’ve been wanting to write down some of my thoughts from these past couple weeks, but I’ve always found writing to be a difficult thing for me. For anyone who knows me, I’m not a writer, I’m a… yeah, that’s right, a talker. Been teased about that my whole life, but here I go…

Since my surgeries two weeks ago I’ve had a hymn from childhood and a few verses continually on my mind.
“The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell…

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure – the saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made; Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure – the saints’ and angels’ song.”

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35‭, ‬37‭-‬39 ESV

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:8‭-‬11 ESV

Life certainly took a turn a few weeks ago when I got sick. There I was just six weeks from getting married and so excited to get all the final pieces together and just finally marry my love, mi vida, the man who is God’s best for me.

And then it happened; the realization that I had to go in to emergency because something was terribly wrong. After a couple days of tests and switching hospitals, we heard some of the hardest words to hear a doctor say, “We have to do surgery.” At this point I hadn’t eaten in days and had gone below 100 pounds. I looked completely out of it, but I still remember so much of what was going on around me. I remember starting to think about the fact that I was really, truly going to go through surgery again. After ten years, it was happening again. While my very first surgery was also an emergency, this one was different. The surgeon didn’t know what he would find when he opened me up. “What is gonna happen? I’m in a different country; I don’t have my doctor here.” I had this feeling of, “I really might not make it. Surgery is surgery after all.” And then a sense of overwhelming peace came over me. God makes no mistakes. His word will accomplish it’s purpose. If I went to sleep in surgery and woke up in the presence of my Creator, that would be in His plan. And I would be glad. But God, in His mercy guided the surgeons hands in painstakingly untwisting the tangled intestine they found. And when I woke up I was instead in recovery and shortly later saw the faces of those I love. God’s purpose for me here is not finished yet. And I am glad.

Recovery in the hospital after the surgeries wasn’t easy. There were ups and downs. The biggest low was hearing the surgeon say that an October 7 wedding was too soon. But I was fine. I talked with Wilmer and we decided to postpone it for December 2. Emotionally I was handling everything incredibly well. What happened to the extremely passionate person who overreacts to literally everything? Well, let me tell you something. These past few months have been difficult for me. Little things with health and wedding plans and legal paperwork for getting married in Colombia had been hitting me left and right. I would get so frustrated and at times even mad at God for how things were going. And yet, with everything God had it in His control and proved His faithfulness to me in these smaller things one after the other. He was preparing me for what was coming next. And because He did, I could trust Him and I knew of His love for me. I could only be grateful that He spared my life.

My uncle just wrote me very encouraging words this morning, “Nothing is wasted nothing is by accident all by His design to draw your real heart into His … run for Him and never stop.” Are you running for Him? Are you drawing close to Him? Are you living every single day of your life for Him? Please don’t wait for a crisis to happen to realize what is important in life. God has you here for a purpose. Share the love of God to those around you. Don’t waste your life. And ultimately, God’s purpose for you is to conform you into the image of Christ. Let Him do it; don’t resist it. The road can be tough at times, but it is so SO worth it. He will never leave your nor forsake you. He who promised is faithful.

I hope you have been encouraged by these words. I write them with love for all of you in my life. Thank you so much for the prayers, the encouragement and the visits. Thank you to my fiance, who though hasn’t said any vows to me yet has proved to be there “in sickness and in health.” A huge thank you to my parents who have always been there for me, took turns spending the nights with me in the hospital, asked questions and made sure they knew everything that was going on, and who have loved me more than words can express. Thank you to my brother, Mark, for also taking turns being with me and spending some nights in the hospital. Thanks also to my boss, Shawna, who spent one night with me to give my parents a break. And lastly, to the surgeons, doctors and staff at Hospital Universitario Nacional de Colombia for their expertise and care. (Thank you, Debbie, for letting me share your story! May the Lord bless you two with a long and fruitful marriage…soon!!! 🙂 )