Category Archives: Marriage and Family Counsel

Don’t Forget (to) Breathe

If you want to be inspired by an incredible story of love overcoming all, be sure to watch the 2017 account of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an amazing love story recounted by their son as a tribute to their unfailing love for one another through devastating illness.  The acting is excellent.  (The heroine, Claire Foy, totally charmed us in her role as Elizabeth in The Crown, a fascinating look into the reign of England’s longest [and still] reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.) I don’t want to tell you too much of the story lest I ruin it,  but it is a beautiful example of love and faithfulness  despite overwhelming challenges. As a result of their unbounded devotion to one another —and to making life worth living—their work has resulted in helping thousands of severely disabled persons! Ready to be inspired? Then it might be time to watch Breathe!For in him [the Lord] we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Rise Up, My Love (284): “Beautiful in His Eyes”

Song of Solomon 8:10 “. . .then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.” Well, so much for personal struggles (as a prototypical female). What’s the bottom line on this verse? Was Solomon’s bride being realistic? Did she have a pride problem? Or, was the bride simply expressing how beautiful her husband made her feel? I’d like to believe the last option, although for those of us mortals who live in this physical, fallen world, I suspect the Shulamite was truly a stunningly beautiful woman, Solomon had been attracted to her for that reason, and she knew it.

This is the most reasonable, literal interpretation of the verse, and the fact that Solomon gathered a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines who became idols in his life and led him astray from God strongly supports this view. (1 Kings 11:3: “And he [Solomon] had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.”) This is one place in the book where—on the physical level—Solomon departs from our precious Savior, who looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance. “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7. Thank you, Jesus!).We’ll discuss spiritual beauty next, but on the physical level, what lessons can we learn today? First, a word to all of us, but especially guys (who are often extremely visual in their orientation). Of course you’re attracted to a woman’s beauty, so be sure you marry someone who is physically appealing to you. Never try to be “super spiritual” and refuse to acknowledge your basic feelings about how physically attractive a potential girlfriend seems. However, your physical attraction should only be the first step in identifying the right girl.

If you want to be content in this life…if you want a happy marriage…then learn to be like Christ. Look for an attractive mate who is intently developing spiritual beauty…and make sure you’re intently developing godly character yourself! It is our flesh that draws us to physical beauty, and if we don’t train our hearts to focus on and love that which is spiritual, we will forever suffer lustful attractions to members of the opposite sex based strictly on physical appearance. Why do you think the draw to pornography is so incredibly powerful? Modern men may not have Solomon’s wealth and power to acquire a physical harem, but for the price of his soul a man can develop a Satanic harem through visual images that will lead to his destruction just as surely as Solomon’s lust turned him away from his God.

The Proverbs remind us: “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:31). If you want to be still singing your spouse’s praises when you’re seventy, look for someone who loves the Lord with all her heart, mind, soul, and strength. The spirits of such people grow more attractive year by year.Second, another word to all of us, but especially to us as women (who due to child birth and hormone shifts have an extremely difficult time retaining our youthful figures). Let’s try to be as beautiful as possible for our spouses! A fact of human nature that we would be wise to understand and accommodate is that human beings are attracted to physical beauty. (No offense on the lizard; I was thinking of myself!)

Let’s assess ourselves realistically. Are we firm and straight like a wall, or are we sagging and bulging under the weight of indulgence? Are we being self- disciplined enough to eat and exercise properly? Do we have good posture? Standing up straight will go a long way toward looking as attractive as possible. Our breasts may not exactly seem like “towers” to us, but if we’re not overweight, we’re standing up straight, and we’re wearing undergarments that are appropriately supportive, most women will have a pleasant frame that can be totally satisfying to her husband. (If he keeps his eyes off strange women; a man with wandering eyes will never be satisfied, no matter how beautiful his wife is.)Believe it or not, being as shapely as possible is something that God desires for us as part of living “heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). It is part of good stewardship. He gave us our body as a gift to maintain, and he wants us to be beautiful for him. We are his abiding place, and just as he is preparing a place for us, so we can express love to him by keeping our earthly tabernacle as beautiful as possible for him. Although our motive in everything should be first and foremost God’s pleasure, a beautiful body will also be a pleasure and attraction to our husbands.

We probably do not think we could compete in a Miss Universe contest, but let’s work on being able to go at least this far towards feeling like the bride. Let’s work on being able to say: “God gave me just the body he wanted me to have, and I am beautiful to Him. I want to be a good steward of the body that God has given me, and my husband appreciates me for that.”(Hopefully!! 🙂  )

Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work (2 Timothy 2:19-21).

Song of Solomon (283): What Would You Like Your Husband to Love About You?

Song of Solomon 8:10 “…then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.” I believe this verse is best considered in its entirety, first on the physical level, but then—for our encouragement and comfort—on the spiritual level (because it seems to me that our physical bodies are often even more difficult to significantly improve than our spiritual lives).

Two things are very striking to me about the verse. First, the bride’s self esteem and unusual self assessment, and second, the bride’s confidence that her body is what gained her favor with her husband: “then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.” There may be women who read this verse and identify with the bride’s assessment of herself in a positive way (e.g.: “Oh, yes, that is true of me! I have a gorgeous body and that’s why my husband fell in love with me!”).

If you did, you can skip the next few paragraphs! However, I’ve heard that even Hollywood’s lineup of beautiful movie stars, when surveyed, reported they would like to change some things about their appearance if they could. So, I suspect almost every woman grew up the way I did: not perfectly content with her physical appearance. For me, the bride’s declaration seems surprisingly vain on the one hand and discouraging on the other. It seems vain for anyone to think so highly of herself; but if her assessment was correct, then it is discouraging to think that someone could truly have such an amazing figure.

I grew up feeling pretty, but I would never have thought of myself as being as strong and statuesque as a wall, nor would I have described my breasts as towers! (The earlier description of sleeping fawns could compute in my brain.) Is such high regard simply recognizing the truth, or is it pride? Certainly, this woman was one of a kind in Solomon’s estimation, so perhaps she was the “Miss Universe” of her time and had gained the king’s favor strictly because of her beauty.

Something inside me resists that with all my being. I prefer the story of Esther, who was winsome because she was beautiful both inside and out. My husband once intimated that what attracted him to me was my body when we were first married, and I just about hit him over the head with a baseball bat! (Well, maybe not really.) I didn’t want him to love me for my looks. Outward beauty is ephemeral and often misused by the world. I wanted him to love me for my spirit…my character…maybe even my brain…anything but my looks, because I felt that surface appearances truly were just “skin deep,” and that the real and lasting beauty I should be concentrating on was the unfading inner beauty of a Christlike spirit.

Now, forty-five years later, I know my husband loves me for something deeper than outer beauty, because he still says he thinks I’m beautiful, even though I no longer have my youthful figure and face. I appreciatively accept his assessment as one who is blinded by love. In other words, I don’t think I’m beautiful, but when my husband tells me that I am, my brain relays this message: “Your husband really loves you!” A man who thinks a woman is beautiful will either love her for it (in the sense of being drawn to her), or because he loves her, he will think she’s lovely. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts!

(P.S.—I used a photo of Elizabeth Taylor as my graphic for this article because when I was little, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Despite her beauty, fame, and fortune, I would not have traded places with her. Would you?)

I’d Rather Have Jesus
(-Rhea F. Miller, 1922)

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sins dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.
I’d rather be true to His holy name

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs.
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sins dread sway.
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

 

Rise Up, My Love (276): A Love that Cares for Others

Song of Solomon 8:8.  For many commentators, this next verse seems to “pop out of the blue” and is considered obscure. No one doubts that it is the bride and groom who have been speaking in chapter 8 up until verse 8, but suddenly it doesn’t appear to occur to anyone that the bride and groom are still speaking. There is no consensus on who is speaking…brothers, suitors, or whoever…and not even consensus on who or how many women are being discussed in verses 8-10.

Taken at face value, the verse is relatively straight forward and easy to understand. The bride begins chapter 8 by expressing a desire for familial intimacy with her mate in addition to the privileges of marriage. The husband responds by pointing out that he has assumed the role her family took in caring for her, and that he wants her to depend on him to provide for her in every area of her life! Verse 8, to me, is a beautiful outflow of love based on the depth of the wife’s security.

The wife, reassured by her husband’s declaration of unwavering faithfulness, now looks beyond herself and opens her heart to the needs of the one closest to her: their little sister. The bride is concerned about the lack of development in their sister and seeks counsel from her husband on how to provide for her. Isn’t that wonderful? Think of the range of reactions that an older sister might have towards a younger sister. This young bride could have been smug about her own beauty and unconcerned for the younger girl. Or, she might have been ashamed or critical of her younger sister’s immaturity and ignored or spurned her. But, the bride chose the very best: She acted in love toward her little sister and wanted to help her succeed in life. Do these possible reactions ring any bells?

How often in this life are we tempted to make the wrong choice in response to someone else’s insufficiencies? How often we tend to ignore those around us who have not attained our position…either physically or spiritually? How easy it is to be critical or ashamed of weakness in others! How rare it is to choose the way of love and reach out in compassion to help! But, this is what God desires for us, even as he has reached out and rescued us.

Not only on a very personal level should we reach out and help those around us, but also as the corporate bride of Christ—the church— we need to reach out to other “little sister” churches as well. Three of the churches in Revelation model three common positions of the church today. How easy it is to be smug, like the blind church at Laodicea who saw only the physical reality of her material wealth and didn’t understand her deep spiritual poverty (Revelation 3:14-22). The Laodiceans were beautiful on the outside, but not on the inside. They had no regard for the needs of others.

I wonder, how are we doing at caring for the millions of persecuted believers who are suffering and starving in other areas of the world? Are we helping to build on the “wall” (v. 9) of their faith? Or, we might be like the church at Ephesus. We might be full of good works ourselves and meticulously careful to maintain our purity, but so sidetracked by harshly judging others that we fail to be transformed by love into the image of Him who is merciful and full of compassion. Are you personally—or as part of a local church—shriveling up into a constricted, inbred congregation that has no outreach to those around you? If so, repent and return to filling your vision with the great God of love! Spread his good news and his good will to all those around you, or you will whither away to nothing (Revelation 2:1-7).

Finally, we might be like the church in Philadelphia, the church of “brotherly love.” It had its problems and struggles, just “a little strength,” and those who caused trouble, but they were hanging on to the God’s Word and upholding his name, patiently continuing to try to do his will. To that church God just said, “Keep on keeping on, and I’m going to bless you!” (Revelation 3:7-13). Is that you? Is that your church? Not perfect; not a tower of strength; but patiently continuing the struggle to walk in the way of love and truth.

The church we attend should not be an ivory tower where we await heaven far from the madding crowd. Yes, church should be a place of worship and praise, but God is our tower of refuge; not our church. Our church should be like a hospital. It should be a place of security, a safe environment where the strong and spiritually healthy are faithfully serving so that new believers are being birthed, the sick healed, the wounded tended, the elderly lovingly cared for, and the young trained.

Let’s stop for a few minutes and think about our personal, family, and church lives. O Lord, show us where we fall short and strengthen us to live lives of love and compassion toward those who lack what we possess!

 

Rise Up, My Love (274): True Love is Priceless

Song of Solomon 8:7 “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” Why? Because love is priceless! Love is worth more than any and every material treasure, and the lover will accept no substitute for the object of his love…not even money, although the love of money has probably confused and destroyed more people than any other idol (I Timothy 6:10). If a man would try to buy love with “all the substance of his house”—everything he possessed— He would be despised for reducing love and the person from which it comes to an object. If you set the price of love at a billion dollars, you would reduce it to nothing. By its very nature love must be given. Sex can be bought; love must be given.

As you might guess, I read every book I could get my hands on while studying the Song of Solomon, and today I want to share two quotes if you’ll forgive me. Craig Glickman explains things so well in his book, A Song for Lovers: “The attempt to buy a person’s love is an attempt to reduce that person to an object, to deny him that which makes him a person in the image of God—his voluntary choice of the one whom he will love. So if a man offered a girl all the wealth of his house for love, it would be a great insult. It would be an attempt to depersonalize her. For her to accept would be her greatest degradation, and in reality it would almost be legalized prostitution. Person hood precedes love. In depersonalizing, we destroy it. Love is not an object to be bought because it is priceless” (Glickman, 101).

Harry Ironsides, in his classic Addresses on the Song of Solomon, relates the heartbreaking account from many years ago of a seventy-year-old millionaire who negotiated with an ambitious mother for the hand of her eighteen-year-old daughter. After the wedding, the elderly husband lamented, “I am her sorrow” (Ironsides, 120-121). The old man had been unable to buy her love, and all his money had satisfied neither of them. There is no substitute for love! Love cannot be bought. It must be given.

This should be a sublime comfort to us as the objects of God’s love and favor, because that also means that no bribe of Satan can ever tempt God to give us away now! If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, God has taken us into his kingdom and loves us as he loves Christ. Positionally, we are already one in him and with him, although we won’t experience this relationship fully until he brings us to himself in heaven. No accusation against us is great enough to undo the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and change God’s love. We have been bought and paid for! God will chasten us when we sin and prune us like plants into greater fruitfulness, but even these actions are proof of his love for us: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). We are secure. We are loved with everlasting love. Nothing will ever separate us from his love, “For 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” (Romans 8:38-39).

 

Rise Up, My Love (273): Of Flames and Fountains

Song of Solomon 8:6 “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Fifteen years ago, when I wrote this commentary, I spent nearly a year on this verse alone, I guess because there was so much road repair that had to be done spiritually in my life in order to move on. I am reminded of the verses in Isaiah 62:10 and 40:3: “Prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people,” and, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”   I had been moving along, trying to build a straight road for my Lord, when all of a sudden a found a huge boulder blocking the path! The stumbling stone was misplaced affection. I was expecting others to remain perfectly loyal to me through thick and thin, and I was allowing failure to unravel me. This is wrong.

We must keep our eyes on Christ at all times and our relationship with him paramount. It is true that friends and spouses are to remain faithful, but it is inevitable that all people will be faced with the temptation to be unfaithful, and people respond very differently to this type of challenge. Our job as a spouse is to address evil with compassionate firmness without sinning ourselves.   The amazing thing is the power of sin to breed sin. Proverbs 6:24 reminds us that “jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.” If our eyes get off the Lord and on to our spouse, the partner’s failure is a tremendous catalyst for us to yield to some sin…be it unfaithfulness, or unholy anger, pride, hatred, revenge, or a host of other evils. “Be ye angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). For years I was troubled by a spirit of jealousy (Numbers 5:14).   Sometimes my jealousy was justified, and sometimes it was not, but it caused me constant pain, and my husband—for whatever reasons—was unwilling or unable to reassure me when I would doubt him. Truly, jealousy is cruel as the grave. The heat of it sparked in me a fire of wrath and hatred that I’ve never experienced in any other situation. It may seem a trite saying to repeat, “If you play with fire, you’re sure to get burned,” but jealousy is a wild fire which burns like Sheol…like the fires of hell…like the continuous burning, smoldering fires of gehenna, the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. “The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.” Surrender your jealousy to God and make Him the center of your affections. If your love for everyone else is like “hatred” by comparison, then you’ll always be able to love God and others freely. But, if you allow any other person to become the focus of your greatest concern and attention, you will end up with a misplaced affection that robs you of peace and joy, and you will end up feeling volcanic anger toward the person you thought you “loved” when they fail you. God alone is the source of true love and the fountainhead of unsullied joy.(P.S.—I’m happy to be able to share with you that today Alan and I are doing very well in our marriage. He is a loyal and reassuring husband, and I’m very glad to be married to him!)

But What if You’re Unhappily Married?

This past week, I’ve been thinking about the fact that life, marriage and dealing with our sexuality is a perennial challenge for all of us, whether we’re straight or gay, and I remembered this little devotional from Timothy Campbell’s pull-no-punches book, Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree. To  me, it hits the nail on the head! I hope it encourages you too:

“Shocking News for Unhappily Marrieds”

“I’ve been unable to find anything in traditional wedding vows or in the Bible that allows for the breakup of a marriage because either party is unhappy… Selfishness has no place in a marriage. Self-denial does…

“The Bible takes a high view of marriage, comparing it to the mystical union between Christ and all believers. Husbands and wives can experience the love bond our Lord has with every person of faith, a love that is enduring, forgiving, sacrificial, giving, and expressed often. This kind of love is ever seeking the happiness of others in the family, not its own happiness.

“In worshiping God with our families and laboring to provide for them, we reach the end of our search. What we’ve been looking for isn’t in breaking from family responsibilities to pursue some romantic dream with another person, but in selflessly carrying out our obligations to those we’ve pledged to love.

“In the path of duty, we stumble onto happiness.” Roger Campbell

“Envision a quick make-up after every shake up.” Roger Campbell

Love “beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things
” (
I Corinthians 13:7).

For more information on this really wise and witty book, check out my review:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/everywhere-you-go-theres-a-zacchaeus-up-a-tree/