unPlanned

Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?

It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.

It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”

I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.

After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.

But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?

Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (20): Sin No More

Not “You have sinned,” but “Sin no more.” Jesus never ignores sin, nor does he deny its existence, but from the moment he engages us, he points out the true future course he wants for us: Sin no more. Simple. Straightforward. Staggering.  The man Jesus is addressing had been sick and unable to walk for thirty-eight years. That was longer than Jesus had been alive. How could Jesus have known that the man’s illness had been related to sin? In John 9, we read the account of Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth. On that occasion, when Jesus’s disciples asked whose sin had been the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus defended both the man and his parents, saying the blindness had not been caused by sin.  How did Jesus know these things? Who can come up to a complete stranger, look inside their heart, and know the state of their soul? Who can heal the lame and blind? Only God! This is one of the many ways in which we know that Jesus was more than just a compassionate healer and teacher. Jesus was God in the flesh!

God incarnate came to earth, not simply to live as an example for us to follow. He came to earth to die for us so that he can save us. However, after he saves us (just as Jesus saved the lame man), he gives us his example to follow! Jesus lived a sinless life, and he tells us to stop sinning—to die to ourselves and our own ambitions . . . to give up our own agenda for success and let the life of Christ live itself out in us. Furthermore, he adds a warning, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14).Are you struggling with some sin that has disabled you? Have you made an idol out of some person and it’s ruining your life? Or, maybe you thought everything was going to be perfect if you could only have (fill in the blank with anything but God), but you have whatever and it’s still not perfect? In fact, it’s not even “okay.” You’re hooked. You’re addicted. You’re immobilized.

No matter what you’ve done or how lame you’ve become, Jesus can heal you, and he will if you want him to. I met a man at an art festival several years ago who thought there was no hope for him to be saved because he’d divorced his wife some twenty+ years before and married another woman. He was overwhelmed with relief and joy to know that it does not matter what sins we’ve committed in the past. Jesus died in payment for every sin that each of us has committed, and he offers to save us and heal us at any point in our life when we ask. That’s the wonderful news!

The other piece of wonderful news is that Jesus does not condemn us. He doesn’t say: “You sinned!” But, he points us to the future and says, “Sin no more.” How? Well, I have no clue. I can’t look into your heart and tell you anything, because I’m not God. But, Jesus is and he can! Ask him, and he will tell you how to keep from sinning from this point going forward! Once we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ, his Holy Spirit indwells us, and he will lead us into lives of truth, love, and peace if we just ask. So, just ask, and “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:9-14).

P.S.—I just reread this and realized that you might get the impression I am saying that we “can” or “will” never sin after we believe in Jesus. I wish that were true, but it’s not. I have been a Christian for over 50 years, and I still struggle with sin. But, here’s what I think: Jesus is telling us what we should do, and what we should aim for. We should attempt to live pure and holy lives that are free from sin, and we should have as our goal to avoid “every appearance” of evil. Once we have given our lives to Christ, we need to recognize evil for what it is and repent every time we sin. We need to give up any way of life that is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and Christ. We need to agree with Christ about what is good and what is evil and pray for the Holy Spirit to help us “turn away from evil and do good; let him [that’s us!] seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11, ESV). Sound more possible?

 

Sacred Fire (inspired by A.J. Sherrill)

Last night, Alan and I celebrated our 46th anniversary! Such a joy!! This morning, as I was reflecting back over our marriage, it occurred to me that when I prepared my last blog (on how Christ can heal us), I hadn’t really made any particular connection to the every day struggles we all face, but I listened to two messages Sunday night that were so good, and so appropriate, that I want to share the gist of them with you. Throughout the course of my life, the two hardest conscious struggles (probably more significant unconscious challenges) relate to self control in what I eat and what I think about. I’ve always felt very “normal” (if such a thing exists), so my guess is that these almost come as standard weaknesses on most human models coming off the assembly line. Can you identify?

A.J. Sherrill (a local pastor) taught a two-part series called “The Soul of Sexuality.” I’ll put links at the end and highly recommend them as healthy soul food to help you manage your appetites (maybe not as much for food, however).  In turn, A. J. gives much of the credit for his teaching to Richard Rohr, a little monk from Albuquerque, with whom he spent a week some years ago, trying to understand life. You may think a monk wouldn’t be the best resource for understanding how to cope with our innate sex drive, but think again. Any monk who has actually been able to keep his vow of celibacy has spent his entire adult life trying to figure out how to handle his own drives.

Even as a married woman, dealing with sexual impulses has been challenging! I remember when I was mid-forties, asking my spiritual mentor (who was about 80), when men stopped making passes at women. She nodded thoughtfully and replied, “Oh, maybe sometime between 75 and 80.” I was shocked and felt doomed! Would I never be free from unwanted male advances? Men I love, just like I love women. But, men challenging my commitment to my marriage, I do not appreciate. It’s not funny, and it’s not fun. Worst case scenario, it can actually be tempting, which was terrifying when I was 40 and my husband was way too busy to pay attention to me.

So, I used to complain to the Lord, “Why did you make us sexual beings, anyway? Why couldn’t you have made us without sexual passion???” One of the most helpful resources I found was Living with Your Passions, by Erwin W. Lutzer. (It came out in 1983 but is still available on Amazon.) After reading Lutzer’s book, I came to a somewhat grumbly surrender to the thought that God must have known what he was doing and determined to learn how to live a moral life despite my immoral heart, but I wasn’t thrilled about the challenge.

After studying the Song of Solomon for ten years, I decided that God intends our chief love to be spiritual, and that as we’re drawn into a love relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we find joy and strength that surpasses human love . . . an energy and beauty that causes those around to marvel: “What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies” (Song of Solomon 6:13: the dance between our soul and the Trinity [my interpretation]).

A.J. took it a step further, and I love what he had to say. The “why” of sexuality is about “beauty, mystery, and meaning . . . Your sexuality is an echo of a larger cosmic mystery unfolding, which is the story of Christ and the Church.” “God is not a stoic force; he’s a passionate lover.” (I’m putting everything in quotation marks but they may not be perfect; I was typing as fast as I could!) God is Israel’s husband (Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 31) and in the New Testament, we learn that we, the Church, are the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5). From John 7 and 15, we can infer that our marriage to Christ is designed to flow into the stream of life and bear spiritual children and spiritual fruit. In John 14 we are offered the Kiddushim—the covenant of love—and now we’re just waiting for the Huppah, when Jesus comes back to receive his bride (us!).

“Information in the head is not the same as intimacy in the heart. We were made for intimacy.” “Ya had” means to throw out your hands. Let go! Let God dwell in us so much that through us He will produce fruit! Hebrews 12—throw off all false lovers and fix our eyes on our true lover, Jesus. When we celebrate communion, we are celebrating our love covenant with Christ. He wants us to understand how much we’re loved and feast with him. He has never forgotten us or forsaken us, even though we have failed him and had other lovers and idols. Come and feast with him. Let him heal you!

The first message dealt with vertical love; the second message with horizontal.  A.J. offered three scripts for how sex is handled in our culture: Erotic play, Intimate connection, and Covenental Promise. He offered some excellent quotes thinking through the value and power of sexual energy (a couple of which I’ll write out for  you below), and he ended with an invitation to reach a “higher altitude” for viewing. “Sexuality is the best instrument for learning self-control There are times when offering yourself is a gift and when withholding yourself is a gift.” If you’re in a relationship right now, he suggested that you “Talk with your partner about what you want without finger pointing, but by offering your longings, not your complaints. Complaints create emotional distance, but longings are redemptive. You’ve trusted God with your soul. Will you trust him with your body?”

“A healthy sexuality is the single most powerful vehicle there is to lead us to  selflessness and joy, just as unhealthy sexuality helps constellate selfishness and unhappiness as does nothing else . . . Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides. It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.” —Ronald Rolheiser

“The fire of sex is so powerful, so precious, so close to the heart and soul of a person, and so godly, that it either gives life or it takes it away. Despite our culture’s protests, it is not casual and can never be casual.” —Rolheiser

So, in light of Jesus healing the lame man—and offering to heal us too!— if you’re restless or unhappy with your sex life (or lack thereof), this is a great time to let Jesus heal your wounded heart! Consider watching the two messages (which together are shorter than a movie!):

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-1

https://marshill.org/teaching/?sermons=the-soul-of-sexuality-week-2

I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The Commands of Christ (15): Go Call Thy Husband

Do you have a husband? If not, then maybe this command is not for you . . . or maybe it is, because the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus was speaking didn’t really have a husband either. But, she had a significant other in her life, and Jesus was concerned about both of them. In fact, Jesus is concerned about all of us—regardless of gender, marital status, or even present lifestyle. The woman at the well was coy. She was practiced at the art of deception, even using the letter of the law to her advantage. When Jesus told her to go call her husband and come back with him, she responded, “I have no husband.”This was technically true, but it didn’t fool Jesus. He knew the woman wasn’t really free and single, as she might have hoped to appear. She could have competed with almost anybody in Hollywood for number of marriages attempted and failed:  “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (John 4:17-18). Busted! If she’d had any hope of alluring Jesus into becoming her seventh man, she realized it wasn’t going to work.However, Jesus had a better type of love to offer, but he wasn’t going to offer it to her without demanding that she share the good news with others. Faith isn’t meant for our own healing alone; God always tells us to go and call those closest to us so they can share in the love of Christ with us!Herein lies the  splendor and severity of Jesus’ command! His holy, healing love—better than any earthly love—isn’t meant to be hidden within our hearts and minds. To be genuine, it must be proclaimed to those nearest and dearest to us. Jesus calls to everyone, regardless of their spiritual condition, but he calls us to come into the light, to walk in the light, and to obey his commands. Then, and only then, can we have true fellowship with him, and with one another!This meant that, in order for the Samaritan woman to find the secret of living water to satisfy her longing soul, she would have to involve her significant other, and together, they would have to come to Jesus. Was she ready to do that?

If you are living in sexual intimacy with someone who is not your spouse, are you ready to come together to Christ and do whatever He asks you to do? I pray that you will. The commands of God aren’t given to restrict us or make us miserable. They are given to teach us how to live in holiness, which will bring true love, joy, and peace to us, to the glory to God. Don’t be afraid of “the best!” It’s better than whatever lesser option we may be clinging to!

Text for this meditation: John 4:16-18. “Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.17 The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband:18 For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”

Other verses to ponder:If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret(Ephesians 5:1-12, ESV).

Rise Up, My Love (307): How to Access the Song of Solomon Study Sequentially

Studying the Song of Solomon has been one of the highlights of my life, but it’s finally come to an end (at least for now). This post will serve as the final “bookend” on my blog, but it will be the first post that comes up for anyone who scrolls down the right-hand side of Summer Setting’s home page and clicks on the “Rise Up, My Love” tab. Therefore, for anyone who would like to read the posts beginning at the beginning rather starting at the end, I wanted to let you know that you can access the entries sequentially on my home page by typing into the window box that has the word “Search” next to it in the upper right-hand area of the page. For example, if you type in: Rise Up, My Love (1) and then hit “Search,” it will bring up the first post, which was written exactly six years years ago, on October 7, 2012. Here’s the link:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/rise-up-my-love-meditations-on-the-song-of-solomon-1/

If you have any thoughts or questions to share, I’d love to have you post them in the comment box below. May God bless you in your journey toward finding, knowing, loving, and surrendering to the God of the Universe, who loves you, and me, and all of us, more than we will ever comprehend!

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

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 (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).