The act of writing, of sharing the circumstances, the gifts and the graces planned and carried out by my Savior and God brings joy, peace, and contentment to know that He has my life in His hands. My prayer for those who read, who share in what I continue to learn each day, many times through my weakness, is that you will be encouraged to look for God's presence and grace in your life also.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What kids and clean rooms and prayer and grace have in common

Grab a cup of tea and join me for some thoughts.

Parenting is not easy.

Now that I have a grandchild, I remember how wonderful the kisses, the smiles, the hugs, the arms reaching for me were.  Sometimes I actually long for those days again.

The great thing about our memories is that we tend to forget the hard of parenting, but one thing I do remember is a question that went through my mind often and that was, "What am I doing or not doing that will ruin my child for life?"

Her 7th birthday
I actually thought that my parenting could result in them being happy or unhappy, successful or unsuccessful, a good citizen or a criminal, a good parent or a bad parent. I felt responsible for what they would be as adults.

I remember one particular day when my daughter, a first or second grader, was at school.  Getting her to keep her room clean was a huge struggle but when I really became firm, she would go to her room and it would look much better in a short time. I thought she was being obedient and I was a good parent.

I have to admit here that I was not a great housekeeper but I certainly wanted my kids to do better than I did.

This particular day, I went into her room and decided I would begin to do a deep cleaning.  I remember going into her room and thinking what a good job she was doing..  After straightening her quilt I noticed something sticking out from under the bed.  Upon further inspection of that hidden cavity I realized there were bags of "stuff" including food, paper, clothes, dishes, silverware, towels, toys... you name it and it was there.  Opening her closet door I found that it was also stuffed as high as she could reach.

I felt like a failure.  Furious and terribly disappointed with her, I berated myself for not being a good parent.  I hadn't really taught her how to clean her room. I waited for her to get home from school.

I'm sure there were harsh words on my part and tears on hers, but over the next few days when she was home, we went through
Lighthouse on Grand Turk
all of that "stuff," working together to put each thing in its proper place, much of it the garbage.  Much to my surprise, we found items from the kitchen, tool drawer and bathroom that I had been missing for months.

Was that the end of it?  No, she struggled with "stuff" throughout grade school and I know there were more harsh words and discipline, mostly ineffective in the moment.

The end of the story?  By high school, she was the one who cleaned the house since I was too busy and the truth is, she really was good at it.  Today, her house is clean, organized and she finds it less difficult to throw away "stuff" than I do.

Hindsight always sees things from a better perspective but if I could do it over, I wish I had known a few things...

---God was and is doing His work in my children to work out His purpose and it will be His will that is done. (I knew it, but my actions didn't demonstrate the truth of it.)
---my praying for my child does more than all the talking, teaching, persuading and convincing could ever do. (I'm learning that now in their adult years.  I just watch, pray, and then watch what God does.)
---understanding His grace and love is the most important thing in all of our lives. Children learn about that as they watch us depend on His grace and love in our own life.

I love this quote.

“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Sometimes I think we work so hard at making sure our children are successful in everything that they do, we actually teach them to be self sufficient not needing God.

I keep reading about how narcissistic children and young people are today.  Oh that we might teach them how much they need a Savior, how hopeless they are without God.  If kids don't learn that when they are young, God will use the circumstances of their lives to teach them their need, just like He teaches us.

For reflection:

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Pictures taken in the Caribbean

Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Ft. Lauderdale sunrise in the port

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Off the coast of Grand Turk Island where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea run into each other.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Timothy 5:1-16 Concerning the care of widows

[The following is the lecture I gave at our Women's Bible Study on March 13, 2014.]

I don't know about you, but I know that when I really dug into this passage, I Timothy 5:1-16,  I
At the Broadmoor (2013)
realized that we all play a part, we all have a responsibility, we all need to be involved in the care of widows, those left alone, who are in our families and in our church. 

Reminds me of the story of a 105 year old woman who in a nursing home who got news that her last living child who was 85 had just passed away. When the nurse came in she told her that now she was ready to die since she no longer had to worry about any of her children.
I think maybe she had the order of things a little confused since at her age her children should be taking care of her.

I refuse to call taking care of our widows a problem because some of the most godly women I have ever known were widows. They should be considered one of the biggest assets our churches have.

The first thing I want to talk about today is just how important widows are to God.

In the Old testament we read in Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be he who perverteth the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.” I found it interesting to note that all three of these are people who are alone... the traveler in a foreign country, children without their father and widows.
In the first chapter of Isaiah God Isaiah tells the people what God expects from them and in verse 16 we read, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove the evil from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.”

And then through Jeremiah God speaks again about this subject close to his heart in chapter 22:3, “Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow,....”

In Exodus God was even clearer about mistreatment of those who were alone in this world:
 "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry to me, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.”

Garden of the Gods (2013)
According to Smith's Bible Dictionary during the Old Testament times the care of a widow went to the oldest son since he would have inherited the assets of his father so he would have resources to care for his mother. Widows were also encouraged to remarry. The only guidelines for that was if they were childless, then the brother of her late husband had some obligation to marry her to give her children to carry on the linage of his brother.

In the New Testament we see over and over the compassion Jesus extended to widows. He not only knew their plight but he saw them, he didn't turn away. He knew what was happening in their life. 

In Mark 12 we see Him in the temple watching as worshipers put their money in the offering box. He saw those who put in large sums of money and then a widow came and put in two small copper coins, which added up to a penny. This was important enough that he called his disciples over and said, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Another time we see a miracle he did for the widow as he approached the city of Nain, “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, “arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Jesus cared about this woman and her plight. Widows, be assured, God knows you and knows your needs.

And of course, Jesus himself was the oldest son of his mother Mary, also a widow. On the cross as he was dying we see him committing her care to the disciple whom He loved, “Behold they mother! And from that hour that disciple took her into his own home.”

In Acts we see the early church specifically assigning to seven men the care for the Hellenistic
My garden  2013
widows. Just a word of explanation: the Hellenists refers to Greek speaking or “Grecian” Jews. The Hellenists as a body included not only the proselytes of Greek or foreign parentage, but also those Jews who, by settling in foreign countries, had adopted the prevalent form of the current Greek civilization, and with it the use of the common Greek dialect. So we see that the church not only took care of their Hebrew widows but also saw to it that these other widows were also cared for.

But today we must admit that times today are a bit different than they were back in Paul and Timothy's day. Then women generally were considered to have no real use except in the home for the rearing of children and keeping of the house. There were few jobs available for them and without a husband, “a woman alone” if she had no family to provide for her was destitute. So then women who were “indeed” widows... real widows with no one to take her in and too old to remarry needed help.

Today, in many cases widows actually end up with more financial resources than widowers do simply because their husbands have worked hard and planned well to take care of their wives in the event that they die first. Also because of savings and investments, Social Security and pensions many widows do have a sufficient source of income, to varying degrees to be sure, but they do have some sort of income coming in.

The biggest problem today is that families tend to be spread across the country and when as widows get older, they find they can't care for their home, their yards, their finances and sometimes even just their needs to get groceries and health care without help, but there is no family close enough to help with all of that.

And so today that is where the church comes in to help.

a cosmos 2013
I thought it would be interesting to share with you the role our church has taken to help those left alone in our church. Tom Baird who is the head of the deaconate here at Village 7 said that all the widows in the church are identified as soon as possible. Whether that is through the death of their husband or through new widows becoming a part of our church family. Each one is assigned to a deacon or a deacon's assistant. Their purpose is to insure that the widows whatever needs they have are taken care of.  Like I said before that is generally not financial help but in some cases it is. The deacons also give help to meet spiritual needs, they help with yard work, home repair or even transportation for various reasons. He said that they are also getting young people involved in helping too whether with physical work but especially just spending time with those alone. The deacon assigned also connects other people who want to help in the church with those needing help. Many times they also work with family in other parts of the country to be sure the widow has what she needs and is in the place that is best for her.

Their ministry has also begun to include women who are single,for various reason but find themselves in need of help. They don't have a list of these but do appreciate it when these women contact the church and let them know of their needs. Or even friends who reach out for their friends and ask for help.

He also pointed out that as our families get more and more spread out across the country and even the world there is a growing need for more help. If you were in church Sunday you saw the wonderful video on the mercy ministry here at the church. Another School of Mercy is beginning the end of the month which will give you the resources and training you need to reach out to others with compassion and mercy. After you take the class you can decide what it is you would like to do or not. You will need to register by the 24th and you can do that online at V7PC.org.

Here in chapter 5 of I Timothy Paul lays out exactly what should happen to the widows in the church
Yard -fall -2013
Timothy was leading, and he was exact wasn't he? He also lays out some basic principles about what our response should be in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. Principles that applied then in that culture and still apply today in ours.

He begins with instructions concerning the need for encouragement to everyone in the church. In those first few verses Paul sums up a pretty simple attitude we should all have in our relationships with everyone else in the church.

Rebuke comes across as criticism and judgment and even punishment. Someone said that Rebuke looks back at something done in the past while encouragement looks to future actions on a positive note.

I love how Paul explains saying Timothy should think of the older men as fathers, the younger men as brothers, the older women as brothers and the younger women as sisters in all purity. Just as a family does, the church family needs to build others in the family up, not tear them down. We need to work on encouraging one another to go forward with proper actions as we live in this broken world.

I saw this little bit about the need for encouragement on Facebook the other day from Ann VasKomp. 

Hey Soul? Everyone you meet today is fighting this hard battle & needs courage. Needs help to live "in courage." Needs someone to encourage with words that give strength for their battle. "Gently encourage... & reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out." 1Thess5:13MSG”

Another idea or truth Paul teaches is that women definitely should not be passive in the care of the widows. He is saying caring for the widows is not just for the men, the leadership in the church to deal with. It would seem that he is telling Timothy to teach or command the women in the church some basic things about what  their behavior should be as widows and as a woman in the church.

    Clematis Fall 2013
    How many of you  have at some point in your life been a child? 
    How many of you have parents? 
    How many of you have grandparents? 
    Or even Aunts and Uncles?  Relatives alone or in need of help?

    *Not only in verse 4 does he talk about the children of widows showing godliness by caring for their parents just as their parents took care of them when they were children because this is pleasing to God. And of course we all know the command in Ephesians 6:1-2, [and he doesn't specify which gender] “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), [why] that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth.”

    AS children, no matter our age we do have an obligation to our parents but in verse 16 we see that a believing woman also should care for other relatives who are alone. But what does that look like in this day and age when so many times families live so far apart? Sometimes it means a move, a change for someone.

    There are so many possible scenarios concerning this but as we have studied Timothy we see an overriding theme here--godliness. And godliness is the key...godliness leads to being content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves whether that is something we planned or something that becomes necessary because of the circumstances of our life or in the life of those we are to care for.  You see God  has extended amazing grace to us by sending His son to die for us while we were still sinners, to die for dead people who could do nothing for themselves. And that becomes the focus, not ourselves..

    Change is always hard, and the older we get the harder it gets. But through God's grace, we can face with joy the changes that will come. As Paul said in chapter 4 starting with verse 7..."Rather train yourself for godliness, for godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come...for to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

    When our hope is set on the living God, when we have our eyes on him and not our comfort,
    our desire to have things the way we have always had them, our things, our home, our whatever, then the changes can happen with contentment because we don't look to those things for our happiness but to God.Our eyes are on Him and so we humble ourselves accepting the change. Then and only then will we realize that change is part of God's plan to teach us to trust Him more.

    Note that when Paul talks about the real widows he has several criteria which include a woman who has set her hope on the living God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.” She has learned through years of walking with God, of trusting Him that He will provide and so when she finds herself alone, she turns to this God whom she has found faithful so many times. 

    The opposite of this woman is the “self-indulgent” woman who lives in worldly pleasure. I can't help but think this doesn't just mean fulfilling her sexual desires or wanton pleasures but could mean the woman who spends her life gratifying her desires for things, money, clothes and the list goes on rather than seeking God and doing good works. Notice that Paul talks about “good works” over and over. Other things he mentions are bringing up children (and in one of the commentaries I read, they said that can mean helping raise or care for children not her own who need care, she has also shown hospitality, by taking in strangers who are traveling from other lands. She also washed their feet which was necessary because of their having walked the dusty roads. Today we just provide a clean shower and nice soap and towels. They also reached out to the afflicted, they helped protect and assist those who were in danger, and those who wer down trodden.

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, 2013
But again the point is that these women have not lived a self-indulgent life.The things they did were for others.  Those women whose motives and heart are focused on God and his work will not be selfish when they become widows and in need. 

When I was in South Dakota in that small church there were a number of widows in the church. One time I said something to someone else about one of the widows whose demeanor was so peaceful and calming. Her face just glowed with an inner beauty that was amazing. Vangie encouraged everyone she came in contact with and reached out to everyone in the church. This other person who had been in that church all of her life said that was exactly the way Vangie had lived her entire life. She went on to say that it seemed like you could tell how an older woman had lived her life by just looking at her face in her later years. I think that is what Paul is saying here. The trust we have in God during our younger years will become evident when we face the “hard” days of old age. My Dad always says that getting old “ain't for sissies.” It is hard to get old, it can be lonely, it will in all likelihood be painful, there will be many nights of little slee and lots of frustration at not being able to do what once was easy to do.. And at some point we might have to move out of our homes, perhaps move in with our children or at least close to them so they can help us. What will our attitude be? Will the trust we have in God come across if change is necessary or will our own selfish desires for things not to change come through?

Another idea or truth that we need to think about is what he says in verse 16, “If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened.”

Wow, that really does cover most of us, especially if you think that as part of the church, we are sisters of each other and so all the widows in the church are our relatives. 

What does that look like?

There is a story in Acts 9 about a woman by the name of Dorcas or Tabitha. We've all heard of Dorcas
Dahlia at Hudson Gardens 2013
because of her good “works and acts of charity.” Evidently her good works were helping the widows in the church. She evidently made them tunics and garments using her own resources. But here in Acts we read that she became ill and died. The widows were weeping over the death of this dear sister who had taken such good care of them. They called for Peter who was in a nearby town and when he came he sent everyone from the room (perhaps because their crying and lamenting was so loud). Then he knelt down and prayed: then he turned toward the body and said, “Tabitha, arise.” She sat up and giving her his hand she stood and he presented her to the saints and the widows.

Can you imagine the joy in that house, among those widows that day?

Tabitha or Dorcas, which means good works, was just a woman in the church. She did what she could to care for and encourage those left alone around her. We don't know about Dorcas's husband, we don't don't about her social situation but she evidently had a means of resources that she used to help others who were in need. In our church today that could mean widows, it could also mean single moms, it could mean widowers, it could mean women who have never married. As women, Paul says that we are to help each other.

Judy is a friend of mine whose family lives back in the eastern part of the country. She has several
Rose at Hudson Gardens 2013
aunts who are widows and alone. I met Judy through the stamp clubs I had when I was a Stampin Up Demonstrator and each time she came she was looking for cards she could make for those aunts. She had been sending them a card and a hand written letter each week for years. She also sent cards to the children in the church and also the widows and those who were hurting in her church here in the Springs. Judy has a full time job but she spent hours reaching out to others.

Another woman who is in her later years, but has a car and drives well can be found several days a week transporting her friends (sometimes younger that she) to doctor's appointments or to grocery stores to do their weekly shopping. She does this expecting nothing in return for the time and gas used to help her friends.

Several years ago a woman who was recently widowed shared with a friend that the hardest thing for her was evenings and getting ready to go to bed.  There was no one to talk to or even just say "good-night" to.  The friend decided at that time that she would call the widow every night at nine o'clock to just ask her how her day had been and then say, "Good Night....sleep well."  Only took a few minutes each day but what a blessing to this woman all alone.

Many of our widowed relatives have the financial means to live but the hardest thing they deal with is loneliness. In this day and age when most of us have phones with free long distance included, why don't we pick up the phone more often and just call an aunt or an older cousin or a long lost friend to visit for a few minutes. To let them know we are thinking about them. Or even sending a little care package with a bag of tea, a little box of chocolate or even a bouquet of flowers can mean the world to someone who lives alone. We need to let each other know that we care and that they aren't alone. 

Rose at Hudson Gardens 2013
And you know what? Loneliness doesn't just happen to widows.  There are times we most of us feel alone even in a crowd. But the more we reach out to others, the less alone we will feel. My advice for anyone here who feels lonely at times is to get up and go out and do something for someone else. Get out of your comfort zone. If you don't know what you could possibly do, sign up to take the course in the Mercy School. I promise you it will be seven of the most profitable weeks you will spend.

One ministry directed to widows here in the church is Naomi Fellowship. This is in large part funded by the deaconate who also try to attend these monthly luncheons where they can be even more involved with the widows of the church. But the thing I love about Naomi Fellowship is that many of those who plan and carry out those monthly luncheons are widows themselves... again involved in doing good works of every kind. Isn't it wonderful to know that as Paul said in Ephesians, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

So once again we see Paul in essence saying that in the church as we grow in godliness, as we become more and more aware of our dependence on God and what he has done for us, our focus will be Christ instead of ourselves. And then He will be able to direct our work, our work of good to others in the body of believers. I am often reminded of a story about General William Booth who founded the Salvation Army.

It was Christmas Eve, 1910. General William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army in
Rose Garden at Hudson Gardens
London, England was near the end of his life. His health was poor, and he was going to be unable to attend the Army’s annual convention. Booth had become an invalid, and his eyesight was failing him. No one knew that he would not live to see another Christmas. 

Somebody suggested that General Booth send a telegram or a message to be read at the opening of the convention as an encouragement to the many soldiers of the Salvation Army that would be in attendance following Christmas and their many hours of labor ministering to so many others through the holidays and the cold winter months. Booth agreed to do so.
Knowing that funds were limited and desiring not to use any more money than necessary so that as much money as possible could be used to help the many people in need, General Booth decided to send a one word message. He searched his mind and reviewed his years of ministry, looking for the one word that would summarize his life, the mission of the Army and encourage the others to continue on.
When the thousands of delegates met, the moderator announced that Booth would not be able to be present because of failing health and eyesight. Gloom and pessimism swept across the floor of the convention. Then, the moderator announced that Booth had sent a message to be read with the opening of the first session. He opened the telegram and read the one word message:

Signed, General Booth.

I pray that God will use each of us to be devoted to good works of every kind. To reach out not only to our own relatives who are alone, but to others in our church who are alone. After all Paul tells us that the world will know we are Christians by our love for each other. They don't know that kind of love but they are looking for it. Let's pray for each other that through the grace of God through His Spirit, that kind of love will be evident to a world that so badly needs His truth.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Joining Kara at her Tuesday Grace Letters today.  If you haven't been following Kara at her Mundane

Faithfulness, you will want to do that.  She writes through the terrible hard of life and shows God's grace through his steadfast love and faithfulness.  This is the first week she has asked others to join in her Tuesday Grace letters and asks that we write a letter to ourselves 10 years down the road...our hopes, our dreams, and our fears as we share what today looks like in our lives.

Today.... another day in a long line of days....actually 13,524 since God purposefully through His grace put me in the role of caregiver for my husband after a car accident.  I was 29, he was 33 and our children were 6, 4 and I was due to give birth to our third in four months.

Today... over 37 years later... a day I looked forward to 37 years ago because I believed that God
would heal Larry, he would be out of the coma by now, he would be the Larry I married, life would be back to normal...that is called hope.  But God is good and His ways are not our ways.  We don't always get what we want but as He teaches and leads us we know that His ways are the best ways for His glory and our good..

Today... over 37 years later... Larry is out of the coma, he is not the Larry I married, the normal of life continues to change as God's grace and strength through his Steadfast Love and Faithfulness continue to be evident even in my fears and failures. God is good.

If the last 37 years hold true I know that fear will continue to raise it's ugly head
   ....when there is change
        .....when I get into a "fix it" mode
             ....when I stop looking for God's presence around me
                 ....when I can't see the graces in the everyday.

Graces that include:

My prayer, my hope is in 10 years we will all be grateful for the circumstances, the good, the hard, the beautiful and the ugly that have become a part of our history through those 10 years.  My desire would be that those years would be full of times together filled with laughter, kindness, compassion and love. I know that the struggles, the tears, and the fears is what will really draw us together and make us hope and desire our heavenly home even more than now. 

For Larry I would ask that God
....work out his perfect plan in his health, his strength, his mental ability. 
     ...would continue to use Larry to bless others with his faith and smiles.
         ...would keep him use him to teach me that in the hard there is abundant grace.

For George and his parents I ask for
....God's love to be evident in their home.
    .....God's abundant grace to be obvious to them as they imitate God's grace to little George.
          ....God's Spirit to move as He draws George to himself.
     [I thank God for them, for their marriage, their love for each other, and especially for that little boy. My FIRST grandson...who I love more than I ever dreamed I could. Note...my special request would be that doors would open for a move to Colorado.In the mean time, I pray that my week long trips to visit will continue to be possible.]

For my daughter, my dearest grown daughter I ask for
....God's love to be evident in her home
    ....for God's special blessing and guidance in her work 
         ...for God's Spirit to give her direction with those she comes in contact with every day.
[I also thank God for her friendship and listening ear through all these years and her help with her dad.I would also ask that there are more opportunities for travels together.]

For my son...my oldest... to know not only my love but God's....
[I thank God for his help with Larry, with the yard, the house, the finances, computers, and the list goes on.]

For all of them, I pray that they will know how grateful I am for their help with Larry, for their concern for my health.  I fear misunderstandings and ask that we would be able to communicate our fears, our hopes, our needs with each other well.

Ten years will go by quickly....perhaps too quickly...perhaps not, but in that ten years I earnestly ask that God would...
....grow the fruits of the Spirit in me... I would especially ask for kindness and patience as I care for Larry.
     ....give grace to accept the help of others when I need some time away.
         ....shower blessings on those who step up to help when I am away...that is not an easy thing.
             ....give wisdom as decisions will need to be made...hard ones.

I would be remiss if I did not remind myself of a prayer that Kara's husband Jason prayed in church shortly after they first came to Colorado Springs.  I would ask that God would help me through His Spirit to "Love Larry Well."

[If you click on the purple letters, you should be able to read posts I wrote on that subject.]


Friday, November 22, 2013

Song of Songs: "Where There is love, there is..."

[If you would rather listen to this lecture given at our Women's Bible Study please go to... Song of Songs: Where there is love, there is...

During the past couple of weeks, I have read through Song of Songs several times; I have read papers and commentaries written on it and I have listened to sermons. And my conclusion is that a lot of really good theologians and teachers struggle with this book included in Scripture. They do agree that it is part of the entirety of Scripture and thus it is part of the whole redemption story that is the overriding theme of the Bible. They also agree that it is a poem about love, love between a man and woman. They also agree that the love story is an example given to us as to what courtship and marriage should look like. Of course there are other places in Scripture that talk about marriage and God's commands concerning it. It has also been said that Song of Songs is the least preached on, the least written about, and the hardest book in the Bible to understand. For hundreds of years the church didn't really know what to do with the book.

So don't feel badly if you struggled with this. However I will dare say that we all have a better understanding of what Song of Songs is about in general, and I dare say that we all have at least one truth, if not several to take away from these two weeks we have spent on this. If nothing else you should be walking away encouraged that God approves of marriage and the marriage bed and expects you to be passionate in the love affair you are having with your husband.

I do have to say that I heard some great sermons, I read some great papers written on it and I learned 
much. For those of you who really want to know more about Song of Songs and be blessed in the process I have a link to some great lectures given at a conference on Song of Songs. The teacher was James T Dennison, Jr from Northwest Theological Seminary. He delivered 6 lectures getting into the details and structure of the book looking at an overview, looking at the poetic structure from the Hebrew text and then going through it verse by verse. Actually quite easy to understand and will give a much deeper insight into this poem than we can do in two weeks. The link to find this is: Song of songs lectures

As we have said, Song of Songs is a love poem. As Kendra said last week it talks about marital love in a covenant marriage between a man and woman giving us insight into the intimacy involved in a sexual relationship. Their love story is one of purity before marriage, of how people in love should respond to each other and how their mutual love serves to strengthen each of them and their marriage.

But what about those of you here who are single, widowed, or divorced and are no longer in a position to experience sexual love here “under” the sun, I get that... After our car accident and Larry's head injury, I learned that I had to stay away from romance novels and movies.... couldn't go there then when I was in my 30's. It was just too hard. I missed the Larry who loved me. I didn't want to talk about it and I really did steer clear of Song of Songs along with novels and movies about love stories. The first time I ever read more than a few verses in Song of Songs was a few weeks ago. But now that I am “older,” it is easier to look back with thanksgiving at what Larry and I had without sadness knowing that God in his goodness and love had a plan for us that would be different after just eight years.. And I have to say that I know I have grown closer to Christ, felt His love more deeply that I would have if the Larry of our early marriage was the same. God is good and His plan for each of our lives is right. As someone reminded our Sunday School class on Sunday, “Count it ALL joy!”

I was really blessed by something that James Dennison said in one of those lectures about those of us who for whatever reason are not involved in an intimate, sexual love relationship in marriage right now. And that is that the Song of Songs is a beautiful picture of passionate, erotic, covenental love in a marriage between a man and a woman. Dennison went back to Genesis 1 and 2 where when God created man and then the woman and said they were to cleave one to the other and he said, “It is good.” That relationship between a man and woman is what is reflected in Song of Songs. But the Song of Songs also looks forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when Christ will have His bride, the church, with him and what a celebration that will be! Actually over and over throughout the Bible, Israel and then the church is referred to as the bride and God and Christ the groom or the husband.

We must know and we can know from many other places in Scripture that God through Christ loves us, each one of his own daughters with the passionate, steadfast, covenental love that we see here in Song of Songs. This book is for us too. And if you listen to those lectures Denison talks about why looking at God's love, His extreme love for us isn't allegorical but just as real as the love the man in Song of Songs had for his “darling.”

Oh that we would know and really believe that God loves us no matter what!! And how do we experience God's love more and more? We ask him to show us; we spend time teaching the gospel to ourselves everyday; we spend time with our Lord and Savior, our heavenly groom who will one day “present us to himself in all splendor and majesty.” As women without an earthly husband we must live in gratitude and praise for the God who loves us better than any husband on earth could.

But now let's talk about our lesson for the week. It is important that we think about what love looks like in a marriage. And as she said, “where love is.... there will be....marriage, fear, words or communication declaring that love, giving of oneself and there are other things.... on my list I included strength, protection, faithfulness, and perseverance and I would add their will be commitment..

One of the things we notice as we go through this love story is that there are real ups and downs in the journey. Isn't that the truth? We all know that from experience. There are times when you couldn't be more in love with your husband...things are going well and you pray that this love story will only get better and better and then boom.... the bottom drops out, some times from circumstances beyond our control but many times because of three issues, self-centeredness, disagreements about money or PMS..
As we have learned the marriage in Song of Songs happens from 4:6 to 5:1. Around that center point there are different events that happen both before and after. And even though there were some down times before, it mainly involved the extreme longing to be with the other person. The young woman day dreams a lot about being with her beloved.

In one dream before the marriage she sought her love but could not find him. Perhaps there was some fear involved here in whether he still loved her. If this is a story about Solomon, then we must understand that she she did not have easy access to him since he was the king. Maybe she hadn't seen him for awhile. Do you remember doubts and fears you had before you got married: like “Does he really like me? Does he love me? Did I do something wrong?” Those fears are real.

Here when she went looking for him in her dream she found him. But after the marriage we have the disturbing scene where she is half asleep and he knocks on the door but she “had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them?” She hesitates to open the door because doesn't want to be bothered, she would be inconvenienced. Perhaps there had been a disagreement. And then when she finally does go to the door, he is gone. And then real fear sets in and she frantically goes looking for him. The result is not good and she ends up hurt and bruised. In later verses if you listen to Dennison he explains how there is reconciliation which in the end strengthens their marriage.

Marriage is not a bed of roses. At times it is downright hard, but those hard times come to strengthen us to teach us about the folly of our own selfishness, our lack of trust in our spouse and even our trust in God.

The thing is fear can have a very damaging effect on a marriage. One pastor I listened to said one question he always asks young couples when they come to him for marriage counseling is “Do you trust her totally?” “Can you trust him?” “Can you trust this other person for the rest of your life?” If you can't then do not get married. He said that a lack of trust leads to fearfulness in your relationship. With trust comes obedience, submission, putting the needs of the other person first. In the NT we read that perfect love casts out fear.

Also when we find ourselves fearful, we must realize we are not understanding God's sovereignty in our life. I think one of the worst questions that I have heard from married women or that I ever said in my own head is this one: “Did I marry the right person?” “Did I make a mistake?” Wow... the very next question we must ask ourselves is, “How sovereign is God?” If you really believe He is sovereign over all things, then I married the right person and so did you. That does not take away from being wise in choices, we still have responsibility but we can know without a shadow of a doubt that God indeed planned this man for my husband because through this man given to you, God will conform you to the image of his Son. He will use the good and the bad, the wonderful times and the hard, hard times to teach you about Himself as you trust God and His perfect plan for your life.

I am so glad that in Song of Songs the hard times in marriage are included. Their romance and marriage was not a fairy tale; it was very real. Remember when you were young, thinking about finding the man of your dreams, the perfect man who would love you perfectly, who would make you perfect and get rid of all your issues. The man who would fix everything and the two of you along with your perfect children would live happily ever after. And then you found him and he was perfect, or almost because he loved you. And then you got married.

One time a young man who was dating a girl told me that even though loved this girl, he wasn't sure he could marry her because of some problems she had. Those problems might make marriage to her less than ideal. First, I reminded him that he had problems too. But as I told him, marriage is indeed a glimpse of heaven on earth. The intimate relationship we will have with our Lord and Savior is seen in the relationship with our spouses when we are giving our love to each other without restraint, or selfish motive...when we give all we have to make the other person the best they can be. Isn't that what Christ does for us and we will reach the climax of that love when we see him in heaven, when we receive our inheritance. But, the truth is marriage here under the sun does have its problems. We are not only saints but we sin and we live in a broken world. So what marriage really does is sanctify us as we are forced outside of our selfish desires to give to another. God gives us our spouses to mold our characters in ways nothing else can.

So just how important are “declarations of love” in our relationships, especially the relationship with our spouse?

How many of you like to read or even write poetry? I love poetry... just for fun let me read you one of the most famous love poems in history.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Can you imagine how Robert Browning felt after he received this written declaration of Elizabeth's love for him? He also wrote love poems to her but probably the best reaction to the love poems she was writing him is found in a letter he wrote before they were married.
Written January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey
I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett, -- and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write, --whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me -- for in the first flush of delight I though I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration -- perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of herafter! -- but nothing comes of it.

Poor Robert. He wanted to get her poems out of his mind, dismiss them, but he couldn't. He even tried to be critical but “nothing comes of it.” Her words to him in poetry form only drew him closer to her.
Here in Song of Songs we have the words of this couple's love story written down. The love they had was put into words by both of them. The way they felt about each other was not only said out loud but it was written down and put in the cannon of Scripture.. Now I don't know if they wrote their feelings down when it all happened. But I can't help but wonder if they really did write notes to each other when they weren't together? I have a feeling that did happen. But we do know that at times they were speaking directly to each other. They shared their feelings, their thoughts with each other.

Communication is so important from the beginning of a courtship and throughout the years of marriage. I also know that some of you have husbands who do not express their feelings out loud...they aren't poetic, they aren't good with words. Maybe your husband is like the old man who was asked when was the last time he told his wife he loved her. His reply took a few seconds... “Told her back on the day we were married and haven't changed my mind. I'll tell her when I do.”

One thing I used to do when I was teaching English and we would read some of the love poems written by Shakespeare, Woodsworth, Shelley, Elizabeth and Robert Browning was to talk about how important sharing what you were thinking about the person you love with that person. Most of the male students I had came from ranches and farms in the midwest and believe me they were more into trucks, tractors and guns than words, especially romantic words. But I would tell them this, “When you meet the girl that you know you want to marry, make sure of that... a girl you can't live without... write her a poem telling her what she means to you or what you love about her. Don't do that unless you really plan to marry her because if you don't marry her, you will break her heart.”

In the years since, I have had several former students tell me that their husbands who were also students did just that and it was what put them over the edge. That one poem sealed their decision to say yes forever.

Some of you sitting here who have been married for years, would love to get a poem or even a note from your husband.... maybe he can't say it out loud but you yearn for that confirmation of his feelings. As women we need to have confirmation of our husband's love. So I have a couple suggestions.

*First and foremost, pray that the Holy Spirit will move him to do that. Pray that words will be given to
him. God really does answer specific prayers. Share with God that you need that affirmation from your man who has a voice here under the sun.
*Second, be an example. Instead of talking so much (which women do fairly easily) you can write down your feelings about him and what he means to you. Remember what men need is not so much to know that they are loved but that they are respected. So you tell them specifics about what they do to make you feel loved, protected, provided for and cherished. Leave little notes around the house. When they travel, put a note or several in their suitcase. And then pray some more. And who knows they might learn from your example.
*And here I'm going to add something for those of you who don't have a husband or maybe a husband who can't be a husband....because we need that affirmation of love too. Begin a journal where you write down verses from the Bible that deal with Christ's love to you. Those of us who don't have arms of flesh to wrap around us need to remind ourselves over and over, daily of Christ's love for us and what he did. Grace is another word study that will lead you to his love, protection and provision for you. “Fall in love with Christ all over again by letting his love permeate your very being.” If we don't do that, I will tell you that the same thing that creeps into loveless marriages will creep into your heart and that is bitterness, cynicism, and a critical spirit accompanied by anger, depression and hopelessness.

To take this one step further, words of encouragement are important to all of us. And everyone of us in this room know someone who is either unmarried, widowed, alone, or a woman who is really struggling in her marriage and does not have someone with fleshly arms to show them love. What would happen if we each reached out to one woman like that?

Let me tell you about someone who did that for me a few weeks ago. As most of you know, Larry fell the end of August and my life turned upside down for a couple of months. It meant no sleep for me, rarely leaving the house, Larry couldn't be left alone for even a minute. I was exhausted, I was alone, and wondering what the future looked like. Then one day, at the end of my rope, I sat down at my computer and wrote in my blog about what was going on. I asked my sisters to please pray for me... And God did answer the prayers of my sisters. Immediately my spirit was lifted, Larry slept most of the night that night and I was greatly encouraged. Many sent me notes by email or on FaceBook. Some called and some sent cards. But several days later, someone in this room, if she is here today, sent me a message on FB. “There is a little something on your front step. Thought it would encourage you.”

Now, you probably don't all know this but my love language is gifts... and there on my front step was a little basket with a tin of mint Tazo tea (awesome tea), a bag of Lindor chocolates (I'm so glad that came before I found out I had to cut sugar out of my diet), and a book by Elysse Fitzpatrick, “Comforts From the Cross” which is all about the passionate love of God for us.

Ladies, you have no idea what that basket did for me--that tangible evidence of a sister's love. She took the time to drive it to my house and leave it on my step. I don't know if she rang the doorbell or not, since we had left the house for about 30 minutes to run a quick errand, but I'm sure if she did there would have been a tangible hug to go with that. Gals, we need to encourage each other. We need to be there to show love to those who are hurting or lonely. When Jesus came to earth “Love came down” so we can spread that love to others.

Which leads us right into the fact that love is the giving of oneself....as Kathleen said, “There is exclusive giving of oneself.” There were many examples here in Song of Songs that we talked about in our small groups.

This idea of giving of oneself to another to meet their needs, to help them without any thought of what we will get from them is totally counter-cultural today. Actually when someone wants to do that in our culture they are looked at as suspect because there has to be an ulterior motive.

But the truth is that marriage is designed in such a way that if the exclusive giving of oneself does not happen, if there are not two people giving everything they have plus that much more to the other person, the whole thing can fall apart.

I love the Christmas story by O Henry called “The Gift of the Magi.” A summary of it written on Wikpedia says:

Mr. James Dillingham Young ("Jim") and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest flat. They each have only one possession in which they take pride: Della's beautiful long, flowing hair, almost to her knees and Jim's shiny gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather.
On Christmas Eve, with only $1.87 in hand, and desperate to find a gift for Jim, Della sells her hair for $20, and eventually finds a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch for $21. She found the perfect gift at last and runs home and begins to prepare dinner, with 87 cents left.
When Jim comes home, he looks at Della with a strange expression. Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present — an assortment of expensive hair accessories (referred to as “The Combs”), useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs. Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.
The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair's mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi:[4]
The magi, as you know, were wise men – wonderfully wise men – who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.

And so we come to the end of our little study in Song of Songs....a beautiful book with all its imagery of nature, and its poetic devices used to tell the story; with all the characters, even those besides the couple who help give us a picture of what love should look like in community. I'm sure none of you know this but there is a Hollywood star who actually wrote a commentary about Song of Songs because he thought it would show that God approved of erotic love expressed by anyone, especially outside of marriage. What he found (and I can't remember his name) was that this book included in the canon of Scripture was different. He actually looked at erotic love poems written at the same time as Song of Songs and came to the realization that this was different. This was special.

So as you wives go from here use what you have learned to enhance your marriage, to love your husband passionately, to express your love for him in more tangible ways. For you who are not in a marriage now, (and also for those who are married) go from here understanding that God loves you with a steadfast, faithful and passionate love which was shown when he sent his Son to die for you so that one day at the Marriage supper of the Lamb we will celebrate with our groom His passionate love for us.

Ephesians 3:14 +
 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

And Amen.