Sunday, June 24, 2012

Waiting and weddings...

My brother got married yesterday, and it was, I think, the most moving and meaningful wedding I've ever been to. I've been thinking about why... and I think it's because in this world of quick-dissolve marriages, ready-made vows, and temporary trial period mindsets, their story and their wedding ceremony stood in defiance of all of that and instead embraced the God who created marriage.

You see... this little brother of mine has been looking, praying, and waiting for a wife for a decade or so. His path has not been perfectly straight (whose is?), but like his Biblical namesake, his heart has consistently been to wait on God and His will. Time after time, he has chosen to trust God and wait... and wait... and wait, wanting more than just “a woman” and instead wanting a woman after God's own heart for his life partner.

What I have been privileged to see of my new sister seems to pretty much be a similar story. She is a woman who has traveled the world in the service of her God, and even been offered a 200-camel bride price! (Interesting story!) But she, too, chose to wait and wait and wait until God was pleased to show her His choice for her.

They met 18 months ago, and very quickly knew that they had finally met the one God had chosen... and still they waited on His timing, seeking to build and lay a strong foundation.

And somehow, their wedding ceremony was the culmination of all of this. Sometimes I felt I could literally see the blessings being poured out over both of them from heaven, through those that gathered around them. It was so wonderful to see such an absolutely huge gathering of people... many of whom were strangers to each other... but who shared their passion for God and who were pleased to support and bless their union.

Before the ceremony even began, their friends were singing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.”

They asked my sister and I to light our mother's candle as a way to honor her memory and the influence she was in my brother's life.

Her father escorted her up the aisle, and instead of simply stating that he was giving his daughter away, he testified that he had given his daughter to God years ago, God had entrusted her to his keeping, and he was now privileged to entrust her into my brother's keeping.

My brother and his bride spoke scriptures over each other from the Song of Solomon as part of their vows, and my father and her parents proclaimed scriptures of promise and joy over them.

Then they invited what was probably something like 14 people from their past, present, and future up on the platform to pray over them and bless them. I don't think the prayers were dictated to those who prayed... as far as I could tell, they asked people who had been influential in their lives (outside of the family) to come and pray over them whatever God led them to pray, and the result were scripture-filled prayers of blessing and promise and joy.

And somehow, when my brother kissed his bride and faced the congregation, I felt that he stood there knowing that he had not just finally found a wife. What had actually happened was that he was standing at the point in time that had been foreordained for him to receive the bride that God had planned for him. I think my new sister felt the same way.

When we sat down for the reception, there was a photo card at each seat with a photo and “Save the date... June 23rd, 2062 - 50th wedding anniversary celebration.” On the back was a prayer from the bride and groom over their marriage.

Perhaps the culmination, to me, was when her father prayed again over the rest of the celebration, the hundreds of guests gathered, and the food... even daring to add a heavenly request that the food be anointed to grant healing to those who partook. And hundreds of voices echoed, “Amen!” Yes, hundreds.

If God has promised to be there when any two meet and agree in His name (as He has)... if prayers prayed in the name of Jesus by those who believe have any promise of fulfillment (as they do)... then this couple surely invited Him into their marriage in the fullest way they knew how.

And I—their older sister—can't help feeling absolutely nothing but the fullest joy for both of them, knowing that the One who created marriage has been given fullest permission to have His way in this next season of their lives. I know my God will indeed show them the reality of just how beautiful and wonderful He intended marriage to be, if they continue to wait on Him in all things as they have in this.

Our God is a good God to those that wait for Him! His ways are so very, very beautiful and wonderful for those that wait for Him!
I wait for the Lord, my (H)soul does wait,
And [b](I)in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen (J)for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, (K)hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is (L)lovingkindness,
And with Him is (M)abundant redemption.     -Psalm 130:5-7

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Romans - Sin is...

[Bible study on Romans - post 3 - I left off in my last post at Romans 1:17.]

Why does this section of Romans keep talking about sin? I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that it's condemning. And no one likes to have their sin pointed out. That's not what Paul is doing, though.

You see, no matter how much we to ignore sin, but it doesn't ignore us. It causes broken relationships, failed marriages, struggling economies, divided nations, wars, debt and bankruptcy, Christians that are a mockery of the Name they claim, and many, many more problems.

Jesus came so that we might have life abundantly... the exact opposite of all that death and destruction I just listed. But He didn't do that by building a castle in the air that is somehow disconnected with the reality of a sinful earth. He did it by dealing with Sin itself.

Therefore, in order to fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of what Jesus did, it is necessary for us to fully understand the scope of the problem that needed fixing.  Imagine a Star Wars movie where Luke merely had a fly a plane over an abandoned field and destroy a nice, large, easy-to-see target sitting undefended in the middle. What kind of a heroic action is that?   But no... first the storyline shows us the size of the Death Star... the magnitude of a weapon that can destroy an entire planet with one blast... the minions of star troopers out to do the emporer's bidding.  Only once we see all of that can we understand the importance of what Luke has to do in the end. And only then can we see what a hero he really is.

That's what Paul's doing. He's showing us the size and scope of death, the magnitude of the problem, and the minions of sins that march through our lives wreaking havoc, because only then can we properly appreciate the importance of what Jesus came to do and what a hero He is.

Let's move on...

The next section of Romans lists all kinds of sin. I'm not going to copy it all here, but go read it.  It's rather interesting that the list starts with things that almost all Christians acknowledge as sin. But then it gets down to more "commonplace" sins--some of them things that very few Christians will actually expend any energy thinking about or acknowledging.  In fact, by the time we get down to the end of the list, there's not a single human on earth that is exempted.

Verses 26 and 28 say "God gave them over."  My interpretation of this is God essentially said, "Fine! If that's the way you want it!" Sort of like a parent who keeps telling their child over and over again not to do something that they know will cause injury, but the child refuses to acknowledge the parent's wisdom and authority. So finally the parent backs off and decides to let the child find out the hard way. Sometimes people talk about the conscience dying when someone has participated in some kind of sin for too long, and that may very well be what God is referring to. I know in my own life, if I ignore my conscience (which is quite frequently God's voice) long enough, it shuts up.  Thankfully, when we seek God and long to know His ways, He is fully capable of opening our ears and our minds to hear and be aware of sin that we've been participating in for so long that we cease to even think of it as sin.

It's so easy to read a list like this and notice only the things we don't do. But how about these?
Full of envy -- The church is full of Christians who want someone else's ministry, or gifts, or walk with God, so we need to be very careful if we think we have no envy in our hearts.
Gossips -- Ever notice how fast bad news spreads through many church circles?
Disobedient to parents -- We've all been in that boat.
Without understanding -- How often do we Christians take refuge in our little castle of pride and refuse the least bit of understanding for the world that Jesus died to save?
Untrustworthy -- How many of us are guilty of telling someone we'll do something or be somewhere, and then passing the blame for our own trustworthiness off on "life?"  (This is something that God is really working on me about.)
Unloving -- 1 Corinthians 13 reminds me how far I am from getting this loving-others-thing down.
Unmerciful -- Unfortunately, we, the church, have throughout history been among the least merciful groups of people in the world. Pretty sad, isn't it? Jesus said that the merciful would obtain mercy; maybe it's no wonder that the world will extend mercy to just about anyone on earth except Christians.

Then there's that last verse.  "Not only do they do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them."  Humanity does this everywhere, from governments sanctioning homosexuality and murder to churches sanctioning judgement instead of mercy.

Why does Paul provide this list?  

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgement, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
- Romans 2:1-3
Can it also be that when Paul says "you who judge practice the same things," he's literally saying that if we judge, then we most definitely are practicing the things on that list? (Like being unloving and unmerciful?)  That it's literally impossible for us to judge without sin?

I believe Paul is wanting to really make sure that we fully realize that we're no different than the group who brought Jesus the woman caught in adultery when He said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." (John 8:7) Jesus didn't say that what she had been doing wasn't sin (as some would like for Christianity to say), for God does want us to recognize sin for what it is, hence this list. But Jesus didn't condemn her for it. God wants us to know that recognizing what sin is and condemning or judging someone for it are two completely different things.

Even more importantly, it is only when we fully realize the completeness of our own sin that we can fully appreciate the depth and value of God's forgiveness and mercy.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? - Romans 2:4

I love that verse, though it took me many years to fully appreciate it. I find new and fresh conviction of sin in my life distinctly uncomfortable. It's not something that feels like the goodness of God, is it? But the more we realize how our sin hurts us more than anything or anyone, the more we realize that the opportunity to repent and turn away from that which is hurting us truly is the goodness of God.


Paul spends a few more verses making sure we know the consequences of sin, and then, in the end, he tacks on this:
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. - Romans 2:9-11

This is the beginning of another sub-section of this first part of Romans. Paul is still talking about sin, but now he's going to explain three things:
1) Why the Old Testament law was given.
2) How Jesus came to fulfill it.
3) Why the benefits of Jesus' sacrifice are available to absolutely  everyone--even those who were not Jewish and never knew about the Law or tried to keep it to begin with.

I'll move onto that next!

Go to the index of posts on Romans.
Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion