March
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The Centurion's Tale

March 1

One of Ten

Exodus 20:14

She was one of the most physically beautiful women I have ever met. You can imagine, then, my surprise when she asked for counseling because her husband was having an affair. He was bringing his paramour into the house, in front of his teenage children, and taking her into the bedroom. The actions were completely out of character for him. I was mystified.

 Now, to the world this would be a tale that simply illustrates how obsolete my thinking is. For example:

· The problem is, you care. The world sees marriage as a convenient relationship, but certainly nothing to get in the way of a passionate love affair. Why are you so bothered with it?

· The problem is, you’re repressed. Ah, yes, my psyche is all mixed up. I need to be liberated. After all, if the passion is there, you need to give in to it, not repress it.

· The problem is, you need to experience many lovers. After all, how can you condemn something until you try it? There are plenty of women out there who’d like to cure your ignorance.

The Christian view is well known, but the times are so evil that it must be stated:

· You mean I shouldn’t care? I shouldn’t care about my own wife? My children? The stability of the home in which we are trying to raise them? Callousness is no virtue.

· Of course I’m “repressed.” I suppress (the right word) my natural urges. With food it’s called a diet; with fear it’s called courage. With sex it’s called faithfulness. We tame the natural urge; we do not let it rule over us.

· Oh yes—evil is enlightening. Where have I heard that before? It is the oldest lie in creation. I’ve never been a bank robber either—but I’d convict one if I was his juror. Even without experience.

The beautiful young lady? I forgot to tell you—what she “forgot” to tell me—she was having an affair too. Of course, she was sure he knew nothing about it—she didn’t want to hurt him, you see.

Dynamite comes with a warning label. Christian marriage, too.

Lord, how often we see the debris of marriage broken by adultery; may we see that obedience to your command is for our benefit.

March 2

Covenant With My Eyes

Job 31:1

It’s a common bit of humor with me as I teach; “I can tell everything I want to know about a woman in 2.9 nanoseconds. Unless I blink; then it takes twice as long.”

Male eyeballs. It has pleased God Almighty to give to the male of the species the eyes that look for a beautiful girl. They are pleasant to look at; if they flatter you, you can hardly get enough of it. But like any other natural desire, it must be controlled, or it will cause trouble.

The trouble often comes because your wife is growing older. This can hardly be said to be her fault; it is God who has ordained that we age. But because our society evaluates women primarily on what they look like—as opposed to men, who are rated on what they have done—older is definitely not better. You can see that this is unjust. Can you also see that it is the man who must correct this injustice? Certainly the wife can not. How do you do that?

In a word, preparation. If you’re going to drive the freeways, you’d best be prepared for ding dong drivers. If you’re going to look at the girls you had best be prepared for your own reaction. After all, you know the drivers are out there. So are the girls, so prepare.

How? Job suggests one way here; there are others.

· Make up your mind beforehand. Job calls it a “covenant with his eyes.” It’s the choice beforehand that you will not give in to this temptation.

· Respect the “wife of your youth.” Remember that it is to her you made those promises on your wedding day. God has little patience with those who do not keep their promises. Your little pleasure is her large pain; this is not respect.

· Make your love for her an act of will. So many assume that love means only passion uncontrollable. It is not. Passion is the starter motor; love is the smooth running engine of marriage. Make a conscientious effort to love her, every day.

Adultery doesn’t just “happen.” It comes when we give in to temptation. Temptation unexpected is more severe than temptation for which we are prepared. So I say with the Boy Scouts—be prepared.

Lord, our world teaches that adultery is normal; let them see in us the faithfulness which brings glory to you.

March 3

The Temptress

Proverbs 2:11-19

As a country song has it, “one takes the bows, one takes the blame.” The common vision of adultery is that there is one person doing the tempting and another giving in to it. The teacher of the Bible will usually focus on the victim—and how to prevent being one. But in this passage we see two other personalities described:

· We see the temptress, of course.

· We also see the man whose company leads you right to her.

Let’s start with that man. How do you recognize a “friend” who is leading you into adultery? Solomon (who knew this problem quite well) tells us here:

· His speech is perverse. Do you know someone who constantly talks about sex? Particularly his “accomplishments?”

· He walks in the way of darkness. Everything about him is just a little gray; always looking for the unethical edge.

· He’s a man who delights in evil, especially perversion. What kind of video tapes does he watch?

The woman? Easy to recognize as well:

· First, there is flattery. When my wife flatters me I have the contented look of a dog being scratched behind the ears. But that privilege is reserved for her. When another woman tries it, this should set of alarm bells.

· Next, there is the betrayal of her husband. Isn’t it curious that we always picture the “other woman” as being single? In a sense she is; she’s thrown away that relationship. Look at her husband (or ex-husband); if he resembles a tube of toothpaste squeezed dry, you’ll know the reason.

· Finally, she is one who forgets that she made solemn promises before God. (They are called wedding vows, after all). She promised faithfulness to the first guy; what makes you think she’ll any more faithful to anyone else?

Solomon put it well:

And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. (Ecclesiastes 7:26 NASB)

Lord, to the pure all things are pure. Lead us so that we are indeed faithful and pure, to our spouse and to you.

March 4

Be Exhilarated Always

Proverbs 5:15-23

There is an enduring myth in our culture: it is known as falling in love. The myth is not that it does happen; the myth is that it “just happens.”

· There is the myth that you “just can’t help it.” It is a common justification for adultery. It appears that we go helplessly from one passion to the next.

· There is the myth that you cannot keep up this passion. In a sense this is true; but we also use this to justify abandoning one woman to look for the next. We just can’t help it—but we do everything to encourage it too.

· There is the myth that you just can’t decide to make it happen. You’re either in love, or you’re not; you don’t have a choice.

Is any of this really true? We certainly act like it. As one writer put it, we don’t practice faithfulness; we practice serial monogamy. And sometimes we go from serial to parallel. But what about this idea that the next woman is inevitable? I have heard it stated by a Christian that if a wife “fails to take care of herself” (by which he meant retain a sexy figure) that she’s asking for her husband to leave. (His wife is a regular at the gym, as you might imagine.) There’s nothing wrong with the gym; but it is God who ordains aging; why then is it your wife’s fault?

And how is it, then, that Solomon can say to us, “Be exhilarated always with her love”? It sounds like a command to do the impossible; but God never commands the impossible. Then how?

· First, be ready to do it. Decide that you will be passionate about the woman. For example—schedule time devoted exclusively to her.

· Realize that we need change—and we need constancy. God provides that in the rhythm of our lives. There is a rhythm to passion as well. Learn its cycles and enjoy them.

· Finally, be exhilarated! The passion is there; God gives it to the married for a reason. Fan the flames of passion.

If you take the time and trouble to love your wife—in every sense of that word—the rewards will indeed be great. Your Lord will reward you; even your wife might think of it favorably. Try it.

Lord, we will polish a classic car for hours, a wife of the same year we neglect. Teach us better; teach us to love her more.

March 5

Reduced to a Loaf of Bread

Proverbs 6:23-26

Explaining a passage like this to the politically correct is a misadventure in the English language.

We don’t have prostitutes anymore; have you noticed? We have “sex workers.” Why? “Sex” is a positive word; so is “worker.” Therefore by changing the label we have made them part of decent society. This comes, of course, from the same people who hold that marital fidelity is a terrible mistake. After all, how do you expect to improve your sexual technique?

The truth is radically different. There is an “only-ness” to sexual relations, given by God. Until recently it could be said that a man always wanted to be her first lover—and she wanted to be his last. There’s only one way to make that work.

Today’s opinion goes beyond that. The prostitute is seen as (get this) a virtuous outlet for sexuality. After all, it is reasoned, the prostitute constitutes no threat to wife and family; she’s just hired help. There is no chance that she’ll ask the man to divorce his wife and abandon his kids. Right.

The adulteress too has been transformed. Since she’s in a stable marriage of her own (!), she too is no longer a threat. It’s just a little fun on the side, and improving your technique. I suppose this is better than the new “sex on first date” style; but not much.

The truth is much more grim. To the prostitute you are a cash transaction. The effect that prostitution has upon your marriage, your conscience (and possibly your body) is none of her concern..

But the truth is far worse with the married paramour. The adulteress seeks your very soul, whether you know it or not.

· First, an affair defiles your conscience. You have taken the most solemn vows of fidelity; so has she. You have broken yours and helped her break hers. If you take that lightly, your conscience is nearly dead.

· More than that, when you do such a thing you give Satan a firm grip on your soul. The passionate few moments alter your relationships for life; you must cover up, conceal. Satan will use this to push you into more lies, more adultery.

Proverbs were written for the young man. But the rest of us can see the benefit in this too.

Lord, sometimes we see stupidity best when it’s in the rear view mirror. Keep us from Satan’s lies and grasp.

March 6

The Jealous Husband

Proverbs 6:30-35

The phrase has passed out of the English language, except as a humorous reference. But there are a few of us left; a few who remember. I speak of those who consider themselves “gentlemen of the old school.” It is not strictly a Christian concept, though it is greatly influenced by Christianity, as many of its remaining practitioners are Christians. To be specific:

· A gentleman of the old school respects his wife. He pays her the honor which is her due. This may come in the form of such chivalry as opening the car door for her. But do you not see that such actions imply that she is worthy of that respect?

· A gentleman of the old school is faithful to his wife. Adultery is “not done.” It is impolite, disrespectful. Of course, he expects the same from his wife.

· A gentleman of the old school is as courteous as the times allow. Good manners are the lubricant of society.

It sometimes comes as a surprise, then, the streams of rage that will come from such an old school gentleman if he finds that his wife has been unfaithful to him. Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that his rage is bad for his wife—and worse for her lover. Why?

· They are called “old school” because they want things as they were. They yearn for better times, times now past in this situation. Such a gentleman may forgive his wife—because he wants things just like they were.

· But he will have implacable hostility to her lover. Why is it so much more difficult to forgive him? Simply this: he is the man who stole your dreams—there is no getting them back.

It comes down to expectations. If a husband expects faithfulness from his wife, and gives it in return, his expectation is that this will be a lifelong relationship. If she meets those expectations, he will meet hers. If she does not, the expectations are shattered.

Expectations. The old school expects fidelity. The expectation our world gives to us today is that any attraction is reason for sex; fidelity is neither desirable or possible. Our expectations are low; so is our behavior. But remember: expectations are not moral standards; God sets those.

Lord, teach us to set our hearts on you, so that we may indeed be the ones who meet your expectations.

March 7

But I Say

Matthew 5:27-28

Dorothy Sayers pointed out that all creativity—whether from God or human beings—is Trinitarian in nature. If you will, there are three aspects to any creative work of art:

· There is the father idea. This is in your head—an image of the painting you will do, the plot outline of the book you will write or the vision of the sculpture you will carve. No one can see these things except you and God—but they are there, and they are real.

· There is the incarnation—the son of the father idea. It is the painting on canvas, the words of the novel, the marble after sculpting. The more faithfully you execute the father idea, the better the work.

· Finally, you must consider the effect your art has on the ones who will see it. It is of no use making what you think is a powerful statement against war if the rest of the world sees nothing but a statue with too many arms. The change in the viewer must also be along the lines of the father idea.

Now, if this is true for artistic creation, it is also true of all thought which results in action. What if the thought is an evil one? Have you ever rationalized it by saying, “Well, as long as I don’t do something about it….” But it is deadly; it defiles the conscience. It gives Satan a handle to grasp you with. And worse: every time that girl walks by, the effects get a little worse. Eventually your conscience will no longer stand in the way; the evil idea will be incarnated into an evil action—which will indeed affect those who see it.

So as you watch that pretty girl go by, think about what you’re thinking. Thought is the father to action; as you think, you do; as you do, you are. If you defile the conscience, things only get much worse; Satan now has many more avenues of attack. These too will give rise to action, and reaction—all evil.

So what is a man to do? Job had it right: make a covenant with your eyes. Decide now what you’re going to do about the girl in the short skirt and high heels. Do not say, “I can’t help it.” The truth is, you cannot help it now. But what if you were prepared for this problem? Plan ahead!

Lord, it’s hard to have male eyeballs. Give us strength to resist our temptations and humor enough to laugh at our weaknesses.

March 8

The Basics

Acts 15:19-20

It’s not apparent from this small passage of Scripture, but the early church had a problem with the Gentiles who were now coming to Christ. What should we tell them in the form of explicit commandments to keep them out of trouble?

· These are new Christians—with no Jewish background. What things are both necessary and unknown to them?

· These are Christians who have only the Old Testament as Scripture—and not well acquainted with that.

The solution—recommended to this day—is found in the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid. Whatever you’re going to tell them must be simple and straightforward.

Of course, you need not cover such ground as murder, robbery and theft; the people of the Roman world understood well enough that these things were wrong. Indeed, it was the sense of sin and guilt that was common to these people which made them seek the salvation found in Christ. Therefore, you need not state the obvious. But you must be explicit about that which is not obvious. So James gives them some elementary dietary law, a prohibition against getting involved with idols—and he prohibits fornication.

To begin, we must define the word; it has passed out of common usage in our day. It means sex between a man and a woman, neither of whom is married. In the Old Testament it is prohibited—and punishable by marriage. But in this time, the average Roman would certainly not have thought this to be a problem. Adultery—that he could understand. Trifling with another man’s wife is very likely to lead to serious complications later on. But fornication?

Just why does the church condemn it?

· First, chastity is most likely to produce life-long marriages (despite what Hugh Hefner thinks). A man always wants to be a woman’s first love; she always wants to be his last..

· Second, fornication defiles the relationship that God created to teach us about the relationship between Christ and the church.

That last is rather deep. Rather than explain, James simply gave the commandment—as we might do for our children, looking back on our own follies.

Lord, so often we see that your words are wise—after the fact. Help us to listen first.

March 9

Pollution

1 Corinthians 6:13-19

One of the largest bodies of fresh water in North America is Lake Erie. It is also the waterfront to a large number of industrial plants. This is convenient; shipping by water is relatively cheap. It is also convenient for the disposal of various waste materials produced by heavy industry. First in innocence, then in ignorance, then in greed, American industry polluted Lake Erie until people were warned not to eat the fish from the lake—it could kill you. The life of the lake was dying, simply from how we polluted it.

Prostitution produces somewhat the same result within the church. Many Christians see no objection to it; it is politically correct to approve of it. But let’s follow the steps of Paul’s argument here:

· Our bodies are “members” of Christ. How so? The church is Christ’s body on earth; we are parts of that body. Not undifferentiated parts—but members, each performing a specific function. Our flesh is, therefore, his body.

· When you have sex with someone, the two of you become “one flesh” - that is, one body. Note that this is not restricted to marriage, but any sexual union.

· Therefore, when you have sex with a prostitute, you have brought her pollution into the body of Christ. If we allow this often enough, the life of the church is threatened.

Indeed, as Paul argues here, immorality (any sex outside marriage) pollutes your own body. You become one flesh with one who does not belong to Christ; in the case of a prostitute, you become one flesh with someone who sells her body at market rates. But your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit—for you received the Spirit when you became a Christian. Think what this means for the witness the Spirit wants to bear through you!

The body united with a prostitute is, spiritually, like a run-down church building, paint peeling. It attracts no visitors, for any who would inquire can clearly see that its members just don’t care about the church. So it is with “casual sex”; it shows we don’t care for the body of Christ, the temple of the Spirit.

Thus, answer me this: if we do not care for his body; if we do not care for this temple, how much will He care on the Day of Judgment?

Lord, help us to remember to be holy, for you are holy. We are your body on earth; may the world see a true picture of it.

March 10

The Blunt Truth

1 Corinthians 7:1-2

The passage sounds strange to modern ears; perhaps we might wonder if there was some ancient prohibition against marriage. Modern thought condemns marriage as slavery of women, to be abolished as soon as the feminists become a majority. So just why would Paul make such a statement?

· The times are tough; it might not be such a good time to get married. Better to be single if you are serving the Lord; you’ll have more time for it.

· But—should you happen to be married already—don’t get a divorce. Rather, build your marriage and family.

But what about the guy on the edge? What about the poor fellow who’s in love, sees all that sex going on around him, and just plain desires it? Paul doesn’t say, “Be strong and shut up.” He follows his Lord’s teaching; this is a hard thing, not everyone can do it. If you’re one of those who can’t, don’t worry about it—get married.

Remember that the world of the Corinthians was very much like our own—anything that put two bodies (or more) in the same bed was heartily approved. The Romans by this time had quite fallen from their early nobility. So Paul announces the practical solution to the problem: get married, stay faithful (and have fun at it).

In short, one of the purposes of marriage is to provide for the satisfaction of the sexual drive in human beings. We are amphibians; we are spiritual beings, but also physical beings. The solution to the sexual urge is simple: have sex. Just do it within marriage.

That, no doubt, strikes you as a blinding flash of the obvious. But see how the world has assaulted this idea:

· One drumbeat says that sex is “dirty” - inherently wicked, something to be ashamed of. Would you do something dirty with the one you love?

· Another drumbeat says that sex in marriage must be dull—which is the deadliest sin (being dull, that is). Therefore adultery is now required for our “sexual health.”

God’s view is quite different. Sex in marriage is to prevent sex outside marriage. It’s to keep him (or her) coming home at night. Sex is, in fact, God’s wedding gift to us. It is from him, and therefore it is blessed.

Lord, let us enjoy your gifts as you intended, using them for our good. Faithful need not equal dull.

March 11

Not Even Named

Ephesians 5:3

An old friend once put it this way: “The first time I heard a woman swear, I blushed. It was so embarrassing, I blushed to my ears; I didn’t know what to say.” Our younger readers will find this hard to credit, but there was such a time in America, and not so long ago. But no more.

The concept of “propriety” - the idea that there are certain topics not fit to be mentioned in polite society—is an old one. There were certain topics which were simply taboo. This is, of course, a very old-fashioned idea—which by no means makes it false. What has happened is that the female of the species now uses language that her grandmother would have condemned completely as “not lady-like.” Our women see this as being “just as good as men.” In a sense, true; in a sense, true.

But propriety is still with us; it is now called “political correctness.” We cannot possibly hint that there is any real difference between men and women, for example. To suggest that certain cultures might be judged by their actions is forbidden as well. (All cultures are equally valid; pass me some of the cannibal stew.) So the concept is not gone; just changed.

Let us therefore retain the concept and see what the Scripture calls taboo in polite Christian circles:

· Sexual immorality. The word in the Greek is the one from which we derive our word “pornography.” The conversation is well known to men; the leering evaluation of each female based upon her face, figure and willingness to have casual sex. Is it right that we should so casually weigh our sisters?

· Impurity. The word is rooted in the Greek word which we know as “catharsis” - with a negative in front. It means one who is not holy; who will not examine himself. It is the conversation of those who view the grace of God like another tissue to blow their noses.

· Greed. Often passed today as being an energetic business type, this conversation places money ahead of Christ. The greedy don’t name Jesus Lord, for they worship another god.

Propriety is still with us; let us remember that there is a propriety for Christians even yet.

Lord, we are soaked in the world’s way of conversation. Rinse this from us, and teach us to build each other up.

March 12

Idolatry

Colossians 3:5-6

It is a lovely list of the sins of the flesh and the world. We shall take them separately and then add them together. Ready for a bit of mathematics?

· Immorality—the root word is the one from which we take pornography—meaning the craving of sexual pleasure,

· Plus impurity—the sin of the man who will not take the spiritual equivalent of a bath, maintaining that his own sins smell good to him,

· Plus passion—the root word is pathos—meaning the emotion that will not be denied,

· Plus evil desire—meaning the wicked mind which constantly pictures the results of evil as being good,

· Plus greed—the constant desire for more, for there is never enough wealth to satisfy it,

Equals idolatry. How so, one might ask in this day? I can see how it definitely adds up to “I Want”, but why idolatry?

Let’s take it from the Old Testament example. We remember from the Ten Commandments that God said “you shall have no other gods before me.” This can have two meanings:

· It can mean that we are to put God first among our pantheon of gods, whatever that might be. That’s how it’s often proclaimed in sermons, but is it really the case?

· It can also mean that we are not to have another god in the presence (“before”) the Living God.

That last is much more likely. Recall that in the days of Judah’s decline, the kings undertook to bring idols—images of the false gods of the heathens around—into the Temple of God. No doubt the politically correct were there, chanting “all religions are equally true.” This is what caused God to exile the nation.

We have much the same happening in many Christian lives today. That lovely list of sins adds up to one thing: the “I Want” in our lives is our ruling passion. Christ will have all of you or none of you; bring no gods before him. Let these things be banished from your life, so that the “I Ought” of God crushes the “I Want” of the world. There is but one God; worship Him alone.

Lord, we forget the honor that is your due. Help us cleanse from our hearts those things that would steal our love from you.

March 13

God the Avenger

1 Thessalonians 4:3-6

Audiences love it; critics hate it: Camelot. Lerner and Loewe’s interpretation of Arthurian legend is perhaps best known for its ballad, “If Ever I Would Leave You.” It is a beautiful song; in keeping with the “advanced thinking” of the time, in this song the adultery between Lancelot and Guinevere blossoms.

Excuses. When adultery blossoms we are quick to produce our excuses. See if you recognize any of these:

· “Nobody will ever know.” After all, Arthur’s a nice old guy and we shouldn’t upset him.

· “Sex is so beautiful, how could anyone condemn it?” Maybe it’s not sex but the partner that God condemns.

· “Variety is the spice of life. Why don’t you try it?” For the same reason I don’t wrestle rattlesnakes, spicy or not.

· “The only response to temptation is to give in.” This is what makes fat people fat. (Like me.)

· “It’s actually my wife’s fault.” World’s oldest excuse; see Adam in Genesis.

Now, if the purpose is to justify adultery to me, people will have little fear of vengeance (as long as it’s not my wife). But it does not do to leave the Living God out of your calculations—or your excuses. Let’s take it step by step:

· He is consistently portrayed as the defender of the weak—the widow, the orphan and the innocent oppressed.

· He created marriage to give to us a living example of Christ’s love for the church. It’s his creation, and very holy.

· He is the Avenger. He is both powerful and righteous, and he is quite capable of dealing with any of us.

Our problem is that we don’t think he’ll do anything. We see his patience and think he doesn’t care. It is not so.

Camelot fell because its foundation crumbled in adultery. It is a legend, of course. But may I bring to you another such legend? The medieval monks who wrote Arthur’s legend held that the return of Christ would come when another Arthur ascends the throne of England. Prince Charles’ oldest son is named Arthur.

Lord, at your return on the Day of Wrath many old wrongs will be avenged at last. Let us be those who give—and accept—mercy.

March 14

In Jail

Genesis 39:7-20

The story is a familiar one to Bible readers. It is now much maligned by feminists (who insist that we have only Joseph’s side of the story). Whether or not this episode encourages rape I leave to the reader’s sense of logic. What I would point out to you is Joseph’s defense. Many would consider his situation an opportunity; what reason does he give for turning it down?

In a word, stewardship. Joseph understands the concept clearly; his master put him in charge so that the master wouldn’t have to worry about it. If you do that, you select someone who is above all trustworthy—and that is the first characteristic of stewardship. Joseph no doubt knows the perquisites that come along with the job—as slaves go, he’s got a good assignment and knows it. But with those perquisites come limits.

But (as the woman might have argued) who’s to know? Joseph makes it clear: God knows. Such an action would be a failure in stewardship, a sin, and therefore an offense against God. It is certainly conceivable that Potiphar might have had an opinion on the subject as well—but see that Joseph isn’t worried about him. Do not fear the one who can kill the body; fear the one who can throw the soul into hell.

All this sounds good until you remember that Joseph took this one on the chin. Off to jail! Joseph’s faith is shown here; if God is the judge, he is also the reward. He was preparing Joseph for greater things.

There is an example for us in our own marriages. Husband is given stewardship of wife; wife of husband. The terms are different, for the man is to be the spiritual leader, but both have their own stewardship responsibilities. My wife and I are stewards of each other. Therefore,

· First, we must be trustworthy—before God and each other.

· Next, we must use the perquisites of our positions responsibly.

· We must also know the limits of those perquisites.

· Finally, we must acknowledge that we are accountable to God for our stewardship of each other.

Lord, how often we view our privileges in marriage as toys to be used as we please. Remind us always that our marriages are but a picture of your love for the church; your care, our example.

March 15

Strange Custom

Ruth 3:6-13

It is rare today to hear of someone who marries simply for the sake of having children to inherit something. It is even more rare to hear of a man doing that. Times have changed.

In the days when this story happened—about three thousand years ago, more or less—the custom of the time was different. It was considered absolutely essential that each father hand down to his sons the property and estate which pertained to him. They did not view land as a commodity, as we do. Rather, it was a gift of God to the clan in which you were born. It was important, therefore, to have a male heir—otherwise the property would go to a cousin or whoever the nearest relative might be.

In an agricultural society such as this, property was the main form of wealth producing asset. A person who had no property was, almost by definition, poor. This was particularly true for a woman, as (in general) she did not inherit the land—the sons did. If they did not provide for her, she starved.

To deal with this situation, God commanded that the nearest “kinsman-redeemer” was to redeem the land; i.e., pay off any debts in buying the property at market value. There was one important stipulation: you got the property, you got the widow. Any children born to her afterwards were counted as the heirs of her dead husband, who would inherit the property.

Under such circumstances, Naomi sends Ruth to apply to Boaz , to ask him to perform the function of kinsman-redeemer. By our standards it is a risky maneuver. She is a woman, no virgin, in a society which does not value such. Naomi and Ruth are depending upon the honesty, integrity and righteousness of Boaz. If he doesn’t measure up, Ruth becomes just another crime statistic.

But Ruth’s plea is just, and she makes it to a righteous man. He does not claim his midnight visitor for sexual purposes; rather, he places her under his protection.

To the pure, all things are pure. Boaz sees no merry widow in this; he sees a woman who claims God’s justice. He will see that she gets it. I wonder: how many of our men could claim the same? Would a pretty midnight visitor be viewed as a pleasant diversion or the call to fairness?

Lord, strengthen us so that we look beyond our own convenience and pleasure. May we follow this noble example; the pure heart to whom all things are pure.

March 16

Adultery as Betrayal

2 Samuel 11:8-13

David finds himself in quite a predicament. He has made another man’s wife pregnant, under circumstances in which there could be no mistake about the paternity. He’s looking for a way to cover his tracks—but winds up deeper in sin. How did he get into this mess anyway?

· He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time—and he should know it. It’s spring, the “time which kings go forth to war.” The army is in the field;  David is in the palace.

· He’s feeling pretty good about himself. Things have been going rather well lately—he’s self confident.

· He’s at the palace when the business is at the front. He has time to play with his toys; what’s one more toy, even if you stole it?

No problem, he thinks. I’ll send for the husband; they’ll have sex; he’ll think the kid is his. He should have known better. Uriah is one of his “Mighty Men” - comrades of many years, those who suffered in the wilderness with David. He is, tragically, an old friend. As his actions make clear, he is a member of a band of brothers—soldiers who accept hardship as their lot. When a man won’t have sex with his wife because his buddies are in the field, that’s a unit with high morale—full of tough soldiers. It’s also a warning signal to David.

Adultery is betrayal; in this instance, David’s betrayal of a good friend. David didn’t intend murder; his eyes saw, his heart wanted and his body was satisfied. But to do this is a betrayal of God, who took little David from the sheepfold and made him king of Israel. It is also the murderous betrayal of a good friend, one who has shared many hardships. It is also the betrayal of his people, whose king was a man after God’s own heart, and therefore an example to God’s own people.

It is also an example to us. David, the greatest king that Israel ever knew, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery—and then murder to cover it up. If you think yourself immune to this, think again. Even the best have been snared by this.

Lord, well have you taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Do not let us rest in our own assumption of confidence; rather, remind us that we are but sinners who need to come daily to you.

March 17

Integrity

Job 24:15

What do adultery and the CIA have in common? Everything is top secret—until printed on the front page of the Washington Post.

Why is it that we find that—even in our “enlightened” age—adultery is something done in the night and fog? Listen to the excuses:

· “It’s so no one gets hurt.” In other words, if it’s known, it would hurt? Then why would you do it?

· “This prevents the gossips from spreading things.” I’ve never heard a gossip accuse anyone of chastity.

· “It’s no one else’s business anyway” Really? Then why the secrecy? Why the midnight rendezvous?

The real reason is much simpler: it is so that one deceiver can play out his passion with another.

Sex, you see, involves mutual trust—at least to the extent of mutual nakedness. In the marriage relationship that trust springs from love; in the adulterous relationship that trust springs from a mutual guilty secret. Usually, neither party wants it known—so neither will disclose it willingly. And both are willing to believe that the other will respect them just as much in the morning.

God has a different view. The sins he sees his children commit in the darkness he exposes to the light. He does this for two reasons:

· It is disciplinary for those involved. Having been embarrassed and ashamed once tends to make twice less likely.

· It is an example for the others; this too could happen to you.

Does this work? Not really. Not for all of us. Some of us take heed, others just vow to be more clever next time.

· We think that God does not see; the darkness must blind him somehow.

· We think that God does not care; after all, no lightning bolts yet.

· We think that God does not act, and therefore nothing can go wrong. Ask Bill Clinton about that last one.

Chastity is simply integrity in sexual matters.

Lord, teach us the humility to know both your greatness and your tender love for us. Lead us not into conspiracy, but deliver us from deception, delusion and dishonesty.

March 18

Deep Well

Proverbs 23:27-28

The U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration has a problem. In every state of the union there are abandoned mines and quarries which pose a danger to human beings. So this agency issues flyers and press releases to warn the public about this danger—and people ignore them. Why?

· Ignorance is one reason. You can die from gas (either explosive or just not breathable), drowning, the walls collapsing, poisonous snakes (love it in there), explosives, old machinery, a vertical drop (some shafts go several hundred feet down), and disorientation which results in starvation.

· Foolhardiness is another. Their website quite frankly admits that old mines are “alluring, mysterious and intriguing.” Add to that the attitude of, “It will never happen to me,” and you have someone ready for a fall.

In short, people are too busy to find out the truth and too cocky to do anything about it if they do. Despite all the warnings and advertising, people still die in abandoned mines.

It’s a fundamental fact of human nature; we live in a fallen (no pun intended) world. Solomon uses the deep well or pit as a metaphor for the prostitute and adulteress. The parallel is rather close. For example, the adulteress is:

· Alluring—after all, she never cleans the kitchen when you’re there.

· Mysterious—especially compared to the wife you know so well.

· Intriguing—she should be; she gets a lot of practice at it. It’s an art work; still life of forbidden fruit.

Just like the abandoned mine, it’s easy to get into an adulterous relationship—and hard to get out. Why?

· There’s the fear of exposure, they subtle danger that somehow your wife might find out.

· If you do it long enough, you become a regular customer. You get a discount—off your soul.

Like the mine safety people, God has posted the warning. You are no longer ignorant. You are only tempted.

Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Including the temptation to think we can juggle passions.

March 19

Prophet and Priest Polluted

Jeremiah 23:10-11

This passage brings to memory a concept which is not very familiar these days. The concept is this: because of the sin of the people, the land can be cursed. Our ancestors were quite familiar with this; they knew what it meant to pray for rain—and to pray hard for rain. A greater familiarity with the Old Testament taught them that God still rules in this universe.

We have rejected that notion. Everything now is scientific; because we are more knowledgeable, God no longer cares about the land on which we walk. (To state the proposition is to see the absurdity). The truth is rather simple: the universe is a place run by moral law. As we might put it, “what goes around, comes around.” It hasn’t changed just because the weather bureau is smarter now.

Is this happening to us right now? The word used is “polluted.” It is not a coincidence. Consider how we have affronted God:

· We no longer condemn any form of sexual sin. Even to touch upon the subject in a sermon provokes the reaction that the preacher is meddling where he shouldn’t.

· We honor those who are foremost in acclaiming sexual sin. Churches who ordain practicing homosexuals are “bold” and “courageous,” while those who don’t are “backward” and “out of touch with reality.”

· We ignore those who are adulterous (for example) within our own congregations. When was the last time you heard adultery rebuked? Prostitution? Divorce? God hates divorce, says the Scripture. We don’t care.

Just to make the parallel clearer, do we not trust in our might? Might is not right, says the Lord, but we as a nation trust in our technology. Even in the church we trust in our own wisdom; when it contradicts the Bible we say the Holy Spirit is leading us. This is the justification given, for example, by the Episcopal church for its policy of ordaining homosexual priests and bishops.

It is appalling enough that we practice such wickedness as a nation. We fit Jeremiah’s description of the nation here; the same God is active, and the same fate awaits. If you think we’ll be the exception, remember: the smart money was on Goliath.

Lord, have mercy on this nation we love. Send us the spirit of revival—and repentance. Reform your world, beginning with us.

March 20

False Teachers

2 Peter 2:14

This passage is taken from a rather lengthy, passionate section of Scripture written by the Apostle Peter. He was an emotional man; his love for the church fueled his righteous anger with those who would destroy her. Chief among these are the false teachers.

This selection gives us just one of the characteristics of such people. In particular, he mentions their habits as sexual predators. The phrase would be new to Peter, but it accurately pegs them.

Eyes full of adultery

No part of the human anatomy reveals the heart as well as the eyes. We are accustomed to the idea that an honest man will look you right in the eye, for example. Here we see the roving eye, always looking for the next adultery. See if you recognize the symptoms:

· First, there is the constant cataloging of women. The lesson may be pious, but his speech frequently talks of how good looking this or that woman might be.

· Next, there is the constant probing for weaknesses—usually in the form of “let me pray for you.” For these, to find a woman’s troubles is to find the way into her bed.

· With these comes the constant lure for such women. These are men who constantly show themselves to be trolling troubled waters for troubled souls.

How do you recognize such wolves? Wait; their fruits will soon be clear.

Their victims are always with us. These are women with what Peter calls unstable souls. These women can be found in any church. They frequently go from one teacher to another, seeking the latest and greatest—and asking for his affirmation.

These are women whose marriages may lack companionship; their marriages might be full of rage. Whatever the cause, the cure is always found in Christ. The church needs to come alongside such women; this is one reason we need women’s discipleship groups. Often young, it is the task of the older woman in the faith to guide and solidify such a soul.

Lord, taking a young soul from flightiness to rock solid stability is neither easy nor short. Encourage us as we do this; teach us always to know that you are the rock we seek.

March 21

Sit Up And Listen, Children

Leviticus 19:29

Sit up and listen, children. Today’s lesson in political correctness is the glorious truth, “All cultures are equally valid.” In other words, everything is beautiful in its own way.

As I write this, one of our local school districts is in turmoil. Three Christian trustees refused to accept the state bureaucracy’s requirement that the elementary school children be taught that gay “marriage” is normal, proper, frequent and righteous. Approve of this, or no state funding. This despite the people passing an initiative declaring marriage to be solely between man and wife.

Strangely, we have a similar situation here. Lot has a couple of male visitors. The politically correct majority wants to welcome them in the traditional Sodom fashion (homosexual rape). It’s their equivalent of the welcome wagon. They’re pretty confident too; as Lot shows, he’s not a particularly courageous guy.

Do you see the parallel? In both instances the homosexuals announce themselves to be true righteousness; anyone who doesn’t agree is obviously defective. Therefore, we need to use force to make sure that our values are not disrespected by weirdo right wing fundamentalists (like Lot).

There is a fundamental issue here: how do we enforce “the will of the majority” without trampling “the rights of the minority?” How do we decide which shall prevail?

A moment’s reflection will give you a simple answer. If you have two options, each claiming to be the right answer, you can only make that decision in one of two ways:

· You may be required to resort to force. The North said slavery was morally wrong; the South, that it was morally right. The matter came to civil war.

· You may be able to decide between the two—but only if you accept some other guidance as being superior to both. If there is no accepted guide superior to both claims, then force will be the result.

The society of Lot’s time, in the town of Sodom, knew that force was the answer. The politically correct in our time think the same; the state must mandate. It would be well for them to recall the fate of Sodom.

Lord, it grieves those of us who love this land to see the depravity which we now call normal. Lord, send revival—and repentance.

March 22

Do Not Defile Yourselves

Leviticus 18:22-24

Defile: to make unclean or impure; to corrupt the purity or perfection of.

Thus the dictionary definition. Permit me three examples:

1. It is common in most of the world today to expect that public officials are corrupt. Simply to get them to allow you to do business requires a payment; more money will motivate them to deal harshly with your competition. Note: corruption is more common than honesty; so shouldn’t this be declared to be both normal and righteous?

2. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant or cafeteria during the lunch hour knows: cleanliness is not next to godliness; it is next to impossible. Without an honest health inspector, our food would be prepared in filth. Shouldn’t this be “normal” too? It certainly would be cheaper for the restaurants.

3. We usually think of purity in terms of soap. But did you know there is purity in metals? How do you feel about a car manufacturer who does not check the purity of the steel used in the frame? Does purity matter there? Or should we let the car maker save a few pennies here?

The matter is relatively simple. We still think our public officials should be thrown out of office when shown to be corrupt—unless, of course, sex is involved. We still want purity in the foods we eat; we trust the car makers to use the right purity of metals—to the point of trusting our lives to it. Failure in this is still grounds for lawsuit. In fact, in almost every aspect of life, we find a consistent pattern: there is a pure, right way to do something. We expect it to be done by that pure, right way. If it suspected that this is not happening, we investigate. If we find that it is amiss, we are outraged.

In every area of life except one: sex. Purity in sex is mocked, reviled, described as impossible. Television still shows us one man, one wife families—on the rerun channel. We still have the expectation that our wife (or husband) should remain faithful—in a society that proclaims impurity as righteousness.

The family is the brick in the wall of society. We are taking the bricks and grinding them into dust. How long will the wall stand?

Lord, our bodies are the temple of your Holy Spirit. Strengthen your church in the struggle to keep that temple pure and undefiled. Open the eyes of our civilization, that they may see.

March 23

Truth For A Lie

Romans 1:25-27

It is important to note the sequence of events that Paul describes here; we are seeing it again in our day.

First, God is no longer worshiped. Instead of the Creator, his creation is being worshiped. How so?

· Happy Earth Day! Yes, ecology is here to save you; bioethics defines truth. So go out and meditate on nature; take a couple of crystal pyramids with you.

· For those not so foolish, there is materialism. Oh, it’s not that we worship the material; it’s just that we love it. (435 horsepower, zero to 60 in …)

· And—should you want to worship the highest—why, there’s humanism. Man makes the rules; we define for ourselves what is right. All cultures are equally valid.

Have you seen any of this lately?

Next, God “gives them over” to their passions. In other words, he ceases to keep them out of the trouble of their own making. He simply lets them go. Would the loving God do such a thing? If you deny Him, He will deny you.

The result? (Remember—Paul wrote this almost two thousand years ago). Homosexuality becomes rampant. Not just for men (as it was a few years ago) but also for women. Another rousing victory for feminism! Could this possibly be the same pattern that Paul saw?

Well, let’s look at the next step: they receive “in their own persons the due penalty of their error/” Modern liberals rail at Christians because of the AIDS epidemic (if we weren’t so repressed, we’d have spent a lot more on AIDS research). AIDS—completely preventable by chastity—is seen as the curse that Christians have given to the truly righteous homosexuals. The Northridge earthquake was centered in a very localized area—where almost all the world’s hard core pornography was produced. It’s just a coincidence, of course. The world knows that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, right? Did you know there’s a major earthquake fault running right through San Francisco?

But in all this, remember: it is the heart of God that none perish, but all be saved. The repentant heart is always heard in heaven.

Lord, your purposes cannot be thwarted. Help us to bring the mercy you give to those who so desperately need it.

March 24

Daughters In Harlotry

Leviticus 19:29

Clothing, I am told, is not a simple thing. One must achieve “the look.” Careful attention needs to be paid to the volumes of advertising, the apparel of fashion leaders and of course any number of magazines available at the supermarket check out stand.

The result is "the look." She is wearing black patent shoes; fishnet stockings; a short, tight miniskirt; a blouse carefully unbuttoned for the maximum suggestion; makeup done just so, to emphasize the lips. Most men would find her quite worth looking at—even though she’s in the third grade.

Why would a girl so young dress like that? Let me give you three reasons:

1. Peer pressure. She is by no means the only one; all those who are “cool” dress like this. The pressure to conform is almost incredible.

2. Mother dresses the same way. Even if she’s dropping off her child at a Christian school.

3. And, as Mom tells her, it’s practice for the real thing. She’s going to need to attract a man some day.

You’re never going to attract a husband unless you dress like that? It doesn’t seem to have been so much of a problem over the last six thousand years or so. But let me ask Mom some questions:

· This look will get you sex. But will it get you the companionship and love you need, or just one more one night stand?

· Is sex really the basis of a strong marriage? Or is it just the starting point?

· Are you condemning your daughter to repeat her mother’s mistakes? You wouldn’t give her marijuana, even if you smoked it when you were a teen.

And finally, what makes you so sure that Prince Charming is in the bar to start with? Consider well what you advertise for; you will get it.

The old-fashioned virtues, such as modesty and chastity, are just that: virtues. But virtue needs to be taught. Is your daughter a daughter of the King of Kings, or a child of harlotry? Just because the land is full of it doesn’t mean your child should be too.

Lord, it is hard to resist the ways of the world, especially for the children. They yearn so much to be accepted. Give us strength to pass on to our children your way, not the world’s way.

March 25

The Rape of Tamar

2 Samuel 13:11-16

Let us be perfectly clear on the subject: rape is sin, and is also a violent crime. Combined with incest (as in this account) it is considered so evil as to warrant the death penalty.

But that is not the story here. The story begins with David and his “affair” with Bathsheba. He thought he had the matter covered up nicely when he disposed of the husband—but these things have a way of being uncovered. God promised him that he had not heard the last of it.

It is likely enough that Bathsheba had little choice in the matter. David, after all, is the king. How does one argue with him? The lesson is not lost on Amnon; the rules are different for royalty. He sees her; he wants her; he schemes to get her alone and he rapes her. It is not only rape, but incest; both are David’s children.

What does the Law say? Simply put, it says that she should have screamed; he should have been seized promptly and taken out and stoned to death. Since this happened in a city, and she didn’t scream, she too would be stoned to death. You would think a death penalty would keep this from happening. But the Law cannot prevent sin; it can only punish it.

It doesn’t end there. Absalom, Tamar’s brother, tells her not to worry. In due time he takes care of the problem, with a knife in Amnon’s belly. This leads eventually to Absalom’s revolt, in which he takes over his father’s harem—for a while. Ultimately, Absalom is killed in the revolt. David mourns him; “Would to God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son.”  

Any pastor can tell you stories like this; you don’t need to look in the Bible. They’re all around us. Children grow up in broken homes, with incest, with drugs and all sorts of abuse—and go on to found families of their own, with the same troubles. Your rebellion against your parents comes back to haunt you—when you have children that are just like you.

But there is a way out. His name is Jesus Christ; he’s been working miracles in families for years. It is not unavoidable; the cycle can be broken. But you have to ask for his help.

Lord, teach us to throw our pride on the table—for you to gather up and keep from us. Then teach us your ways in our families, giving us the gift of humble repentance.

March 26

Military Rape

Lamentations 5:11

To understand this one little verse we must first know that this book of the Bible is, as its title indicates, a series of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah. He laments over the fall of the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah.

The rape itself was rather a routine feature of war at the time. The practice of the time was to allow the soldiers of the victorious army to rape the wives and daughters of the losing army’s people. This was considered to provide a bonus for the troops; it probably also motivated the defenders as well. Afterwards the most attractive women would be taken as slaves. And that is the politest description of the process which I can give.

What is unusual about this particular conquest is that God prophesied it through Moses—several hundred years earlier. He had the people recite the blessings and curses; one of the things promised was precisely this ending: conquest, rape and pillage, exile and slavery.

Judah had grown too confident in the Lord’s mercy. Always before they experienced the cycle: they would grow fat and comfortable, and forget God—idols were much more reasonable in their demands. Sin soon led to disbelief; God punished the nation by means of other sinful nations. Judah would cry out that surely they were better than the invaders; much more righteous, by comparison at any rate. But not until repentance came did God restore them. Finally, they exhausted God’s patience. For those who would ask why the events of September 11 took place, I would suggest you seek the parallel in illustrations.

If a people call themselves by God’s name, he expects purity. Often, He gets idolatry. Idolatry then involved funny looking statues; today it involves material things; success; pride—the outer signs are different, but it’s the same.

Interestingly, the favorite illustration of the prophets for idolatry is adultery. The reason is simple enough for us; our marriages are to be the picture on the living canvas of our bodies of Christ’s love for his church. It is the small version of faithfulness; for if you cannot be faithful to the wife you see, how will you be faithful to the God you do not?

Lord, we acknowledge that we are to be holy, for you are holy. Yet we are not holy; the lure of the world is very strong upon us. Reform your church, Lord—beginning with me.

March 27

A Strange Tale

Genesis 38:12-26

The tale seems a strange one to us. We live in a time where a woman would be told simply to get out and socialize more. It is a time when “romantic love” is the ideal. We are very, very different—and yet much the same.

It was the custom of the time that a man’s widow would become the wife of his oldest brother, assuming he was of age. Multiple wives were a commonplace at the time. But Judah is reluctant; his oldest son was married to the widow. His second son died at God’s command because he refused to have sex with her. So Judah tells her to wait—in her father’s house, and at his expense, of course.

The rationale behind this is essentially financial. In a woman’s old age she was to be cared for by her sons. She was not allowed to inherit property, in general. So this duty of the brother was to raise up sons for her. It sounds strange to us; they would probably marvel at Social Security.

One thing has remained the same: the double standard. It’s quite acceptable for Judah to pay for a little fling with a shrine prostitute (despite the idolatry of it) but Tamar should be executed for her lack of chastity. Judah is single at the time; but then, so is Tamar. Her salvation is in identifying him for the hypocrite he is.

Why is this form of sex so popular? I submit it is not a need to stimulate the local economy. Men choose this form of sex for a number of reasons:

· It is sex without obligations. When it’s over, it’s over.

· It is sex without memories. She’s just a body.

· It is sex without friendship. She is just another night.

Sadly, women have now taken up this form of sex as being the essential social skill. Sex on the first date; knowing all the men, and being terribly alone.

The saddest part of this today is that women see no way out. It is socially acceptable to sleep with every man you see, but the yearning for companionship must be rejected; otherwise, you’re old fashioned. It is the great lie of our time.

Lord, so often life looks so empty and shallow—another night, another man. There seems no way out; no light at the end of the tunnel. But you are light; the light of the world. May your children be polished mirrors of your true light.

March 28

A Great Love

Hosea 3:1-3

It is a fact: there is very little straight theology in the Bible. God prefers to teach his lessons in ways more memorable—pithy proverbs, parables and occasionally even an allegory. Hosea is just such an allegory.

Allegory: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence. So says the dictionary; but Hosea is not fictional. But he does represent part of the story God wants to tell. He represents God in this story. His wife, Gomer, represents Israel. Her adultery represents the idolatry of Israel.

So, that’s the story. But note this: God commanded Hosea to marry this woman—even though he knew she was a prostitute. Most marriage counselors would not consider this the best possible match. Worse, after they are married she takes what he provides for her—and still goes out and works as a prostitute.

Well, the book itself is a love story—the love of God for Israel, and indeed all his children. It is also part of the prophetic record; it tells of Israel’s exile and ultimate return.

But let’s go back to this marriage. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has the same effect on a marriage that adultery does. It is the source of murder, rage and some of the most vicious words the human tongue can form. Our Lord considered it the only reason which justified divorce.

And yet—so great is the love of God for his people—that he commands Hosea to take her back. To do this, Hosea must purchase her out of slavery. It is interesting to see that the price is about half that fixed by the law for a female slave. Not just a slave; damaged goods.

Even more surprising is this: Hosea doesn’t argue with God about it; he just goes and does it. It is a reminder of the obedience of Christ to the will of the Father—but it is also a testament to the power of love that God puts into his people. Christ bought us at the Cross—and put just that love within us.

The grace of God is overwhelming. Can you imagine the look on Gomer’s face when she was purchased by the husband she had despised? It is grace; unmerited favor. Perhaps Hosea was so close to God that some of it rubbed off.

Lord, your grace is indeed amazing. May we stop justifying ourselves and our lusts, and accept your forgiveness.

March 29

A Hard Saying

Matthew 19:9

It usually comes as a surprise to couples in argument that divorce is very much a question of authority. The husband is given authority over his wife’s body; she may no longer use it as she pleases. Likewise, the wife is given authority over the husband’s body; it is not his to do with as he pleases.

So, with my tongue firmly in cheek, here’s what it takes to get yours truly into bed with someone other than my wife:

· She’s got to be no worse than third runner up in the Miss America contest.

· She has to adore fat, bald married men.

· She also needs my wife’s permission.

(And if this ever happens, look for the sun to rise in the west.)

That, however, should give you an idea of just how permanent God intends that bond of marriage to be. Consider, please, the seriousness of getting married. In any other major decision in your life, you would seek the counsel of those you consider wise, those you think have your interests at heart. In our case, no seeking was required. Upon the announcement of our intentions, my father took my bride-to-be aside and explained, at great length, why this was not a good idea. When he gave up, Mom started in. By the grace of God, my wife was not listening. But it gives you the idea.  Getting married is serious.

Then consider the seriousness of staying married. The bond is life long; what happens when he says north and she south? Separation is not an option. Therefore, someone must be in charge; the senior partner. God has assigned this to the male. It is fashionable now to decry this, but to deny this is to face two options:

· Either the marriage gives way at the first serious argument, or

· She wears the pants in the family.

I will leave it to the women: what do you think of the man in such a marriage? This staying married is neither easy nor trivial.

But it is God’s intention that marriage be life long. It is his picture of Christ’s love for the church. Love should be answered with faithfulness—husband and Christ both.

Lord, all seems rosy on the wedding day—but you desire the roses to last a lifetime. May we grow such roses in our marriages.

March 30

Those As I Am

1 Corinthians 7:7

This is one of those passages in the New Testament which Protestants find “curious.” Paul says it would be good to be like him: he is single; he is fully dedicated to the cause of Christ as a full time worker, even when he supports himself; even though others among the Apostles are married (for example, Peter.) Given the fuss over priestly celibacy, most evangelical Christians ignore this verse. But it has its lessons.

First, it teaches us that in the church one size does not fit all. Each of us is given differing gifts by the Holy Spirit. My gifts are not necessarily better or worse than yours; just different. They are given at the pleasure of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the church. For example, some people are given the gift of writing daily devotionals. As far as the American publishing establishment is concerned, I’m not one of them.

But we can make this principle with application to love and marriage. Paul is celibate; but he recognizes that others may not have that gift. He also recognizes that this may be a gift given in times of great persecution but not in other times. The Holy Spirit equips the church to meet the world of its time.

Here is another example of “judge not.” Not everyone can be celibate; if it seems a good thing at the time, those who are not capable of it should not be looked down upon. Similarly, at other times, those who are called to celibacy should not be condemned either. How do you know what God may have called that man or woman to do? It is admirable to have such self-denial; not all of us can do this.

Indeed, God has other purposes for most of us—especially the raising of children in the church. It is possible, however, that after this the Spirit may call you to celibacy for the purposes of God. Many a church has been blessed by godly widows.

Those who deny themselves in this fashion are relatively few in number. But we should not misunderstand them. If this is their call, then we should honor that call. We should support them in it—in other words, no blind dates with your cousin. Mindful of their sacrifice, we should willingly render assistance to them. Their devotion is a model to the rest of us.

Lord, we live in a time when celibate devotion to you is taken as a sign of mental illness—or worse. Grant us your eyes to see the sacrifices being made to honor your name.

March 31

The Woman Taken In Adultery

John 8:2-11

It should be noted, first, that this passage does not appear in the oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament. The explanation is rather simple; the early church did not want it published because to some it seemed to condone adultery. After the canon of Scripture was firmly established, it was placed in John’s Gospel. There is some doubt as to exactly where it should go, but this is of no importance to us.

May I take you back to the night before this incident? We know quite well what the woman was doing the night before. Jesus, however, spent the entire night in prayer. He then arrived at dawn in the Temple courts. There’s a lesson in that.

The Pharisees have constructed a clever trap. It would seem that Jesus has only two options:

· He can condemn her to death—and lose his reputation as being the friend of the sinner.

· He can be merciful to her—and lose his reputation for righteousness.

But there is a third, more subtle, option. He could say that it is such a shame that the Romans won’t let us stone her; but this is God’s punishment for Israel’s idolatry. If he does, it seems he maintains his reputation—but at the cost of becoming nothing more than one in a long line of clever rabbis. But none of these courses is the Father’s will.

Instead, Jesus writes on the ground with his finger. Was he, as tradition holds, writing out the sins of her accusers? They keep questioning him until he renders his judgment. Note that all go away—even the crowd. There is conviction in those words.

Jesus then turns to the sinner. In no way does God condone adultery; a point that is common between Jesus, the Pharisees and indeed this woman. But condemnation requires an accuser; there is none left. Jesus sends her away without condemning her—but warning her to sin no more.

Can it be that simple? Repent; sin no more; accept the forgiveness of God? It can; it is. It is called grace. It is interesting to note that there are only two times when God wrote with his finger. For Moses, the Ten Commandments. For us, the grace of God.

Lord, forgiveness is not earned but given by your grace. May our hearts accept this and treat others the same way.

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