Friday, August 24, 2012

Battling the common

Chaucer may have first penned "familiarity breeds contempt," but Solomon alluded to it millennia earlier in his pull-no-punches proverb "Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor's house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you."

And really, any man who has slept beside his bride for more than a week knows the dangers of this viper. Thinking you are immune to taking your spouse for granted you become like the religious snake handlers who overestimate their abilities and underestimate the lethality of their idol (here). I know what you think. I know what you feel. I know how you'll respond. As such, I no longer ask. I no longer plumb the depths of your heart. I no longer engage you and examine you like the amazing creature that you are. To me, you have become common.

Such common treatment fosters bitterness and callused hearts, the very things that fuel this marriage immolation. The one feeds the other which feeds the other and before long, only a heap of ashes remain on the pyre.

But there is hope.

This is the truth of the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ. Hearts of stone are turned to hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26). The old has past, the new is come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Marriage, which God intends to depict and glorify the great love of Christ for the Church, can be renewed. That which is shattered and tattered can become something more beautiful than on the day it began.

It requires a choice.

In reality, it requires a choice that only the power of the living Christ in you can compel you to make. I forget who said it, but I heard a pastor state "You are never more like God than when you love your enemies." While you might not consider your wife to be your enemy, you may be treating her that way. What if I rephrase it this way: "You are never more like God than when you love those who have hurt you?" Does that open your eyes a bit wider? Petition God to give you strength, and then go and serve.

You know this. God loved us so much that when we were without power, when we could do nothing to restore the shattered relationship between us and him, that's when God the Son took on the mantle of flesh to restore the relationship. God stepped down to bring this healing. Can we do any less in our marriage?

Some little things:
  • Leave her a note. Dry erase on the mirror works like a champ. Post-its in her Bible or in the book she's reading can bless her soul.
  • Hold the door for her. Yes, she does know how to open a door, but such a simple act of kindness can convey more than a dozen roses.
  • Buy her flowers. I have one friend whose wife doesn't care for flowers so he buys her donuts. Score!
  • Hug her just because. Hold her like the prize that she is. Let her feel the security of your arms and thereby your love. The corollary is a good one, too:
  • Kiss her just because. And not just on the lips. When's the last time you kissed her nape when she was putting on makeup or busy in the kitchen or taken her face in your hands and kissed her forehead?
  • Date her. I have slipped on this one recently. Time ticks away. Weeks slip into months and soon you cannot remember the last time you sat across from her and enjoyed her company. You call the sitter. You make the arrangements. You make the effort.
You know these things. I've written them before, and there is nothing new under the sun. Sometimes we need a swift kick in our complacency to not let this most amazing thing, the marriage relationship, become something that is common and abused.

Put on fresh eyes that you might see how God would have you love your wife!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The tested heart

Does anybody like taking a test?

During my twenty-four years in the Air Force, examiners evaluated me every year to determine if I would retain my qualifications in that particular aircraft. It didn't matter how many years I'd been flying the plane, I always felt like the physics teacher had called for a pop quiz, and my breakfast started trampolining from my belly to the back of my throat.

The purpose of a test, really, is to prove what you do know. Yes, it does seem like some tests attempt to trip you up rather than prove your knowledge, but that's not the intent. It is definitely not the intention of a good and loving God.

"The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts."
~ Proverbs 17:3

Consider, the quality of silver and the purity of gold does not change by its testing. It is proven. It is revealed. The craftsman can better see and scrape away the slag leaving the pristine mineral.

I have a couple of dear friends going through a very difficult trial right now. As a crucible crushes and as the furnace breaks down, so does God use the circumstances of life in a fallen world to prove the work he has done in our lives. The slag will be manifest only to be scraped away by God's good hand leaving a creature who shines a little more like the perfect material, the living Christ.

We stare at the clock and look ahead to see if we can get it all done in the allotted time. We long for the afternoon when the test will be behind us. But this, right now, is where God would have you be. Trust his hand to continue to hone and mold you into the man, husband, and father he would have you to be, a vessel for his good and glorious purpose (James 1:2-4). Give thanks to him for this very thing as difficult as that may be (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

As much as we would like to know the quality of our mettle, we do not, but God does. How awesome that he loves us so much that he would continue to take us through such trials that we might be conformed to the image of his Son, revealing to us our deficiencies that we might confess to him and our weaknesses that he might strengthen us through worship, prayer, study, fellowship, and service.

Let him test and prove the man that you are.

I hope this testimony, this prayer, this song by Steven Curtis Chapman can be yours, too:

Bring It On
by Steven Curtis Chapman

I didn’t come lookin’ for trouble
And I don’t want to fight needlessly
But I’m not gonna hide in a bubble
If trouble comes for me
I can feel my heart beating faster
I can tell something’s coming down
But if it’s gonna make me grow stronger then…

Bring it on
Let the lightning flash, let the thunder roll, let the storm winds blow
Bring it on
Let the trouble come, let the hard rain fall, let it make me strong
Bring it on

Now, maybe you’re thinkin’ I’m crazy
And maybe I need to explain some things
‘Cause I know I’ve got an enemy waiting
Who wants to bring me pain
But what he never seems to remember
What he means for evil God works for good
So I will not retreat or surrender

Bring it on
Let the lightning flash, let the thunder roll, let the storm winds blow
Bring it on
Let the trouble come, let the hard rain fall, let it make me strong
Bring it on

Now, I don’t want to sound like some hero
‘Cause it’s God alone that my hope is in
But I’m not gonna run from the very things
That would drive me closer to Him
So bring it on

Bring it on
Let the lightning flash, let the thunder roll, let the storm winds blow
Bring it on
Let the trouble come, let it make me fall on the One who’s strong
Bring it on
Let the lightning flash, let the thunder roll, let the storm winds blow
Bring it on
Let me be made weak so I’ll know the strength of the One who’s strong
Bring it on
(Youtube audio here)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shallow man

Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice? 
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill,
Beside the way, where the paths meet. 
She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city,
At the entrance of the doors...
Proverbs 8:1-3

We are shallow, and we don't care.

As America swirls with greater speed into the porcelain abyss, we get more and more and more talk. We get very little thought and almost no reflection. In the debates that have taken place for a Republican candidate and will certainly come for President and Vice President, the respondents will have 30 seconds to craft an argument. Folks, you can't develop an argument in thirty seconds. You can cough up a sound bite or a hair ball, but a man must build  an argument upon foundations of substance and not propaganda, emotion, and slander.

If we elect substance over form in the coming election, it will only be by God's good grace. Few will do their homework before November.

This past week, I spoke with a young man who had just returned from an overseas mission trip. He said to me, "Mr. Pond, I was amazed because men just don't want to get involved within the church." He meant in the country where he had ministered, but I turned it back on him, "It's not just in foreign lands. In the American church today, it is the women who are hungry for the things of the Lord."

Consider, brothers:

-- Do we know God and his word? (John 17:3)

-- Is his pleasure the most important thing to me in everything that I say and do?

-- Do I even know what his pleasure is? Have I ever read the entirety of his word? Do I feed upon it, study it, and know it?  But I do know how many RBI's Josh Hamilton has.

-- Does my understanding of the world around me pass through the lens of God's word? Do I scrutinize my life and the world around me based upon what God's word says?

In light of that point, I am dumbstruck when I hear Christians talking about the American political process and our government, and the things they say fly in the opposite direction of God's clear proclamations.


-- As a man, how are you serving in your church? What do you do to help the body be the body on a regular basis?

-- Is your pastor bold and unashamed about stepping on your toes, confronting sin in the church, confronting sin in our nation and culture not by standing high atop his pulpit and pointing down in condemnation but by announcing with clarity what God's word says?

-- Has he ever dared preach a message on damnation and salvation? If he has, does he ever not? Does he get past the salvation message to preaching of the full counsel of God's word so that the believer might be equipped to move beyond baptism toward living life in a fallen world in a manner that pleases our God and Savior? 

-- Are we taught and disciplined toward reflecting Christ above all things that we might love him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength?

We say it. We know it. But we do not do it. It's like loving your wife. We might cover the passages in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3 regarding husbands and say "Oh, yeah," but when it comes to living it out, our legs are as useless as the man beside Bethesda. When Christ commands, "Get up and walk," if we just sit there, our newly strengthened legs avail us nothing.

Wisdom calls aloud in the streets. God is not hiding from us. We know right where to find him.

When I began my first blog, Ripples Across the Pond, I did so to spur on the men of my church. Our discussions over the things of this life in light of God's word seemed to get cut short on Wednesday nights, so I started writing about those things through the lens of God's word to encourage and prod my brothers forward. Today, most of my readership is women.

Our nation's Founders didn't have Call of Duty VIII; they answered the call to duty. They labored hard at their business or at their farm or both, and in the evening, they fed upon God's word and upon great works of literature. They didn't avoid conversations about politics and religion, those were the topics of conversation because those were the things that mattered. These men hammered their ideas and convictions upon the anvil of God's word, and as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), they further honed them in debate and argument with one another.

Husband, if we want to be men that matter in the darkening days our nation's history, we must work. Read well and read deep. Study God's word in all its pages first and foremost, but read widely, too. Read history. Read great fiction. Read great non-fiction.

And then talk. Talk with your family. Talk with other men. Rhetoric has died. "Dude, how you doin'?" is all we can muster. Challenge a brother. Challenge yourself. "Hey, Bob, I'd like to know your thoughts on Paul Ryan as a vice-presidential candidate for the Republican Party," and see if you and Bob can discuss it without resorting to slander and name-calling. If you think Barack Obama has tanked the nation, can you explain why in more than three sentences? How does he compare with our Founders' intentions for a Constitutional Republic? How has he stood as a leader in light of God's word?

Brothers, I don't have all the answers, but I ache for men to spur me on. If I desire that, my hope is that other men might desire a kick in the keister, too. I write these missives not for you to enjoy but to move you to love your wife by being the man God has called you to be.

Let us not be shallow men. Let us prepare ourselves so that when God seeks a useful man, he might find us prepared, ready to be used in whatever manner he sees fit.

"Let us strive to think well." ~ Blaise Pascal

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

First things first

On occasion as the need has arisen, I have had the opportunity to preach at my church.

One of the challenges with preaching one Sunday on rare occasions comes in seeking the passage upon which you will preach. The expositional pastor, the man who goes through a book of the Bible, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, doesn't have to worry about what he's preaching Sunday; he follows the flow of the text. Yes, this is gross oversimplification because much goes into God-honoring expositional preaching. To my mind, it is the best preaching. Still, the passage does not have to be chosen. Pared down and poured over, yes. Chosen, no.

The guy who has one Sunday would be hard pressed to get through 3 John in three, which leaves him to search for a small passage or small topic that he can treat with respect and honor in a single Sunday. God burdened me with "The Greatest Commandment."

As I poured through the text, Mark 12:28-34 and its myriad of byways, I wondered about this blog. Jesus said with unwavering clarity,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Do I over emphasize the need for husbands to love their wives? Am I encouraging you to set your bride up as an idol? My heart leaps up in defense, "Certainly not!" That is not my intent.

I began this corner of the universe to encourage men, Christian men specifically, to love their wives because I have seen too many men junk their marriage. Honestly, they first have to junk God before they get to their wives. If my relationship with him is in tatters and his voice has no sway in my life, my bride stands vulnerable to my every whim and idiosyncracy.

The Greatest Commandment must impel me in all things.

And really, it is no contradiction to impel you and others toward loving your wife. Peter did this very thing. As did Paul. So, too, did Jesus Christ when he did not stop with the greatest commandment-- though that is what he was asked--but continued into the second which he said was like the first:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Indeed, on these hang all the law and the prophets. Our vertical relationship with God must be right, I must love my God above all things, and yet God makes plain in the pages of Scripture that our love for him must bear out in our love for one another. Our sacrificial laying down of ourselves to God, our willingness to see his name glorified at any cost to our lives, is most vividly seen in our love for our neighbor. You have no neighbor closer to you, husband, than the beauty who sleeps at your side.
  • Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness...whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9, 11)
  • Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
Hate is a strong word. Were I to ask you point blank, "Do you hate your wife?" you would look at me as if I'd just sprouted eight-legs. While we might not confess such a thing, do we live it in practice? Neglect. Biting words. Stilted conversation. No conversation. No tenderness. No nurturing. No leading. Do our actions betray us?
  • If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)
Great question, John. Husbands?

If we do love God, it will blossom in our love (care, concern, affection, etc.) for others. So says the word of God.
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
  • Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (4:11)
  • If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (4:12)
  • He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (4:20)
  • And this is the commandment we have from him, whoever loves God must also love his brother. (4:21)
C.S. Lewis summed it up with his usual incisiveness:
When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now.  In so far as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall be moving towards the state in which I shall not love my earthly dearest at all.  When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.
The priority remains: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength. If you find me deviating from the course in these proddings, prod back. Let me know if the supremacy of Christ is lacking in these things.

Since you cannot have the one without the other, I pray you will understand what I mean when I spur you on with, "Husband, love your wife!"

Friday, August 3, 2012

A note to the wives

I have to laugh when I upload one of these blog musings to Facebook and the majority of the comments that I get are from women. So, ladies, I know this is "Husbands, Love Your Wives," but this one's for you.

Some time ago, I began reading through the Bible with my daughters.  They had gotten past the kiddie picture Bibles, and since one of the greatest times of growth in my own life came when I first read through the entirety of Scripture, I thought I would introduce my lovely daughters to the full counsel of God's word. That, in a nutshell, takes us to Proverbs.

As we scour that treasure cache of gold bullion together, I try to help them see how it applies to them. I often change the "hims" and "sons" to "hers" and "daughters" that they might hear God speaking to their heart. The other night, two verses stuck out as though in bold print as we hunted through chapter nineteen.  First one:

A foolish son is a ruin to his father,
and a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. (Proverbs 19:13)

So I ask my girls (because they have had a great example of what a wife is as they have looked to their mother), "Do you want to be like a leaky roof to your husband, an annoyance to him?" In unison they responded with brows knit and heads shaking, "No, of course not."  The very next verse:

House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:14)

Time for definitions.  Prudent. "Wise or judicious in practical affairs; sagacious; discreet or circumspect; sober," says (does anyone use the book version anymore?). Such a wife is from the Lord. "Girls, would you rather be this kind of woman to your man or the other kind of woman?" Really, is there any other answer.

As I asked my girls these questions, I literally thought of you all. For a Christian woman who loves the Lord above all else and seeks to honor him, the answers are obvious. I hope. But while you may want to be this kind of woman for your man, are you? What would your man say if you asked him sincerely, no retribution? Would he say that you are more prudent or more quarrelsome?

Considering I don't know whose eyes grace this site, I point at no one in particular. How does the mirror of these two consecutive verses in Proverbs help you see yourself? The descriptions are his. And if you're a daughter of the King, you know his commands full well. Carrying this out? Not so easy. If you believe that you have been more dripping than prudent toward your husband, submit yourself to the loving and correcting hand of God, and let him change you from the inside out.

Wives, go love your husbands!