Marriage as a Taste of Something Greater (in light of our 20th Anniversary)

Today, July 22, 2020, Lindsay and I have been married 20 years. I love my bride, and usually take time each year to publicly proclaim said love to the internet. She’s truly a blessing from the Lord—as a co-laborer, friend, mother, and human being (see here for more on that).

We have had the blessing of two decades of joyful union. Every marriage has its challenges. We’ve had a few bumps, but no crises. I attribute that to Lindsay’s patience and servant’s heart. God has been gracious to me in Lindsay.

When I think about the joy I’ve experienced in our marriage, I am reminded of the fact that marital bliss is a foreshadowing of the joy we will experience forever with Jesus. At the end of John’s vision in Revelation he describes the blessing of the marriage feast at the uniting of Jesus with his bride:

Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!”

-Revelation 19:9

The beauty of a bride, and the joy of a marriage are little glimpses of the beauty of God’s work in salvation and the joy of eternal life. Even the bride’s wedding dress is a picture of the purity of the church (Rev. 19:6-7). The love in our marriage is a picture of the love of God for us (Eph. 5:22-33). The covenant basis of our marriage is a picture of the covenant relationship we have with God established by Jesus’ shed blood. The forgiveness we show each other in marriage is a picture of Jesus’ forgiveness of the church.

Jonathan Edwards describes the beginning of eternity with Christ in light of Revelation 19 and the marriage picture with a focus on joy:

This shall be the day of the gladness of Christ’s heart, wherein he will greatly rejoice, and all the saints shall rejoice with him. Christ shall rejoice over his bride, and the bride shall rejoice in her husband, in the state of her consummate and everlasting blessedness.

-Jonathan Edwards

I’m looking forward to the next two decades and beyond with my bride. We will no doubt endure the normal challenges of marriage in a broken world. At the same time, we will experience more love and joy and blessing. The best part is, those gifts from the Lord are just a taste of what’s to come.

Freedom from Slavery to the Fear of Death

“Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.” 

-Hebrews 2:14-15

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the reality of death—something largely absent from Western culture at large—back into the center of our field of vision.  Hospitals running out of room to store dead bodies will do that to us.  Our default has often been to distract ourselves from the topic of death, even as we seek to defer it through medicine.  But like previous generations who faced disease or war, we are now looking our mortality right in the eye, and people are scared.

Ever since sin entered the world humanity has been enslaved to the fear of death, but the gospel of Jesus changes this.  The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared our flesh and blood existence in the incarnation so that he could die for us and therefore free us from the fear of death.  Christians have been freed from slavery to the fear of death.  

So what?  How does this help us when we struggle with the fear of death?  Let me offer three applications, one objection, and one example as encouragement to live free from the fear of death:

Three Applications

  1. We can be at peace in the midst of trials.  When we face the possibility of death, we can be at peace.  This peace comes through an acceptance of God’s sovereignty, through prayerfully submitting our circumstances to his care, and via the sure work of Jesus for us (see Philippians 4:6-7).  The opposite of peace is a state of agitation—being worked up.  We don’t have to fret when we get sick.
  2. We have hope in the midst of hype.  When others around us, including the media, go into a frenzy because of coronavirus, or the next disease, we need not follow their lead.  We can act with faith-based prudence rather than fear-based panic.  As we encounter a crisis (or a perceived crisis), we must let faith dictate our response.  When we focus on the steadfast, immovable character of God, hope in him will sustain us.  “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” -Psalm 56:4 
  3. We have confidence to move forward in faith.  This is the hardest part, but trusting in God we can take steps of obedience.  This means moving forward is not primarily about faith in ourselves, or governments, or heath care experts, or medical professionals.  It’s never about guarantees of safety.   So whether we’re going to a dangerous unreached people group to translate the Bible or we’re simply going outside, we can do so by faith.   

One Objection

But shouldn’t we be as safe as possible?  Yes and no.  Faith-driven prudence means we make wise decisions as long as those decision do not prevent us from God-glorifying obedience.  This is why the great missionaries of 18th & 19th centuries were right to risk their lives for the advancement of the gospel.  It would have been safer to stay home, but it would also have been wrong.  This leads us to an example of living and dying free from the fear of death.

One Example

David Brainerd was a missionary to Native Americans in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey from 1743-46.  He died from tuberculosis at only 29 years old.  His mentor Jonathan Edwards published the account of his life because he felt we could learn much from the example of Brainerd, including how to die.  He wrote in his introduction,

The reader “will also see, how all ended at last, in his sentiments, frame, and behaviour, during a long season of the gradual and sensible approach of death, under a lingering illness; and what were the effects of his religion in dying circumstances, or in the last stages of his illness.”

-Jonathan Edwards

Edwards’ analysis is that Brainerd’s life was well lived, and his attitude towards death commendable.  Brainerd was in significant pain, but he was not afraid of death.  On the contrary, as his sickness worsened he wrote,

“I had little expectation of my living the night through, nor indeed had any about me: and I longed for the finishing moment! …My soul breathed after God, ‘When shall I come to God, even to God, my exceeding joy?’ Oh for his blessed likeness!”

-David Brainerd

A few days later he wrote,

“I am almost in eternity. I long to be there. My work is done: I have done with all my friends: all the world is nothing to me. I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the holy angels. All my desire is to glorify God.”

-David Brainer, emphasis Jonathan Edwards

Brainerd wasn’t a retired missionary dying at 95 years old.  He was 29 years old, seemingly with decades ahead of him to serve the Lord.  His faith in God prevented him from becoming bitter at the occasion of his early death.  Edwards said, 

“He also expressed much satisfaction in the disposals of Providence, with regard to the circumstances of his deathHe also mentioned it as what he accounted a merciful circumstance of his death, that he should diehere (in Northampton, MA).”

-Jonathan Edwards re: David Brainerd’s death

Brainerd was not only at peace dying young, he was at peace with where on earth God ordained for him to die.  He was no slave to the fear of death, because Jesus died for him and rose from the dead.  If you are reading this and you have put your faith in Jesus, you are free from slavery to the fear of death.  We are free indeed.

Responding in Love

As events have unfolded over the past few weeks, like many I have struggled with how to respond. The problems seem hopelessly complicated and, in my world at least, very far away.  In my day-to-day I don’t worry about being pulled over or arrested. I don’t worry about my children not having opportunities because of skin color. I don’t worry about discrimination. Why? Because I’m a part of the majority culture.

As I’ve seen and read all the news and responses and critiques I keep coming back to the question: what can I do? Perhaps it’s best to start with the basics: God calls us to faith-driven obedience in loving him with all that we are and loving our neighbors as much as ourselves. In light of the biblical emphasis on loving others and caring for the marginalized, here are a few ways we can respond in love:

  1. Listen—This is often the hardest part, because others’ struggles are often not my struggles. There is great wisdom is hearing the concerns of others before we jump to conclusions. For a start, check out this article by Shai Linne.
  2. Look for opportunities to love and care—We must learn to be on the lookout for people who are marginalized or in the minority. The reality is we have minorities around us all the time, not just ethnic minorities. Those who are outside the majority will alway struggle to be accepted, valued, and heard. You can’t change that everywhere, but you can change it where you are.
  3. Be willing to think critically about actual solutions—For most of us writing laws and/or making policies isn’t in our job description, but it may be for some (elected officials, community leaders, employers, etc.). Even so, we can ask questions and participate in the process where we have opportunity. You may not feel the need to protest, but you may be able to help improve flaws in our society. What we shouldn’t do is just accept the status quo because it doesn’t negatively impact us. In this regard check out a helpful article in this direction by Denny Burk.
  4. Accept that we will always struggle—Even as we work to address problems in our laws and communities, we must do so with biblically informed expectations. The stubborn fact that we still live with the presence of sin in the world means that there is no ultimate solution outside of Christ.
  5. Hold the sanctification line—No matter what, we must refuse to allow emotions and knee-jerk reactions to justify sinful behavior and attitudes.  This means withholding judgment, it means refusing to engage in violent and illegal rioting, and it means not tearing down others with our speech. Sin breeds sin, and we need to careful here.

In Luke 10 a very religious person asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus prompted him to answer his own question, and he rightly said that he should love God with all that he is and love his neighbor as much as he loves himself. What comes next is brutal:

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

-Luke 10:29, emphasis mine

Jesus proceeded to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, a minority who showed the majority what it means to love your neighbor. I fear the greatest struggle of the majority right now is seeking to justify ourselves rather than love our neighbors.

Worship In Person June 14 at GPBC

We are thrilled to announce that we will be gathering in person for worship this Sunday, June 14th, at 10:10am at Green Pond Bible Chapel.  We will be worshipping outside in the church courtyard, so here are the details you need:

  1. Please register—We need to know how many are coming to make sure we have adequate space for social distancing.  Please register by clicking here no later than Friday at 5pm.  If you have trouble with the link just call the church office at 973-697-0990 and we’ll get you registered.
  2. Bring your own chair and Bible—Make sure you’ve got what you need for an outdoor worship service. 
  3. Come early—Plan to arrive a few extra minutes early so you have time to get settled.  Greeters will direct you when you arrive, and you’ll be able to pick up your own bulletin, lyric sheet, and elements for the Lord’s Table.
  4. Please maintain social distancing—We have a variety of perspectives on social distancing, but let’s honor one another by not shaking hands or hugging (even though we want to!).
  5. Kingdoms Kids—We’re not ready to offer childcare and Kingdom Kids yet, but stay tuned as we hope to do so in the near future.  Parents feel free to bring activities for kids, as being outside will give us more room to maneuver.
  6. Livestream will be available—We know not everyone is ready to worship together in person just yet.  We love you all, miss you, and can’t wait to see you when the time is right.  In the meantime we ask those who are at risk or not comfortable gathering to participate via our livestream.

In Acts 2:42 we read this about those first believers in Jerusalem:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.  

I personally am ecstatic about being able to do all of that in person.  It’s been a long 3 months, but we’re ready to take our first steps of being together again.   Please pray for our service this weekend as we seek to glorify God by making and maturing disciples of Jesus.

A More Glorious Vision

“He did this so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.”

-Ephesians 2:16

The only foundation for lasting peace between people groups in conflict is the cross of Jesus Christ.  

Like you, I watched with horror as a modern lynching was captured on film.  Like you, I watched in horror as yet another black man was killed by law enforcement using excessive force.  Like you, I watched in horror as protests turned into riots and city streets devolved into burning chaos.  Like you, I watched in horror as stores were looted, often harming the very people the demonstrators claimed to be championing.  Like you, I watched in horror as my social media feeds turned into litmus tests for purity and morality—if you don’t say this, then you must be that.

We are watching compounding sin wreak havoc on our nation.  It is painful to witness.  Even so, the question will eventually come around to practical matters: what should we do?  How can we pursue justice?  How can we reconcile?  How can we move from hostility to peace?

Considering these questions from a biblical perspective, there is only one answer: we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul says this explicitly in Ephesians 2.  He boldly states that Jesus is the peace between Jews and Gentiles.  He goes on to say that Jesus died “so that he might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross by which he put the hostility to death.”  Jesus put hostility—hostility between ethnic groups—to death on the cross.  Let that sink in for a moment.

In the cross there is no risk of one people group asserting themselves over another, because through the cross Jesus has made a new people group from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  In the cross there is no risk of injustice, because he died to provide forgiveness for our sins, including sins motivated by hatred or indifference to other ethnic groups.  In the cross there is no risk of conflict, because all scores have been settled.  In the cross Babel was reversed.  

Remember the story of Babel, the pinnacle of human civilization in Genesis 11:1-9?  Mankind sought to build a glamorous city and tower for their glory: “Let us make a name for ourselves,” they said (Gen. 11:4).  But God recognized this for what it was—idolatry of humanity, and he judged them by separating them into linguistic (later ethnic) groups.  They scattered, and due to sin conflict between people groups has been the norm ever since.  Why?  Because each group is still seeking to make a name for themselves.  (It is a tragic irony that the current iteration of conflict between people groups has been so destructive for cities).  

This is not as much one people group waging war against another as it is all people groups waging war with God. As one commentator put it, “the multiplicity of languages and man’s dispersal across the globe points to the futility of man setting himself against his creator.” What has Jesus done to solve this problem? He has made a new humanity—the church, made up of people from every tribe. This new people is a people who are not seeking a name for themselves; they are seeking to glorify the name of God.

The work of eliminating hostility between people groups and uniting us for the glory of God is literally a miracle.  In Revelation 5:9-10 Jesus’ worthiness to open the scrolls is seen by the multi-national nature of his redeeming work,

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and you purchased people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.

You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Thus the unified body of Christ, where no tribe is more prominent than another, is built upon the level ground at the foot of cross.  Paul said it in Ephesians 2:14, “He himself is our peace.”  If we want peace, we must keep our eyes on the greater glory of God’s work in the church and proclaim his gospel.  

When we focus on any other kingdom, we are focusing on a lesser glory and seeking to make a name for ourselves.  Think of it, a world where people aren’t suspicious of other people because of their pigmentation.  A world free from inequality.  A world free of violence.  A world free of bullying.  A world free of theft.  A world where justice is always upheld.  A world of genuine peace between people.  This world is the new creation in Christ, and it is coming.  

Yes, we must take faith-driven steps of obedience now—we need accountability for law enforcement, we need community leaders who refuse to lead violent protests, etc.  But those important steps, and others like them, are only temporary measures; they cannot solve the problem. 

When we are distracted from the more glorious vision of God’s kingdom, we will focus on what is less glorious.  We will focus on judgment we are not qualified to give.  We will hope in earthly institutions in vain.  We will allow righteous anger to devolve into sinful rage.  We will accept the status quo without qualification.  In short, we will build a city for our name.  

But Jesus has given us something much greater: the actual way to actual peace between all peoples.  The only foundation for lasting peace between people groups in conflict is the cross of Jesus Christ.  May his kingdom come.