Marie and I are doing a joint study through the tag-team dynamo of Exemplary Husband / Excellent Wife at Buck Run. Because of this, I perused my little section of marriage books again. I found that this little book was missing from the shelves. It doesn’t surprise me. I’ve bought Reforming Marriage about eight times in the life of my ministry. It just always seems to get given away. Mostly because I love strong marriages, but partly because $10 seems like such a small investment in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Simply put, it is one of the best marriage books I’ve ever read. I love it and highly recommend it to those looking for a strong, theologically sound, no-nonsense book on what the Lord says about marriage. If you have a spouse or may acquire one sometime in the future, you should eat this book. Absolute Gold!
Here are the first few paragraphs:
How would you describe the spiritual aroma of your home? When visitors arrive, before virtually anything is said or done, what is one of the first things they notice about your family? In many cases, it is the aroma. Do they feel as though a bad attitude crawled under your refrigerator and died? Or do they think someone has been baking spiritual bread in the kitchen all afternoon?
Perhaps the one living in the home is not in the best position to answer this question. Aromas are the sorts of things one gets used to. The residents usually do not notice those things that immediately strike a visitor. So if there is an offensive aroma in the home, it can sometimes be difficult problem to solve. No easy formula of resolution is available. Nevertheless, the Bible does teach on the subject. The text noted above (Eph. 5:2) says that when Christians walk in love they are imitating Christ, and the sacrifice of Christ is a pleasant aroma to God. Similarly, a Christ-like home atmosphere produces this sort of aroma before God and consequently before man.
In other words, keeping God’s law with a whole heart (which is really what love is) is not only seen in overt acts of obedience. The collateral effect of obedience is the aroma of love. This aroma is out of reach for those who have a hypocritical desire to be known by others as a keeper of God’s law. Many can fake an attempt at keeping God’s standards in some external way. What we cannot fake is the resulting, distinctive aroma of pleasure to God.
I am pleased to recommend a book to you. The Complete John Ploughman is a combined addition of Charles Spurgeon’s John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures. In the book, Spurgeon demonstrates he’s not just a great orator, but a fabulous word smith in the vernacular. He kind of puts it on the bottom shelf for you while he gets all up in your grill, ya know?
In the preface, Spurgeon writes, “In John Ploughman’s Talk, I have tried to talk for ploughmen and common people. Hence refined taste and dainty words have been discarded for strong old proverbial expressions and homely phrases.” The topics are by subject and deal primarily with the vices of everyday living. I have found this book a helpful companion in personal holiness and childrearing as the word pictures are so vivid that simple minds are able to grasp weighty concepts with ease. There’s also a variety of whimsical pictures throughout. And for preaching it is a veritable treasure trove of sermon illustrations.
Here’s a snippet from the chapter “You may bend the sapling, but not the tree.”
Ladder, and pole, and cord will be of no use to straighten the bent tree; it should have been looked after much earlier. Train trees when they are saplings and young lads before the down comes on their chins. Begin early to teach, for children begin early to sin. Catch them young and you may hope to keep them. What is learned young is learned for life. What we hear at the first we remember to the last. The bent twig grows up a crooked tree.
When a boy is rebellious, conquer him, and do it well the first time, that there may be no need to do it again. A child’s first lesson should be obedience, and after that you may teach it what you please: yet the young mind must not be laced too tight, or you may hurt its growth and hinder its strength. They say a daft nurse makes a wise child, but I do not believe it: nobody needs so much common sense as a mother or a governess. It does not do to be always thwarting; and yet remember if you give a child his will and a whelp his fill, both will surely turn out ill. A child’s back must be made to bend, but it must not be broken. He must be ruled, but not with a rod of iron. His spirit must be conquered, but not crushed.
When I was formulating a worldview of sex and sexuality – thinking about women and how to relate to them – I had a lot of help from Playboy. Starting very young, I was exposed to the explicit images of pornography from friends of mine whose fathers dabbled in the dark side of sex. This is an odd thing to think, but you have to remember that this was before the advent of the internet when explicit images of women were sought and bought quite purposefully and intentionally. That is to say it shouldn’t have been that easy to come by. But it was.
I don’t remember a lot of images that have passed before my eyes. I will have trouble detailing the particulars of what my coworkers were wearing today. I can’t even recall what color the bridesmaids wore in the wedding I officiated this past Saturday. But I don’t think I will ever forget the image of my first centerfold. I know what color the woman’s hair was, the sheet, the pose, the whole thing. She was holding a book and if the book had had a title, I probably would have been able to tell you that too. And I wasn’t even in middle school. The power of the pornographic image is unmistakable.
In this age, it has become almost accepted that men (and women, too) will look at pornography. My job as a pastor is to tell you that looking at pornographic images is bad. But most people don’t feel bad when they look at pornography. Most people look at pornography because it feels good. It is an entirely solitary way to experience what God meant for us to experience together. Sex and sexuality, from a Christian perspective, is never something experienced alone. The loneliness of the man and the Lord declaring something “not good” tells us that he was lacking something to complete the experience of humanity. That he needed more than just a sexual partner is absolutely true. But it is also absolutely true that he needed a sexual partner. Sex, as it turns out, isn’t a solo flight.
Yet porn, in its alluring way, has offered us just this – solo sex. It comes in any flavor, with anybody, doing anything imaginable, and mostly for free and without the pesky involvement of something I like to call “other people”. The effect on sex and sexuality is devastating. Naomi Wolf, a feminist critic I’m told, makes this comment. “The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women…. For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.”
One of my favorite worship leaders, Bob Kauflin, tells the story of a Christian woman serving the Lord in South Africa. On one occasion, she was visiting a health clinic and heard the beautiful and “haunting” harmonies of some Zulu women singing. She asked, with tears in her eyes, if anyone knew what the words of the song were. Her translator and friend said, “Sure. If you boil the water, you won’t get dysentery.”
Music can move us emotionally even if the words of the song are totally inappropriate. That may be one of the worst things the American church has adopted in the way of evaluating good music. Many times we don’t care what the song is saying as long as it makes us feel good. Sadly, we apply this evaluation to some of the best Christian songs and hymns. I’ve heard men and women in the church completely clobber majestic hymns or praise songs just because it doesn’t fit their sensibilities or preference. It can be difficult for us to look into the message of a song if the vehicle carrying that message isn’t up to our tastes.
I’ve never been a part of a church that engaged in the so-called “worship wars” – where church members decide to be divisive over the style of music sung. Part of this is because I personally have a love for any song of the church, old or new, that has a strong doctrinal and theological foundation. Very rarely do I find myself drawn to a song simply because of it’s sound. I’m much more interested in the words. When we hear a song that may not be right down our alley, it is good to ask ourselves, “What am I saying about God or to God in this song?” This is so helpful because it draws our attention to the real purpose of singing in corporate worship. It helps us to get past the fact that we “feel” like the song is too stodgy or too upbeat and focus on the praise and thanksgiving we are giving to God through it.
I can remember the first time I heard a song by Sovereign Grace Ministries called Soli Deo Gloria. I was excited to hear it because I had read the words and my heart agreed with everything in the song. Yet when the song began to play on my car stereo, I was dismayed to hear the echoes of some tacky hair-metal band straight out of the 80’s! The song’s style was completely cheesy and the vocalist didn’t help much by continually screaming his part at the end of the song. I must confess that I didn’t even make it through the entire song the first time. Even now, it isn’t a song that I would regularly listen to, but I have grown to appreciate the deep message of the lyrics and even accept them in the style offered on the CD. And believe me, for me to rock out to some 80’s hair-metal song while singing one of the cornerstone truths of our protestant heritage is really saying something indeed.
Be very concerned about the words you are singing in worship. Engage with your worship leader on every song. Think deeply about what you are saying and be moved deeply in your praise to the God who has given us music. He has commanded us to sing His praises (Psalm 33:1,3; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). So sing them with your brain engaged and your heart on fire!
In the early 1800’s, baptist churches in America had reached a point where it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain doctrinal purity through creeds. Church members were also beginning what we know today as the church hop. Now it wasn’t what you have in mind when you think of church hopping, as a matter of fact, an excommunicated member may have serious trouble finding admission to another church. The “mutual oversight”, as Greg Wills puts it in his excellent book, Democratic Religion, was so stringent that churches had to watch themselves closely to keep from getting other churches in the association all worked up for a council, which would convene to scrutinize the erring congregation.
A member at LaGrange brought a charge against his own church that they were in the practice of “tolerating dancing.” LaGrange themselves requested that three churches send a contingent over in order to help consider the charge. Churches were regularly “disfellowshipped” through loose interchurch discipline, although they refused to call it that in order to maintain autonomy.
They really got worked up over membership though. You’ll enjoy this so I’m going to post it in its entirety. This is from David Shaver, editor of the Christian Index from that time:
They tell us that by virtue of “the time-honored Baptist principles of church independence and the right of private judgment,” our people everywhere “must receive evangelical Baptist churches into associational fellowship, without restrictions on the question of communion.” Continue Reading
Hypocrisy is a disease of which most men seek the remedy at some time in their lives. It is very often so vague in us that only others can see it. Just like the woman who stands before the mirror as an anorexic, so the hypocrite can see nothing but a distorted image when everyone around him can see it plainly. The pretender can sometimes be so immersed in his act that he will actually believe himself a knight in shining armor. Yet he will be Don Quixote fighting windmills of unbelief.
There is not a man living or dead who at one time did not deal with a hypocritical heart. Each of us faces ourselves at times when we would rather not see what is really there. Then we are faced with a radical decision. We must decide whether we will deal with self or let self rule. Our inner selves at times may become much like a despotic king, tyrannically forcing it’s subjects (the mind, will, desire, etc.) to turn in rebellion against God. When we notice this king gaining a strategic position we must unseat him. Self must be brought into subjection. Continue Reading
Here are my boys. The word “here” is an adverb indicating the position or place of my children. In this case, the sentence is pointing to the picture, yet it gives a sense of proximity or closeness. “Are” functions as the verb and is a form of being. It tells us that my boys exist. The adjective “my” describes the boys. They are mine and belong to me although they are not my property. The subject of the sentence and the word to which every other word points is “boys”. This word describes something about them. It identifies them as male and it is generally used to denote male humanity. It is plural so that you would understand that I have more than one boy.
A simple sentence. Here are my boys. I can write this sentence because it is true. The photograph is a testimony to its validity. This is not fanciful imagination. These boys exist and they are mine. They exist because I married a woman whom I love very much. They are the product of our love as a gift and reward from God. They are alive. They live with Marie and I. We feed them, dress them, teach them, clean them, love them, shelter them, protect them. They are ours and we face a responsibility because they exist. They are growing as any normal boy would. They learn new words, motor skills, patterns of behavior, how to respond to stimuli, interaction – the list could go on and on. They are becoming men. Continue Reading