Sister to Sister: “Baby Down!”

14305233_937682760579_6131246353948726920_oWhen my Hannah was about four years old, her younger cousin, Abel, was born. Amidst all of her grandmothers’ ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the new baby, Hannah shouted across the room to her grandmother “Pumpie!” (That’s what she called her.) “I’m over here!” 

This week, I’ve had a few vivid recollections of that sort of sibling or cousin jealousy as I’ve held my brand new Colleyanna. Ezra, her big brother, looked at me and repeated a phrase over and over as I was walking around with Colleyanna in my arms today. He kept saying “Baby down.” 

I said “Do you  mean you want me to put the baby down?” 

“Uh-huh,” Ezra said. (Like mother, like son).

Sibling jealousy was a thing…a real thing in the Corinthian church of the first century; so much so that Paul used a good portion of the book of First Corinthians to address it. The climax of the discussion is in chapter 13, where he describes love. As I think about that chapter, I see that several of the characteristics or anti-characteristics of love were a bit lacking in Ezra’s behavior today. For instance, love envies not. I’m pretty sure envy was at the root of “Baby down”. I think maybe Ezra was being pretty focused on himself and behaving a bit unseemly. But Ezra is a little child. (And this kind of attention seeking toward a grandmother is not unpleasant to this Mammy, by any means!)

It’s interesting that I Corinthians 13 concludes by pointing out that children talk like children. They think and understand like children. But when they grow up, they put away childish things. There will come a day very soon, if things are right in Ezra’s home, when he will no longer be jealous of his sister, but rather protective and encouraging. Maturity compels us to protect and encourage each other in the body of Christ—to seek the well-being of one another (I Cor. 10:24). That’s what Christians do when they grow up.

Practically speaking, this means you rejoice when someone else excels in some area of service even if it’s an area in which you also work. You are glad when another receives honor for the good things in her life. You are willing to step aside and let another person have the chance to do something that perhaps you have “always” done. You forbear with someone who does something in a a manner less preferable to you, albeit scriptural. You absolutely refuse to berate a brother or sister to his or her  face or behind his or her back, but you will go to all lengths to save his or her soul. In short, you get out of the way for the cause of Christ. You serve rather than seeking service (i.e “How come no one visited me in the hospital?”). Your path in Him is one of conviction and consecration, rather than convenience. It is always self-instructive, rather than self-indulgent. You are never eager to say “Hey, look! I’m over here!” When a new Christian’s needs take precedence, you never say “Baby down,” because it is your purpose to put childish things away.

And when you use the phrase “Oh, grow up!” you’re talking to yourself and you are wanting to do it the I Corinthians 13 way!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Why Me?

Yesterday, as is traditional in our worship assembly, we began with singing “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. I’m always jolted to the reality of the seriousness of what is about to happen…worship—obeisance toward the Almighty. It’s a time to be real and reverent before the One who knows the inner recesses of heart and soul.
Late on Saturday night, a few short hours before entering the place of worship, I had gotten a call from a weeping mother—someone who had gotten the bad news that her daughter was in serious sexual trouble. Police had been involved and this desperate mom was searching for answers about parenting, about locating the right medical and counseling personnel. Even in the midst of her parental nightmare, I could not help but think about how far this mom had come from being a homeless victim of sexual abuse as a young teen in a large northern city. Seven years ago her perspectives changed when someone knocked on her apartment door and shared the gospel with her. While it was too late for all her regrets to be “fixed” this side of eternity, still, she was now at least looking in the right direction for the answers to the hard questions and predicaments caused by sin.
Then we sang, “He leadeth me, oh blessed thought! Oh words with heavenly comfort fraught. Whate’er I do, where-e’er I be, still tis God’s hand that leadeth me.”
I looked to my left and saw one of my deaf friends, Jennifer, recently baptized, faithful and fruitful, putting enthusiasm into the worship she offered through her hands as she “sang” songs we couldn’t hear, but that surely reached the throne. I saw Troy, putting all he had into leading this deaf section of worshippers. Troy just meandered over to our building one day from the nearby apartments. He was seeking truth. He learned it quickly, was baptized into Jesus and became one of the best Bible students in the church, as well as one of our best deaf interpreters. Troy lost his mom in a tornado when he was thirteen. His father is an atheist. I praised God as I watched Troy signing:
Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,? Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,? By waters still, over troubled sea,? Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

I was happy, as I watched him, that God, through providence, had led Troy to a place in His life where he has a real family.
In front of me was a faithful family diligently working to raise their precious children for Him. I have personally been involved in some of their struggles. I have watched them cry in some pretty desperate times. But I watch them sing, now:
And when my task on earth is done, When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won, E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

And, in my arms I held a baby…a sweet little curly-haired Hispanic baby girl, whose mom was visiting our services. This sweet young woman found her way to Huntsville, Alabama after some pretty devastating circumstances caused her to leave her mother country. She’s a hard worker, sending money back home to her ailing mother. She has been studying the Bible with me and I am praying she will soon become a part of God’s family. I sang about the old rugged cross, knowing it holds the only hope for the little girl who slept in my arms. I pray that her sweet mother will respond in faith to the cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.
And after worship, I would get to study with Clare. Clare is visiting our services, too and she has a heart for Bible study. She, too, is seeking. She comes even when the person who initially invited her is out of town and our next study will be composed of questions she has compiled from the pretty massive amounts of Bible reading she is doing on her own. Yesterday she brought another family member to worship with her.
And I sang:
Come thou fount of every blessing. Tune my heart to sing thy praise. Streams of mercy never ceasing call for songs of loudest praise.

And as I praised the Fount, I thought, “Why me, Lord? Why was I born into a home where the gospel had already had its eternal impact on my parents? How was I so blessed to keep those parents through my childhood? Why am I the teacher instead of the seeker? I’ve never lost a loved one to a natural disaster or fled a country because of terror. Why me? Why am I blessed to be married to the one who gets up and proclaims the saving message? Who are these unbelievably tender people on the pew here with me, whose voices are so beautiful when they are blending together in praise? They are my children! Why me?”
And I sang “Teach me ever to adore Thee, May I still thy goodness prove. While the hope of endless glory fills my heart with joy and love.” My heart was full as I thought about the question: Why me?
I know I must go about proving His glory. With the realization of blessings in the extreme comes multiplied opportunities and my responsibilities gain new dimensions. I have to just look around me–in worship, in my neighborhood, and in my email—to realize the debt I owe. I must be filled with love for the lost. I must be willing to sacrifice time for those who struggle. I must share my remarkable hope of endless glory. Therein lies the answer, at least in part, to the question, “Why me?”

The Church Compared to a Wife – Part 2

Rebekah and the Church

Since prearranged marriages were common in that day, Abraham sent a servant to seek a bride for his son, Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4). The servant that seeks the bride of Christ in the world today is the Word of God. Paul said that through his teaching of the Word in Corinth, he had espoused the Corinthians to “one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor.11: 2).

Abraham told the servant who was to choose the bride that she had to meet certain requirements in order to be selected. First, she was not to be a Canaanite. Second, she must be of Abraham’s kindred. Finally, she must be willing (Gen.24: 3-4,8).

God, through the words of the Holy Spirit has been very clear in prescribing qualifying characteristics for those who want to be members of His church, the bride of Christ. We become married to Christ when we are baptized, thus putting on Christ (Gal. 3:27). But prior to this operation of God, which brings us into His family (Col. 2:12), certain conditions of eligibility must be met. First one must believe that this Jesus, to whom she is going to be spiritually wed, is the Son of God. This presupposes that she believes in Jehovah as the authoritative God of the universe. Just as Rebekah had to know that somewhere there was this man named Abraham who had sent the servant to offer her a life of great rewards, so one must know that “God is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”  (Heb. 11:6). Rebekah had to be willing to leave. Those today who want to be part of the church must be willing to leave behind a former life, as well. It is the life of sin and we leave it in the act of repentance (Acts2:38).  (This leaving constitutes the most difficult part of the marriage to Christ.  Belief, confession and baptism are relatively easy when compared to the choice to leave a former lifestyle of sin.) Confession of our belief is also a prerequisite of our becoming one with Christ (Rom. 10:10) Then, in the act of baptism, sins are remitted and we put on Christ. At this point, the Lord adds us to His church, the bride of Christ (Acts 2:47).

So the servant, observing the qualifications, had one final question: “Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest?” (Gen.24:5) What an interesting question! In effect the servant was saying, “If she rejects this offer, is there a Plan B?  Will Isaac go again to your homeland and make another offer?”

Abraham’s response in verses 6-8 demands our careful attention:

And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again.

Should the chosen one be unwilling to leave her homeland, there would be no plan B. No further attempt would be made to unite her with Abraham’s son.

The analogy, at this point is obvious, yet profound. Just as the amazing offer of a place in the wealthy family of Abraham was offered to Rebekah, so the offer of eternal wealth is made to us today. It was not an offer that Rebekah deserved, but rather an amazing chance to become a part of the fulfillment of the seed promise originally made to Abraham in Genesis 12. That was Rebekah’s good news! Have you ever considered that our good news is an undeserved invitation to become a part of the fulfillment of that same seed promise? If we accept the invitation we are most certainly a part of the all families that are blessed through the Abrahamic promise (Gen. 12: 1-3). That is our good news…the gospel.

But the gospel offers no plan B. Christ calls us to leave the homeland of sin and accept the offer of grace by meeting the requirements of belief. Christ is the final offer. Hebrews 9:28 tells us that He was the one-time offering for our sins. Hebrews 10:26 says that if we sin willfully after coming to the knowledge of the truth of Christ, there will be no other sacrifice. Christ will not come again with another plan as premillenialists today believe He will. The final offer has been made and our final answer lies in the acceptance or rejection of  that offer. There is no other plan but the standing offer of Christ. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no name given under heaven whereby we must be saved (Acts.4:12).

Upon reaching the homeland the task of the servant was not an easy one. After finding the ideal wife for Isaac, he had to convince her to travel to a faraway land and marry a stranger, sight unseen.  The servant could but describe the wealth and blessings that Rebekah would inherit in her marriage to Isaac. Rebekah knew that deciding to follow the servant meant giving up everything she had formerly known—her home, her family, her friends. Yet her answer was decisive: “I will go” (Gen. 24:58).

The Word calls us to make the decision to follow. It means leaving behind whatever would keep us from faithfulness to Christ. I have a friend who gave up her relationship with her parents. I know several people who gave up friendships that were certain to get in the way of service. I know others who have sacrificed worldly pursuits, acclaim and/or riches when they decided to become a part of the family of God. And every sacrifice in each instance was made by faith. These people exchanged worldly pleasures for a Jesus and a heaven that they could not see. They made the decision with Rebekah: “I will go.” That decision to go is the essence of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen (Heb.11:1). At the end of Rebekah’s faith was a place in the lineage of Christ. She became the mother of Israel, who fathered the tribal heads of the Israelite nation, through whom the Messiah would come. At the end of our faith is a place in that same family tree. We are children of Abraham through faith (Gal. 3:7). The end of our faith is the salvation of our souls (I Pet. 1:9).

At last the momaent came when Rebekah would see her bridegroom face to face. She was looking for him and she made herself ready for this meeting (Gen.24: 64,65). The text indicates that Rebekah first saw Isaac at a time when she did not expect to see him. So it will be with our bridegroom. “Be ye therefore ready, also, for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:40).

Rebekah was watching as they made their way toward the land that would be her new home. Ten times in the New Testament we are exhorted to be watchful as we make our way toward our new and eternal homeland. Our bridegroom, like Isaac, will come for us at a time when we are not expecting Him.  It is to those who look for Him that “he shall appear the second time unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28) The New King James Version renders this verse “to those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”  Are you eagerly waiting?

Matthew 25: 1-13 relates the account of five foolish virgins who failed to prepare and watch for the certain coming of the bridegroom.  This account closes with a somber warning for those of us who are espoused (II Cor. 11:2) to the Bridegroom. “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh (Mat. 25:13).

Next time: Your Personal Analogy

The Church Compared to a Wife

THE NEW TESTAMENT ANALOGY OF MARRIAGE

It’s an easy task to teach wives how to emulate the bride of Christ, the church, in submission, love for the head, and sanctification. It is certainly appropriate that husbands look to the perfect standard, Jesus Christ, to learn to love their wives. To compare our human marriage relationships to the perfectly prescribed pattern of Christ and the church, so that we might attain to perfection in this human relationship is sound doctrine. It’s the doctrine that the Holy Spirit gave in Ephesians five and Colossians three.

There is a spiritual sense, though, in which we, as Christians, are married to Christ. Romans 7:4 declared to the former Jews, that while they had been married to the law, they were now dead to it, so they could be married to another, even to “Him who had been raised from the dead.”  There is also an adultery mentioned in James 4:4 that is obviously spiritual adultery, thus indicating that there is a spiritual marriage that occurs when we become Christians. 

AN OLD TESTAMENT ANALOGY OF MARRIAGE

Though the purpose of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 is to teach us how to fulfill our roles in the marriage relationship, I believe we can study any number of marriages in scripture and draw truths that are helpful in understanding the marriage of Christ and his church. For instance, Sarah’s submission to Abraham (I Pet.3: 6) parallels our subjection to Christ. Ruth’s rescue by Boaz (Ruth 4) mirrors our rescue from the poverty of sin. Rahab’s marriage into the family of Salmon and thus her entrance into Israel is typical of our journey out of sin and into the family of God; our justification by faith and works (James 2:25). But as I study the relationship of Christ and the church, I am stricken with the amazing parallels that can be drawn from the romantic story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24.

Isaac and Christ

As a preface, notice several ways in which Isaac may represent our Savior. First, both Isaac and Christ were born into the world by supernatural means (Gen. 18:9-12; Luke 1:30-35) Second, both Isaac and Christ were about their fathers’ business (Gen.22:6: Luke 2:49). Third, both were offered by their fathers as sacrificial lambs (Gen. 22:6; I Pet. 1:19). Notice here that Isaac was offered in the mind of Abraham just as Christ was offered to bear the sins of many (Heb. 11:17; Heb. 9:28). It is interesting also that both Isaac and Christ carried the wood for the sacrifice (Gen.22:6; John 19:17). Finally, God raised both Isaac and Christ. Isaac was raised three days after he was offered in the mind of Abraham (Gen.22:4), thus being a type of Christ in His third day resurrection (Luke 18:33; Acts 10:40).

All of these events occurred in Isaac’s life prior to his marriage to Rebekah, just as the antitypes preceded Christ’s establishment of His church.

Next time: Rebekah and the Church