May Your Children Dance

25 05 2020

Every boy is told to grow up and act like a man, every girl to become a woman.
Take responsibility.
Make good of yourself.

Yes, there is a way we must put away childish things. A child must learn to obey parents, to respect aunties and uncles.
This is right.
It orders the family, and such families bring order to our world.

But happy are we when as adults we remember our childhood, and keep it within easy reach,

when slacks get dirty at the knees from steering hot-wheels through the dirt,

when breezes flow across our face as we ride a bike around the block,

and when trucks or dolls or crackers are left in disarray after play.

Imagine what could come from the apostle’s word, to bring children up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph.6:4). How do we as parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents nurture our youngsters into the joy and meaningfulness of experiencing Jesus?

I have always been hesitant to dance. I didn’t know any styles or routines. And still don’t. But some years ago I began to try. Even now, if I come to a wedding reception or birthday party, I try to overcome my ingrained, adult hesitancy, take my wife’s hand, and become a boy again, careless and carefree at least long enough to embarrass my children or peers.

Raising small children means learning to dance together, understanding each other at every new stage of life.

Teaming up with adult children is just as vital, and challenging. It means learning to dance together today, which may be different than yesterday.

Is there someone who needs your permission to dance today?

Is that someone you?





White Hot Marriage

19 05 2020

As we progress through Ephesians, the Bible now gives us a picture of a Christian marriage that is so beautiful it is nearly too brilliant to gaze upon. In my meditating on it, I saw the roles of wife and husband in a new light, and have sought to depict them in the ideal spirituality of God’s design.

In so doing, I am keenly aware and sorry that such a depiction causes some pain in all of us, for whether by divorce, unchosen singleness, estrangement, sin, or death, none of us can fully live out marriage as God intended it. Let us receive it wholly in the grace of our God.

Admiration of the husband – the wife’s joy

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (Eph.5:22-24).

Look at my husband, how handsome, how honorable.
How he is seen by the community. How he manages his affairs. How he provides for his household.
His reputation is one of dignity, industry, fairness, generosity, mercy.

Do you know why? Because he has me as his wife.
The ways I have loved him have made him aspire to greater things.
I have been his encourager, his cheerleader, his confidant.
He has never had to worry about my support, or question my loyalty.
I have not belittled him, or teased him. I have been honest with him; told him the truth, in love.
By God’s grace, my husband gladly says that I have helped him be more like Christ.
My support and respect for him has changed him. He wants to be more like Jesus because he wants to be worthy of such love. This is my life’s work, my greatest calling.

Adornment of the wife – the husband’s joy

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her; that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).

Do you see my wife? Look at her. She stands out from all others, so shockingly beautiful to me.
Others come to her for prayer and counsel. They need her perspective, her words of assurance.
She takes care of our home, and brings her creative touch.
Her heart longs for more of God; she clings to what is good, to joy. She tends to the hurting, and watches for those in need.

Do you know why? Because she has me as her husband.

The way I have loved her makes her want to be this way.
I have led her, have sacrificed for her, have encouraged her. I have bragged about her, and accentuated her strengths.
I treat her with dignity and respect, and overlook her faults.
I build her up, and honor her opinions. By God’s grace, my love for her has increased her love for Jesus.
In her devotion, I picture the surrender of the bride of Christ to her Husband.
And when she one day stands before Jesus, glorious and pure, she will say her husband was the main reason she is so.

Intimacy in marriage – physical pleasure and spiritual mystery

So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph. 5:28-33).

Our bodies are not perfect, my wife and I, but I love the shape of her, and she loves me to come close. It seems our bodies were made to wrap together in pleasure.

And do you know why? Because we married each other; we committed to oneness, and we became one.
We put our original families in second place, and joined in covenant with God.
Our bed is honorable and pure, exciting and free.
Possibly, someone will see Jesus in the way we love. They may long for closeness to Christ when they sense our intimacy.
For this is what is happening with us. The closer we grow, and the more pleasure we explore, the greater we realize there are untapped depths of intimacy with Christ. The people of God, members of His beautiful body, can be one with Him, bonded together in eternal covenant.

So, brothers and sisters, let this be our ideal.

Where we have failed, let us weep on the altar of His mercy and receive grace. Let His tears of forgiveness stream down and blend with our tears of sorrow.


Where we are struggling now, let us take up arms and enter the fight to keep this sacred call.


Where we have slumbered, let us wake up and rise to fulfill this dream.


Where we now live this wonder, let us be glad. And vigilant.


For it may turn out that there are no more important people in time and eternity than a husband and wife, together in intimate love.






Waterfall Boys

15 05 2020

I paint in watercolors as a creative outlet, and lately I’ve been interested in the theme of rain in Africa. As a boy, I lived in Nigeria, and can never forget the thunder and lightning that would bolt heaven to earth in continual clanks of power. In my years in Kenya, I tried to rejoice with the local saying, “Rain is always a blessing” – even when downpours crashed tin roofs and flooded streets.

Recently I found a picture of African rain and set out to paint it. The result is not all I hoped for, but it captures the youthful exuberance of boys playing in the rain. I call it “Three Blessings” (or, Baraka Tatu).

Three boys have each found themselves a free waterfall, pouring off the roofs of their school. Two play with the splash in their hands, while the lad in the foreground welcomes the cascade right onto his face! This is joy unbounded by boys who don’t realize they are poor by U.S. standards.

And they don’t care. They have earned to rejoice in the simple pleasures of today.

These days, African boys are my teachers.

I sit down to write my missionary prayer letter and stare at the page. My conferences, training events, and trips have been cancelled. What am I accomplishing?

Teach me, waterfall boys, that I am of worth even when non-productive.

I feel anxiety rise in my chest when I read about the new cases and recorded deaths. I worry about my financial future. What does tomorrow look like?

Teach me, waterfall boys, that this moment, right now, has blessings I miss when I give in to worry.

Do you find that this unusual season is beckoning us to come aside for a while, giving us pause to reflect on how we live? I do.

In March, I started a fresh study of the epistle of Ephesians. My heart was refreshed to read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph.1:3).

Paul then releases a praise hymn which splashes us with eternal riches for the soul. The blessings form three doxologies to God, like free waterfalls cascading down on us who believe in Jesus.

Cable news isn’t reporting it. My Google news feed hasn’t noticed. But it’s raining on us. Pouring, in fact. Free waterfalls are everywhere, plenty for everybody. Today let’s look up and smile at the goodness of God.

Teach us, waterfall boys, to splash and play in simple joys.

TAKING IT FURTHER

  1. You may want to pause and meditate on this truth. Find a relaxed posture and take a few, slow breaths. Close your eyes and put yourself with those African waterfall boys. Feel their joy! Maybe hold out your arms, palms up. Ask God to bring to mind the simple joys you possess today. Dismiss concerns about tomorrow.  Express your thanks to God for each of His lavish gifts.
  • Go back and read Ephesians chapter one, taking note of all the spiritual blessings God is pouring out on you right now. After you have done so, you may want to read my reflection called “Cascading blessings.”




The New Christian Wardrobe

14 05 2020

Several readers are expressing to me that the shelter in place order is losing its novelty! It is as if our society is changing gears for a longer journey than previously realized. And some gears are grinding!

In our study of Ephesians, Paul now gets very practical and specific. In some ways, I find this passage frustrating right now, because I feel my capacity for kindness and discipline is diminishing. I desire encouragement, not exhortation.  But I have to be honest with Paul’s letter. And I call to mind that the brother is writing from prison!

So let’s open our minds to what the Holy Spirit has for us today in these paragraphs (Ephesians 4:17-32). Paul again uses walking as the image of living righteously.

Our text clarifies that if we are ever going to walk in a new way, we must stop walking the old way.

Out With the Old Wardrobe

The passage gives us this picture. You go to the doctor for a full physical exam. You first remove your worn out clothing and set it all aside:

“that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph.4:22).

With the disposal of that old clothing, you also stop walking in your former lifestyle. There is a lot of putting off to do (mostly having to do with your words):

  • put away lying (4:25)
  • don’t sin when feeling anger (4:26)
  • give no place to the devil (4:27)
  • steal no longer (4:28)
  • no corrupt words (4:29)
  • don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (4:30)
  • put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, and malice (4:31)

Many times we are surrounded by one or more people who still wear these old corrupt clothes. Their vocabulary, prejudices, dishonesty, and critical spirit can affect us. Some marriages or friendships are debilitating when we don’t realize the other person emanates uncleanness or greediness. Thinking we are showing patience and love, we may tolerate words which tear down. Bad company corrupts good morals. It is vital that we tend to our own souls and make sure we are not partnering with darkness.

In With the New Wardrobe

Continuing our analogy, your physical exam has checked many indicators of well-being. Some lingering problems have surfaced. So the doctor prescribes a new way to live and walk. He issues you a new set of clothes.

“be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24).

What does the new wardrobe look like? Paul writes:

  • speak truth with your neighbor (4:25)
  • labor, doing good work, so you have something to give one in need (4:28)
  • use words good for edification, imparting grace to the hearer
  • be kind to one another, tenderhearted
  • forgive one another, as you have been forgiven

How are these new items of clothing looking on me during Covid-19?

Many people go to a doctor to fix a problem, but then ignore his advice to change behavior which improves health. For example, we’ll get a pill for high blood pressure but fail to eat healthily and exercise.

In our walk with Jesus, we can eliminate old behavior but fail to practice new ways. Here is a brief check-up to consider:

  • When you earn money, do you look forward to sharing?
  • How have you intentionally built others up with your words?
  • How have you expressed forgiveness to others recently?
  • Who would say that you are a genuinely kind person?

If there are some practical exhortations from this passage which need some attention, choose one to bring to the Lord in prayer. Sit with the issue, or situation, and ask the Lord to show you what He would want you to do about it.





Three Markers of Church Health

12 05 2020

These days a lot of people are learning to walk:

  • toddlers are wobbling
  • people are mending after surgeries
  • those recovering from various weakening diseases or injuries

With the current shelter in place situation, many people are taking time to walk for exercise and sanity!

We are learning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that the body of Christ is also learning to walkout our faith, being equipped by five kinds of “physical therapists” — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. 

What does the Head of the body desire that all this equipping will produce? Let me capture it in three characteristics of church health.

1. FULL GROWN.  We have already seen that Christ is the fullness of all things, and that the church is the fullness of Him (Eph. 1:22-23). So Paul says that our destiny is to measure up to the full maturity and beauty of Christ:

“till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13).

I struggle to imagine myself as being full of Christ. I think I would surely explode! The soul of the living Son of God would decimate my human soul. But I must still ask myself:
>>What are the practices that expand my knowledge of Christ and increase my likeness of Him?
>>And, who am I equipping to stand taller in Christ-like maturity?

2. SURE-FOOTED.  My wife has started a small group Bible study in James. She just came into the room where I am writing to share an insight from her personal study this morning. The Word of God is equipping the women in her Bible study to discern what is true — exactly the thing Paul predicted,

“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph.4:14).

There is a difference between reading over a passage and digging in and studying it. I know you know that.
>>What is your regular practice of studying God’s Word for yourself?
>>Who are you equipping in being sure-footed doctrinally?
(This post is starting to really convict me).

3. COORDINATED AND FIT. (OK so that’s two)   Picture an Olympic figure skater perfectly circling the rink and flawlessly twirling with joy. Every part of her body is getting direction from her brain. Her nervous system, her muscular system, her pulmonary system — every muscle and tendon play a part in executing her routine.

The body of Christ is being equipped for just such a wonder:

“but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph.4:15-16).

Jesus loves His body. In a following paragraph, Paul will describe a mystery in which Christ “nourishes and cherishes” His body, the Church (5:29). His body is beautiful in its synchronization. The Head perfectly controls every part. There are no limp limbs, no paralysis, no amputations. At least that is the full image Christ desires.

The Head of the church is altogether true. And so, in community where Christ reigns, we speak the truth in love.
>>The healthy body speaks truth, but not without love.
>>The healthy body loves, but not without truth.

Everybody wants to improve the church. Change it. Correct it. Shape it. How about a bit of preening in front of a mirror and admiring her beauty for a change?

>>What coordination do you observe in your church?
>>What parts of the body are fit and beautiful to watch?

Because we are all in one body, we each have something we need from others.
Because we are all in one body, we each have something we owe to one another.

Lord, this is a year to pause and reset my place in your body.
I’ve had certain thoughts about it. Criticisms of the church.
But there is so much beauty going on in the church.
As you see me, how do you want me to contribute?
How would you like me to help the body grow up into the full stature of Your fullness?