God Upholds Marriages

One of the privileges of my position is that I get the opportunity to conduct marriages. Yesterday, once again, I enjoyed that privilege. Two lovely young people, male and female,  made the most amazing promises regarding their future together. These promises were made in the context of a service of worship because they wanted to affirm what they were doing before God, and before many witnesses. The fact that these promises were made in such a context makes them more than promises. They are vows, and they are binding for life. It is particularly wonderful that these vows are still taken at marriages in an age when, generally, mutual trust among human beings is at a low ebb; and even more wonderful that some trust one another to the extent that they are willing to articulate such vows before God and before many witnesses.

Some will say, ‘what is the point? marriages no longer last’. It has to be admitted that sadly today many marriages fail. That is a fact. However, that is only one side of the story. The far more amazing fact is that so many marriages succeed, and survive, against all expectations. Why is this the case, and why can we have confidence that this will continue? Because marriage is not a human ‘invention’, but an institution ordained and put in place by God. Why should that make a difference? Because God upholds marriages. He upholds, not only the marriages of those who are believers and RightWithGod, but of those who have not made any commitment to  trust God for their salvation, but who acknowledge His existence, and His rule over all things. I believe that He even upholds the marriages of confessed unbelievers, as long as they remain faithful to one another. Why is marriage and its upholding by God, so universal in its availability? It is because marriage was instituted before the fall of man. We read of the institution of marriage in Genesis chapter 2, but the fall does not occur till chapter 3. Marriage is a privilege available to all mankind.

Let us take a look at Genesis 2: 24 which reads: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh”. These words teach us three important things concerning marriage as laid down by God which are crucial to its success.

1. There must be a leaving of father and mother. This does not mean any fall-out, nor does it exclude mutual help and cooperation; but it does mean a definite and accepted separation, as far as that is possible.

2. Husband and wife must cleave to one another. This means an absolutely exclusive relationship, which excludes all others. For any third party to invade that relationship is a most serious disregard for what God has laid down in His Word.

3. Husband and wife must have no inhibitions about being joined together in the physical relationship of marriage, to the extent that they become “one flesh”.

I have no doubt whatsoever that God upholds faithful marriages. The emphasis must be on faithfulness. Once the sin of marital unfaithfulness comes into a marriage, my own observation, and experience in dealing with marriage problems, is that reconciliation is then extremely difficult. My question in such a situation is, ‘has God withdrawn His upholding hand?’

As far as our view of marriage in general is concerned, let us be optimistic, and have confidence that marriages will continue to be entered into and many of these marriages will endure; because God instituted marriage in the first place, and since then He upholds what He has instituted.

Reconciliation

It still amazes me how easily children fall out with one another. One  does one little thing to offend the other, then there is retaliation on the part of the other. Then there follows an escalating process of ‘tit for tat’ until  one ends up in tears. But I am also amazed how little time it takes for children to forget the whole thing and get back to playing together as if nothing had happened.  Not only has the offence been put aside, but it has been truly forgotten. Reconciliation seems to have come about so easily

When we become adults, we are not so good at reconciliation. We may manage to put the offence aside, in some measure, but it is much more difficult for us to forget that it ever happened. We may wish that we could blot it out from our memories, but, we soon realise that we cannot exercise such control over our memories.

But when God says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31: 34).  He actually means it, and He is able to do it! Yet  God does not forget anything as we often forget things. So how is He able to say, ‘I will remember their sin no more’? Because He is able to do something which is to our minds amazing and even incomprehensible, that is, He can choose not to remember! And that is the end of the matter.

Does this mean that He passes over sin and forgets it and so reconciles us to Himself. No, He cannot do that. Why not? Because He is a righteous God. What does that mean? It means that it would be utterly against His nature to pass over sin without the full punishment being paid. Does that mean we can never be friends with God? No, because God in His love has done a wonderful thing. We read in Romans 5: “When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son”, a reference to the death of Christ, the Son of God, on the cross of Calvary. Christ there suffered the full penalty for all the sins, past, present and future,  of all who receive Him as Lord and Saviour. They are “reconciled to God by the death of His Son”. They are irreversibly RightWithGod and the friends of God forever.

This is the gospel, and here the beauty of Christ’s reconciling work shines forth. The christian has a banner over him: “reconciled to God”. He loves God and all things to do with him. His heart leaps at the word, ‘reconciliation’. Especially when he thinks that his reconciliation to God is rooted in righteousness, and therefore, unassailable.

Of course this relationship to God will produce a sensitivity to the things that offend God. It is not that this is going to add to our salvation. Nothing can be added to it; it is forever complete and perfect. It is rather that this new relationship is a relationship of mutual love, and the christian is always grieved at his own sin, and wants to go to God confessing his sin, and seeking repentance (turning determinedly away from all sin) and forgiveness, so that he can enjoy God with a clear conscience. This does not mean having a perfectly spotless conscience. No sinner in this world can have that. What it does mean is what Paul strives for in Acts 24:16: “This [being] so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offence toward God and men.” (Acts 24:16). The believer should have no difficulty in knowing that there is some offence on his conscience, which he needs to confess and seek forgiveness and cleansing for.

 

God’s Alarm

I like to be up really early in the morning, but I do not like the act of getting out of bed. As a heavy sleeper, I am very dependent on my alarm clock to wake me up. Many years ago, I discovered that, if the alarm clock was within reach, I would just put it off and go back to sleep. The snooze button just gave permission to lie a  little bit longer, and a little bit longer, and so it went on. I am not going to tell how many times I  sometimes pressed it, but it was not so many times as a friend who told me he once repeatedly pressed the snooze button for five hours! However, I had to find a foolproof way to actually get me out of bed, and many years ago I began to use a simple method that I have used very effectively ever since. A loud alarm was the first essential. Then, when I set the alarm in the evening, I placed it on the floor well away from the bed.  This ensured that I actually got out of bed as soon as the alarm went off. Pride ensured that I did  not get back into bed! Recovery was very quick when I realised that I was out of bed at an early hour and had gained some of that precious commodity:- time.

Is there such a thing as God’s alarm? Yes. It does not just waken us from sleep, but in a sense it wakens us from the dead! God’s alarm  sometimes works dramatically quickly. This may happen under the preaching of the gospel, or a simple few words from a faithful witness, or from reading the bible, or one of many other means that God uses as His alarm. The person is dramatically awakened from his or her spiritual death.

However, God’s alarm very often works very slowly: sometimes so slowly and imperceptibly as to be at first unrecognised. Yet it is the same work as in the more sudden awakenings. Every person who is spiritually awakened is raised from the dead by God’s alarm, that is, God’s omnipotent and irresistible power being applied to them. Often it is simply a case of the person becoming increasingly disappointed with the enjoyments of the world as he realises that the world never delivers on what it promises. He may for a time make greater and greater efforts to gain the satisfaction he used to get from the world, but it no longer works for him. He loses his peace, and perhaps even feels that he is heading for a mental breakdown.

But God will always provide the necessary understanding of His own great purpose to relieve their stress. Again, God uses different means. Some remember what they were taught in childhood, some may be led to seek peace in a gospel church, or perhaps they may listen to a recorded sermon. Whatever means is used they will learn with new understanding, that God loved human beings in such a way that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross of Calvary as a substitute in the place of sinners. God will enable them to repent of their sins and to believe and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. They will have the unspeakable joy of being RightWithGod now and forever.

“Soul Searching”

The true believer is not afraid of being searched by the scriptures; indeed he or she wants this searching, and wants confirmation from the bible that they are true believers, RightWithGod. This desire itself is a confirmation, or token that they are indeed true children of God. The unbeliever does not want to be searched in this way.

One of the subjects described in various parts of the bible is the subject of heaven. What the bible tells us about heaven is not just information, but it is a rich testing ground for us to test ourselves. What we must ask ourselves is,  ‘Does the heaven described in the bible appeal to us, or does it not?’ Very few people would say they do not want to go to heaven, but when heaven is described to them, the reaction of many is, ‘I do not want to go there’.  The reason often given is,’It sounds a very boring place. Some would say, ‘I would not like to spend eternity in the company of Christians’. To the unbeliever very often the christian life seems very boring, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Many years ago a boat was just casting off from the quay-side in Glasgow, when this man came running along the quay, and with one desperate jump, he just managed to jump the widening gap. He landed a heap on the deck so puffed that it took him some time to be able to speak. People gathered round him, wondering if he needed help. Eventually he sat up and said, “Where’s the bar?”.  He was then told, “Sir, you must be on the wrong boat. There is no bar on this boat. This is a party of christians out for a day-trip. We will be away for most of the day”.  His full answer was unprintable, but it was clear that being ‘imprisoned’ for a whole day with only christians for company, was to him like a hell on earth.

One of the wonderful things about the prospect of heaven for the true christian is in the words, “They shall see His face”(Revelation 22:4).  This means that we will actually see Jesus with our physical eyes because, when he took human nature into union with Himself, the union was, and ever will be, permanent and indestructible. As the angel said to the disciples, as he was being taken up into heaven, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven” Acts 1: 11). The question for you and me is, “Is this something that really excites us, and makes us long for heaven; or is it something that leaves our hearts cold?” If the latter, then it is an indication that we have never received Christ as our Saviour from our sins, and as the Lord of our lives, and are not RightWithGod.

It is not possible in this small space to apply the rest of this great passage, But there are plenty other things here by which we can test ourselves. The great question is, ‘Is the heaven that is described to us in the bible the kind of heaven we want?’ Search and see.

A Lost Diamond

My dear wife of 53 years still wears her engagement ring continually, night and day. It was not an expensive ring, but the years had made it very precious to us both. A few days ago she got out of bed in the morning and realised that her engagement ring felt rough. On closer examination we discovered that a tiny diamond was missing from the ring, and we were stunned. We did not know when or where it had fallen, and we knew that the chances of finding such a tiny thing were slim. A thorough search yielded nothing. Then we remembered that my wife had vacuumed the floors the previous day. There was nothing for it but to search the bag of the vacuum cleaner. I scissored the edges of the bag all round, opened it out on the floor, and began teasing out the fluff and dust, not expecting much. Suddenly, in the midst of all the dust, I saw this tiny, but unmistakeable, sparkle. With a merry heart, I took it to my wife, and we rejoiced and thanked God together. It was the lost diamond.

But there was another thought on my mind, namely the words of Jesus concerning Himself in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”.  Yes in many ways that was my own experience. In my teens and early twenties,  I was steeped in a worldly life. Like that diamond I was lost, and wallowing in the dirt of a life of sin. But there was a major difference. Whereas the diamond was a thing of beauty,  there was nothing beautiful in me. I thought I was happy, but I was a wretch. My heart was ugly, my mind was putrid, and, though I did not realise it at the time, I was ruining my body.

The searching in the case of the diamond was motivated by the beauty of the diamond itself, but the Lord’s seeking of me had no such motive. The motive was love, not a love for the lovely, but a love for the unlovely. What kind of love is this? It cannot be explained, except to say that He loved because He loved. We call it sovereign love. A love which is from within God Himself, and not motivated by anything outside of Himself. It is a love which seeks and saves that which is lost.

This seeking is itself wonderful, and works in a wonderful way. He seeks us by causing us to seek Him. As John writes in His first Epistle, Chapter 3, verse 19: “We love Him, because He first loved  us”. But how can Christ change the inclination of our hearts? How can He exercise such power?Only because He is God as well as man. The question for any who have not yet found Him is, ‘Is Christ seeking me by making this world to disappoint, and to fail to satisify ?’ Rejoice, my dear friend; the Lord may be seeking you, and, as Paul says in Romans 6:13, “yield yourselves unto God”.

When my wife and I found the diamond, there was rejoicing in our home. In a similar way, The Lord Himself says in Luke 15:7, “Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents”.  Yes we must repent of our sins and find forgiveness in Christ.

Tomorrow does not Always Come

Thank you all for your patience with me over the unexpectedly long period of short posts due to injury and holiday.

I am writing this just after hearing about the terrible shooting in Las Vegas. Words fail in trying to describe the cruelty, and the hardness of heart that was behind this evil. We just cannot enter into it. It is extreme evil. We can, and we must, pray for the bereaved and the wounded, and extend our sympathy to them. We must also do what we can in a practical sense, but we just cannot understand how anyone could do such a terrible thing. Yet there is one thing which it all points to: that man is a fallen creature, and is capable of all kinds of evil. The heart of man in its natural state is described to us in Jeremiah 17: 9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”. The first two chapters in the Book of Job make it clear to us that God restrains evil. If that were not the case the world we live in would be ruled by Satan, and would be an infinitely more evil place than it is. When we open our newspapers, or read the news on the internet, we might sometimes marvel at all the evil that is in the world. However, the overall picture that is before us is not one of total evil, but one of controlled evil, and we should be able to see that. The truth of the matter is that it is God who rules the world, although He, in His perfect wisdom, gives Satan limited freedom. We have never seen total evil.

But let us turn our thoughts to those involved in this tragedy. Jesus makes it clear in Luke 13: 1-5, that those who have suffered in such tragedies do not suffer because they were more evil than the rest of us, and we must never harbour such thoughts. Yes, God is speaking, but that is not the message. What then is the message? He is saying  to every single individual in this world, that we do not know what is, as we say, ’round the corner’. This has been brought home to myself even since I began to write this very post. The unexpected has hit me in my personal circumstances. It is astonishing how a simple phone call can bring the unexpected, and the painful, into one’s life. How we urgently need to get RightWithGod while we have the opportunity.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 we have Paul’s exhortation to come and get RightWithGod: “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God”. There is an urgency in these words, because we do not know that there will be a tomorrow for us. James in chapter 4, verse of his epistle warns, “You know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away”

Let us take the bereaved and injured in Las Vegas into our prayers, and into our hearts, and do what we can to help, but let us not disregard the voice of God as He speaks to us all.

“The Wiles of the Devil”

Holiday Thoughts

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

The believer grows in knowledge of God and of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. One expects this growth in the believer; but the believer must also grow in knowledge of the devil and his wiles. It is basic to any warfare to find out as much as possible about the enemy and his plans, strategy, and subtlety or wiliness  The same applies with regard to our warfare with the devil; we must learn as much as possible as possible about his subtle schemes, in other words, his wiles. He is incredibly wily, and indeed this is his chief characteristic. The first thing that we learn about him in the bible is his subtlety (Genesis 3:1). The text our heading is part of Paul’s great passage on putting on the whole armour of God. The reason for the passage is to prepare believers for their war against the devil. This war is assumed to be a significant part of the believer’s life.

The Ascension of Christ

Holiday Thought.

“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing; Who said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11).

The scene of the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ must be one of the most the most moving in all history. Christ, having finished the work that the Father had given Him to do, goes back to the Father as the God/man to be received and crowned King of the universe. The promise given to the disciples as they stood looking up at the heavens was that He would come again as the God/man, as they had seen Him go.

 

The Happiest of All People

Holiday Thought

“Happy are you, O Israel: who is like unto you, O people saved by the Lord” (Deuteronomy 33:29).

They are happy right now because they are a saved people: not saved from the troubles of this life, but saved from the wrath to come when every person will have to give an account of himself/herself to God. On the positive side, they are saved to an eternity of happiness with Christ, who loved them and gave Himself for them. They are indeed the happiest of people.

Giving God His Place in Preaching

Holiday Thought

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Those called to preach have a treasure to bring to their people, but they must realise that they themselves are vessels of clay. This is very important because true preaching must glorify God, and not the preacher. God alone can bestow the power.