An Excellent Wife Who Can Find?

September 29, 2017

Friday September 29 marks 40 years since our first date.  Beth and I were students at Davidson. I had been in Kenya from January to August; Beth had been in Europe spring term, then worked in Shenandoah National Park during the summer. That year she lived in Mt Mourne, off campus. After cross country practice that Thursday, I drove out to her house; we mixed and kneaded bread, leaving it to rise while we went for a walk in the woods nearby (now Lowes corporate headquarters).  Returning, we baked the bread, made a salad, ate the first of thousands of wonderful meals together, and then looked at slides from Kenya and discussed what that trip meant.

When most of my friends asked me about Kenya, they wanted a five minute response. I was frustrated with that – the time in East Africa had affected me profoundly, and I was sorting through how I had changed. Beth, on the other hand, wanted a several hour response. She asked questions. She listened. She talked about how Europe and Shenandoah had affected her.

Five weeks previously my girlfriend of over two years had broken up with me. I had rather enjoyed dating just for fun in the intervening weeks, and was in no way looking for another serious, long-term relationship. But as I drove home that night I knew: Either Beth and I were not going to keep seeing each other, or this would be a serious relationship. And I couldn’t imagine not seeing her.

I just about destroyed the relationship right at the beginning. A few days after our first date, while walking down Main St, I ran into a girl I had dated a few times. We started going the same direction – and she took my hand. I was uncomfortable, but I had not yet said anything to her about Beth, and that didn’t seem the time or place to talk. So we were holding hands, and Beth drove by. I didn’t see her. She did see me – us – but wondered, was that really Coty? Beth decided to forget about it.

Two years and three months after that first date, we were married. That’s how I found an excellent wife.

At the time, I did not even know how to describe an excellent wife biblically. My conception of marriage was quite a mishmash of popular culture, marriages I had seen, and not-well-thought-out ideas about partnership and equality. But in God’s grace, He put the two of us together, made the two of us one on December 29, 1979, and has since washed us with the water of the Word, strengthened us by His Spirit, and nourished us through each other.

“Charm Is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). So let me turn to praise:

Beth, your outer beauty is fleeting only in the sense that everything in this world is passing away. In forty years, there has rarely been a time when I did not think you were the most beautiful woman in the room. Thank you for the attention you pay to your health, to your physical condition – and thank you for the many runs, hikes, and rides we have done together.

But your inner beauty is beyond compare. Even in Davidson days, an older man said of you, “She is so gentle – and yet so strong!” Those words characterize you time and again. You have displayed your strength in six births, after traffic accidents, in emergency room visits, when I have let you down, and when others have hurt us. And you have shown your gentleness to our children and grandchildren, to weeping friends, and to a hurting husband.

Naturally God graced you with these traits. Supernaturally He expanded and extended them, in calling you to Himself, in gracing You with His Spirit, in implanting in you a deep love for Him. He enabled you to be as He is in the world (1 John 4:17), to show not only your natural gentleness and strength, but to point to His gentleness, His strength, His forgiveness, His love, His goodness. And you display Who He is daily, hourly – whether through teaching a refugee woman to sew, helping your parents build a walkway, or laughing with your children about our foibles.

Thank you for helping me to see our unity, and for being my ally in the fight to maintain and deepen it. “They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, man must not separate” (Mark 10:8-9). As you know, in Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy says of Levin and Kitty (in the middle of a fight!), “He could not now tell where she ended and he began.”  Just so with us. Our lives are intertwined, molded together – not in an unhealthy codependency, but, strengthened by our Lord, complete in Him, together we miraculously picture the unity of Christ and His Church. What a privilege to do that together with you.

Beth, you are far more precious than rubies. I love you with all my heart. Should God grant us another forty years together, I will be blessed above all men.

Mercy and Justice

September 21, 2017

Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day! Do not forget the clamor of your foes, the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually! (Psalm 74:22-23)

Jesus is speaking from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus has just been condemned unjustly, beaten, and nailed to the cross. And He asks God to forgive the perpetrators.

In Psalm 74, Jerusalem has just been conquered by the Babylonians, with her temple destroyed, her God mocked, and her citizens murdered and raped. And the psalmist asks for God to honor His Name through implementing justice.

Are these inconsistent responses to evil?

No.

Jesus Himself promises or calls for justice again and again:

“Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:7-8a)

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”– for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:28-30)

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:47-48)

We see similar calls for justice throughout the Bible, New Testament as well as Old Testament. Revelation even pictures martyrs rightly crying out for justice from the heavenly altar of God (Revelation 6:9-11). They are promised that justice will come.

  • God is a god of justice. Justice is central to His character. He must punish every wrong, and He will. We rightly call on God to display His character, to implement justice, when we are faced with evil.
  • And God is a god of mercy. Mercy is central to His character. We rightly call on God to have mercy, to show forgiveness to those who harm us personally.

How does God show both aspects of His character?

Mercy and justice come together at the Cross. Indeed, God planned the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of His Son in order that He might justly show mercy, in order that He might mercifully show justice (Romans 3:21-26).

In the end, there are only two categories of people: Those who deserve eternal punishment for their rebellion against God, and receive that punishment, all the while continuing in their rebellion; and those who deserve eternal punishment for their rebellion against God, whose punishment God the Father transfers to God the Son on the cross. United to Christ, forgiven in Him, having His Law written on their hearts, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they then delight in Him above all else and live to His glory.

So, yes, call out for justice. And come to the Father for mercy through the sacrifice of His Son. Do all this for the glory of God.

 

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

September 15, 2017

Is anything too hard for God?

God tells the prophet Jeremiah that He is going to punish the people for their rebellion against Him. Indeed, He promises to destroy Jerusalem and the very temple that pictures His dwelling in their midst. But He also promises that decades later He will gather the people from where they are scattered and show them His redeeming love; they will be His people, and He will be their God. It is in this context that He says: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

If God can do that – if He can punish and He can redeem, if He can scatter and He can unite, if He can use human empires both to destroy according to His plan and to build up according to His plan – is there anything He cannot do?

No. Nothing is too hard for Him.

Consider a few of the many Scriptures that make similar claims:

  • [When God promises that a 90 year old woman who has been barren her entire life will bear a son fathered by her 99 year old husband] “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14a)
  • [Similarly, when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she, a virgin, will give birth to a son, and that her elderly, barren cousin Elizabeth is already pregnant] “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)
  • [Job speaks after God has displayed and spoken of His power, glory and wisdom] “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
  • [When there are hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness and God has promised them meat. Moses is skeptical]  And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” (Numbers 11:23)
  • Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Num 23:19b)
  • Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3)
  • Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. (Psalm 135:6)
  • For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Isaiah 14:27)
  • Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isaiah 40:28-29)
  • “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’ . . .. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” (From Isaiah 46:9-11)
  • All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35)
  • [When a man asks Jesus for healing for his son, after Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal him]  “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)
  • [When the disciples wonder if anyone can be saved if it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom] Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

So the claim of Scripture is all-encompassing: God has authority over conception, over illness, over sin, over rebellion, over repentance, over faith. We need His help always, in all areas – including our faith!

But God is not our all-powerful genie in the bottle, at our beck and call, who grants us any wishes that we might ask. He has already declared the end; He will accomplish His purpose. Our purpose will not stand; God’s will.

And so consider the way that Jesus Himself prays as He notes the Father’s unstoppable power:

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

Jesus shrank back from the horror of the cross. He knew that protecting Him from the Jewish leaders and the Roman governor was simple for the Father. God could thwart their plans; that was possible for Him. But Jesus also knew that God’s plan, God’s will, included His going to the cross. He knew that the end God had stated from the beginning – blessing all nations through the seed of Abraham, covering the sin of rebels by the sacrifice of His Son, ushering in an eternal Kingdom of righteousness and peace ruled by a descendant of David – Jesus knew that this glorious end required that He go to the cross. And so He went.

So God is more powerful than the illness you face, than the sin that tempts you, than hardness of anyone’s heart; God is well able to comfort every sorrow, to grant wisdom to the foolish, to bring rebels to repentance. Nothing is too hard for Him.

Therefore, trust this almighty God! He works all things together to fulfill His great plan. Whatever trials you are facing, however weak you are in yourself, look to Him! Delight in His sovereign power, which He wields for the good of His people and the glory of his Name.

 

Questions at the Installation of an Elder

September 5, 2017

[We installed Daniel Camenisch as an elder last Sunday, following the unanimous vote in his favor at our members meeting of 27 August.  These are the questions we asked him at the installation, as well as  two questions we asked the congregation, along with some brief commentary. These began as questions used by our friends at Capitol Hill Baptist Church; we have edited and added to them over the years.]

Do you reaffirm that the God of the Bible is the one and only true God, eternally existent in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(In a time of much doubt about the reality and character of God, we must stand firm on this most central point.)

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, the Head of the Church as your Lord, Savior, and Treasure?

(That is: Do you believe in Jesus as your Master, who has a right to control your entire life? Do you believe in Him as your Savior, the only One who can pay the penalty for your sin and grant you entrance into God the Father’s presence? Do you see Jesus as your Treasure, worth more than all the world has to offer?)

Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, completely sufficient, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and only infallible rule of faith and practice?

(We as elders acknowledge that we thus have no authority over what we as a church believe – faith – and what we as a church do – practice – except as we guide this congregation to follow God’s Word. We also admit that to put anything other authority on an equal standing with Scripture is effectively to put that other authority over Scripture.)

Do you sincerely believe that the covenant and the Statements of Faith of this church contain the truth taught in the Holy Scriptures?

(Similarly, our covenant and Statements of Faith have derivative authority: we as elders affirm that we believe they are useful summaries of the truths of Scripture. But they have no authority apart from Scripture.)

Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with anything in the Statements of Faith or covenant, you will on your own initiative make known to all the other elders the change which has taken place in your views since your assumption of this vow?

(Churches have frequently gone astray when following leaders who have gone astray. And many leaders have not been open concerning their doubts about the truths of Scripture. Elders here affirm that should their beliefs change, they will make that known – and therefore resign, unless the other elders and the church as a whole agree that the truths of Scripture are better stated in a different way.)

Do you promise to submit to your fellow elders in the Lord?

(Hebrews 13:17 holds for elders as well as for the rest of the congregation. This doesn’t mean that one elder always gives in to what the other elders desire. But elders should have an inclination to work as a team, a desire to be unified, a willingness to hear from others and to be persuaded by them. We don’t come together each representing part of the congregation and fight it out for our private subset of the congregation; each of us is working for the good of the entire body. )

Is it your desire, as far as you know your own heart, to serve in the office of elder from love of God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

(That is, are you serving in this position for your own glory or for God’s glory?)

Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution, criticisms, opposition or discouragement may arise?

(All elders will face opposition – sometimes from outside the church, sometimes from loved ones within the church. An elder must be aware of the certainty of future opposition, and he must be prepared to continue to serve faithfully despite opposition. Similarly, discouraging circumstances and events will happen to every elder, and he must be prepared to continue the labor despite the discouragement.)

Will you pursue and strive for unity of this church, committing yourself humbly to a ministry of biblical peacemaking and reconciliation?

(An elder must be humble, gentle, bold and resolute in pursuing confession and repentance in himself and the flock. Restoration and reconciliation of fellowship with God and fellow believers within the flock must be an essential priority.)

In dependence upon Jesus Christ’s redemptive work in your life and by the power of the Holy Spirit, will you strive to love your wife as Christ has loved you and gave Himself for you?

(Elders are to be examples in all aspects of their lives; marriage is the area Satan is most prone to attack, and where, conversely, God can be most glorified by our faithful example.)

Will you be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as elder, whether private or public, and will you endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, walking with exemplary piety before the congregation?

(That is: Are you going to walk the walk and not just talk the talk? “Piety” is not a word we use frequently these days; it refers to a godward orientation of one’s life, a respect for God that pervades all of one’s thoughts and actions. Who is equal to this? None of us, except by the grace of God.)

Are you now willing to take personal responsibility as an elder by God’s grace to oversee the ministry and resources of the church, and to devote yourself to prayer, the ministry of the Word, and the shepherding of God’s flock, in such a way that Desiring God Community Church and the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed, built up, and protected against false teaching and division?

(Here we lay out the responsibilities of the elders: Prayer, the Word, and shepherding/pastoring the flock. As elders fulfill these three responsibilities, the entire Church is blessed.)

Questions to the Congregation:

Do you, the members of Desiring God Community Church, acknowledge and publicly receive this man as an elder – a gift of Christ to this church?

(Who is the Giver of this gift? Jesus Himself! He is the One who raises up elders, not the existing elders and not the church. God equips men and raises them up to serve in this capacity. So praise God for your elders!)

Will you love him and pray for him in his ministry, and work together with him humbly and cheerfully, submitting to him and giving him all due honor and support in the leadership to which the Lord has called him, that by the grace of God you may accomplish the mission of the church, to the glory and honor of God?

(This is a wonderful summary of the responsibility of the congregation to the elders. How we need your prayers; how we covet your love. And note what happens when the congregation rightly loves, prays for, and submits to her elders: The church fulfills its purpose – glorifying God. May God be pleased to glorify Himself through this church as the elders and the congregation work together by His grace.)