Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [the other nations], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Dt. 31:6).
Then you will prosper if you are careful to observe the statutes and the rules that the Lord commanded Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Fear not; do not be dismayed. (1 Chron. 22:13).
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13).
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6).
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. (Ps. 3:6).
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1).
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb. 13:6).
I read somewhere yesterday that, in these times, the virtue Christians most need to cultivate is courage. I have an old friend who used to pray routinely for courage and humility. This prayer is more urgent now that Christians in the West are coming to be viewed as the “troublers” of civilization.
Courage will not mean an arrogant boisterousness in the face of those who oppose God’s gospel. But it most certainly will mean standing firm on the truth God has revealed. It will mean affirming and suffering for God’s sovereignty and lordship in absolutely every arena of life. It will mean affirming, in public ways, that God defines reality and has not left the defining of it open to us in any part of life. God created us “male and female” and we must courageously affirm that sinful human beings do not have the power or authority to try and define sexual reality for themselves. God invented marriage and He decides what it is and isn’t. He has determined the nature and purpose of sex and sexuality. We must stand with Peter and John when they said: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” (Acts 4:19).
God is the one who says that people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language matter to him, both the born and the unborn. God defines justice and with Him there is no favoritism.
As Os Guinness has said, there is no god but God, and so we must courageously obey Him in all things. His Word must be our constant standard of truth and reality. It will take courage to affirm the Bible’s truths, to defend its precepts, to proclaim its very words, to avoid softening or bastardizing its language and teaching, and to demonstrate its beauty with our lives.
We will not do this in our own power. Yet it is sobering, and indeed terrifying, to remember what God says: “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7-8).
The Preacher says: “[R]ejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Prov. 5:18b). Husbands, this is a command, and as such, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it can be joyfully obeyed.
I have officiated at numerous weddings, and at my most recent one, I told the bride and groom, in effect, that their frail and fleeting human love does not give rise to the marital promises. It’s the promises, in the power of Christ, that allow the love to grow and flourish. This is something the world rarely, if ever, acknowledges. We are told that when the love is gone, the relationship is as good as dead. But it’s the commitment, the promises, that give rise to the love, and that allow it to grow even in the midst of struggles, conflict, losses, and suffering, which will inevitably come.
So God would have us “rejoice in the wife of our youth,” whether we have a storm of emotions about it or not. We must set ourselves to do it. I say “must,” but God’s commands are never a drudgery. We have the privilege of such rejoicing, and in my experience, when we decide that we will indeed rejoice in our wives, the wonderful fruit of joy, warmth, attraction, intimacy, longing, pursuit, sacrifice and service burgeon in our hearts and lives.
Husbands, I commend this to you. It is the way to happiness and contentment in your marriage. It is not fake or disingenuous. To obey God is always the path of goodness and satisfaction. Further, it is something you can do no matter what the state of your marriage. You can obey now, today, and find that what God commands he also enables his children to do, as Augustine said.
If you set yourself to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” you will find that you are, in fact, “rejoicing” in her, which means taking joy in her, finding delight in her, seeing the good things in her, longing to do her good and contributing to a greater foundation and possibility for romance and intimacy.
I taught Bible for 10 years at a Christian high school in the Bay Area. On rare occasions, a student would ask me some form of the following: “What is the best thing I can do to grow as a Christian?” Upon reflection, my answer was: “Read your Bible. Start at the beginning and read it all the way to the end, then do it again.” I think reading one’s Bible subverts the powerful influence of our “adulterous and sinful generation” in ways we do not always foresee.
Is this too simple? In one sense, yes. But we end up failing to read our Bibles because we consider it “too simple” or “not enough by itself,” or some such excuse. But the biblical writers never made such excuses. They talked about meditating on God’s law “day and night.” God’s word to Joshua is God’s word to us today: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous; then you will have success.” (Joshua 1:8).
If we want to make our way prosperous in the midst of the sexual lunacy and confusion, the crass materialism, the radical individualism, the nihilism, the dreaming up of our own “reality”, the rank intolerance, the utter contempt for human life and flourishing, we do well to read our Bibles; to read it ourselves, to read it to our children, to get its narrative playing on the track in our hearts and minds.
Are their other spiritual activities to be done? Yes. But we can certainly start with our Bibles.
“Evil men and women do not understand justice. (Prov. 28:5). [T]he LORD hates . . . a heart that devises wicked plans. (Prov. 6:16, 18). [T]he name of the wicked will rot. (Prov. 10:7) [T]he expectation of the wicked ends in wrath. (Prov. 11:23) [T]he counsels of the wicked are deceitful. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood. (Prov. 12:5-6). [T]he mercy of the wicked is cruel. (Prov. 12:10). The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD. (Prov. 15:9). The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord. (Prov. 15:26). The soul of the wicked desires evil. (Prov. 21:10). Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations. (Prov. 24:24). When the wicked rule, the people groan.” (Prov. 29:2).
The first of the above Scriptures came to my mind earlier today, and as I read it, I could not help but think of Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy. These are the current justices who, in their wickedness, have given legal sanction and approval to the killing of unborn human beings, human beings who bear God’s image in full. To these “justices” names could be added many more past justices who have acted in like evil.
The above-named justices have now added to their wickedness the giving of legal cover to abortion clinics to operate without proper health standards, all in the guise of preventing an “undue burden” on a woman’s “right” to have an abortion. As Kevin Williamson aptly stated in National Review Online: “There is a great deal of dishonesty in the abortion debate, which is necessary: Otherwise, we’d be obliged to think about the horror of what we perpetrate and what we endure, and that would be very difficult.” However, Williamson is not quite right when he goes on to say: “A culture that treats pregnancy as a horrible disease and classifies its children as liabilities rather than assets is a culture that is, strangely enough, childish.”
The proper adjective is “wicked,” not “childish.” Supreme Court justices who apply rules and standards to abortion opinions which they would never dream of applying to other issues, solely in order to keep the killing regime going, are evil and wicked. Further, Supreme Court justices who refuse to overturn a lower court decision which would effectively compel pharmacists to sell abortion-inducing drugs are wicked. As Justice Samuel Alito put it, the Washington regulations which these justices allowed to be upheld create a “plain dilemma: Violate your sincerely held religious beliefs or get out of the pharmacy business.”
I believe such wickedness needs to be pointed out in our times.
I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It came to my mind to do so awhile back, and as I read, it seems quite appropriate to our times. In the very first chapter, God says:
And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. (v. 16).
“Offerings to other gods.” That struck me as quite an accurate diagnosis of us. I suppose our worship of other gods is not a recent development, but we seem to be more bold, and deceived, in our false offerings.
Jeremiah speaks much about God’s people having “forsaken” God. The famous text in 2:13 tells the story:
For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
What’s more . . .
How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. (5:7).
And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’ (5:19).
[Y]our fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law. (16:11).
Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind.” (19:3-5).
So God tells Jeremiah to not even pray for His people, nor to weep or grieve for them. Such is their sin. Such has it been for centuries. God has indeed been patient. Yet he finally says: You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of relenting. (15:6).
In spite of this, idolatry seems to be sparse in our vocabulary today. We acknowledge it as a biblical notion, but we do not see its subtlety or pervasiveness. Idolatry is not really a “psychological” or “therapeutic” category, so we don’t have much use for it in our current reflections on our individual, communal or national lives. Or, perhaps, it’s a transgression for “those out there” who are not a part of the church. It’s easy to think in my heart that somehow idolatry resides elsewhere. So we, so I, cast aside the truth for what is convenient to me. As Jeremiah says:
O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent. (5:3).
And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips. (7:28).
They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord. (9:3).
Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. (9:5).
Judge for yourself whether you think this speaks to us in this hour. Have we not taught our tongues to speak lies? I do not leave out that the prophet’s words were spoken to God’s chosen people living under his law given specifically to them. Yet I do not either take this to mean the words are devoid of application for us. Idolatry is not a sin relegated to God’s people. The later chapters of Jeremiah speak of God’s judgment against the nations. I may have some thoughts on that when I get there.