True to Each Other

In this lonely, painful world, how can we have deep, meaningful relationships? How can we be true to each other?

In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor shouts “et tu Brute?” when he sees his close friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, among his assassins.  Though most Americans are not plunging daggers into each other, relationships in the world, the United States, and even the Church are shriveling and dying. According to US Census Data in 2020, our population growth has slowed to its lowest point since the 1930s.[1]  Experts blame COVID and economic troubles, but this trend has been present for decades. Marriage is less common, and couples are having fewer children. People are having less sex, and even dating less. Research from the Barna Group indicates that Americans have fewer friends and higher levels of loneliness than in the past.[2] Elders are less lonely than Boomers, who are less lonely than Gen X, who are less lonely than millennials. The stereotypical image of a lonely widow in our culture may be less common than that of a lonely teenage girl.

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God’s Design for Men and Women in the Church

America and much of the world have undergone a sexual revolution. The Church and the Family have largely followed. How is it working out? Is there another way?

How are relations between men and women in American society? How about the rest of the world? Are they better than they were one thousand, one hundred, ten, or even two years ago? How are relations between men and women in the Church? Are they as God intended?

Is the Bible a misogynistic book? How can Paul, and the Scottish Presbyterian Preacher James Fordyce (1720-1796, in his Sermons for Young Women), and ministers like me even talk (“mansplain?”) about the differing roles of men and women in the Church? We can, and indeed we must, because the Bible is the word of God, profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Long after our bodies, and those of our adversaries, return to dust, His Word will remain. In these and all other areas, the Word burns within us (Jeremiah 20:9).

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Adventures in Athens – How We Treat Others

How we treat others matters far more, to the individual and to everyone around, than we can possibly imagine. 

My daughter Anna is getting married in June, so she and I traveled to Greece this past week to adventure together one more time. It has been a marvelous week; we have enjoyed the place and enjoyed each other. I will treasure these few days forever, and I hope that she will do the same. With all of the fun that we had, God used our experiences to build our character and our faith as individuals and as the Body of Christ.

Yesterday Anna and I traveled to Corinth to see where Paul walked and worked. The ruins of the ancient city featured a temple of Apollo, a basilica of Julian, shops, houses, and the Bema where the famous apostle was tried before Gaius. After almost two hours of exploring the ruins, we agreed to finish individually and then meet at the temple to conclude our visit. I stopped by the Pirean fountain and explored the historic road entering the city. Anna finished first and went to the temple. I tried to get to the temple faster by leaving the site through the exit and reentering the main entrance.

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A Land Called Married

Isaiah describes the “marriage” between God and His people. Christians can learn much for our marriages as well.

My youngest daughter was fighting a virus that sapped her strength and made her miserable. Good movies brighten her mood, and soon we were enjoying the six-hour British Broadcasting Company (BBC) version of Pride and Prejudice. Based on a classic novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817), Pride and Prejudice mixes romance, social commentary, and morality, detailing the twists and turns of courtship and marriage among the daughters of the aristocratic Bennett family in early 19th century England. The movie poignantly reveals how vastly different society’s view of marriage was two hundred years ago.

In Isaiah 62, the Lord encourages His people, promising them future goodness and glory after their defeat and exile.  God uses the metaphor of Israel as His bride, telling His readers that their land would no longer be called “Desolate” but be called “Married” (v4). Most people in my experience would not juxtapose these two words, partly because “desolate” refers to a place “in bleak and dismal emptiness” and “married” refers to a relationship between two people. Isaiah 62 is not about human marriage per se, but neither is it about the physical land of Israel. Rather, it is about the restored relationship between God and His people. As such, it becomes a model of how human marriage under God can be, and should be.

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Who has it better?

Does American society and culture favor men or women in 2017? In the race of life, who has the lead? How do we decide? 

Prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump, a controversial man and president, my oldest daughter sent me an interesting New York Times article entitled “Republican Men Say It’s a Better Time to Be a Woman Than a Man”. The article was interesting, albeit leftward-biased in a typical NY Times fashion. Following is one father’s response to the age-old question, “Who has it better?”

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Controlling Conflict

How can we control conflict in our selves, our families, our communities, our nation, and our world?

A quick review of news headlines today shows conflict between police and demonstrators after a shooting, conflict between Taliban militants and Afghani police, conflict between and within political parties in the 2016 campaigns, and even conflict within families. As much as we may wish to resolve all conflicts, sometimes they can only be controlled. From presidents such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton who had “enemy lists” to average folks who can never forgive a slight, unresolved conflict is a major fixture in our lives. The Biblical story of David, Nabal, and Abigail (1 Samuel 25:2-38) provides good lessons on dealing with conflict. We will discover that controlling conflict requires three things:

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Our Mechanistic Minds

Machine thinking makes us less human. 

As some of my children have gone off to college, I have thought more about their generation, which demographers call the Millennials. A young man in our church graciously asked me to lead his Life Group once per month, and that has given me more occasion to discover this fascinating generation. We also have a young woman from Persia living with us, and she is wonderful at explaining much about how non-American millennials think.

Some examples stand out in my mind. Though earnestly seeking a wife, one 25 year old man agonized over dating a woman he met on Christian Mingle, concerned that it might be risky. A woman in her mid-twenties wanted to meet a man but wasn’t willing to do much to attract one. The very idea of attracting a man was offensive. A 24 year old college graduate hoped to be dating and knew many eligible men her age but did nothing to encourage their overtures. Another man was afraid of yet another rebuff. In one incident, a young man teaching a coed Sunday School class facetiously suggested that the women in the class, who were going to pick blueberries together after church, could make some blueberry pies for the men. For their part, the men could bring back wild game. His tongue in cheek suggestion was met with incredulity and derision. On hearing the story a few hours later, my mother in law said “If they wanted a blueberry pie, I would bake one.”

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Third Date Sex?

Sex outside marriage devalues sex, harms men and women, splits families, reduces the number of children, and weakens society. Sex outside marriage feeds the illusion that sex is the only thing, or at least the most important thing, in life. 

“The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.” C.S. Lewis, the Screwtape Letters

As family physician, minister, father, or friend, I am privileged to talk to a wide variety of people. I recently met a young woman, not long divorced, who is struggling with past abuse, present poverty, and future fear. We talked many times about the challenges she faced. Shortly after her divorce, she began dating another man. This young woman hoped for a future with him, but worried that he didn’t seem interested in her work and other key parts of her life.

In 2010, I was the team physician for the US military women’s soccer team at an international championship. One of the players came to me for a gynecological exam, concerned that she might have contracted something from her new boyfriend. We had long and personal discussions about her and about their relationship. She gave him her body, but dared not offer her thoughts, her hopes, her fears, and her heart. She was terrified of losing him.

In both cases intelligent, successful, and attractive young women went to bed with men within weeks of starting a new relationship. They freely offered themselves in the height of physical intimacy without intimacy in emotion, commitment, or trust. In my research for this article, I discovered the phrase, “third date sex.”

Ancient gnostics believed that matter is evil and the body is no more than a tent enclosing, and limiting, the human spirit. They felt that what one does with the body doesn’t matter. Some people believe that sex is only for pleasure, that no one should deny themselves pleasure, and that having sex without limits is good. Some women believe that since many men push for sex without commitment, they should have that right also. They may see no need for other forms of intimacy to coincide with physical intimacy. Yet none of the women with whom I have spoken wanted sex without love.  Physical intimacy, without any other intimacy, was a trap.

The word “intimacy” suggests closeness, attachment, affection, and confidence. In human life, there is no greater expression of physical intimacy than sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. This intimacy is unique because it alone can result in the ultimate human creative act, the creation of children. This intimacy is binding because with children comes responsibility, a responsibility that lasts until death.

There are many kinds of intimacy between people. To have mental intimacy is to share information but also to share and enjoy thoughts: scary thoughts, unique thoughts, crazy thoughts, and incorrect thoughts. To have social intimacy is to recognize each other as special, and you as a couple, in the presence of others. To have spiritual intimacy is to agree on the most profound questions in life, including the source, purpose, and end of life, to rejoice in the answers to those questions, and to understand and accept each other on lesser questions. To have emotional intimacy is to cry together, to laugh together, and even more to cry and laugh at the things that make your beloved cry and laugh. To have physical intimacy is to enjoy physical touch with your partner, first non-sexual and later sexual. Sex without non-sexual touch is not physical intimacy. All intimacy presupposes trust between the partners; that the bonds of love which create intimacy will not be broken, whether by the inevitable conflict, insensitivity, misunderstanding, or the intentional slight. Even betrayal, once repented, can be forgiven.

The love which supports intimacy, however, is not a feeling, fleeting as dry leaves in an autumn breeze. Rather it is a commitment, firm like a tree with deep roots planted by streams of water.

God brings all people together. His plan is that, at the proper time, a man and a woman will meet, and like the oak tree, their intimacy will grow. They will share thoughts and emotions, hopes and dreams, fears and trials, and innocent touch. The man and the woman will talk of ultimate things, such as purpose in life, and begin to see their role, together, in these things. They will become a couple in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Their feelings will grow as their commitment does, and they will decide to love. In the presence of the most important people in their lives, they will commit to one another for a lifetime. Finally, in the ultimate physical expression of their love, their intimacy, and their lifelong promise, they will share sex, the ultimate physical experience. If they are blessed in this way, children will come, and a new generation will be born.

How many people, in their heart of hearts, do not long for such a relationship? How many used to long for it, but in their disappointment at the vicissitudes of life, have given up in anger and despair? How many are bitter? How many are resigned, settling for far less than their best? Imperfect people cannot have a perfect relationship, but imperfect people can align their intimacies with their commitment and have a more wonderful marriage than they ever thought possible.

Ultimately, it is “not good that man (or woman) should be alone”, and a person’s relationship in marriage, as with their other relationships, reflects their relationship with God.

“Third date sex” may be the best Western culture in its current state can offer, but our Creator intends for us to have so much more. The fault lies with both men and women. So often in relationships, men demand more than the women they say they love are willing to give…and yet these women comply.

Society bears a large part of the blame. We discourage marriage, which we say oppresses women. We call on people to marry late, preferably after age 25, and tempt them ceaselessly with stories and images during their teen and early adult years. We tolerate or even encourage pre-marital sex. We eliminate men’s and women’s roles and rules for building relationships and are surprised when people don’t know what to do.  Anything that makes one partner uncomfortable is punishable by breaking the relationship, or worse. If the societal standard is sex on the third date, many couples will follow.

Perhaps one day we will understand that maturity, not age, is the key to marital success, help the young to be mature, and encourage couples to marry when they are ready. Perhaps families and friends will help each young couple put boundaries around their physical intimacy. Perhaps older people will teach the truth and exemplify it. Perhaps men, young and old, will treat women with the love and respect of a husband, not a chattel. On that day “Third date sex” will be a memory, like many ill-advised flings, which we try to forget.

 

 

A Witness Carol

Christians do not walk alone in the race of life. We run with our contemporaries and are supported by a cloud of witnesses. Thank God, for life is too hard to be lived alone.  

In his famous work, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens told the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman who learned the true meaning of Christmas. Three important characters in the transformation of Scrooge from sinner to saint were the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future.

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Song of Songs – The Mystery and Majesty of Human Love

A commentary on the Song of Solomon

Interpreted for centuries by most Jews and Christians as an allegory about the love of God for His people, modern commentators hold that this is a story about human love, which secondarily reflects the perfect love between God and His people. Though God is never mentioned, His presence permeates the book. There is widespread mention of the wonders of His creation as well as the constant restraining (and liberating) presence of His moral code. Notably, in the Song of Songs the woman did most of the speaking. It is magnificent poetry with extensive use of olfactory imagery. Remarkably, it never mentioned having children as the purpose for marriage. Romantic love was beautiful and desirable for its own sake.

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A Christian View of Marriage

A lot of influential people oppose marriage, and young adults today are believing their lies. We all suffer. And Christ has a better way.

“Marriage is like a three ring circus; engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffer-ring.” Anon.

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. Irina Dunn, Australian feminist, 1970

“The nuclear family must be destroyed… Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process.” — Linda Gordon, American feminist historian

“We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.” — Robin Morgan, MS Magazine Editor

Most consider Saint Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate romance. In the past, romance was associated with love and marriage. Adults in the Western World today still associate the romance of Valentine’s Day with emotional love but often do not associate it with marriage. With fewer people getting married, divorce rates high, and the media continually disparaging the bonds of holy matrimony, marriage seems passé, or even dangerous. Certain laws, such as the marriage penalty in the tax code, discourage marriage. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that homosexual marriages are legal in the United States. A man in Montana applied for marriage licenses with his two wives, and based on recent events, there is no reasonable legal basis to forbid him. Marriage seems to have become whatever someone, anyone, says it is.

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The Death of a Friend

Death is a great sadness in this world, but not the greatest. We lost a dear friend, like many others in life, but we will see her again. 

It was a beautiful morning at the state campgrounds at Lake Anna, near Richmond Virginia. Several families from our church, and one family that had recently moved away to pursue new job opportunities, had come together for a Labor Day getaway. We were busily preparing breakfast, assembling fishing tackle, and drinking coffee by the crackling fire. As the only physician in the group I was in unfortunate demand. One girl from a different party had had a bike accident, a man splashed some chemlight fluid in his eyes, and a little boy hurt his arm. After my quasi-clinic Mary, a dear friend and breast cancer survivor, asked me about some back pain she had been having. I tried some spinal manipulation with little result. Chagrined by the lack of improvement but without the opportunity to investigate further, we moved on. Our group had prayed for these problems, and Mary had a medical appointment a few days later.

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On Disagreements

How to disagree with others but maintain a good relationship with them, and minimize disagreements in the future. 

Last night my family and I hosted a party for our children’s friends, about 30 kids from elementary school through high school. Our daughter and two of her high school friends who are all home from college were here as all. After the party, our family and Anna’s friends, Megan and Jamie, watched the 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street, a perennial Christmas favorite. Megan had seen the movie at our house the year before and loved it, and like most young millennials in our experience, Jamie rarely watched old movies and hadn’t seen it.  We all hoped that Jamie would enjoy the film, just as we had when Megan watched it the year before, but between texting and stepping away, I feared that she would miss the subtleties that make many old movies so good. As the courtroom scene reached its climax, Jamie became more and more engaged. At the end, with a smile a mile wide, she said that it was a terrific movie.

We all want others to enjoy the things that we enjoy, because doing such things together brings us together as people. Friends who like Chinese food, baseball games, and reading Shakespeare will enjoy doing these things together, making them more fun for all and building their relationships. People who have little or nothing in common will not likely be friends, or stay friends for long.

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