Monday, May 25, 2009

How to Get Beyond “Thou Shalt Not”: A Lesson on Song of Solomon

Text: Song of Solomon 1

Main Idea
: Romantic love is ideally an enchanting relationship.


The Ten Commandments gives us the basics for morality. There is a temptation to see all of life through the Ten Commandments in a way that only emphasizes the negative. This negative starting point has made some people believe that the negative aspect of ethics is all that is required. Our Lord and Savior however taught two things regarding the Commandments, that they are to be interpreted beyond the surface level and that they are summed up in positive acts. He shows the Ten Commandments are to be interpreted beyond the surface level when he says thing like that a man is guilty of murder by simply calling someone else names. (Matthew 5:21-26) He shows they are better summed up by a positive act when he says that the sum of the Law is to love God with all our heart, soul and might and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40) Despite these interpretations, some through the church's history have still interpreted that the best ideas about romantic love is that we should not commit adultery. While it is most definitely true that adultery is to be absolutely avoided, it is also true that many who have avoided this heinous act but lack in the area of cherishing their spouse. The book of Song of Solomon does not focus on the negative but describes a relationship that is enchanting.

Not Utilitarian
Romantic love is not merely a functional, utilitarian part of life. A friend of mine is married to a devout, conservative Christian. He grew up Catholic but does not claim to be particularly devout himself. He was surprised at his the wedding ceremony that his soon to be wife had her grandmother read a section from Song of Solomon. He thought the literature to be somewhat risqué and not sure how this book made its way into the canon of Scripture. This attitude is common among people. They see the church and all that is with it as a kill joy. The authority of the Scripture and the church are seen as having the same effect as a wet blanket. This attitude is re-enforced by those in the church who would see that marriage as more allowed than enjoyed. They would see that romantic love is to be tolerated for reasons of establishing families that can in turn provide for a good environment to raise children and continue the human race. Other than that function, what good is it? Song of Solomon is definitely not a book about utilitarian view of marriage.

Some anthropologist and biologist say that babies are cute so that parents will care for them. In other words, the beauty a parent finds in its child is there so that he feels compassion on the child and the child will be cared for and thus bring about the survival of the human race. Does this type of thinking kill the joy of parenting in your eyes? Why or why not?

The Commandment tells us not to commit adultery. To pursue this as a virtue, one must not only remain faithful to one's spouse but _______________. (Fill in the blank about what one must do positively fulfill the this commandment.)

Captures the Imagination

Romantic love ideally captures the imagination. One of most noticeable things about the book of the Song of Solomon is that there is a lot of imagery in the poetry. This imagery is not the same types of imagery that we see in modern love songs. The imagery is from agriculture, animal husbandry, and common practices of the day. We are less connected with the beauty of nature than those people in ancient Israel. The idea of all of this is that the romantic relationship is supposed to capture the imagination. The writer talks about his love being like a mare among Pharaoh's chariots. A mare is a female horse. Pharaoh's chariots were only pulled by male horses. It was an ancient tactic I'm told for the enemies of Egypt to release mares so as to distract the horses of Egypt. Romantic love is ideally one that drives the couple to distraction.

The Song of Solomon uses many illustrations from nature and agriculture. What would be more appropriate for our society?

How does something capture the imagination?

Applying It To More

Since the 7th Commandment to not commit adultery and the book of the Song of Solomon both relate to the righteous and the flourishing romantic relationship, we can see how they relate. But there are other commandments besides the 7th. All the commandments should also be seen with more than utilitarian eyes. The commandment to not steal is not simply so that society can have a viable economy. Nor does this commandment against theft simply benefit the human race by ensuring that families enough food and clothing for their survival. Respecting someone else's property shows the dignity of the person and in turn shows respect for the one who made that person. It is a component of the sacredness of the other person. We do not keep the Sabbath simply because we need rest. We could get rest by some other method. Keeping the Sabbath is more about remembering the creation, remembering the Exodus and remembering the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Resting to remember these things is not merely a functional reason. All of these shows a recognition of the sovereignty of God in his providential care of us personally and corporately.

Though modern anthropology looks at laws such as these as being ethics based on functionality, how does the ethic based on wonder apply to the following?

Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make any graven image.
Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.
Thou shalt honor your father and your mother.
Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Thou shalt not covet.

A functional view of ethics sometimes causes one to focus on risk mitigation rather than submitting to the requirements of a Holy God. There is a component of submitting to something or someone in all ethics. What would you suggest that those with a functional view of ethics submit to? (Hint: It is probably what makes them indignant.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

How to Enjoy Life: A Lesson on Ecclesiastes 12

Text: Ecclesiastes 12

Main Idea
: We are to use all that is within us to serve and worship God.

Outline of Ecclesiastes 12
1. Use Your Capacity to Enjoy by Worshiping God (Ecc. 12:1-8)
a. Worship the Creator Before Pleasure Fades (Ecc. 12:1)
b. Pleasure Fades In Old Age (Ecc. 12:2-5)
c. Pleasure Fades Completely at Death (Ecc. 12:6-8)
2. Use Your Capacity for Wisdom by Being Discerning (Ecc. 12:9-12)
3. Use All Your Capacities to Live a Self-Examined Life Before God (Ecc. 12:13-14)

As Christians we are often not that different from the world in understanding the meaning of life. The world sees the meaning of life is enjoying relationships, wealth or simply a good day on vacation Christians want to find meaning in life by enjoying Christian pleasure; Christian family life, Christian financial freedom, or an adventure on a missions trip. Sometimes these pleasures are more distinguished by demographic association rather than by something spiritually transcendent from God. Not always, but often we are just choosing a different set of earthly pleasures. Mention of God can be more a sign of proper connections than the fruit of being connected to the eternal God. Even so, this passage connects the worship of God to the fact that our capacities fade with years passing by. In essence, it is a variation in theme, though a significantly different one, on the concept, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” The distinction is that here it is “worship God in youth since you have the most capacity to do so”. In fact the chapter covers the idea that all our capacities; thought, enjoyment of pleasures, and all the rest should be lived in response to God. Worship and service to God is all we really have to do in life. Amazingly, this is not something we can do of our own strength.

Take Pleasure in the Creator (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)
God did not make us to be merely minds. You and I are to use our capacity to enjoy by worshiping God. In worshiping God we can not only study his Word, but we have to sense the wonder of who he is. Like coffee or olives, it is an acquired taste. To worship God with all our heart, soul, and might requires one to feed at his table for a while. That is how we acquire the taste. Coffee and many other adult flavors are not wasted on children. The temptation for youth is to think that the acquired taste for the Lord is something for later in life. But like the appreciation for many earthly things, appreciation for the Lord himself if not acquired early in life may never get acquired. If one has spent a lifetime re-enforcing a taste for the worldly, old age will not bring a new appetite for the Lord except the Lord transform the individual.

Is youth really wasted on the wrong people?

As a broad generalization, pain increases as we progress in years. What makes one a bitter old man or a gentle and kind old man?

Be Discerning (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)
You and I are to use our capacity for wisdom by being discerning. An open mind is like an open window. One needs to keep a screen up to keep the bugs out. If we just shut the window, our mind becomes stuffy and unable to function. If proverbially we open the window of our mind without being discerning, we ending up being led astray by every wind of doctrine. Doctrine simply means teaching. Even people who say we should not be overly concerned about doctrine are actually teaching a doctrine. Being discerning is an important part of our spiritual walk. To know Christ is to know his teachings. That can get off course into cold Pharisaic attitudes, but avoiding doctrine does not prevent one from going astray. Rather, a thoughtful and prayerful examination of teachings is what is required to be a discerning Christian.

What doctrinal concerns are actually in discussions at the popular level?

What doctrinal issues are you learning right now?

What are the keys to good doctrine?

Live a Life of Self-examination Before the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

You and I are to use all our capacities to live a self-examined life before God. Most people attempt to define the fear of the Lord by what it is not. While that can be important, we must see that living in the fear of the Lord is making decisions and taking up habits that are in line with what God has commanded us. Soldiers prepare for battle out of anticipation of what is ahead. Architects design buildings to withstand the anticipated threats of the environment. Students prepare for tests. Most farmers are preparing for future needs for food. In all these situations, the person is preparing for the future; they fear not being prepared. A wise person is one who understands that every word and deed shall be judged by God. You and I shall be examined thoroughly. Of course this sort of true self-examination will lead us to understand that you and I are in need of God's grace. True self-examination will lead us to see ourselves for who we are, dependent creatures who need God's mercy and grace.

Why is it that people see faults in us that we can not see ourselves?

Why is it that people see simple solutions to our faults?

If a young Christians asked you to help them go down the road of self-examination in order to see a more Christ-like spiritual formation in them, what would you do?

Note: Please let me know if you use this lesson in a small group or Sunday school class. Also please give credit.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How to Understand What We Can Understand About Suffering: A Lesson on Job 38 - 39

Text: Job 38 - 39

Main Idea: To understand suffering one must understand the wonder of understanding.

Beauty is best described rather than defined. When we see a morning sunrise, we can predict with mathematical precision when the sunrise will occur. But a sun rise that is beautiful is better described as awesome, radiant or spectacular. Beauty is not limited to a sunrise; it is in all sorts of things, fish, a family picnicking at the park, rock formations, birds, cattle, volcanoes, clouds, and a host of other things have beauty. The beauty is not simply in the lines and form, but in the associated phenomena. The movement of clouds can have its own way of fascinating the mind and eye. Those things that are not beautiful are in someway not good, they cause pain, they are ugly. Suffering in this world come through the fall, that is the sin of the first pair of humans. When they sinned, they affected not only the human race. Suffering was multiplied on the human race and not only affected them, but the whole of creation. Not only is beauty all around us, so is suffering in the midst of all creation. To understand all of suffering we would necessarily understand all of the world. As we look at God's answer to Job in chapters 38-39 God discusses the wonders of creation the limits of human knowledge. He is pointing Job to the fact that humans have a basic limitation to knowledge of creation so therefore human knowledge of suffering is intrinsically limited. This concept touches on the idea that there are limits to our knowledge and how to adequately organize knowledge when it is incomplete. To understand suffering one must understand the wonder of understanding.

1. You and I know in part and we prophesy in part, and this is particularly informing on our understanding of suffering. There are some Renaissance men and women out there. They not only are well read, but they do home repairs, make all their own clothes, participate in community theater, and grow vegetables for the poor. Other people are Renaissance men and women, they know how to sail a boat and navigate the sea, they know where all the best places to eat are in New York City, have a fine appreciation for the best in classical music, paint sunsets and teach reading at the local library to immigrants. Though one might be accomplished in multiple fields of achievement, these accomplishments by nature are partial. The man who has mastered sailing the seas probably has not mastered the art of mountain climbing. Those people who are considered the best in sailing and mountain climbing also sometimes show that they have limits of knowledge and skill.

What good things can come from trying to understand suffering?

What bad things can come from trying to understand suffering?

Our modernistic mindset usually looks for naturalistic causes for suffering and not moral causes for suffering. Job and his friends looked at suffering in too narrow of a point of view from the broad topics discussed by God directly. What are some ways we in our culture may limit how we view suffering?

Partial Understanding of Suffering
2. You and I can not master all the knowledge regarding the diverse creation, therefore we can not master how suffering has affected all creation. If we have limits at understanding things that are beautiful and wonderful. We necessarily have limits in understanding suffering also. Suffering is woven into the creation. Some of if we understand, some of it we do not. But simply saying we have a limit of our understanding in general helps us to manage our expectations to understand what causes suffering.

When we study beauty we do not intend to master all knowledge from all times on the topic, we realize we have limitations in resources such as time, books, foundational knowledge from other fields. What are some things that might limit our knowledge and understanding of suffering?

Are explanations ever appropriate when someone is suffering?

3. You and I should be amazed at the diverse types of knowledge to be pursed in regard to the creation. We have a whole world to enjoy and in that enjoyment we should praise our Creator, Lord and Savior. Good food should make us praise God. Good friends should make us praise God. The wonders of the natural created order should make us praise God.

What types of suffering are beautiful?

Here is a quote from 1 Corinthians 13 (ESV):

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

What are some of the relationships between Job 38 – 39 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13?

In what ways will knowledge change in heaven as compared to this present life as explained in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Os Goes For It

I just finished reading an article by Os Guinness reviewing the book by Frank Schaeffer "Crazy for God". Os goes toe to toe with Frank over the book and basically calls him a spoiled brat who never got it. Both are strong personalities. For this one, I am taking Os as the one I'm believing, Francis Schaeffer was a strong personality who loved God and people but was a flesh and blood human with many and asundry flaws. I do not beleive that he was a con man who conned himself.

Happiness Quiz

I got these questions from the "Happiness Project". They are designed to help one know ones self better.

1. What part of the newspaper do you read first?

I don't know. I read all the paper except for sports and want ads.

2. What are three books you’ve read in the past year?

The Bible, a biography on Jonathan Edwards, and a Greek grammar (Summers).

3. As a child, what did you do in your free time?

I watched way too much Star Trek. I played Army with my brother and my friend Lynn.

4. What’s a goal that has been on your list for a few years?

Finish seminary.

5. What do you actually do with your free time?

I watch TV. I walk. I really like walking. I blog and check my Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and sometimes other people's blogs.

6. What types of activities energize you?

I like talking to people. I like to learn new things.

7. What famous people intrigue you?

Francis Schaeffer, Cameron Townsen and William Carey.