WHEN ANN VOSKAMP SAID SHE FLEW TO PARIS
AND MADE LOVE TO GOD
THE BLOGGERS AND THE CRITICS CRIED OUT
I THOUGHT AGAIN
WHY CAN WE NOT EMBRACE THIS METAPHOR?
IS IT OUR WORLD?
IS IT SPIRITUAL WARFARE?
OR IS IT OUR HARD HEARTS?
(THIS STUDY IS TWO WEEKS — SO DON’T BE OVERWHELMED WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE LENGTH. FOR I DO WANT YOU TO GO SLOWLY AND I HAVE DIVIDED IT INTO TWO WEEKS. I ALSO NEED TO DO THIS FOR MY SCHEDULE AS I’M TRAVELING AND MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CHECK IN SOME DAYS — PLEASE STAND IN THE GAP FOR ONE ANOTHER.) I WILL POST AGAIN ON OCTOBER 16TH. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT LESSON — SO GO SLOWLY, PLEASE! CHEW. CONTEMPLATE. OPEN YOUR HEART TO THE STONECUTTER.)
One reviewer of One Thousand Gifts said “Run for your life!” Rachel Stone from a branch of Christianity Today seemed to have missed the point completely. One blogger said “this metaphor is not in Scripture” (What?) But then I was so thankful to have some thoughtful responses to the scathing critiques, such as Marvin Olasky’s in World Magazine. (For the full article click here: http://www.worldmag.com/articles/18212) He wrote:
A poet who praises Jesus Christ? What’s not to like? But in this fallen world, nothing is without controversy. Several bloggers have taken exception to the final chapter of One Thousand Gifts, which states, “God lays down all his fullness into all the emptiness. I am in Him. He is in me. . . . Anywhere—in the kitchen scrubbing potatoes, in the arching cathedrals, in the spin of laundry and kids and washing toilets—anywhere I can have intimate communion with the Maker of heaven and earth. . . . The intercourse of soul with God is the very climax of joy.”
One post critical of Voskamp, titled “Intercourse with God,” quoted those passages and concluded, “This is what garners five stars from Christian women at amazon.com?” To which another blogger responded, “If you’re really able to extrapolate some kind of offensive message from Ann’s book, you are entirely missing the point. Ann uses lots of figurative, metaphorical language. This Is What She Does Best. It’s called a literary device.”
I thought about Jesus warning not to cast our pearls before swine. As Keller says, Jesus isn’t name-calling, He’s making a point. If you put a pearl in a pig’s trough, his snout will push it aside because it isn’t what he is looking for. (I know it doesn’t work to give Ann’s book to unbelievers, because I’ve made that mistake. I think you need spiritual eyes.) But the believers that struggle may lack spiritual vision as well (or, if they are writers, they could possibly be jealous of her writing — I was initially — because we are tempted toward jealousy when someone else is extremely gifted in our field. Sin blinds us to what is really going on in our heart, for there is a downward spiral of darkness). But this book is a joy that gives glory to God. God helped me repent and I bought a case to give to others. The metaphor Ann uses (and she waits until the last chapter to use it) can open windows and let light into our darkness. We must of course remember that marriage to God with its ensuing connotations of intimacy and passion is a metaphor. I loved that one reader said, “It’s called a literary device.”
IT’S A LITERARY DEVICE
IT IS SHOCKING
BUT GOD LACES IT THROUGHOUT THE PROPHETS AND THE PARABLES
TO WAKE US UP
AND NOT FOR EVERYONE
IF YOU CAN GRASP IT
IT WILL HELP YOU UNDERSTAND INTIMACY WITH GOD
God uses this very intimate metaphor throughout Scripture. He uses it in both a positive way, to show His deep love for us, and in a negative way, to show how we break His heart. For some, this next part if review, but we need it.
THE METAPHOR OF INTIMATE MARRIAGE
Consider some of the positive ways:
As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing
Consider some of the negative ways:
She went after her lovers,
And forgot me, declares the Lord.
I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk…
But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and
lavished your unfaithfulness on any passerby…
Ezekiel 16:10 & 15
These are pictures, meant to turn the light on – both to His intimate love, and to our unfaithfulness.
I would never dare to use a sexual metaphor like this, except that God does it repeatedly in the poets, the prophets, the parables and Paul’s letters. But please remember this is a metaphor. For example, when Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said He wished He could gather her under His wings, we must not press the metaphor to ridiculous lengths, Instead, we must grasp His heart for His unresponsive people. Basic hermeneutics (the art of interpreting Scripture) will tell you to interpret genre according to genre. You must interpret prose according to prose (you can press every word) and poetry according to poetry (look for the central meaning).
In the same way, when Scripture uses the sexual metaphor (and I feel a foolish even saying this, but know I must because of the e-mails and letters I received after Kathy Troccoli and I wrote Falling in Love with Jesus) it certainly doesn’t mean we are engaging in a sexual act with God, like some ancient and modern cults say. It means that as we increase in our love, trust, and intimacy with the Almighty, as we willingly put ourselves “in His arms,” that our lives will have a fruitfulness that can only come when we fully yield to the Spirit of God. Conversely, when we run to our idols, we are “getting into bed with another lover,” breaking His heart, and grieving Him, pushing Him away. Just as infidelity can grievously wound a marriage, so sin grievously wounds our relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is a Person who can be wounded, who can be grieved. This “adultery” will hurt our relationship. It will rob us of the joy we feel when we sense His pleasure in us.
THE METAPHOR CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND JOHN’S EUPHORIA
As we are turning to John’s first letter and trying to understand his euphoria when he speaks about fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ, I turn again to the best metaphor of all: the intimacy of marriage. It illuminated intimacy. Most of the time intimacy with God feels like the quiet sweet companion moments in a marriage —
AS WHEN ELIZABETH DESCRIBED A QUIET GAME OF SCRABBLE WITH HER HUSBAND
OR REBECCA’S GRATEFULNESS WHEN SHE WAS SICK
AND HER HUSBAND CAME HOME AND TOOK OVER
IT’S THE GENTLE SENSE OF
MOST OF THE TIME INTIMACY WITH GOD IS LIKE THAT
A QUIET STREAM THAT FLOWS QUIETLY
UNDERNEATH YOUR SOUL
GIVING YOU LIFE
Many miss the quiet moments, the companionship, for they fail to see. Elizabeth gave this link last week to Ann Voskamp describing how to live fully, embracing the quiet moments — something we are endeavoring to do. Please watch if you have not!
We are trying not to miss these intimate tender moments, by thanking Him when they come. They happen in the wonder of life and of the Word. Just this morning as I was reading in Jeremiah 31: “He has loved you with an everlasting love,” my heart burned. Really? Even though I AM SO DIFFICULT? You love me! You do not give up on me. This is the gentle stream, flowing, flowing, flowing.
YET THERE ARE ALSO TIMES
WHEN THERE IS PASSION
IT OFTEN HAPPENS WHEN YOU FIRST ENCOUNTER GOD
AS WHEN YOU FIRST MET THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE
THE EUPHORIA IS RARER
AND YOU CAN’T PLAN IT
SOMETIMES HE SIMPLY COMES TO YOU
AND ASTONISHES YOU
IT MAY ONLY BE ONCE OR TWICE
IN A LIFETIME
OVERWHELMING YOU LIKE
A CRASHING WAVE
When i read the accounts from D. L. Moody, Jonathan Edwards, Daniel Steele (Keller tells of this in this week’s sermon) or Blaise Pascal — I admit I feel a little jealousy. I want that too. Yet it also creates in me a hunger, a good hunger, for more more more of the presence of God. Here is what is written about the defining moment in Pascal’s life.
This experience occurred on November 23, 1654 when he was reading the 17th chapter of the gospel of John. …Pascal recorded this experience in his own hand in a document known as The Memorial, which was sewn into the lining of his coast and found by a servant after his death. Evidently, Pascal had so treasured the experience that he had kept his reminder preserved in the lining of his coat and always transferred it whenever he replaced his coat by again sewing the document into the lining.
…On Monday, 23rd of November…from about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve…
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus Christ. …
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything except God…
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have separated myself from Him….
(Blaise Pascal, quoted in Dean L. Overman’s, A Case For The Existence of God, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2009, p.119-120)
Most of us have not had this — but it is possible. I have come close a few times — moments almost too sacred to speak of — so I know it is possible. When it happens, intimacy is no longer a quiet stream, but an overwhelming wave. And then, you hunger for more! You are in prayer and in the Word because of that hunger — not out of a sense of duty.
John the Apostle experienced this intimacy — when he opens his letter, it feels more like a wave — and he certainly was overwhelmed when he received his revelation to write the final book in our canon.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Is the metaphor of marital intimacy helpful to you in understanding intimacy with our ultimate Bridegroom? If so, how does it help you?
PART I. BIBLE STUDY
3. Find a metaphor for marriage in the prophets, the poets, the parables, or the letters of Paul that speaks to you and explain why. (If this is new to you, go to www.biblegateway.com and try searching for a word like: lovers, Bridegroom, or wedding.) Or, look at The Song of Songs with new eyes. I’m eager to see what you find!
Intimacy. The synonym John opens his letter with that captures this is “fellowship,” or in the Greek, “koinonia,” when we have this sense of sharing something “in common.” The joy you and I feel when we see the same thing because the same Spirit indwells us both. When God touches us and gives us His eyes, we have that joy again. He makes us to understand, and we share this in common. Often it is like a quiet stream. We see the stars, and lift our eyes to Him, rejoicing, as He does, in what He made. His Word cuts us, and we agree with Him this is where we have failed, and ask Him to remove the stone. Or His Word kindles a quiet fire in us, reassuring us of His love, and again, in humble gratitude, we give thanks. This is intimacy. This is fellowship. This is koinonia. This makes our joy full.
Review 1 John 1:1-4
A. Find a few phrases that capture John’s euphoric excitement.
B. Look at the way John uses the word koinania, probably translated “fellowship.” Where does the fellowship begin, and how does the circle complete?
I want to give you an example of the “circle” of koinania from last week.
Susan was looking at the photo of the dead flower and the live flower. I had used the analogy of Rachel being on the left and Leah on the right, but Susan thought about the verse of how a seed must die in and fall to the ground in order to live. That verse, I know, came to her from the Holy Spirit. Susan was experiencing “koinanIa” with God. Beautifully she then wrote on the blog this:
I began to see and imagine the flowers as Leah being the one that looks brown and dead, and Rachel the beautiful, showy flower.
Rachel was beautiful; so beautiful, in fact, that Scripture mentions her beauty. Yet Rachel made her life all about those surface things; her beauty, her power to attract, her idols of her husband and children. She never died to self but clung to her idols. So she was lovely outwardly, but was there an inner beauty? Did she ever develop character qualities that would last? She was the showy beautiful flower, but we know the flower will eventually lose its petals, or wilt, and the bloom will die.
Leah, at first, is caught up with winning her husband’s love and admiration; her children are at first a means to get that desired attention. But we see Leah mature, and she dies to self and gives God the praise and glory and honor, instead of seeking those things for herself. So I look at the dead bloom and I know inside of it are many seeds; it looks dead but inside it holds life. Leah died to her self, and gave up her idols and became beautiful in a way that her sister never could. That plain, brown, dead-looking bloom holds the life of future blooms inside of it – and from Leah, came Judah, and from Judah, the Messiah. The Messiah, Jesus, who would tell us that “if the kernel dies, it produces many seeds”.
When Susan wrote that, Chris S immediately said, “I saw this the same sideways way!” They connected over this truth. Then others of you began to see it the same way. So their fellowship was not only with God the Father and His Son Jesus, but with each other. And their fresh way of looking at it flowed into me — and i’m sure — into some of you. Then I praised the Lord and it went back to Him. This is the circle of fellowship that John describes in verses 3 and 4. This is koinania, this is intimacy, this is joy!
C. Can you give an example of the circle of koinania that happened for you from the blog?
WHAT BLOCKS INTIMACY?
JOHN’S LETTER GIVES US THREE OBSTACLES TO INTIMACY
4. As an overview, see if you can name, using one word or a simple phrase, what each is:
A. 1 JOHN 1:6
B. 1 JOHN 2:11
C. 1 JOHN 4:1
WALKING IN DARKNESS — A WORD PICTURE FOR SIN
5. Read 1 John 1:5-6
A. What do you learn about God in verse 5. Meditate on this picture and write down everything it teaches you about our LORD. (There are so many characteristics of light — use this verse to worship Him.)
B. What happens to our fellowship with Him when we walk in the darkness? Why?
It is important to see the difference between relationship and fellowship. Compare this to a marriage. You can be married, yet not in fellowship. Sin is blocking fellowship. But you still have the marriage relationship. You do not lose your relationship with God when you sin, but you do lose intimacy.
HOW THIS RELATES TO OUR STONES
We have learned that idols cannot be removed, only replaced by intimacy with God. I am going to give you an example of two ways to talk to your soul when tempted — one effective, one not effective. I’ll give you the example of when I felt jealousy for Ann’s writing. It’s funny now — I started reading and thought, “Wow.” Then I thought, I hope she’s old. I turned to the back cover and saw she was young. Here is the ineffective approach I might have used in the past before God helped me to see my tendency toward idolatry/adultery.
You are being jealous. That’s wrong. Stop it, Dee.
6. For those of you who have been with us in The Stonecutter journey, explain why the above approach is usually ineffective and can even make it worse.
Now my thought process is different. It is more like this, using what we learned from Psalm 42, where the psalmist takes his soul in hand and talks to her.
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Because Ann Voskamp’s a wonderful first time writer and her book is soaring way past what my latest book is doing and I would like that kind of approval, security, and power.
Put your hope in God.
You O Lord are my approval, security, power. Forgive me. Help me. Change my heart, O God. I do not want my darkness to drive You away, to wound You. I need You to come to me, cover me, and fill my soul with Your love.
Have I had to have this conversation more than once? Yes. But He has been faithful and just to forgive me, lift me up, and come rushing back to me. He is not only removing my stone of jealousy (with the underlying stones of approval, security and power) but replacing them with Himself — with His glorious light.
And it is like a marriage — when the repentance is genuine, the intimacy is sweet. I sense His pleasure.
7. Now I want you to do the same thing. Take an area of temptation and show how the ineffective way to talk to your soul and the effective way so that you get out of the darkness and into the light, so that intimacy with the Lord can return.
8. Read 1 John 1:7-10
A. What is the first promise you can find in verse 7?
B. What is the second promise of verse 7?
Even when we feel we are walking in the light, because of our depravity, there is some darkness — yet His blood covers that too.
C. How does verse 8 confirm that there is always, on this earth, some darkness within?
D. What promise is in verse 9?
E. The reason He forgives us is that He is “faithful and just.” It isn’t that Jesus is telling the Father, “Dee did it again — but she’s really tired.” No, that is not the way He advocates for me. What can He say?
F. What does verse 10 say?
We must come to terms with the depravity in our soul, or we will continually deceive ourselves about our sin and not keep short accounts, and we will not experience the intimacy that this marriage to our ultimate Bridegroom can give.
9. Are you seeing this first chapter of 1 John in a fresh way? If so, articulate it here.
PART II. THE SERMON
HERE IS A SERMON THAT IS 2.50 FROM KELLER, MY TOP CHOICE: Link
10. IF YOU CAN LISTEN TO THIS ONE, ANSWER THESE:
A. What stood out to you and why?
B. Keller uses the story of Sally Field as an illustration — what was it and how does it speak to you?
C. Keller quotes John Owen who says there are three stages in intimacy with God. What are they?
D. Keller quotes William Cowper’s Sometimes a Light Surprises. There are several different musical styles of this on U-Tube. Find one you like and share it.
SOMETIMES A LIGHT SURPRISES
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.
D. What do you learn from Cowper about finding intimacy with God?
HERE IS A FREE AND WONDERFUL SERMON WITH SOME OF THE SAME CONCEPTS: Link
11. What were the main points in this message by Keller?
12. What particularly impacted you and why?
PART III. TAMMY’S TESTIMONY
For those of you who are new, my functional idol was marriage and in 2008 my fourteen year marriage was annulled after I learned my now ex-husband was still legally married to another woman. Many in my local sphere of influence still can’t believe I have totally forgiven the man who betrayed me but I have chosen to do good to the one who hurt me and would rather walk alone on the road of forgiveness than be with the masses on bitterness avenue.
God used the Stonecutter study to teach me that the oppression, calamity, and sorrow I have experienced the majority of my adult life came as a result of my being an idol worshipper. After being hurled into an abyss of catastrophic pain, I faced a spiritual life or death choice: continue sacrificing my sanity on the altar of my functional idol or present myself as a living sacrifice on the altar of the One True Living God. I am most grateful I chose the latter. And, although I did not realize it at the time, God was with me in the abyss covering me with His undeserved grace, mercy, and truth. God reconciled and restored me unto Himself and assured me He has totally cleansed and forgiven me of my spiritual adultery. As an idol worshipper I thought I knew what living in freedom was but I did not. What I thought was freedom was in reality bondage. Today, instead of residing in a cell in the prison called bitterness, I walk the road of TRUE FREEDOM.
14. What stood out to you from Tammy’s testimony and why?
15. Why might it have been ineffective for Tammy to tell herself, “You should forgive, Tammy — you are a Christian.” How was her approach different and more effective?
16. How can you affirm Tammy?
PART IV. REFLECTING
17. Name a way you have allowed God “to fill up your senses” these past two weeks, where one of His many gifts helps you turn to Him in gratitude.
18. Was there a moment when His word lit a quiet or a bonfire within you? If so, share.
19. What is your take-a-way for these two weeks and why?
IN THE KELLER PAID MESSAGE HE REFERRED TO THE SONG “SOMETIMES A LIGHT SURPRISES” — A GREAT SONG FOR SURPRISING MOMENTS OF INTIMACY WITH GOD. I TALK ABOUT IT ON THIS MIDDAY PROGRAM: Link
THIS IS A FAMOUS THOUGH CHALLENGING ESSAY BY JONATHAN EDWARDS ON SUPERNATURAL LIGHT. IN IT IS THE FAMOUS QUOTE “THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAVING A KNOWLEDGE THAT HONEY IS SWEET AND ACTUALLY TASTING IT.” Link