LAST WEEK I WAS WITH CHRIST’S BEAUTIFUL BRIDE
BEHIND PRISON WALLS.
THE CORDS OF DEATH ENCOMPASSED EACH ONE,
BUT GOD CAME RUNNING!
HE RESCUED THEM FROM THEIR STRONG ENEMY
AND THEY ARE SO GRATEFUL.
EVEN IF THEY NEVER GET OUT OF PRISON
THEY HAVE JOY.
SUCH A CONTRAST TO MANY OUTSIDE THE PRISON
WHO MAY THINK THEY KNOW HIM,
BUT THEY HAVE RELIGION RATHER THAN RELATIONSHIP
AND ONE DAY JESUS WILL SAY,
I NEVER KNEW YOU.
THE SONG OF SONGS IS A WARNING:
GOD WANTS RELATIONSHIP, NOT RELIGION.
ONLY CHRISTIANITY HAS A RELATIONAL GOD.
OTHER RELIGIONS HAVE A MONOLITHIC GOD OR WARRING GODS.
CHRISTIANITY HAS WHAT THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS CALLED
- THE FATHER, SON, AND SPIRIT IN A JOYFUL DANCE.
- AND AMAZINGLY, HE HAS INVITED US INTO THE DANCE.Thank you so much for praying for me as I went into the Texas prisons last week. On most days I was in the Faith Dorms, an idea inspired by Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be executed in Texas in one hundred years. When she was interviewed by Larry King, he didn’t see how God could be the source of her joy.
With eyes shining, she said, “When you have done something like I have done and you are completely forgiven, there is a joy that has no lid.” She gave my friend Linda Strom the dream of discipling women in “faith dorms” right inside the prison and Discipleship Unlimited was born. Women who profess faith are accepted into these dorms 18 months and then return to the general prisons as missionaries. Not everyone accepted into the faith dorms are true believers, for sometimes it is hard to discern who are really His, especially if they know the “right words.” And yet God is sovereign, for even those who get in who are just “religious” and don’t really know Him, almost always come to really know Him. The living faith of the others is contagious. It is contagious to me — I so often feel lukewarm in comparison to them. I wonder, Could I lose everything as they have and have this kind of joy? (So many of them, I am convinced, will be in the front of the line in heaven, but I will be grateful to be a doorkeeper!)
Last week for the first time I went into the high security prisons — outside of the faith dorms where many do not know Christ. First we went cell to cell in “Cell Block One” where they are only allowed out of their cell one out of every twenty-four hours. About half of the women wanted nothing to do with us. I was contemplating why as some turned their backs to us, for I would think they would be so thankful for human contact. Why, Lord? Then He brought to my remembrance how our daughter Beth was when we tried to reach out to her after adopting her. She’d had twelve years of abuse in Thailand and had built a wall so as not to be hurt again. It took lots of time and lots of love for that wall to come down at all.
After that we were in an open room where “Cell Block Two,” a group considered a bit lower risk, were allowed to get out of their cells for two hours to come to “church” in a nearby windowless cement room. Yet when they filed in, many were expressionless, silent — like stones. How could we reach them? Then, as only God can do, He led me to depart from my script. I began by telling them the story about my daughter Beth. How as a newborn her arm had been cut off by those who were supposed to take care of her. How she had been cast in a field to die. How she was found crying and rushed to the hospital. How in the orphanage she had been abused in every way. She had what experts call “attachment disorder.” She didn’t trust anyone, didn’t want to attach to anyone, even those who loved her. When we tried to hug her, she jumped. She pulled her covers over her head when we went in to tuck her in.
I had their attention. I saw a few tears. Thank you, Lord, I breathed.
I told them that is what Satan wanted for them. To make them believe God wasn’t good, couldn’t love them — so that they would not attach to God. I told them He was waiting for them with open arms. He wanted to “kiss them,” to be their “good, good Father,” to be their “true Husband.” He wanted to heal them, to love them, to make them His own. Before my very eyes I saw the Spirit of the Living God melt them. Many of them have been so hurt, not only by childhood abuse, but by religion. Some “ministers” who come into the prisons shake their fingers at them, condemning them with religion. Religion kills but relationship brings life. That life giving gospel is what Discipleship Unlimited, the ministry I am so privileged to be a part of, brings to these women. And the women in their faith dorms are brimming with life.
To prepare your heart, watch this interview of Karla, the one whose dream we are seeing lived out, speaking about how forgiving others causes you to soar:
This is our last week on the introduction to the Song (and I know it has been a long introduction!). Next week , with the beginning of Lent, we dive into The Song chapter by chapter during Lent. I suspect we will have newcomers who will need mentors — and I’m counting on you to be there for them. You have been so wonderful that way! I cannot thank you enough. I also thank you for your input. I’ve changed so very much in these opening chapters because of you.
1. What stood out to you and why?
2. How would you characterize the difference between relationship and religion?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study:
After my time in prison, I spent a day with my sister Sally and her husband John, for they live in Austin. John was a Lutheran minister and a professor at a Christian college when he was introduced to “Alpha,” an evangelistic Christian ministry. Alpha began in England and spread like a wildfire throughout the world, quickening souls in sleeping churches. John was highly critical of Alpha, and thought, This curriculum could be so much better. So John rewrote Alpha and sent it to the leadership of Alpha in England. Then he called them. A godly leader came to the phone and listened patiently to John. When John paused, he said:
“Frankly, sir, we have looked at your materials and you don’t get it.”
“Go back and watch the Alpha videos again. This time, don’t watch them for others, or with an eye to change them – just watch them for your own heart. Ask the Lord to help you see.”
John was shocked, but thankfully, humbled. Had he really missed something? He began watching the videos again. As he was listening to Nicky Gumbel winsomely share story after story about the reality of God moving in his life, John thought: This guy really believes this stuff. When he got to about the sixth video, he said, “everything that was in my head dropped to my heart.” He wept to experience the love of God and he wept for the years that he had shepherded others without really knowing God’s love. John went on to resign from his teaching position in order to be trained in England for six months by Alpha to take it to North American campuses.
There are so many like John. During The Great Awakening when a high percentage of the population was supposedly turning to Christ, Jonathan Edwards, the American puritan of keen intellect, was concerned. Edwards said, “No matter how much people may know about God and the Bible, it is no sure sign of salvation.” Unless we have tasted the goodness of the Lord, it may only be a creed in our heads. Edwards felt the Song was key in helping people see what Christianity truly was: relationship, not religion. In the Song, Edwards wrote, the “bride is incessantly infatuated with Him.” Edwards said “There is a great difference between knowing honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness.” How do we reach those who think they know, but do not? Jesus often used the power of a story to quicken hearts. And that, I am convinced, is why we have the Song. To learn that Christianity is not rules but relationship — the most intimate relationship.
3. Comment on the above. (Could I make it clearer — better?)
4. How have you experienced the love of God in the last week?
5. Read Matthew 7:21-23.
A. How might have those who were in relationship and those who were religious looked the same from the outside?
B. How were they different?
C. Challenge Question: The word translated “knew” is the same word that God uses to express sexual intimacy between husband and wife. What does this tell you?
6. As an overview, and to prepare you to be mentors for Lent, we will read the whole Song this week and have you summarize the three love stages.
A. First Love — that wonderful euphoric time when you first fall in love. James Hamilton, whom you will hear this week says the Shulammite often imagines the time when love will be consummated, but it hasn’t happened. One evidence is that the Daughters of Jerusalem are present. Read about the first love time in Song of Songs 1-4. (There are moments of cooling even within this time, but basically she is in the first love time.) Summarize what you see.
B. Wilderness Love — that time when you withdraw from your bridegroom, not trusting him or longing for him as you did at first. Pain follows. Song of Songs 5:1-8.
C. Invincible Love — that time when even though there is pain, you trust the heart of your bridegroom and see fruitfulness in your life and in the lives you have touched. Song of Songs 5:9 to the end.
Thursday-Friday: Listen and Comment on this Sermon (2ND WEEK FOR THIS)
James Hamilton Song of Songs 2
8. What is your take-a-way and why?
I would like to join the Lenten Bible Study. Kindly add me to your email list for this. Thank you!
Welcome Kelli! You can just hop on now.
Looking forward to participating in this Bible study during Lent. 🙂
Welcome JeanM! So glad to have you.
Melinda Roepke from Ashland, OH
Looking forward to the Lenten Devotional
Welcome Cindy Ann-Marie!
I am sad that more of us didn’t respond with comments on the audio by James Hamilton. Last week I wasn’t able to get to it at all. This week I got through about 36 minutes of it. I was already at 13 pages of handwritten notes! There was a lot. I still want to finish listening! Then I would need to boil it down before I posted. I may post it at the beginning of next week. I hope that wouldn’t be too much of a no-no!
That would be a yes-yes!
Beth Hanna Wooster, OH
Welcome Beth Hanna!
I would like to participate in the Lent Study.
Paula P. Martin
Just finished listening to the sermon, and it was very good. Dee, you asked for our input on these sermons. While they are good, I have to say, I like Mike Reeves’ sermons on The Songs better…he seems to draw out more of the imagery of Christ in The Songs, more of the mystery, than Hamilton.
I loved reading the first few chapters of The Song with the idea of seeing the “first love” in mind. It is so evident that they are enthralled with each other; much emphasis on physical appearance and admiration of each other, yet there are deeper qualities seen, too, as Hamilton brought out in his sermon. For example, the protectiveness of the king as he is compared to an apple tree providing shelter and shade. Loved the references to the Garden, too.
Dee, this past week while spending time with my mom at the rehab center, I shared many of your stories about your visit to the prisons, and how you used your own Beth’s story to melt the hearts of the women there. This is a take-away for me, as stories are so powerful – Jesus told lots of stories. Even as a believer, I can so easily build walls to protect my heart when my view of God becomes distorted and I believe the lie that He is not for me, does not love me.
James Hamilton sermon: I really do love how he brought out the human relationship first-for God designed marriage to illumine our relationship with Him, and how beautiful it is when it truly reflects Him and us- I like the beauty of the intimacy Hamilton brought out-but it is all Him bending toward her and her responding. At first she felt dark -was almost ashamed…then later she says she is the rose of sharon, a lilly of the valley-a HUMBLE CONFIDENCE is there now but He wooed her and drew her into that humble confidence. SHe would recount what he said to her-how beautiful she is-her eyes like doves-then she believed it and trusted Him…and then when she recounts it-he comes back and adds more!! I LOVE THAT.
This is changing my marriage too-kind of weird how that is happening. ;~)
He woos her, provides for her and protects her. The flower in the garden responds and makes the garden fragrant.
I love how Hamilton harkens back to the garden of eden when they were walking in the cool of the day with God before the Fall. HE had me with that-and with this last word:
The SOng of SOngs is about how the love is depicted between Yahwh and Israel and then Christ and the church. God in Christ has come to us and overcome the barrieers-reconciling all things to himself then woos us with these winning words…There is no better protector and provider than Jesus.
What we long for as the shulamite maiden longed for in the consummation of marriage: Jesus will take those who belong to him to the marriage supper of the Lamb. He describes his coming in those terms. We can trust when the time is right God’s purposes will come to pass..It is better then than if things had happened earlier than God planned.
Rebecca, I liked this also from the Hamilton sermon. I didn’t take notes but this central message is one I do remember. “He woos her, provides for her and protects her.
The flower in the garden responds and makes the garden fragrant.”
It does make me look at my marriage differently. The poetry is delightful, yet often mysterious to me.
I am glad to be doing this study.
I didn’t quite make it in time, but I am now posting here my notes on James Hamilton’s message on the Song of Songs. I boiled down 17 pages of hand-written notes into a little more than two pages typewritten. The message was 48 minutes long!!
Where are we to look to find the inspiration and the transforming power of God, so that our hearts and desires are re-oriented and re-calibrated so we expect and want what we should want rather than the distortions that the world offers to us?
He addressed both the men and the ladies, asking if they want their spouses to be different than they are somehow. He thought the ladies wouldn’t have any trouble imagining how the guys would like them to be different. Then he says, “Guys, if that’s the case, anad if it involves them being a way they don’t want to be, I think that is your fault and you need to repent.” He asks “Do you think of her? Is she convinced that you care about her – that you care what she wants?”
Chapter 2 of Song of Songs shows us a woman’s response to a man who protects her, provides for her and woos her. The Song of Songs is one united poem, which means we should expect multiple layers of meaning. This is a song and it is in the Bible, which means that it is summarizing the Bible’s big story, and it is contributing to and it’s interpreting the Bible’s big story.
In SOS 1:16, the woman says “our couch is green. There is this idea of lush growth like a well-watered garden. In 1:17, the man responds “the beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine. Its almost as though they are in the Garden of Eden. What we see is a renewal of the intimacy that was lost when Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from the presence of God.
In Chapter 2, vss 1-3, she likens herself to a flower (rose of Sharon and lily of the valley) and likens him to a fruit tree. Those are not necessarily the most beautiful flowers out there in Israel. It is humble confidence she is communicating here. We saw in Chapter 1 that she was nervous about her appearance, so her humble confidence is based upon the way the King commended her.
In Chapter 2, the King takes it a little further by saying “as a lily among the brambles, so is my love among the young women.” She is uniquely atrractive to him. Hamilton references the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, that both Jane Eyre and Edward Fairfax Rochester are actually ugly, but each had the opportunity to marry someone attractive. In each case, they were not attracted to those persons. Eventually it unfolds that these unattractive people come to view one another as attractive. It is as if Charlotte Bronte is saying “Don’t you see to choose physical beauty ,over this relationship that these two people have would be a cheap and tawdry move that would demean them both and not give happiness to either.
Hamilton says to the men in his audience. “If you do not look at your wife and see what the King says to the bride in SOS chapter 2 vs 2, you need to repent. You need to stop looking at your wife the way the world looks and start looking the way the Lord looks…Talk to her as if she is a lily among the brambles. Don’t you dare tell other people that you wish she looked or acted some other way.” This is a poetic, metaphorical depiction: she is not a flower and he is not a fruit tree. But these depictions capture Biblical gender roles. The man is to have strong, deep roots and leafy branches. So when the winds blow, the tree doesn’t fall over, and when the sun beats down, there is shade. The woman adds fragrance and augments the garden.
Hamilton thinks we are moving toward the marriage in Chapters 1-4. At the end of chapter 4 into chapter 5 is when the consummation takes place, and then they are married and enjoy all the physical aspects of marital union throughout the rest of the book. He makes it clear that the consummation does not come in chapter 2, as some might suggest, but is in 4:16 and 5:1. He says a book that was inspired by the Holy Spirit, a book that is in the canon of Scripture is not going to suggest premarital acts of physical involvement.
One well-known pastor’s transcript suggested that 2:3 could be used to constrain wives to do something they might not otherwise want to do. Using this verse for that purpose is the OPPOSITE of what this verse depicts. This is meant to be a Christ-like intimacy, like the intimacy Jesus makes possible between himself and his people because he is so trustworthy and such a good provider.
In verse 2:4, we are moving out of the agricultural imagery. She is brought to the banqueting house – a huge hall where the wedding celebration would be held. She states “his banner over me is love.” In other words, she is describing the way the king has demonstrated his love for her for everybody to see it. He has been such a gentleman.
In verse 5, she is responding to his treatment. She says “sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples.” She is saying “I want this thing that is recognized as an aphrodisiac to stir up my love and longing for this man who is rightfully mine.
In verse 7, she issues a warning to others, she charges the daughters of Jerusalem to preserve their purity for the day when they will be married. In verse 8 she refers to a gazelle. She may be saying, you need to be able to flee temptation quickly so you can preserve this doe-like purity that you possess. She is saying not to stir up emotions and feelings before it is time for the marital union. She wants what is best for them. She wants them to enjoy marriage to the fullest. Prior to marriage, love does not give pleasure – it might, but it is also going to come with shame, fear, guilt, and regret. We want people to enjoy the comprehensive, interpersonal union of soul and body in the exclusive, permanent, monogamous covenant of marriage.
In verses 8 &9, she describes her beloved peeking through the lattice outside the window. In chapter 1 there was her self-consciousness of her appearance and standing in the community that stood between them. Ad as it was the words of the King that removed the barrier of her self-consciousness, so again it is the words of the king that will overcome this physical barrier to intimacy between himself and his beloved.
In verses 10-13 is a description of a new life in a well-watered land. A description of flowers, birds, fruit trees, and vines – all fragrant with God’s glory. He is evoking the universal freshness of spring, the season of love.
In verses 16 & 17, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” “He grazes among the lilies.” Just as she has been protected by the fruit tree and provided for by its fruit, so now he is delighted and provided for by her. “Turn my beloved and be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains.” She is articulating a desire for the moment when the marriage will be consummated, for the love to be stirred up and awakened. Hamilton tells the men, “If you want your wife to talk to you this way, she wants you to treat her the way the King has treated the bride. She wants you to protect her, provide for her, to show her public courtesy, and to woo her. She wants you to be someone she can trust with whom she can feel save. May the Lord do it in our marriages!
Hamilton briefly addressed how SOS Chapter 2 might depict the love between Yahweh and Israel, and then is fulfilled between Christ and the church: The King’s behavior is like an enacted parable of the way that God in Christ has loved his people. He has removed the barriers.He has done what is necessary to remove divisions between himself and his people, reconciling all things to himself. We can say there is no better protector or provider than Jesus.
Jesus will take those who belong to him to the banqueting house for the great marriage supper with the Lamb. His marriage supper. He describes his coming in those words. We can say that when the time is right, God’s purposes will come to pass. It will be better for them to come to pass then than if things had happened earlier than God had planned. In verses 8-17, where the groom woos the bride, think of the words of life that the King speaks for us to come to him and eat living food and drink living water. We are His and He is ours.
Thank you, Deanna, for this beautiful review of Hamilton’s sermon. I always appreciate your notes and bringing it all into focus.
The conclusion: “The King’s behavior is like an enacted parable…”And the paragraphs to follow are excellent.
I am also a bit behind the flow… but thanks!