Last week in Sunday School, we began a new study on marriage.  This is a topic about which I am passionate, and I am thrilled to get to co-teach with Landon.  Several years ago, I discovered a fabulous ministry that has really guided, convicted, and molded me as a wife and a parent.  The Focus on the Family daily broadcast has been a constant source of encouragement for me and their passion for the family has rubbed off on me as well.

I haven't been blogging consistently for a while now, but I thought I might try and at least attempt what we are learning in Sunday School.  We'll see if I can keep it up.  :)

Covenant is a word that is fairly familiar to most, but I didn't understand the depth of this woven theme throughout the Bible until I did a study on just the topic.  It was my first Precept Bible Study and even though I did my homework every single time, I felt like I was in a Greek class, completely unprepared.  I felt exposed, foolish, and extremely insecure about my biblical knowledge while in this study, even though I was raised in church since my earliest memory.  This lack of knowledge and understanding sent me on a journey, and for that I am thankful.  My feelings of ignorance in that class were not in vain.  I began to have a hunger and desire to not ever feel that way again.  So I sought out help from a now dear friend, who was also in that class.  She could answer every question in depth with answers that left me staring at her in wonder.  She was placed in that very class by God for me.  I'm sure of it.

Covenant....a beautiful word.  Without it, we would be hopeless.  In Hebrew, the word for covenant is beriyth, which means "a pact, usually made by passing through pieces of flesh."  Another word used for covenant is karath, which means "to cut, usually a contract; usually made by passing through pieces of flesh."  The Greek word is diatheke, which means "a contract, testament."

This word is used in both the Old and New Testaments and it is holds many promises which provide hope....eternal hope.  It's a beautiful word woven from the beginning of time until the end.  No man could make this up and weave this concept all throughout time.  It is evidence to me that the Word is truth--all of it--in this concept alone.

A covenant as defined above, is a binding agreement between two parties.  God initiates several covenants throughout Scripture.  One familiar covenant is in Genesis 15 between God and Abram.  God instructs Abram to go and get a three year old heifer, a three year old goad, and an three year old ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon.  He is told to cut the three larger animals into two pieces but not the birds.  He was to lay the pieces of the three animals opposite each other.  Once he obeyed, God put him into a deep sleep.  God Himself passed through the two pieces that were cut in two in the form of a smoking oven and a flaming torch.  He made promises that are still kept and in tact to this very day.

In covenant, there are many elements included.  Not every single element is used in every covenant seen in Scripture.  This is a list of all covenants and elements made initiated by God which were always motivated by love.
There were a few covenants made between men as well.  However, these were not motivated by love, but instead by fear and self-preservation.  Abimilech knew that God was with Israel.  He also understood that covenant was solemn and binding.  He knew if he could get Isaac to make a covenant with him then it could not be revoked.  He made two different covenants as well as Laban with Jacob.  Once again, these were initiated for selfish reasons, unlike the ones that God initiated.

Covenant is a solemn and binding agreement or promise made between two people.  An animal is cut into two pieces and the two parties both walk between the pieces and what they are saying to each other is, "If I break my end of the covenant, you can do to me what we did to this animal."  Very serious.  Solemn.  Binding.  Promise unto death.

There is one covenant made between two people that was initiated by love between David and Jonathan.

"Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt." 1 Samuel 18:3-4

They exchanged robes which meant that they were taking on each other's identity.  They also exchanged weapons which represented that they would be each other's protector.  You may be asking to yourself, "What does this have to do with marriage??"  Marriage is also a covenant, a solemn and binding agreement.  It is God's idea.  He created it from the beginning and it lines right up with all other covenants.  Actually, all the elements are included in marriage!  

Initiator:  Marriage is God's idea!  He initiates it, even when we feel like we choose the person to enter into covenant.  It is His plan, His design.

Promises:  Vows.  Here is a typical set of wedding vows.  "I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part."

Descendants:  We can pass on a blessing or a curse to our children.

Length:  A marriage is binding on each party as long as the two live, "'til death do us part."  1 Corinthians 7:39 says, "a woman is bound to her husband as long as she lives."

Blood: Although we don't take an animal to the altar of our ceremony and walk between the two pieces of flesh, in marriage ceremonies today, the bride walks down the aisle between the two families.  This is a picture of the passing between two pieces of flesh.

Meal:  The bride and groom feed each other cake and a drink.  This is a ceremony we probably didn't realize the significance until studying elements of covenant...I know I didn't!

Name Change:  The woman's name is changed to the man's.

So, you can see the seriousness of this commitment we make to our spouse on the day we say, "I do." It isn't to be taken lightly.  In a culture today, the covenant of marriage is broken quickly for a variety of reasons.  If we truly understood biblical covenant, we would recognize why this causes God to be brokenhearted over our lack of holding on to our end of our vow.  Even if we don't even understand fully biblical covenant, we aren't exempt.  I entered into a covenant marriage in 1999 but didn't learn about covenant until 2008, but I'm not exempt because I didn't know.  I would encourage every young person to do a study on covenant before they enter into a covenant relationship.  I think it would create a different type of commitment level if we understood what we were doing on the day of our wedding.  It's a beautiful picture of God's design.  We can't alter it or make it into what we would like it to be since we aren't the creator of it.


Don't Lose Heart

Right now, I am studying the book of Colossians.  Every single book in the Bible is applicable, including this one.  In chapter three, Paul gives instructions in how to handle various relationships. He speaks to wives, husbands, children, parents, servants, and masters.  There is one verse that I haven't really understood fully and it pertains to parenting...

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart."  Colossians 3:21

We have been given a tremendous responsibility to train and raise three boys.  God entrusted each of these precious individuals to us, and we only get one chance at the job.  I don't want to mess it up and look back years down the road filled with regrets.  As a mom, I constantly second guess myself and wonder whether or not I am doing the right things.

I am reading a commentary by John MacArthur as a companion to my study and there were some helpful insights to me in explaining what this verse means.  MacArthur lists several ways that parents can cause their children to lose heart.  I mean, what parent wants to do that??  As I was reading this list, I was going along and feeling good about myself, and the further I got the more I realized that this verse indeed applies to me!  There are no perfect parents, myself included!  No child can ever look back on their childhood and say they had perfect parents at all times, but I do desire for my boys to have parents who intentionally pour into their hearts things that are eternal.  I don't want them to have a long list of things they will never do when they have children of their own because we scarred them.  I don't want them to have to spend years trying overcome their childhoods.

Parenting is hard work and a juggling act.  It is extremely difficult to have perfect balance in all areas where God is first, your husband is second, then your children, then all other responsibilities.  This can easily get rearranged unintentionally.  When it does, everything is off kilter.  Also, to be perfect in all of these areas is nearly impossible, but what a great goal!

How to Make Your Children Lose Heart by John MacArthur from "The New Testament Commentary: Colossians & Philemon" 

1.  Overprotection- Overprotective parents never allow their children any liberty.  They have strict rules about everything.  No matter what their children do, overprotective parents do not trust them.  Because nothing they do earns their parents' trust, children begin to despair and may believe that how they behave is irrelevant.  That can lead to rebellion.  Parents are to provide rules and guidelines for their children, but those rules should not become a noose that strangles them.  Parents must communicate to their children that they trust them.

2.  Showing Favoritism- This is often done unwittingly by comparing a child unfavorable to siblings or classmates.  By making a child feel like the black sheep of the family, parents can create a terrible sense of frustration.

3.  Depreciating their Worth-Many children have been convinced that what they do and feel are not important.  That is communicating to children that they are not significant.  Many parents depreciate their children's worth by refusing to listen to them.  Children who are not listened to may give up trying to communicate and become discouraged, shy, and withdrawn.

There was a quote by Catherine M. Wallace that I saw on Pinterest that really convicted me in this area.  "Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what.  If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff."  

4.  Setting Unrealistic Goals-Parents can do that by never rewarding them, or never letting them feel they have succeeded.  Nothing is enough, so the children never get full approval.  Such parents are often trying to make their children into something they themselves were not.  The results can be tragic.

5.  Failing to Show Affection-Parents need to communicate love to their children both verbally and physically.  Failing to do so will discourage and alienate a child.

6.  Not Providing for their Needs-By providing necessities, parents show their respect and concern for their children.

This one seems obvious because it is our responsibility as parents for providing basic needs, but there are many children all around us who go without.

7.  Lack of Standards-This is the flip side of overprotection.  When parents fail to discipline, or discipline inconsistently, children are left on their own.  They cannot handle that kind of freedom and begin to feel insecure and unloved.

8.  Criticism-Haim Ginott wrote, "A child learns what he lives.  If he lives with criticism he does not learn responsibility. He learns to condemn himself and to find fault with others.  He learns to doubt his own judgment, to disparage his own ability, and to distrust the intentions of others.  And above all, he learns to live with continual expectation of impending doom" (Between Parent and Child).  Parents should seek to create in the home a positive, constructive environment.

9.  Neglect-The classic biblical example is Absalom.  David was indifferent to him, and the result was rebellion, civil war, and Absalom's death.  Parents need to be involved in their children's lives.

10.  Excessive Discipline-This is the parent who abuses his children, either verbally, emotionally, or physically.  Parents often say things to their children that they would never say to anyone else.  They should never discipline their children in anger.  Rather, parents should lovingly correct their children, just as their heavenly Father does them.

To live out this list takes a great deal of work, time, effort, and energy.  It will not happen by accident and it an incredible balancing act not to swing too far in either direction.  I want to do this well, and the sad thing is even if we do every single thing on this list well our children could still walk away and not believe. However, not exasperating our children is essential if we are going to "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" Ephesians 6:4.