The Sanctity of Friendship

Why can’t friendship-love be as valuable and beautiful as romance/eros love?

We have gradually bought in to the subtle deception that friendship always leads to romance and that that progression is OK, no matter what. How then can we expect our children to have healthy, God honoring relationships with anyone, male or female, if we don’t teach them HOW?

Sadly, abstinence all too often places so much emphasis on sexuality that sex and purity are in a constant battle in the minds of youth, and eventually they lose. How about we ge rid of that battle altogether by defining friendship as a relationship that can acknowledge the mutual need for companionship without sex or sexual desire!? And then all that teasing and bullying about “oh they’re dating” or “oh look they’re gay”, will have no more power.

Consequently, preserving friendship in this way will undoubtedly cause a greater appreciation and respect for the relationship that is romantic and sexual, and then the ceremony and covenant of marriage itself will begin to have value again. We can’t expect one without the other.

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A brief essay on the nature of Biblical Revelation

Every student of religious texts encounters the all-encompassing question, how did these works come to be? And the Bible is no different. A compilation of complete documents and scraps of records, the Bible claims to be divinely inspired, and yet it exhibits substantial human involvement and therefore the possibility of human error, (EOT, 24). Somehow, through Scripture, God manages to communicate himself, his character and his mission without incurring fallacies through his human assistants. The nature of biblical revelation is twofold, one method is creation, the general, self-evident revelation of God in the observation of nature and mankind, the second method is the special, direct revelation of God to divinely appointed mediators such as Moses, national rulers, and the prophets.

“The heavens declare the Glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands,” (Psalm 19:1). One of the most quoted verses in scripture, these words bring comfort to many Christians who are seeking out evidence of the Creator. This verse perfectly encapsulates the essence of general revelation, knowledge that comes to us in the self-evident aspects of the created world. In Genesis 9:14-15 God uses a physical anomaly of light, piercing our atmosphere to reign as a permanent reminder of his promise to the people of earth, a rainbow. But the most amazing testimony to the general revelation of creation is mankind itself, made in his image, (Gen 1:26). In the Garden of Eden Adam became one of the first to experience this revelation as the Lord took him to each animal in turn and he found that none was suitable for him, (Gen 2:20). It must have been obvious that his anatomy, intellectual ability and even his spirit could not find a match anywhere else in creation. The prophet Zechariah, many years later, honored the Lord with an introduction that praised these same events, “Thus declares the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth and forms the spirit of man within him,” (12:1).

Science delves into the mysteries of mankind every day, searching for clues to the meaning of our existence but as of yet nothing has contradicted what the bible has told us for thousands of years. In fact, it has only confirmed the truth, as the psalmist says 113:4, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” David’s song to the Lord speaks of being knit together in the womb by his Creator, (Psalm 139:13), so full of purpose and potential that God himself would choose to send a Savior in this very form, (Daniel 7:13). While the general revelation of God surrounds us at every turn it is Bible that explains it to us and gives it meaning. The very existence of documents with such cohesion, confirmed by an increasing amount of archeological evidence is, in itself, also a natural, observable example of God’s greatness, (EOT, 26-27). But it holds so much more. Within the pages of the Bible there is evidence of another form of revelation that is as special and unique as the people to whom God communicated.

Special revelation is that disclosure of God’s word, instruction and character which comes directly from him in modes which humanity can come to understand and remember. Throughout the history of the Old Testament God has communicated to the world through a series of mediators, people chosen by the LORD to speak and record his message. One such mediator was Moses. Moses was raised in a foreign nation with foreign gods, (Ex 2), and while in his early years with his mother he may have heard the stories of the patriarchs, his comprehension of deity was likely shaped more by the culture of the land itself. This is evidenced by his inquiries of the Lord in the desert when God encountered him in the burning bush, (Ex 3:13). The words, “Who are you?” would be more accurately rendered, “what are you?” 1 Egyptian deities were understood by symbols, such as the sun or the Nile River, or animals such as alligators.2  Moses is asking this new God what in creation is he, and God responds, “I am.” The Lord did not ignore Moses’ cultural upbringing or his language in his response, because Moses understood the speech from the bush, (Ex 3:4). Special revelation is always unique and considerate of such details, and Scripture is full of examples to mankind which spare no expense for creativity.

The key to the special revelation of scripture is that it be communicative and understandable, and God and his mediators go to great lengths for this to occur. Rulers such as Solomon, and even pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar, receive visions of direct communication from God, (2 Chron 1:7 & Daniel 4:1-3). Queen Esther receives God’s instructions for her role and purpose through her uncle Mordechai, (Esther 4:14), and the prophets live out some of the most fantastic dramas as a testimony to God’s people. Hosea is told to marry a prostitute to symbolize Israel’s adultery and then to name their children with messages for the people, (Hos 1:2-9). Jeremiah frequently uses culturally relevant metaphors, such as a potter, to teach about the nature of God (Jer 18), and Ezekiel uses parables (Ezek 21). Thousands of years later the answers to what God is, who God is and his purpose for us are still available to humanity in a language and format we understand, thus the power of the special revelation of God that transcends even human potential for error.

The general revelation of scripture, both its own existence and the invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature of God in creation that it shows us, (Romans 1:20) have been especially passed down to us in unique and comprehensible ways by people just as special as his message. We are its students, and once the nature of the Bible has begun to be explored we cannot help but face another question, what are we to do with it? God said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart for my holy purpose…” (Jer 1:5). This is as true of us today as it was of Jeremiah, and we cannot make the same mistakes as Israel and fail to remember all that God has taught and done.

1 Pratico, Gary D. “A Cherished Name of God.” In Basics of Biblical Hebrew, by Gary D. Pratico, & Miles V. Van Pelt, 92. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.
2Chadwick, Robert. First Civilizations: Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Oakville, CT: Equinox Publishing

He cares for the Heart

whole     The cultures of the Ancient Near East all have language and writings that show an understanding of the heart as the seat of emotions and the source of will and motivation. “Let not your heart be puffed up because of your knowledge!” Ptahotep, an Egyptian official of the 5th dynasty, instructs his son.5 “Your heart has become hardened,” says the Babylonian friend to the sufferer in an Ancient Near Eastern acrostic.6 It is not surprising, therefore, that the Bible also contains much about the heart, and it is of particular importance to God. In God’s relationship with Israel and the nations he is ultimately concerned for and caring of the state of their hearts which he sees, influences and will one day make new.

 
The book of First Samuel illustrates God’s concern for the heart the most poignantly. The prophet is searching for the future king of Israel and his thoughts are being swayed by the attractiveness of Jesse’s sons and their apparent strength. But God cuts in sharply with the reprimand that man looks at the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart. The Hebrew verb in this verse for “look” is ra-aw, which also means to perceive and to understand, (Strongs, H7200), implying through the language that God is not merely a distant observer, but that he intimately comprehends the heart-motivation itself. It is used elsewhere in the Old Testament in the same manner. Not long after the fall of mankind in Genesis 3 God looked (ra’aw) at the hearts of the people of earth and saw that their wickedness had no end to it, (Gen 6:5). In the book of Jonah 3:10 God saw that the people of Nineveh had turned from their wickedness, a heart transformation as they chose to be motivated by God instead of evil for a time. The contrast between God’s perception verses man’s perceptions is evident again in the exchanges between the Lord and Jonah after the Assyrians repent. Jonah believes that their actions do not deserve mercy, (4:1), but God demands compassion, (4:10-11). The Lord’s perception of the heart is active he both looks and examines the motivations of his people, and influences their hearts for His purpose.

 
“Shall God seek this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart,” Psalm 44:21. The writer of this psalm has just lit on one of the chief sins of Israel, idolatry, and he is cautioning the audience that this sin occurs in the heart, and they cannot hide it from God. Idolatry is a personal affront to God because it is the worship of one’s heart for something other than Him, the Creator, the Savior the Holy One of Israel, (Isaiah 30:12), and He cares enough to find it and deal with it. The purpose of the Law itself was to guide the heart, though they did not recognize it, for we read in Isaiah the Lord’s lament, “I am the Lord your God who leads you in the way you should go. If only you had listened to my commandments!” (Isaiah 48:17-18). There were some who did listen to the Lord, like Hezekiah, who, while lying on his death bed, pleaded with God to remember whether or not he had walked with a perfect heart, (2 Kings 20:3). The Lord evidently agreed because he healed the king in verse 5. The prophet Nehemiah often speaks of God “putting” a desire or motivation in his heart, (Neh 2:12, 7:5), which led him to be bold before a foreign king and to return to Judah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, (Neh 2)! The Lord exerts a powerful influence in the hearts of men, especially those who follow him, but sin still exists and Jeremiah says that the heart is desperately wicked, (17:9). What then are we to do?

David himself answers this divine question in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Long before the stubbornness and wickedness of the Jews finally expelled them from the Promised Land, this humble shepherd king understood exactly what needed to happen within himself be right before God again. After David’s death, as the people continuously turned from God, the Lord began to echo the psalmist’s prayer through the prophets. Sin had been written on their hearts like the very same stone tablets upon which Moses wrote the Law that was meant to shape their hearts, (Jer 17:1-5), and so God was going to give them a new heart, (Jer 24:7). Not a heart of stone, but a heart of malleable, compassionate, and vulnerable flesh, (Ezek 36:26). David also asked for a new spirit. Little did he know that his Redeemer’s plan was to give mankind His own Spirit, the same spirit that had dwelt with them in the tents and tabernacles of the wilderness, and that had guided them for dozens of years in pillars of cloud and fire. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my Statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Eze 36:27). God knew that their hearts would turn away from him and from the Law, (Deut 8:1), but he cared for them so much that His spirit remained with them for hundreds of years of disobedience, so that their hearts could be made new to walk with Him again.

 
God cares for the hearts of his people, so much so that he chooses to interact with us, influence us and minister with us in spite of the sin and potential for sin in our lives. Years later when the Pharisees challenged Jesus on the question of Law, He revealed the same truth about the Law that the Jews had missed generations before, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,” (Matt 22:37). It was never about the feasts and the Sabbaths and the festivals, God wanted their hearts, and my challenge today for those who claim to walk with the Lord is this, does he truly have YOUR heart?

5&6 Unknown. “Excerpts from Ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature.” In Readings from the Ancient Near East, by Bill T. Arnold, & Bryan E. Beyer, 181, 183. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group: Baker Academic, 2002.

The Mother Heart of God

WHEW, I’ve been out of the bloggosphere for too long with school and kiddos and fundraising and traveling.  Well, it’s Mother’s Day and I am DYING to preach and speak to mothers about so many things, so many essential and necessary things that too few mothers will ever hear.  But I’ll content myself with sending out this paper I just finished for a class on the nature of God.  I chose the Mother-heart of God.  It’s short, per the requirements of the class, and there is an abundance of scriptures I was barely able to touch, but I think the message is the same.

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The Mother Heart of God

The nature of God transcends human understanding in so many aspects. He is the Creator, the caregiver of the earth and the first teacher of mankind. How are we to come to know him except that he make himself knowable to us? Just as Biblical revelation is made relevant to us in our unique culture and circumstances, so does God use the familiar to communicate his character and great love. From the Torah to the Prophets, God appears as a mother who experiences the birth of her children, the hopes and frustrations of nurturing, the pain of rebellion and the anguish and necessity of a second delivery, a new birth.
The Old Testament image of the mother heart of God is one of nurturing, of birth and delivery and hope. In the book of Genesis 1, Elohim gives birth to the universe and to his image bearers, living beings in his likeness, his children. He tenderly forms man from the dust of the ground and places them in a garden (Gen 2:7-8), an Ancient Near Eastern symbol of fertility and abundance.3 Isaiah 44:2 says, “Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you.” The prophet goes on to describe the beauty of this mother-child relationship, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon her children and grandchildren, (44:3), and comfort as the mother-heart assures the people not to fear, (44:8). As a mother delivers her child and teaches it, so the Lord delivered the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt, (Ex 12:33), and gave them the Law to guide them and teach them how to raise their own children, (Deut 6:4-7). The prophet Hosea recalls the Lord’s tenderness in this way, “Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms…I led them with the cords of man, with the bonds of love,” (Hos 11:3-4). This affectionate relationship of life and joy contrasts sharply to the bloody and demanding worship of Mesopotamian fertility gods, to whom humanity were slaves.4 Yet the Children of God chose these other gods instead of their own Creator, causing his mother heart much sorrow and grief.
“You neglected the Rock who begot you [Israel], and forgot the God who gave you birth,” (Deut 32:18). God’s frustration, anger and grief at the sin and rebellion of his children is unmistakable. In Genesis 6 the Lord grieved that he had made mankind and he grieves again for the sins of Israel, suffering with them in their disobedience, “In all their affliction he was afflicted…they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit,” (Isaiah 63:8-9). Any loving mother whose child has been disobedient struggles with the desire to forgive and forget and the necessity of instruction in that which is right. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God also experiences this struggle of mother-hood, that he finally could not keep silent and, groaning like a woman in labor, will utterly put to shame his children for their idolatry, (Isaiah 42:14 &17). God had warned them in the wilderness, of the consequences of disobedience, (Deut 28:64-65), and though he waited and watched for hundreds of years, the mother God could not put off discipline any longer. In 740 BC Israel fell to the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser (EOT, 242), and Judah was carried into exile by the Babylonians in 605 BC and again in 587 BC, (EOT, 246). But God’s mother-heart does not give up on her children. Just like he did in Exodus 3:7-8 the LORD saw the affliction of his people in exile and sent the prophet Jeremiah to give them hope with this promise, that they would find him again and he would bring them back, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,” (Jer 29:11&14).

One of the Hebrew verbs for delivery and deliverance in the context of the Exodus is Natsal, which means “to snatch” or to take away, with some force and rapidity, (Strongs, H5337). Likening the Exodus of Israel to birth through delivery, this verb seems to imply a birth that is less natural and more like a cesarean birth where the child has to be plucked forcefully from the womb in order to save it. Like the events surrounding the Exodus, a cesarean birth is surrounded by emotions of pain and fear, (Ex 11:6). This is remarkable when it is considered that this is the kind of birth that God agrees to not once, but twice in order to deliver his people, (Isaiah 46:3-4). Though they had sinned and rebelled and broken the covenant, the ever enduring and longsuffering Mother would not forget them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child…? I will not forget you, you are inscribed on my hands,” Isaiah 49:15-16. A cesarean birth is not only more traumatic and dangerous, but, if successful, also brings a rejoicing more akin to salvation and redemption than that of a natural birth. If the cut is not made the child may not survive, and if it is, the child who may have been lost is redeemed into a new birth. “I brought you out of the Land of Egypt,” God says in Leviticus 11:45, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Hundreds of years later the Mother-heart has still not forgotten, “Return to me that I may return to you!” (Zech 1:3 and Mal 3:7).
The emotion and passion of the Mother-heart of God is unmistakable in the course of scripture and the history of humanity. He has been with us from the beginning to the end, and his promises of hope and deliverance, from a mother to her children, are ones that can be counted on as steadfast and sure. Hundreds of years later a Son was sent to a mother, who would give birth, nurture and teach a man who was no ordinary man. Jesus did not sin, but he was a little boy once, and I can only imagine what love and intimacy God and Mary must have shared as he grew to be the Deliverer.

2015-04-06 12.16.373 Dr. McDowell, Catherine. “Lecture on Symbolism in the Old Testament.” (presentation, Residency Week at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC, March 23-25, 2015.
4 Unknown. “Enuma Elish.” In Readings from the Ancient Near East, by Bill T. Arnold, & Bryan E. Beyer, 43. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group: Baker Academic, 2002.