Monday, May 11, 2020

Old Testament Use of Parental Metaphors & Imagery For God

God As Father

1. Moses

Deuteronomy 32:6 Do you thus requite Yahweh, foolish people and unwise? Isn’t he your father who has bought (or created) you? He has made you, and established you. (Note vv. 11-12, 18 in same chapter.)

2. Isaiah

63:16 For you are our Father, though Abraham doesn’t know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us: you, Yahweh, are our Father; our Redeemer from everlasting is your name.

64:8 But now, Yahweh, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you our potter; and we all are the work of your hand.

(The context of these passages is that although God is Israel's Father, he didn't appear to be acting like one. The prophet begs Yahweh to come to Israel's aid and act like the Father he is.)

3. Jeremiah

3:4 Will you not from this time cry to me, ‘My Father, you are the guide of my youth?’

3:19 “But I said, ‘How I would put you among the children, and give you a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the armies of the nations!’ and I said, ‘You shall call me “My Father,” and shall not turn away from following me.’

31:9 They shall come with weeping; and with petitions will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

(The point of Jeremiah's uses is that God desired to be Israel and Judah's Father but they made a mockery of this. Even so he looked to a future day when his fatherhood would prevail.)

4. Malachi

1:6 “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, then where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? Says Yahweh of Armies to you, priests, who despise my name. You say, ‘How have we despised your name?’

2:10 Don’t we all have one father? Hasn’t one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, profaning the covenant of our fathers?

(The point of Malachi's uses is that Israel's behavior contradicts the fact that God is their Father.)

5. Remaining References to God as “a Father” (Not necessarily our Father.)

A. David's Seed

1 Chronicles 7:13 “I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor.” (cf 2 Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 1:5)

Psalm 2:7 “I will tell of the decree. Yahweh said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your father.’ ”

Psalm 89:26 “He will call to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the rock of my salvation!’ ”

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

B. God acting as a father to others, or likened to a father:

Deuteronomy 1:31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how that Yahweh your God carried you, as a father (lit. man) carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.

Psalm 27:10 “When my father and my mother forsake me, then Yahweh will take me up.”

Psalm 68:5 “A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.”

Psalm 103:13 “Like a father has compassion on his children, so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.”

God As Mother

1. Moses


1:27 God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai*—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. (NLT) 

*El-Shaddai is used 9 times by Moses; 48 times in OT.  "Almighty God. In Hebrew El (the Strong One) Shaddai (the Breasted One). Abraham now learns that God is not only El, the mighty Creator Who can do wonders, but the One Who cares for him as a mother would, for He is the All-sufficient One. As mothers do, El Shaddai reproves Abraham for obeying someone else...." (Footnote at Genesis 17:1, Pilgrim Edition of the Bible, 1948)

Cf. 1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”


11:11-12 “Moses said to Yahweh, 'Why have you treated with your servant so badly? Why haven’t I found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I brought them forth, that you should tell me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which you swore to their fathers?’”

TNIV Study Bible footnote: “The implication is that the Lord conceived the people of Israel” and “was their nurse.)”


32:11-12 “As an eagle that stirs up her nest, that flutters over her young, he spread abroad his wings, he took them, he bore them on his feathers. Yahweh alone led him. There was no foreign god with him.”

32:18 “You ignored the Rock who gave you birth; (or begot you) you forgot the God who brought you forth.” (HCSB)

Psalm 90

90:2 “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

See comments about “brought forth” under Solomon, below.

2. Job

38:8-9  “Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth from the womb, when I made clouds its garment,  and wrapped it in thick darkness...?”

38:29 “Out of whose womb came the ice? The gray frost of the sky, who has given birth to it?”

These are part of a list of questions to which God alone is the answer. Compare this idea of God having a womb to Paul saying God is the One in whom we live and move and have our being because we are God's offspring. (Acts 17:28-29)

3. David

Psalm 131:1-3  “Lord, my heart is not proud; I don't look down on others. I don't do great things, and I can't do miracles. But I am calm and quiet, like a baby with its mother. I am at peace, like a baby with its mother. People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.” (NCV)

Compare verse 2 in NLT: “like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Also note Psalm 34:8 and 1 Peter 2:2-3 (above).

4. Solomon

Proverbs 8:22-25  “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth....”

The TNIV Study Bible Footnote says: “brought... forth. The Hebrew for this verb is also used in Ge 4:1: 14:19,22 ('Creator'); Dt 32:6 ('Creator').”

The first occurrence of “brought forth” was when Eve gave birth to Cain and proclaimed, “I have brought forth a man-child with the help of Yahweh” (Genesis 4:1). The Hebrew verb is clearly that act of a woman giving birth and it is used frequently of God bringing things into being (creating). See for example: Job 38:8-9,29; Psalm 90:2 (above). It is frequently used in parallelisms as a synonym for giving birth (e.g., Job 15:7). The word is often also translated as “Creator” (see Genesis 14:19,22; Deuteronomy 32:6).

5. Isaiah

49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you! (Note context of vv. 13-16)

66:12-13 “For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; then you will be nursed, you will be carried on her hip and trotted [lovingly bounced up and down] on her [God's maternal] knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Amplified)

6. Sidebar: The NT & God's Maternity

The purpose of the above survey is to note key examples of parental images of God in the OT. It has by no means been exhaustive, as many other OT and NT passages can certainly be cited. It should be sufficient, however, to show that the OT clearly presents God as both paternal and maternal.

The few NT passages interspersed in the notes above are but a sampling with regards to the NT's support of God's maternal nature, in addition to his paternal nature.  For example, Jesus may have had God's maternal nature in mind when he speaks of things like being “born again” and “born of the Spirit.” Note for instance the discussion in John 3:1-8, where Jesus says: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' ” If there's one thing mothers do that fathers don't, its give birth! Note therefore how Nicodemus even wonders if all this means he must reenter his mother's womb! Likewise, 1 John repeatedly uses the phrase “born of God.”

We have already noted above Paul and Peter's imagery of God's womb and breast milk—a strong metaphor for God's Word!

Since the purpose of the above study has been to focus on the OT understanding of God's parental nature, a more extensive list and treatment of NT examples will have to wait for another study.

Observations & Explanations:

1. God is prior to male/female distinctions, as he existed before gendered species were created.

2. Both male and female, father and mother, find their definitions and examples in him.

3. The more masculine a man is and the more feminine a woman is, the more the each reflect their Creator!

4. God is not “like” a father or mother; fathers and mothers are to be like God as imitators and image bearers!

5. Why then does the Bible seem to favor and emphasize the masculine/Father side of God?

a. The Bible tells us that when sin entered the world equality between the man and woman was disrupted. Male domination was one result.

b. Christ came to reverse the effects of Humanity's Fall and restore our original equality as partners before God. To do that he had to demonstrate and model how the dominant was to change in the new order or redemption—kingdom values. Had he come as a woman the strong and powerful would not have identified with his example of servanthood and submission.

c. God chooses to make Fatherhood and masculine imagery a primary metaphor in order to challenge those who have become powerful in the Fall to imitate things like his goodness, justice, mercy, compassion and grace.

Study Guide:  © Copyright 2009 David R. Leigh. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Friday, November 20, 2015

AN EXPERT ON THE BIBLE asked: “Who, really, is my neighbor?”

Jesus gave him this story: “A man was on his way to church with his family in Aleppo when the city was attacked by terrorists. The terrorists bombed the man's house, his church, his neighborhood, and the entire Christian sector of his city, stripping him, his family, and his neighbors of their clothes and all they had. The terrorists beat them all to a bloody pulp and left them half dead with no safe place to hide.

"An American Evangelical Christian happened to see the bombed out city, along with its burning churches and buildings, as he watched on television, but he quickly turned the channel.

"So too, an American senator saw the same events on TV, went and visited the city, but she too decided to avoid the problem by focusing on U.S. domestic legislation rather than foreign policy.

"But then an American presidential candidate, as he campaigned, read reports and saw video footage of the church-going man and his family who was fleeing the burning city and seeking refuge for his family and for his neighbors by begging the United States to let them come into the country for shelter, protection, and help.

"'We need to erect a wall!' the candidate tweeted, 'A very long and tall wall!' And his supporters cheered. And as they cheered louder and louder, they grew in numbers! 'We cannot bandage these people's wounds, feed these people, or give them shelter,' the candidate declared, 'because they will only bring the terrorists with them, along with disease and more mouths to feed! Think of all the extra expense!'

“Which of these three," Jesus asked, "do you think was a neighbor to the man and the city that fell into the hands of terrorists?"

The expert in the Bible thought for a moment, flipped back and forth from one Bible page to another, then replied: “This is NOT the way the story of the Good Samaritan is supposed to go!”

"What you do to the least of these," Jesus said, "you have done to me. This will be my verdict on your day of judgment when I separate the sheep from the goats."

See how the story is supposed to read here: Luke 10:25-37

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


I’ve had a privilege not many Americans get. I’ve had occasion to interact as a pastor with two groups of refugees. I would like to tell you about one man from each group.

The first group I encountered when pastoring an urban church in central Massachusetts during the early 1990s. Their country, Liberia, was in a civil war carried on by tribal and Muslim factions. A family member had been attending my church when they were given opportunity to enter the U.S. as her relatives.

Their story was an unthinkable ordeal by American standards. In their homeland, they’d been school teachers, secretaries, office workers, and retail merchants. In less than a day, they’d become fugitives hiding in the African bush. Their only crime was belonged to the same tribe as the deposed president whom the rebels had brutally and publicly tortured and executed.

In order to escape certain death this family disguised themselves in the clothing and manner of a neighboring tribe. They took a circuitous route from the nation’s capital, where they lived, to a refugee camp in a neighboring country. But on their route an armed band of rebels stopped them and their brother was recognized by a soldier who was his former classmate. To save their own lives, the family (mother included) had to deny they knew the man and stood by as they watched him brutally molested and executed.

When I met them on American soil, they’d never experienced snow, had no clothing suitable for our climate, no papers to prove their education, no resumé’s or references to check out for employment. Their English was choppy and their hearts were hurting and fearful.

I worked with them to help obtain food and clothing. I taught them how to drive and get licenses. In addition to my preaching and pastoral duties, I drove a 15-passenger van so that I could pick them up for church each Sunday. They came faithfully and many more showed up on foot.

One of the men still calls me 20 years later to tell me how fondly he and his family remember me. We speak of old times and old acquaintances. He tells me what his life is like today. He is married and has children. After I left that pastorate for another, he went on to enlist in the U.S. Army, where he served our country with gratitude. As a veteran, he returned to go to school and today he has an outstanding job helping others as a counselor. Likewise, his siblings went on to be productive members of our society as nurses, laborers, and office workers. They give back to society and worship Jesus Christ in gratitude for what they have.

The second group of refugees I encountered was more recent, while pastoring an Armenian Evangelical church that’s been in the Chicago area for nearly a century. The Armenians have been a persecuted people for much of the past 100 years. Driven out of Turkey by the Ottomans in a genocide during the early 1900s, they were scattered around the globe. Many came to America. Others found themselves dispersed throughout the Middle East and other continents. Many landed in Syria, where a huge Christian community formed in places like Aleppo, not far from Damascus. Having settled in Syria, they were counted among the Syrians when, like their neighbors, they had to flee for their lives to escape destruction. This was an earlier wave of refugees than the one we’re seeing now.

Like us, they once had lovely homes, went to wonderful churches, enjoyed productive careers in their city, and were esteemed members of their community. But in a brutal flash of violence and civil war, they were driven out with only the shirts on their backs. They cannot prove they graduated from college or even that they had careers. They struggle to learn English and to qualify for menial jobs and basic housing. They rely on the kindness of family, friends, and church to start their lives over for themselves and their children. Even before the recent wave, these refugees found resistance and red tape hindering the approval of their immigration applications. As their pastor, I wrote letters on their behalf attesting to their character and participation in our faith community. But each request was met only with more delays.

One of these refugees is a Christian man who once ran his own successful business. His children attended Sunday school at my church and his wife helped with VBS. A local friend of his helped him get started in HVAC repair. Another of his friends, a Syrian Muslim who owns a business in Chicago, remembered the man’s kindness to him in Syria and helped him and his family in a variety of ways, out of gratitude and indebtedness. Because of these things, my Christian friend and his family give back to their community today and love the Lord. He has told me he wants always to be my friend and I can’t think of a greater honor.

The reason I tell you about these people is because if you’re like me, you may not have realized that refugees are so much like ourselves. I didn’t know this until I met these families, held their children in my arms, and listened to their stories. If you’re like me, you may also forget that our ancestors too came here under similar circumstances. Maybe not all were refugees, but they came as foreigners, often feared or despised by the local population, yet looking for an honest fresh start.

America’s identity has always been about huddled masses yearning to be free in a land of opportunity. But opportunity is not limited to new careers or new freedoms. It also includes the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and his love through God’s people who are here to show grace and mercy to the stranger and foreigner, the widow and the ophan.

In Germany today there are reports of many Muslim refugees coming to Christ because of the loving ministries of the churches there. Some are being baptized and one church reports more than tripling in size due to Muslim conversions.

Do not make the mistake of seeing refugees as a confusing faceless mass of inhumanity. They are people just like you and me. They are victims of the people we fear. But we should not fear. Because as Christians we know that greater is the One within us, than the one who is in the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

God's answer to all of humanity's sin, their twisted history and struggles and striving against him, and all the longings of his people: a baby, tender and mild--Yahweh in a small, adorable, delicate and vulnerable, fragile package! At the moment of conception God and humanity became one in a single Person. And in his birth the whole world order would be overthrown. Blessed Christmas! Glory to God! Peace on earth and good will to all. Come and see! -- Dave Leigh

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Pastoral Advent Letter to the Armenians

Editor's Note: As you may know, for the past few months I've been serving in an interim pastoral capacity at the The Armenian Evangelical Church of Greater Chicagoland. Recently the leaders there asked me to write the annual Christmas letter to their mailing list. Here's your sneak peek, minus the fancy formating and stationary:
For unto you is born this day...
A Savior Luke 2:11

Krisdos dznav yev haydnetsav; tsezee, mezee Medz Avedis!
(Christ is born and revealed; Good News to you and to us)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I write this, people are being pepper-sprayed in a Walmart, fighting over discounted Christmas merchandise; nations are at war; the global economy is reeling with uncertain direction; homeless families wonder where they will sleep; hardworking women and men find their jobs do not cover their needs; and even Christians find themselves at odds over petty differences that leave feelings bruised and relationships torn.

Does it seem strange to celebrate Christmas amidst such times? Do you find it a struggle to come to church and worship God because you, yourself, are under great pressure and stress? Whether you’ve been overwhelmed by a busy life or buried in unfortunate problems, I hope you’ll read this entire letter and consider my invitation to rediscover the gift God has for you in his Son and in his people this holiday season.

Christmas is a holiday that, like the Armenian people, is born of persecution and suffering, but when properly understood and embraced fills the soul with wonder and joy. You know I’m not talking about the commercialized counterfeit that calls itself Christmas. I am talking about the birth of the Child whose family was forced to go to Bethlehem by an oppressive regime and who had to be whisked away before soldiers brought a blood bath of innocents at his birthplace. Even the religious leaders of that day, who knew enough about where to find Jesus to have joined the wise men in welcoming the Child, used their knowledge instead to tip off the murderers!

A Savior From What?

Like Moses, whose parents were oppressed by a tyrant who ordered parents to drown their own children, so Jesus was drawn from the same depths of his people’s oppression in order to deliver all who would follow him. Moses lifted his staff when backed against the Red Sea, opening a way through the very waters Pharaoh would have drowned him in. But Jesus put his back (bloodied from scourging) against the rough-hewn wood of Calvary’s cross, opening heaven itself for us so that all his followers (that’s you and me) might enter with him into Heaven’s Most Holy Place.

Christmas is about this gift! But it is also about God’s deliverance being found in the midst of our own suffering as God overturns the world order. If you’re not used to thinking of Christmas this way, consider what Jesus’ holy mother said the nativity meant:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
- Luke 1:50-53
The Gospels tell us those who abandoned Christ amidst suffering and crisis are the ones who missed the most amazing opportunities to see God at work! It’s my prayer you will not be counted among them, but will draw all that much closer to your Savior--the Lord born in the manger of his people’s troubles--with us who gather each week at The Armenian Evangelical Church, where even now the Root of Jesse and the seeds of revival are already sprouting!

Now is the time to discover and rediscover the wonders of Christmas as they relate to the real world--your world! As the saying goes: The Wise Still Seek Him! We look forward to seeking him with YOU!

“O Come, All Ye Faithful!”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Pastor Dave Leigh

Sunday, November 20, 2011

So Near, Yet So Far: Thoughts on The Kingdom of God and Politics - by Dave Leigh

Lonely Walk:
photograph by
Arash Karimi
Some say that my believing in global warming makes me a liberal. To me, it just makes me rational.

Some say that believing abortion is usually wrong makes me a conservative. To me, it just makes me concerned about the life of another human being.

Some say that if I believe a nation that possesses the technology and resources to give the best medical care possible to all its citizens should do so, then I’m a socialist. I say it just makes me compassionate and desirous of living in a just and merciful world.

Some say if I believe in personal property and an economic system that rewards hard work, intellect, and resourcefulness, I am a capitalist. To me, it just makes common sense that a society will not excel without personal incentives.

Why do liberals and conservatives both insist on demonizing someone for taking a single position, as if that position forces one into this or that camp? What if the principles of truth, justice, and humanity force us to come to all these conclusions? Namely, that:
  • God made us caretakers of his creation and therefore doesn’t want us to pollute it into oblivion.
  • We should cherish all life, even the life of our enemies and a life developing in the womb.
  • Like the good Samaritan we, as a society, should take care of each other’s wounds and medical needs.
  • People have a right to property and to earning wealth in reward for their labor, but with this comes a responsibility to show mercy, compassion, and justice toward those who are less fortunate and/or oppressed.
  • All people have the right to be respected as human beings and to live free of hatred and oppression, regardless of things like their race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sex, gender, familial status, or orientation.
In other words, what if I should desire to see my nation and all nations surrender to, and advance, the Kingdom of God? What if I truly don’t want to confess Caesar as Lord, but rather the Lord as Lord? For political parties to pick and choose between these kingdom principles--and thereby force us to do the same--do they not attempt to divide truth and pit righteousness against itself? Has reason become divided and turned against reason? Can we really select which forms of compassion we prefer, and form parties that exclude the compassion and principles of truth we’d rather ignore?

The more I think about all this, the more I wonder at our political landscape and the less it surprises me that it has become dominated by craziness, paranoia, and extremes.

What if the Kingdom of God is not the exclusive domain of Christendom, Judaism, Islam, or any other world religion or philosophy? What if it is neither Democrat nor Republican? What if it is not the proprietary property of any nation or human institution? What if, rather, it is has to do solely with the person and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, who bears little resemblance to those who claim to represent him?

What if all people of all faiths and philosophies would come to seriously wrestle with and live out those teachings in how they establish their communities and even their governments, their personal relationships, and even the relations between nations?

What if the Kingdom of God were that simple? What then would become of our political parties, our nationalisms--and our craziness?

Hmmm. Is it possible? Could it really be that close to the noses on our faces?
"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give."  -  Jesus (Matthew 10:7-8)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Heart God Wants (Hebrews 8)

Editor's Note:  The comments below are some notes for a sermon I've been working on about Hebrews 8, still in rough form. Please note, this is not the sermon itself but my preliminary reflections on my studies thus far. Consider it research and ramblings. But any feedback you may have is much desired!

This weekend we'll focus on the spiritual heart. What does it mean to have a hardened heart? And how does Christ's superior ministry and better covenant involve a different kind of heart.

Note the contrast between shadow and substance, and how the Law belongs to the shadow but the substance belongs to Christ. By knowing him, we pass from a two-dimensional knowledge about God to a fully-dynamic, interactive, relational knowledge (i.e. relationship) of (i.e. with) God in Christ.

People should end up asking themselves: Do I have a hardened heart or the kind of heart the new covenant calls for? Do I know God or just about God? If they find themselves in need with regards to either of these areas, I'd like them to discover how to have what God wants for them in each of these areas--and choose to pursue that--through Christ's perfect sacrifice.

Review: There has been a change of priesthood and so, a change of law (Heb 7:12).

Why? Because the old law could not do the job (Heb 7:11).

The New Priesthood:

NOT BASED ON: family or tribe or nationality (Aaron, Levi, Israel)

IS BASED ON: Jesus as High Priest in the eternal order of Melchizedek ... Priesthood of all believers (no clergy/laity). He alone can fix and provide what the old law could not!

With this, Jesus is now the guarantor (promiser/provider) of a BETTER covenant.

OLD Cov't = temporary, passing away (lit. “about to pass away.”)

NEW Cov't = eternal and coming now upon us in the new order of the KOG .

OLD needed repeated sacrifices day after day because it was partial and temporal.

NEW is based on Jesus full, final, permanent, and complete sacrifice--perfect and lacking nothing.

And so we come now to Jesus, who is the perfect high priest who:

1. Sits on the throne of majesty in heaven as king forever, and
2. serves in the true sanctuary, not a replica (like Aaron's tabernacle), as priest forever!

OLD = copy and shadow (2 dimensional & dark, boundaries of shadow give us parameters, not a relationship.)

NEW = the real deal! Involves a
BETTER covenant that is AS MUCH BETTER as substance or person is better than the shadow cast. And it comes with BETTER PROMISES!

THE PROBLEM: Hebrews 8:7 - There was something wrong with the first covenant. What was it God found fault with?

Answer in 8:8-9 - The
people. Specifically, something was lacking in their hearts.

GOD'S SOLUTION: Heb 8:10f - The new covenant changes the human participants in the covenant. God places his laws on their minds and writes them in their hearts. (According to the prophets, God will do this by placing a new spirit in our hearts!) The result is a full and actual relationship (not just one in name only or based on second-hand information): "I will BE their God; they WILL BE my people." And in v. 11 "They will all KNOW me from the least to the greatest." (Note OT use of verb “to know.”)

Knowing and experiencing God on an actual relationship level is now not just the exclusive experience of patriarchs, prophets, earthly priests, or kings, but ALL will know him: young and old, great and small.

How will this happen? 8:12 reveals that Christ's final and perfect sacrifice, of which we've been speaking, resulted in full forgiveness and opens for us total reconciliation with God.


So this leaves us with a huge question because it now is clear just how important the heart is to God. Since the heart is the key to experiencing the fullness of the new covenant, passing from the shadow to the substance, then what does a heart look like that God wants, and what does one look like that he rejects?

The heart is mentioned over 575 times in the OT and 150 times in the NT. We could spend years studying what the Bible has to say about the heart because it probably is the biggest concern God has for his people.

As early as Deuteronomy, Moses was calling people to circumcise their hearts, even though the whole generation born in the wilderness were not physically circumcised for the forty years they wandered--until Joshua brought them into the land of Canaan (Josh 5). Jeremiah echoes this (Jer 4:4; 9:23-26). And Paul makes circumcision of the heart the test of a true Christian or Jew (Ro 2:25-29; Col 2:11). The symbolism is of removing the flesh, particularly dead flesh, and making ourselves open to God.

The kind of heart most often objected to in the Bible is the kind we've heard the Hebrews writer admonish us against repeatedly: the hardened heart.

What does a hardened heart look like?

There are several NT passages outside of Hebrews that describe it for us: Mt 13:14-15, Jn 12:40, and Ac 28:27 all look to Isa 6:9-11. And here's what we find:

A hardened heart results in and is therefore evidenced by these symptoms:

1. Little or no understanding of God
2. Does not hear God (and therefore does not heed God)
3. Does not see God or his truths
4. Therefore it will not and cannot turn from its errors (repentance) and therefore,
5. It prevents God from healing the person who has it. And the major area of healing is in regards to their relationship to God, but also in regards to having a healed, healthy spirituality that lives in harmony with God and his world.


The greatest example is Pharaoh - 17 references in Exodus to his hardened heart attempting to undermine God's plans. (cf "God hardened his heart" to "my sister got me angry.")

Proverbs 28:14 - Contrasts hard heart to one that trembles before God (in reverence and awe).

Daniel 5:20 - The whole chapter is a chilling example of how Nebuchadnezzar's hardened heart and now his son's similar heart, brought horrible consequences -- the fall of Babylon and the death of the king that very night. Here the hard heart is associated with pride and brings God's opposition and judgment.

Zechariah 7:12 & context, esp. vv. 8-14 - Those who ignore social justice and the oppression of the poor are said to have hardened hearts. We might add to this, those who ignore the salvation needs of their lost neighbors, families, and friends.

Jesus associated divorce with hardness of hearts. In other words, our relationships are affected, even broken and destroyed, when we harbor a hard heart. Hard hearts are uncircumcised hearts. And therefore they operate in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. They block God out and presume to live life without his power. Even if a person with a hard heart seeks to live a holy life, they do so in their own strength and will always end up in the opposite place from holiness. As in the case of divorce, hard hearts lead to sin, even adultery, alienation of relationships, animosity, division , fighting, complaining, bitterness. This is a brief summary based on a cursory survey of the passages that talk about the heart.

When the disciples lacked understanding and faith in Mark 6:52 and 8:17 with regards to Jesus' ability to provide loaves of bread, Jesus explains their lack of faith and understanding as hardness of heart! The message here is that hard hearts prevent faith, that therefore can block God's provisions and miracles in our lives.

There are many other passages we could discuss. But the last three times the NT speaks of people hardening their hearts is in the passages we studied together in the past few weeks (Heb 3:8,15; 4:7). Those passages, you will recall, hearkened back to the problems God and Moses had with the people complaining and rebelling against their leaders in the wilderness. Even though they complained about seemingly necessary things like needing food and water and security and safety, their behavior was in accord with hardened hearts rather than hearts of faith, full of the knowledge of God. And so an entire generation fell in the wilderness and none of those people, not even the ones who made it into Canaan with Joshua, found their way into God's rest.

Again, we could spend a long time on this. Hopeful we can develop it more in the weeks ahead. The Bible has much to say about a heart that's right and acceptable to God. David asks God for clean heart and a new/right spirit (Ps. 51). Ezekiel speaks of the same (Ez 36:24-28) and calls us to have an undivided heart (Ez 11:19). Jesus promised that the pure in heart would see God (Mt. 5:8). The Psalms say in a couple of places that only the one with clean hands and a pure heart may enter God's sanctuary.


None of us is immune from having a hardened heart. Even the most devout among us can find hardness has crept into our thoughts, our decisions, our choices, our conscious and unconscious commitments. This is not the kind of thing we can finger point about. Nor can we judge others harshly when we ourselves must remain constantly vigilant over our own hearts. (In fact, it is usually those who are most judgmental who have the hardest hearts!) So: "Guard your heart!" the book of Proverbs warns, "for everything you do flows from your heart!" (Pr 4:23).

And so with what little time we have in this service, I want to beg each of us to examine our hearts. Consider if you've hardened it to God or to others in your life. You don't need special instructions or hours of discipleship to know this. You probably felt a twinge of awareness as soon as I raised the matter.

Where is your heart today? Is it open? Is it laid bare before God and thirsty for his Spirit to be poured out? Is is sensitive to his voice and compliant with his leadings? Or is it eclipsed by your own fleshly attitudes and opinions, your own self-confidence and your own selfish agendas?

God wants you and each of us fully immersed in his new covenant. That's the place were all sin is removed and forgotten because of the shed blood of the now risen Christ--our high priest.

God wants you on his team—the Melchizedekian priesthood, interceding for others and bringing the gospel to others. But most of all, he wants a relationship with you, where in you KNOW him as he knows you. He wants you to understand, hear, see, turn and be healed. What a blessed life of peace and wholeness that will be! This is what it means to enter his rest. This is what the priesthood of Jesus, his sacrifice, and his covenant are all about!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Does loving your Muslim neighbor mean sharing your church with them?

The Lord's Prayer in Arabic
A Christianity Today article, entitled Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims, tracks a debate among Christians about sharing their church facilities with Muslim groups needing meeting spaces. Steve Stone says:
Jason Hood raised issues about inviting Muslims to share worship space with Christians. Hood, who is a scholar in residence at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, referred to our flock Heartsong and me. While I couldn't tell exactly where Hood stood on the issue, it seemed that he had decided that our decision to allow Muslims from the Memphis Islamic Center (MIC) to use our Celebration Center for Ramadan prayers was made off hand and without much, if any, theological reflection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Stone then goes on to cite the church's justification for its actions and says:
As a Jesus-following tribe we could not be more evangelical and exclusivist when it comes to Jesus. We are 21st century Jesus freaks, and we fly that flag on T-shirts which many of us wore as we greeted the Muslims who came for Ramadan prayers each night. All we have ever done or will ever do is a witness to Jesus—his teaching, his life, his death and resurrection, and the presence of the Holy Spirit with, in, and through us.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters know this about us because we always speak of Jesus and our love for him, and our love for them because of him, every time we are with them. There was no trading of theologies. They are Muslims; we are Jesus followers; both of us are clear about that. Jesus said people would know we are his disciples by our love for one another, and that is just what is happening with the dear and gracious people of the MIC. They recognize us as people who have been with Jesus.
What do you think of Christians opening their church buildings for use by their Muslim neighbors?

After reading the article, what do you think of the church's justifications for its decision?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Schaeffer's Perspective on Criticism & Attacks

God willing, I will push and politick no more.... The mountains are too high, history is too long, and eternity is longer.  God is too great, man is too small, there are many of God's dear children, and all around there are men going to Hell.  And if one man and a small group of men do not approve of where I am and what I do, does it prove I've missed success?  No; only one thing will determine that—whether this day I'm where the Lord of lords and King of kings wants me to be.  To win as many as I can, to help strengthen the hands of those who fight unbelief in the historical setting in which they are placed, to know the reality of 'the Lord is my song,' and to be committed to the Holy Spirit—that is what I wish I could know to be the reality of each day as it closes."

 - Francis A. Schaeffer, Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life, ed. with intro. by Lane T. Dennis (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1985), p. 39.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Presupposing: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til

Amidst all the strange events of the 1960s—flower children, hippies, marches for peace and marches for Jesus—when college students were challenging the establishment, the Vietnam War, racism, and conventional social structures, an even stranger thing happened. A squeaky-voiced little man in knickers, who in 1948 felt called of God to become a missionary and to move with his family to a lonely chalet in the Swiss Alps (knowing not a word of local language), began to attract young intellectuals from all over the world.

Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) had written no books or popular articles in those early years.1 He made no broadcasts or tape-recorded messages in his early ministry.2 Yet by the end of the decade Schaeffer's remote chalet had become a place of refuge for young people searching for answers to life's deepest and most troubling questions. This phenomenon would come to be known world-wide as “L'Abri” (French for “the shelter”).

Rev. Louis Gifford Parkhurst, Jr., who served the Schaeffers as their pastor in the last years of Dr. Schaeffer's life, describes L'Abri's beginning:
L'Abri began in a very real way with Priscilla [Schaeffer's daughter] on the weekend of May 6, 1955. She brought home from college a girl who had many questions, and so began the flow of people. L'Abri came to be a spiritual “shelter” for people with real and honest questions. God's hand was so obviously in the work that Dr. Schaeffer courageously wrote his mission board on June 5 and resigned. He asked that all salary be cut off immediately, and he told of the beginning of L'Abri Fellowship. The Schaeffers had had the reality of the existence of God demonstrated to them in real ways up to that point, and L'Abri was begun simply from a desire “to demonstrate the existence of God by our lives and our work.” 3
From this humble beginning Schaeffer's work began to grow and to attract attention. In the late 1960s Schaeffer began to speak at American colleges like Wheaton in 1967 and, later, at Westminster Seminary. By the end of the decade and the beginning of the next Schaeffer was speaking at Harvard (1968), Princeton (1972) and Yale (1973) as well as some prestigious universities in Europe and Asia.4 It was during this same period that Schaeffer began to publish his lectures in book form.