Heartbreak and Vulnerability

This week, I was reading someone’s comments on a young lady’s question about her increasingly physical relationship with her boyfriend when I ran into a phrase that always makes me twitch. The commenter suggested breaking up with the boyfriend immediately, then said, “Do not get attached to any boy until you are ready to have a serious relationship.”

Now, that might be good advice in this specific case (since the girl was 16 and had only been dating the guy for 3 months). But in Christian circles, the idea of not getting attached to anyone until you’re ready to get married has been painted with a wide brush across a whole range of situations. It’s often treated as a sure solution to avoiding heartbreak and keeping yourself “pure” for God.

Concerning Conduct

I first heard this advice in courtship circles, where young people are advised to avoid developing feelings for someone of the opposite sex and just be friends until they reach a point where they want to get married. Then, in theory, you can start courting one of these friends and explore the possibility of marriage with them. If you develop feelings for someone before you’re in a position where you could get married to them, then you’re doing something wrong.

Struggle then against yourself as you would struggle against an enemy. Refuse to listen to a wish, to dwell even upon a possibility, that opens to your present idea of happiness. All that in the future may be realized probably hangs upon this conflict. … I only require from you what depends upon yourself, a steady and courageous warfare against the two dangerous undermines of your peace and of your fame, imprudence and impatience.

If not for the slightly out-dated language, you might think I quoted this from a courtship book written within in the past ten years or so. Actually, this quote is from the novel Camilla, first published in 1796 by Frances Burney. It’s part of the letter a pastor writes to his daughter, and is based on 18th century conduct books. Camilla’s father urges her not to let the man she is attracted to learn of her affection, because as a woman it is her duty to “retire to be chosen” by a man rather than seek out a man she loves. It doesn’t turn out quite like he planned, though, since Edgar is waiting for a sign that Camilla has feelings for him before he confesses his attraction to her. They spend much of the 913 pages of this novel miserable because neither one thinks they can properly and decently give the other a hint about how they feel.

On Heartbreak

There are oodles and oodles of songs and stories about heartbreak. Two people fall in love (or at least become quite attached to each other), have a relationship, then the relationship ends and one or both people end up with “broken hearts.” One thing model this presupposes is that you have to be in a relationship in order to get your heart broken. I don’t think that is the case. You can experience the feeling of heartbreak without actually having been in a relationship with someone.

This is one of the things the courtship movement got right — if you let yourself get attached to someone, there’s always the chance that they can hurt you, even if it’s simply by not returning your feelings. Courtship phrased this as “giving away pieces of your heart,” and said the reason it’s a bad idea is because then you don’t have as much heart left to give the person you actually do marry (which is really a ridiculous idea when you think about it; it’s not like we’re born with a set amount of love that we have to dole out sparingly, but problems with the courtship movement is a topic for another day).

I’ve never been in a romantic relationship, but even so I feel like my heart’s been broken a few times. It’s largely my own fault, too — I let myself get pretty close (emotionally) to a few guys I liked, and nothing came of the relationships. But would I have been better if I’d tried to keep myself from feeling anything at all, as Camilla’s father suggests? I really don’t think so.

On Vulnerability

Being open to the possibility of heartache is a prerequisite for entering any kind of relationship. The people who know us best and who we are closest to are those who are most capable of loving us, but they are also the people who could most easily hurt us. If we want to gather people around us to love and be loved by us, we have to take risks. We have to have the strength to be vulnerable.

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.” ― Brené Brown, from “The Gifts of Imperfection”

A Hypothesis on Heartbreak  | marissabaker.wordpress.comNow, we should exercise a certain amount of caution when letting people get close to us. Some people simply cannot be trusted with your heart, but you usually don’t know who these people are until you start to get to know them. The key is to be vulnerable in stages. Don’t pour out all your thoughts, emotions, and self into someone you just met. You do, however, need to start connecting to people authentically if you want to develop relationships. Locking everyone out might keep them from breaking your heart, but you’ll end up lonely if you try that and loneliness can feel an awful lot like heartbreak.

Brene Brown has a great TED talk about this subject. She says that the people who have “a strong sense of love and belonging” see vulnerability as fundamental. They share a willingness “to say ‘I love you’ first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees … to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.” It’s not easy, and it’s not guaranteed to keep you safe, but I think it is better to risk getting close to people than fighting your human desire for connection “as you would struggle against an enemy.”

Are We On Fire for God?

Last Shabbat, the Rabbi in my local Messianic congregation gave a message on zeal. One of the last things he said in the message was, “Christ is not coming back for a bride who has no fire.” We want to much to be the kind of people Christ will be looking for at His return, so if this is the case we do well to take heed, and learn what it means to be on fire, or have fire, for the Lord.

What is Zeal?

The Hebrew words translated “zeal” and “zealous” are qana (H7065), qanna (H7067), and qin’a (H7068). They can all be translated “jealous” as well. Both qana and qin’a can be used in a good or a bad sense, but qanna is exclusively used as a title or attribute of God. Exodus 34:14 even says the Lord’s “name is Jealous.”

In the positive connotations, these words express a strong emotion one person has for another person, or on behalf of someone else. It is “an intense furor, passion, and emotion that is greater than a person’s wrath or anger” (Baker and Carpenter’s WordStudy Dictionary of the Old Testament). Zeal is one of the strongest emotions there is.

When God tells us He is a “jealous God,” He is saying that He does not tolerate any competition for our adoration (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 4:24; Josh 24:19). In all three of these verses, the context is talking about the evils of being unfaithful to the Lord by worshiping idols and turning away to other religions. God has invested His strongest emotions and passions in us, and He expects us to be “on fire” for Him in return.

They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; they have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols. But I will provoke them to jealousy by those who are not a nation; I will move them to anger by a foolish nation. (Deut. 32:21)

Are We On Fire for God? | marissabaker.wordpress.comGod won’t accept a stagnant, lackluster reaction to Him from His people. A half-hearted worship is thoroughly distasteful to Him.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. … As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. (Rev. 3:15-16, 19)

The Greek words for “zeal” and “zealous” are zelos (G2205), zeloo (G2206), and zelotes (G2207). Like the Hebrew, these can have a positive or negative meaning. We actually discussed the negative side of zeloo last week, in connection with 1 Corinthians 13:4.

I think perhaps the best example of how this trait can be good or bad is the apostle Paul. Before his conversion, he persecuted Christ’s church out of zeal for the Jewish faith (Phil. 3:6). But after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he turned that zeal to preaching the true gospel.

In the Greek, zelos is derived form the word zeo (G2204), which means to be hot, either in the sense of fervency or actual warmth, so all the zeal-words carry this idea of heat. Focusing on the positive sides of the definitions, Zodhiates says, “zelos signifies the honorable emulation with the consequent imitation of that which presents itself to the mind’s eye as excellent.” When zeal sees good, it strives to become good. The next word, zeloo, means to be filled with zeal, jealousy, or love. Zelotes refers to a person who is “zealous for or eagerly desirous of something.”

Zealous Love

We just mentioned the relationship between zeal and love in defining the word zeloo. It seems fitting, then, to focus on that next. If God did not love His people so much, He would not be so jealous of our affection. Our God is described as “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). How could we expect His love to lack zeal? He does not passively love us from some cold, aloof position. His love is active, and emotional.

 So the angel who spoke with me said to me, “Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal. …” ‘Therefore thus says the Lord: “I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,” says the Lord of hosts, “And a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.”’ (Zech. 1:14, 16)

Notice that in connection with His zeal for His people, the Lord says, “My house shall be built.” This is not the only place where the Lord demonstrates a zeal for His house.

Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:13-17)

The people Christ threw out of the temple were making a mockery of worship. They had turned God’s house into a place of business. From what I’ve heard, they had probably set up a system where people had to purchase a sacrificial animal from them before going into the temple, rather than bringing a sacrifice of their own. The sellers were putting themselves in a position where the people had to deal with them before they could approach God, and Jesus did not approve. It  was unacceptable in the physical temple, and such things are unacceptable in God’s church today.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

Sounds a lot like what we just read in the gospel of John, doesn’t it? We are “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), and Jesus has the same zeal for us today that He had for His Father’s house back then. He won’t tolerate impure worship practices, or those who try to get between Him and His church. He wants a bride whose heart is fully His, and who is eager for Him to come back and claim her.

What Will He Find In Us?

For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Cor. 11:2-3)

It is possible to let our love for and commitment to Christ wane, and we must be on guard against such a thing. Paul was filled with zeal about the church not loosing their commitment to Christ. In a very real way, he was zealous for His Father’s house. We should also be zealous about guarding our hearts and keeping them fixed on Christ, and on helping our brethren toward a passionate relationship with God as well.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (Rev. 2:4)

This is part of the letter to the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. Christ commends this church for their works, labor, patience, and their diligence to root-out evil. But even with all those good things, He says that if they do not “repent and do the first works” He will “remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:1-7). Just like in 1 Corinthians 13 where gifts, knowledge, and other spectacular things are described as nothing without love, so is the faith and works of this church empty without their first passion for following God.

When we talk about this Greek word for love, agape (G26), we often bring out that agape doesn’t necessarily involve the emotions we typically think of as love. Thus the command “love your enemies” is more about active goodwill toward them than having “warm fuzzy feelings” about those who hate you. But this is the word used to say “God is love,” and we’ve seen that God’s love toward His people does contain strong emotions. Agape can, and in relation to God should, involve strong feelings. To truly love God, we need to learn to reciprocate the kind of love He has toward us.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. (Mark 12:30)

Are We On Fire for God? | marissabaker.wordpress.comJesus gave the perfect example of what it looks like to love God this way. On His last Passover, Jesus said His obedience to the Father’s commandments demonstrated to the world that He loves the Father (John 14:31). He tells us, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:9-10).

I think this willing obedience and sacrifice prompted by love is what Jesus was referring to when He told the Ephesian church to “do the first works.” Recapture the zeal you felt when you first started serving God. The relationship Christ modeled with the Father was close, personal, and sustained by frequent communication. He was perfectly obedient to His Father’s will, and was willing to give up His life because He loved God and He loved His friends (John 15:13-15). Now, He looks for us to have that kind of love for Him, for our Father, and for our brethren.

And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master’ …. I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.” (Hos. 2:16, 19-20)

How can we respond to this Being with anything other than a zealous love? Our Savior “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:14). He wants His bride to be zealous about the things He cares about, to be faithful to Him because we owe Him our lives, and to love Him as He loves us.

 Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

It is so sad after all Christ has done for us, given to us, and offered us in the future that He has to ask this question: “When I come back, is anyone who loves Me going to be waiting?”

When we see Jesus in the future, will He find faith in us? If we could talk to Him now about the state of our faith today, would He tells us “you are not far from the kingdom of God,” as He did to the man who recognized loving God and his neighbor was the key to religion (Mark 12:32-34)? or would He say, as He did to the church in Sardis, “be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Rev. 3:2)?

Some Thoughts on Feminism and Modesty

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I recently read a book called A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit. One of the first things she tackles in this book is the “polarized debate about sex,” particularly between the conservatives and the feminists.

She challenges conservatives to “take the claims of feminists seriously,” because you can dismiss however many studies and stories you like as “exaggeration” but the fact remains that “a lot of young women are very unhappy …. I want conservatives to really listen to these women, to stop saying boys will be boys, and to take what these women are saying seriously.”

To the feminists, Shalit writes, “I want to invite them to consider whether the cause of all this unhappiness might be something other than the patriarchy.” We’ve gotten rid of that just about as much as possible, and things have gotten worse rather than better. Perhaps men aren’t the enemy.

This book was published in 1999. That was almost 16 years ago, and we are still dealing with the exact same issues. We see conservative Rush Limbaugh respond to a street harassment video by describing it as not a big deal because the men were just being polite, and there are still rants about patriarchy on Jezebel.com (language/content warning).

But just a little over two months ago Emma Watson, British actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, gave a speech about feminism where her vision for gender equality sounded remarkably similar to ideas Wendy Shalit arrives at while defending the power of modesty. Are we starting to find common ground, and is there hope for a peaceful resolution to “the war between the sexes”?

A Trip to the 18th Century

It might seem odd to take a 3-century detour when talking about issues in modern culture. But when I started reading Francis Burney’s novels Cecelia (1782) and Camilla (1796) as part of an independent study my junior year of college, I was struck by how the gender issues facing those heroines were so remarkably like what women in my church regularly complain about. Where are the “real men?” we ask, looking around and seeing adult men who act like overgrown boys and have little interest in committing to marriage. We typically blame feminism, for telling boys that it was wrong to be “masculine” and to stop oppressing girls by taking care of them.

Portrait of Francis Burney by her relative Edward Burney

A contemporary of Burney, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a book called A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), which is often considered one of the first feminist writings. When you actually read her book, however, it becomes clear that she is arguing for arguing for a reexamination, not a dismissal, of the traditional roles between men and women. She believes men and women are equal in God’s eyes, but that argument doesn’t mean they don’t both have distinct roles to fill.

Both these writers were responding to a moment called “sentimentality,” which encouraged men to indulge their emotions and abandon their traditional roles of protectors and providers. The result was something like what we see today — when men are no longer encouraged to protect or respect women, more and more women are victimized. That’s where we made our mistake, both in the 18th and the 20th/21st centuries. We thought men would treat women better if we told them to stop being manly, when in fact the opposite is true.

HeForShe

When Emma Watson introduced her talk about gender equality and the #HeForShe campaign, she first addressed issues people have with the word “feminism.”

the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

Tom Hiddleston

One of the key points of Watson’s speech is that both men and women must be working together if we are ever to achieve a gender equality that benefits and protects both men and women.

How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation? Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society, despite my need of his presence as a child, as much as my mother’s. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. …

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.

When we turn issues of gender into a “battle of the sexes” instead of a friendly discussion or a cause to work on together, both men and women lose the battle. You can’t build peaceful relations on a foundation of strife.

Courteous Men

Wendy Shalit discusses essentially the same issue, though she comes from the perspective of restoring part of the traditional gender roles (I suspect Burney and Wollstonecraft would both approve). Rather than pushing for an increasingly “nonsexist” approach to raising boys (in this example), she argues for “a good dose of sexist upbringing: how to relate as a man to a woman.”

Today we want to pretend there are no differences between the sexes …. We try to cure them of what is distinctive instead of cherishing these differences and directing them towards each other in a meaningful way. We can never succeed in curing men and women of being men and women, however, and so these differences emerge anyway — only when they do, the emerge in their crudest, most untutored form (p.153).

Frontispeice for The English Gentlewoman

She also goes back to a previous century to illustrate her arguments, all the way to 1630 and 1631 — the years Richard Brathwait’s The English Gentleman and The English Gentlewoman were published. Shalit’s reading of these texts is that  there was a “link between male obligation and female modesty” where men attained “perfection” by treating women with respect (p.99-102). In this century, men were not compelled to respect women by an outside authority — they were taught that this  was the only way for real men to behave.

The argument from external authority labels a man as evil if he date-rapes or sexually harasses a woman. From the standpoint of modesty, he is behaving abominably, but more crucially, he is really missing the whole point. He hasn’t understood what it means to be a man (p.104).

The feminists who see patriarchy as oppressive balk at this idea, but Shalit assures them, “I doubt that if men are taught to relate courteously to women, women would be suddenly thrown out of all the professions, as some contend. Maybe, on the contrary, it would be much easier for the sexes to work together.” Isn’t this, at its core, what Emma Watson’s brand of feminism is asking for? men and women who can work together toward common goals with mutual respect. Isn’t that something we all want?

The Greatest Is Love

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comWhat’s the most important thing you can do as a Christian? What is it that sets followers of Jesus apart from the rest of the world? Is it baptism? professing Christ as their savior? doing “the work of God”? keeping the Sabbath? While these are all important, they are not what Christ described as the greatest commandments.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

In Mark’s account, Christ says, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). Both these commandments begin with the instruction, “You shall love.” In Greek, the word is agapao (G25), and it “indicates a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something” (all dictionary quotes from Zodhiates). I also find it interesting that, even though the lawyer only asked about the most important commandment, Jesus told him about the second as well. It was important to Christ that His hearers knew they had to love each other as well as God.

How Important is Love?

We’ve already seen Jesus describe “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor” as the two most important commandments. On His last Passover, He added another layer.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We are to love other people the way we love ourselves, and we are also to love our brethren the way Jesus loves us. Love among the believers is how Christ said “all men” would recognize His true church. It’s the key to how we should treat one another, as we talked about last week. We need to actively care for one another, to sacrificially love others as Christ did when He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:12-14). This sort of love isn’t just a feeling — it involves a choice to find our joy in our fellow believers and in our relationship with God. It is absolutely necessary for our personal growth and for peace in the church.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1)

Paul had just been talking about spiritual gifts and unity in the church body. Now, he says that those gifts are useless without love.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2)

All these things that we find so impressive — inspired speaking, understanding the mysteries of God, knowing everything about the Bible, mountain-moving faith — they are all nothing without love. I know of a man who is convinced he’s close to having full knowledge of God, and he’s so caught up in this that he’s almost impossible to talk with. He’d probably scoff at the idea that love is more important than his pet Bible theories. Yet it was the person who knew that to love God “with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” to whom Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:32-34).

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)

Now Paul tells us that we can go through all the motions that look like sacrificial love, and still not have genuine love. Unless our actions are motivated by true agape, they don’t do us any good. Our good actions will benefit others, but if our hearts are not right we will not reap the benefits of practicing the kind of love that Jesus Christ models.

What is Love?

The Greek word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape (G26), a derivative of agapao. Zodhiates says this “word [is] not found in class Gr. but only in revealed religion.” He goes on to say that agape means benevolent love, which is “not shown by doing what the person loved desires but what the one who loves deems as needed by the one loved.” Think of God sending Jesus as the sacrifice for sins to a people who thought they didn’t want Him, or of Casting Crowns’ song Love You With The Truth. But this definition still isn’t a full picture of agape. For that, we need to read on in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love suffers long (1 Cor. 13:4)

“Suffers long” is from the Greek word makrothumeo (G3134). It means to be long-suffering and have endurance rather than giving up and losing faith or becoming angry. Specifically, “makrothumeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward persons” (there’s another word for patience with things and circumstances). It is used to describe God’s attitude toward us (2 Pet. 3:9), and is an attitude we should have toward every person (1 Thes. 5:14).

 and is kind (1 Cor. 13:4)

This verse is the only time the word chresteuomai (G5541) apears in scripture. It is, however, related to the word chrestos (G5543), which means “profitable, fit, good for any use.” Kindness is a willingness to be useful, a readiness to assist others. God is kind toward all (Luke 6:35; Eph. 2:7), and as with other attributes of God it is something we must also learn (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12).

love does not envy (1 Cor. 13:4)

The words translated “envy” is closely related to zeal, and can actually be used in a good or bad sense. Paul uses it both ways in Galatians 4:17-18, where zeloo (G2206) is translated  “zealous.” In 1 Corinthians 13, it means having a wrong kind of zeal that manifests itself in jealousy and envy (Acts 17:5-9).

love does not parade itself, is not puffed up (1 Cor. 13:4)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThese two attributes of love are similar. One involves not bragging about the things you have. The other involves avoiding pride and self-conceit. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that pride is an abomination to God. Humility is what He looks for in people who have His love inside them (1 Pet. 5:5-7).

does not behave rudely (1 Cor. 13:5)

To “behave rudely” is the Greek word aschemoneo (G807). It means to “behave in an ugly, indecent, unseemly, or unbecoming manner” that brings disgrace and reproach. Zodhiates says its use in 1 Corinthians 13 “succinctly means that love in its speech and action seeks to contain no evil, but seeks to change the evildoer.”

does not seek its own (1 Cor. 13:5)

Love isn’t concerned with accumulating wealth or glory for the self. Rather, those who love “esteem others better than himself” and look out “not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

is not provoked (1 Cor. 13:5)

The basic meaning of the word parozuno (G3947) is to sharpen, but in the New Testament it is used “metaphorically, to sharpen the mind, tempter or courage of someone, to incite, to impel … to provoke or rouse to anger.” This reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:9).

thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:5)

Here again, looking at the Greek adds layers of meaning. The word “think” is logizomai (G3049), and it means “to put together with one’s mind, to count, to occupy oneself with reckonings or calculations.” This is telling us that love does not devote mental energy to wicked, evil, or corrupt schemes. Our minds must be occupied with good (Phil. 4:8).

does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)

Iniquity, translated from adikia (G93), is “not conformable with justice” and exists in opposition to truth. Truth, aletheia (G225), is “unveiled reality,” often referring to divine truth in the New Testament. It exposes iniquity, which is what Christ is alluding to in John 15:22 when He says His words have left people with “no excuse for their sin.”

I also find it interesting that the word for rejoicing in iniquity is a general word for being glad (chario, G5463), but the word for rejoicing in the truth is sugchario G4796), which involves rejoicing together with others. The rejoicing that love does it not isolated — it is shared joy.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7)

“Bears” means “to cover over in silence.” Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 13, stego (G4722) means that “love hides the faults of others and covers them up.” The word “Believe” is from pisteuo (G4100), and it means to have faith or trust in something. In particular, “to be firmly persuaded as to something,” especially of belief in God. The Greek word elpizo (G1679) means to hope or “expect with desire.” It can also refer to putting hope or trust in God.

When we talked about the phrase “love suffers long,” I said that word referred to people and another word was for patience with circumstances. Hupomeno (G5278), translated “endures,” is that word. It means “to persevere, endure, sustain, bear-up under, suffer as a load of miseries, adversaries, persecutions, or provocations with faith.”

Things That Last

It is worth keeping in mind that, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), this definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is also a description of God. As we grow to have these characteristics of love, we are also becoming more like Him.

as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:3-4)

God has given us all the tools we need to partake in His “divine nature.” His process of building a family involves making us like Him and like His Son by changing our minds and actions now, and our bodies in the future.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere are many things that we can’t take into the next life, including our physical possessions and physical bodies. There are also attitudes and beliefs that God won’t allow in because they are incompatible with His nature. But there are other things — things we can “lay up” as “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20) — which we can take with us. That is why those who have hope of becoming like Jesus purify themselves “as He is pure,” because only the parts of ourselves that look like Him will endure.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. … And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13)

Even some of the good things we have now — like knowledge, certain gifts, and prophecy — eventually won’t be relevant in their current form because they will be superseded “when that which is perfect has come.” Our understanding of these things now is limited and child-like, and will be replaced by something deeper (1 Cor. 13:11-12).

This is not the case with love. Love transfers to the next world. It is not put away and it never fails. That is because God is sharing His very nature with us, right now. It is a gift so great that it doesn’t need to be replaced with something better. Indeed, it cannot be.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. … If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. …

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:7, 12, 16-17)

God has shared His love with us, and intends to perfect that aspect of Himself in us right now. He wants us to be “as He is” even while we are in the world. We started out talking about how important it is that we love all our brethren, and we see it again here in 1 John. Loving one another proves that we are born of God, and it is a prerequisite for God dwelling in us. In fact, John tells us that if we don’t learn to love our brethren, we cannot claim to love God (1 John 4:20-21). It is vital to understand this, dear readers, because if we don’t have God’s love in us we are missing the greatest attribute designed to carry over into God’s kingdom. If we don’t have love, will there even be any point in God having us there?

The INFJ Writer

I’m sure I read somewhere that David Keirsey originally called the INFJ personality type “The Writer” instead of “The Counselor,” but I can’t find the article now. Nevertheless, it does seem that quite a few INFJs are attracted to writing. Even if they aren’t working as writers or typing away at a novel, they probably keep a journal/diary and are often more comfortable with written communication than they are with speaking. I’m a fairly typical example of INFJs in this regard — I write a blog (obviously), keep a journal, work as a writer, prefer writing e-mails to taking on the phone, and write fiction.

Speaking of writing fiction …

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI won NaNoWriMo! I’m particularly pleased with myself for conquering the 50,000 words a day early in spite of having pneumonia in November. Anyway, back to INFJ writers.

Imaginative Fiction

There’s an INFJ profile written by Dr. A.J. Drenth (which no longer appears on his website, but you can read it here) that has this to say about INFJs:

Although INFJs are commonly drawn to music, visual arts, design, or architecture, writing may well be this type’s signature creative talent. Adept at channeling their right-brain creativity into a fluid and engaging left-brain storyline, INFJs are unmatched in their feel for and creative use of the written word.

This creative aspect of our writing  talent seems to be tied to an INFJ’s primary function — Introverted Intuition (Ni). Intuitive types prefer possibility to actuality, future to the present, intuition to fact, and improvement over the status quo. When intuition is introverted, as for INFJs, the focus is mostly on an internal world where our minds tinker with “ideas, perspectives, theories, visions, stories, symbols, and metaphors” (Dr. A.J. Drenth, Introverted Intuition).

Even INFJs who don’t write typically have an affinity for stories and a “rich inner life.” We tend to live in a world of possibilities, and I find that one way to keep my fantasy life anchored in reality is to turn those ideas into stories and write them down. It’s weakness/temptation for INFJs to never move their ideas from possibility to reality. With creative writing, I can set my imagination loose and tell myself there’s a practical application for it as well.

INFJs as Writers

It’s hard to type people when you don’t know them, but there are some famous writers that we can guess were INFJs. Keirsey lists Emily Bronte and Emily Dickenson as “Counselor” types. Another list of famous INFJs adds writers like Chaucer, Dante Alighieri, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. A forum discussion suggests Madeleine L’Engle, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Lois Lowry, Ursla LeGuin, Franz Kafka, and several others could be added to the list.

my latest novel, laid-out in Post-It notes above my bed

my latest novel, laid-out in Post-It notes above my bed, with a different color for each point-of-view character

Now, the fact that many INFJs gravitate towards writing doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for us. I’m not sure how many stories I started and abandoned before finally finishing my first novel in 2011. It was for NaNoWriMo, and I needed that deadline to keep myself writing. It’s so easy to build the story in my head, and then lose interest in writing it down once I think I know how it ends.

Though knowing the end makes me lose interest in the story, I also need some kind of outline to keep me on track. I’ve discovered sticky notes on the wall is my new favorite way to plot-out novels. They can be removed or rearranged as needed, and you don’t need to have them all there to start writing. For my NaNo novel this year, I began with only half the plot laid-out, and added more scenes as I wrote and the direction of the story became clear.

Further Reading

Why INFJs Have Trouble Writing by Lauren Sapala

The INFJ Writing Personality: Eloquent Vision by Andrea J. Wenger

How Should We View Other Church Groups?

How Should We View Other Church Groups? | marissabaker.wordpress.comWe all know there are divisions in the church today. There are large groups, small groups, corporate churches, independent churches, and then factions and rivalries inside and among many of them. I think we can all agree this is not an ideal situation — that Christ’s intention is for us to be “at one.” Often we think the way to achieve that unity is for “all those people out there” to just “come to their senses and join my church.”

But what if there isn’t anything wrong with “them”? What if they are already in God’s church, and the problems lie with us picking and choosing a “my church” to stick with? Take the churches of my faith background as an example. There are literally hundreds of different groups that are all keeping the 7th Day Sabbath and God’s Holy Days of Leviticus 23, and each of them considers that a defining “thing” about our particular variety of Christianity. Yet there are still people, especially in the larger or more exclusive groups, who think if you aren’t keeping the Sabbath with their church is doesn’t really count. And then we tell ourselves we’re better than “mainstream Christianity”!

Other Sheep

There was a similar problem in the New Testament church, with divisions between Jewish and Gentile believers. Up until Acts 10, the disciples assumed only Jews were being called to know Jesus Christ. Then, God showed very clearly that He was opening up the chance for salvation to everyone.

There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. (Acts 10:1-2)

This man was already serving the God of Israel, but the Jews wouldn’t have had anything to do with him. Unless there were other Gentile believers around, he didn’t have anyone to fellowship with except his family. Some of us have probably been there, without a local group to fellowship with or feeling like we’re unwelcome in the ones that are there. In Cornelius’s case, God took care of this problem by sending him a vision telling him to send for Peter, and then God told Peter to go (Acts 10:3-27).

Then he [Peter] said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28)

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:34-35)

And just to clear up any lingering doubts in the minds of Peter’s Jewish companions, God gave Cornelius and his family the Holy Spirit before they were even baptized.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. (Acts 10:44-45)

They really shouldn’t have been so surprised. Christ’s ministry on earth was to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24), but He still spoke with a Samaritan woman in John 4, healed a Gentile woman’s daughter in Matthew 15, and had this to say in John 10:

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)

From the very beginning of the New Testament church, Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t going to work with just one group or one type of people. He had bigger plans.

Church Squabbles

Several things happened in the aftermath of Cornelius’s conversion. First, Peter had to defend his choice to even talk with a Gentile. Once the whole story was known, though, there wasn’t much to say.

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Acts 11:18)

That wasn’t the end of the squabbling, however, because church culture started becoming an issue. The way I see it, the whole circumcision debate that became such an issue in the early church boiled down to a group of people who thought everyone else had to worship God the exact same way they did. They didn’t want the Gentiles bringing in any of their culture or ideas about how to worship, and they certainly didn’t want anyone to “get away with” anything.

And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

There’s quite a discussion about this question in the rest of Acts 15. The basic decision was to lay no unnecessary burden on the new converts. Precisely why physical, male circumcision is unnecessary under the New Covenant is something addressed in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 7:18-19). My point is that this question was a big deal to some people, and it caused division, dissension, and dispute in the church. Yet the consensus upon examining the issue was that it wasn’t really anything to get worked up about either way. There were far more important things to focus on, like the keeping of God’s commandments and developing a relationship with Him.

So far we’ve seen church culture/background divisions and doctrinal divisions in the New Testament church. They also struggled with another sort of division that we face today, regarding which human teacher you follow.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13)

Paul would no doubt have much the same thing to tell us today — that we should stop squabbling about who we follow or what group we’re in and be unified in Christ. The message is not to convert everyone to your faction and then get along. It’s to be unified right now — to be peaceful with the people you’re currently squabbling with both inside and outside “your” group. There are Biblical guidelines for resolving conflict (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 6:1-11), and none of them involve starting a new church group because you can’t agree on when the barley in Jerusalem is ripe, or excommunicating a family because they want to keep the land Sabbath on their farm (true stories).

Made One

We have different ways of dividing ourselves now other than Jews vs. Gentiles or circumcision vs. uncircumcision, but the principles laid-out for how these groups were to interact give us guidelines for how the churches of God should look today.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. (Rom. 10:12)

There is no difference — how strange that must have seemed to them! As strange as telling a former Catholic and a former Baptist who meet in the same group now that there was never any difference between them in God’s eyes; as strange as telling a Sabbath keeper with a Worldwide Church of God background that there’s no difference between them and a Messianic believer.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation (Eph. 2:11-14)

There used to be dividing lines, but no longer — they are all done away in Christ.

For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:18-22)

There aren’t multiple groups in God’s eyes. Every person He has called into His family is part of the temple He is building. He doesn’t expect everyone in His family to look or act exactly alike, so why should we?

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.

How Should We View Other Church Groups? | marissabaker.wordpress.comIf the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:12-25)

And there you have it — God is working with a wide variety of people who are filling different roles as He sees fit. When we decide a certain person, or type of person, doesn’t have a place in our church group, that’s like saying our bodies would be just fine without an eye or a foot.

Say, “Come”

God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t make a habit of calling people to follow Him unless He has a plan for working with them. It is not our place to decide who God is and is not working with, or who He should call. How arrogant is it for us to assume we can decide which people God takes an interest in?

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.  …

But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. … So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Rom. 14:4, 10, 12-13)

There are times in the church when we have to make judgements concerning right and wrong. Sometimes the fruits seen in a person’s life call for them being excluded from fellowship until they return to God’s way of life, but those incidents should be rare and very carefully considered (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). As a general rule, the actions we need to be most concerned about are our own. God isn’t going to have people in His family who can’t get along with each other and who refuse to work with certain people. His plan is for the whole world to repent and be saved (John 3:16-17). If you’re excluding people from God’s family, even just in your own mind, then your thoughts are not in line with His.

At the end of the book of Revelation there is a beautiful picture of the future where “a pure river of water of life” flows out “from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” A tree of life grows by this river, and the “leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” who will see God’s face and live in His light (Rev. 22:1-5). In this future, what do we see the Lamb’s wife — the church — doing?

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17)

We’re welcoming anyone who wants to come, inviting them to freely partake of what God is offering. We aren’t picking and choosing who’s allowed in — we’re inviting everyone to come and learn. This is something we have to start learning how to do now. I think sometimes we expect all this will be easy when we’re spirit beings, but if that was a magic cure-all for bad attitudes, Lucifer wouldn’t have fallen (Is. 14:12-21; Ezk. 28:11-19). It is imperative that we learn how to relate to one another now, for if we cannot be faithful and obedient on a physical level in a command so important as “love thy neighbor as thyself,” why would God entrust us with true riches? (Matt. 22:36-40; Luke 16:10-12).

 

Random Thanksgiving Post

Happy Thanksgiving to all my blog readers! I have much to be grateful for this year, and I’m sure many of you do as well. You can share some of your “thanksgivings” in the comments, if you like. Here’s a few of mine:

  1. I’m thankful for my family and friends. A few years ago, I didn’t know many of the friends I have now (including several of you, dear readers) and I’m so grateful to have wonderful people in my life.
  2. I’m grateful that my 16-year-old cat recovered from a serious illness so well that he now looks and acts healthier than he has in years.
  3. I’m thankful that I’m still on-track to finish NaNoWriMo even after having pneumonia.
  4. I’m grateful that people in our country still think it’s important to take a day of Thanksgiving. Though it’s just “turkey day” to some, there’s plenty of good people out there who remember why we’re spending a day giving thanks.

I found an article from 2011 collecting different quotes from American presidents about Thanksgiving. Thought I’d share a few that I liked:

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation.” (George Washington, 1789)

“Rarely has any people enjoyed greater prosperity than we are now enjoying. For this we render heartfelt thanks to the giver of Good; and we will seek to praise Him, not by words only, but by deeds, by the way in which we do our duty to ourselves and to our fellow-men.” (Theodore Roosevelt, 1902)

“Let us ask the Divine Blessing on our decision and determination to protect our way of life against the forces of evil and slavery which seek in these days to encompass us. On the day appointed for this purpose, let us reflect at our homes or places of worship on the goodness of God and, in giving thanks, let us pray for a speedy end to strife and the establishment on earth of freedom, brotherhood, and justice for enduring time.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941)

“The blessings that are ours must be understood as the gift of a loving God Whose greatest gift is healing. Let us join then, with the psalmist of old: ‘O give thanks to the Lord, call on His name, Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing praises to Him, tell of all His wonderful works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!'” (Ronald Reagan, 1987)

And here’s a link to an article for all my introverted friends wondering how they’ll survive the social getting-together that happens on Thanksgiving: 9 Quick Tips to Save Your Sanity This Thanksgiving. Just remember — occasionally needing a break from your families doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It means you like them enough to give yourself the space you need so you don’t get cranky and take it out on them.

This is turning into a thoroughly random blog post, but why stop now? I tried a new recipe this Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Snickerdoodles. My sister has discovered Pinterest, so she sends me all the food she thinks looks good in the hope that I’ll make it for her. Snickerdoodles are my favorite cookie, so I decided to try this one. The addition of pumpkin adds a unique spin on the flavor that’s perfect for fall. I’ve linked to the recipe so you can try them out yourself, or at least stare at the delicious pictures.

And lastly, a shameless plug for my Etsy shop. The Geek Spa is having a Black Friday sale. Use code “BlackFriday” for 20% off now through Monday.BlackFriday2014

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

You might have noticed a lack of blog post last Monday. I’d been planning to write something about a book I recently read called A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit, but came down with pneumonia. The only reason there were posts on the past two Saturdays is that they were already written (it seems like whenever a Bible study comes together really well so I have an extra Sabbath post ready “just in case,” something comes up that gives me a reason to use it).

It’s been nearly two weeks now and I still don’t feel fully recovered (much better, though!). So instead of a thoughtful book review, I want to talk to you about a song that’s been stuck in my head. Or rather, a specific version of the song.

You’re no doubt familiar with the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” You might even have heard Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé’s new cover already, but if you haven’t seen the video yet please take a few seconds to at least glance at it, since that’s a big part of what I want to talk about.

Apparently they’ve tried to turn this song into a cute family-friendly version for the holidays. If you close  your eyes, though, it still sounds like a man trying to seduce a woman. But then you open your eyes and see a cute little pre-adolescent kids acting out the roles. In the words of Jubal Early, does that seem right to you?

In the original score, written in 1944 by Frank Loesser, the two singing parts are called “wolf” and “mouse,” with a male voice usually singing “wolf” and a female voice usually singing “mouse” (thought not always — did you know Joseph Gordon Levit could sing?). Actually, it turns out we can talk about Wendy Shalit’s book after all, since she mentions “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in her modesty book.

Now this song is very stereotypical because certainly not all men are hungry wolves and not all women reticent mice. Indeed, I’ve known quite a few hungry woman and mousey men. However, the simple fact remains that a young woman in 1948 had a hundred and one reasons to say no to sex, if she wanted to say no, and those reasons were credible. The story we are told today is that all these reasons, such as a father waiting up for you, were oppressive to women. And yet in their absense we can appreciate how an earlier generation of girls was made powerful by them. (A Return to Modestly, p.55)

If she’d seen this music video, though, I’m not sure Miss Shalit would have put her discussion of it under the heading “Girls Who Can’t Say No” as a contrast between today’s culture and that of 1948 (the year Loesser sold the rights to MGM). I think she might have moved the discussion to one of the many passages in her book where she talks how much we as a culture sexualize our children. For one thing, she draws a parallel between assigning sex-education classes to younger and younger students and increasing levels of student-on-student sexual violence in schools.

The associative link between the disenchanting of sex and increased sexual brutality among children works like this: if our children are raised to believe, in the words of the New Jersey kindergarten teacher, that talking about the most private things is “no different from talking about an elbow,” they they are that much more likely to see nothing wrong in a certain kind of sexual violence. (A Return to Modestly, p.19)

Now, I’m not saying this cute little music video is going to lead to increased levels of sexual assault among children. Rather, it bothers me as part of a trend that portrays young children in more and more sexualized ways. Most people I know would hope their 10- or 11-year-olds didn’t understand what’s going on in this song — they wouldn’t be encouraging them to sing it. And if this little boy was older, I’m not sure which interpretation of the song this performance would make me lean towards. Does “mouse” want to stay but feels she should leave, and “wolf” is persuading her to do what she wants? Or is “mouse” really trying to get away, and “wolf” is blocking her escape? Depends on how you sing the song, and how you feel about the line “What’s in this drink?” that was cut from the video, but not the version on Idina Menzel’s CD.

Am I over-thinking this? Perhaps. But it saddens me how many people think this is just a cute little video and don’t seem to see the potential implications of two children singing what is a rather adult song. Sure they’re adorable and talented, but was it a good idea for the adults who were in charge of creating this music video to use them like this? I really don’t think so.

Spared No Expense

When I hear the phrase “spared no expense,” the first thing that comes to mind is John Hammond advertizing his Jurassic Park. But recently I heard it twice in a completely different context — in two different sermons just a couple Sabbaths ago. In one message, the speaker was talking about showing hospitality, and in the other the subject was David’s generous offering when he welcomed the Ark in to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 16:1-18).

But anything humans can come up with when we “spare no expense” can’t begin to compare with what God can accomplish when He “spares no expense.”

With One Sacrifice

We all know John 3:16 — probably have it memorized. But please take the time to read it again with me.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Talk about sparing no expense! God delivered up His only Son to die in our places. Let’s think about this for a moment. We believe that God and the Word are Eternal and didn’t have a beginning point — They’ve always been there. It follows, then, that God the Father had never been alone before. Imagine how long those three days that Jesus spent dead in the grave must have seemed!

And now think of it from Christ’s perspective. He was the Word who “was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:1, 3). He had equality with God and the power needed to make all things. And what did He do with that power?

made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:7-8)

Christ gave up all this power, and risked His eternal life (for if He had failed there was no one else to sacrifice for sin), all to save us. That sacrifice was so valuable that “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). His life was so precious — so “expensive,” if you will — that it could cancel out forever the debts of the whole world. Christ and the Father truly “spared no expense” in freeing us from captivity.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32)

Given All Things

What does “all things” in Romans 8:32 include? Well, having given the most valuable thing they could — Jesus Christ Himself — the Father and Son continue to “spare no expense” in blessing us. We touched on this last week when talking about god rewarding prayer, and promising “no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11). Eternal life is one of these gifts, and a direct result of Christ’s sacrifice.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

Another extremely important gift that God gives through Jesus is His Holly Spirit. Peter calls it “the gift of God” in Acts 8:20, and John 7:39 notes that the Holy Spirit was only given after Christ was glorified, tying it directly to the greatest gift.

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him! (Luke 11:13)

You can finds lists of some spiritual gifts which God gives in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and Romans 12:6-8. Jesus told His disciples, “it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” so all His teaching to us are also a gift (Matt. 13:11). James says we can ask God for anything we lack, like wisdom, with faith because God “gives to all liberally and without reproach” (James 1:5). We don’t have to worry about God thinking our requests are silly or not worth His time. He wants to give us things.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.  (James 1:17)

God is happy to pour good things our on us. Having already given us the most valuable gift ever — eternal life through Christ’s sacrifice for sin — He just keeps giving us more and more of the good things we want and need.

Present Yourselves

Our response to God’s generosity should involve following His example of giving. With this context, the following verse takes on some additional significance, I think.

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

This is typically read in the context of monetary giving. But God is not focused on giving us physical prosperity (though that does happen sometimes), so why should we only focus on giving God physical things?

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Rom. 12:1)

Paul describes sacrificing ourselves as “reasonable.” Knowing God has freely given us “all things,” it does seem reasonable that we should freely give Him all that we are and have, particularly since He promises to increase His generosity to us as our generosity increases toward others.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)

We see a perfect example of this in Matthew 25, where Christ tells us how He will divide the sheep from the goats. The people who gave food to those who were hungry, water to the thirsty, and clothing to those who needed it, who took in strangers and gave up their time to visit prisoners — those are the people Christ will have in His kingdom. Giving sacrificially of our time and resources to any of Christ’s brethren counts as giving it directly to Him.

 

Keep On Asking

If you read through Luke 11 in The Holy Bible in Its Original Order, there’s an interesting footnote on verse nine. In this verse, Jesus says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” The footnote I mentioned reads, “The force of the Greek means: ask, and keep on asking; seek, and keep on seeking; knock, and keep on knocking.” So there’s more to this verse than first meets the eye, particularly when taken in the context of the preceding verses.

Ask, Seek, Knock

And He said to them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

This doesn’t seem like a very good attitude, does it? The man in the house can’t be bothered to climb out of his nice warm bed for friendship’s sake, but eventually this guy outside became too annoying not to help him. What are we supposed to learn from this in the context of praying to God (which was the subject of verses 1-4 as well)?

Before we try to answer that question, let’s look at a very similar parable a few chapters later in Luke.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5)

Once again, this isn’t a commendable attitude — the judge is plainly described as unjust and unrighteous — the very opposite of a God-fearing man. Yet what does Jesus say?

Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” (Luke 18:6-8)

It always puzzled me why God was compared to an unrighteous judge. But it’s not really a comparison at all, is it? It’s a contrast, meant to reassure us. Even unjust and lazy people respond to persistent asking, seeking, and knocking. How much more will our righteous God who “neither faints nor is weary” (Is. 40:28) listen to our petitions!

Why Do We Need Persistence?

These two parables don’t just tell us that God will most assuredly respond when we ask Him something. They also teach us how to ask. In both accounts, the petitioner refuses to give up. They have to “ask, and keep on asking” for help, to “knock, and keep on knocking” before they get an answer.

Anyone who’s ever asked God for something knows that the answer doesn’t always come immediately. We shouldn’t just give up praying about or seeking something after one request. Persistence, with the assurance of knowing we’ll eventually get an answer, does three main things I can think of:

  • teaches patience through delayed gratification
  • demonstrates our faith and hope
  • keeps us in communication with God

Why are these so important? Well, Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we “have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (KJV). And James 1:4 counsels, “let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” People who don’t have staying-power don’t make it into God’s kingdom.

As for faith and hope, they are two of the three things Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13 would “abide” (the Greek word, meno, means to stand, continue, and endure). Hope is so important that Romans 8:24 says we are saved in hope, or “by hope” if you’re reading the King James. And hope is again linked to faith in Hebrews 11:1, which defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

We could look at several passages that point to the importance of searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11), studying God’s word (2 Tim. 2:15), and praying (1 Thes. 5:17). We have to keep in touch with God by praying and studying His communication to us — the Bible — in order to stay on track. And, unfortunately, if we didn’t have things we felt like we needed Him to supply, we probably wouldn’t spend as much time with Him.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Never Give Up

I do want to touch on something Luke 11:9-10 is not telling us. It doesn’t say that if we pester God enough, He’ll give us whatever we want just to keep us from bothering Him. I doubt He likes nagging much more than my Dad does (as evidenced by how well the Israelites’ constant complaining was received).

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

These verses tell us that God is listening, and that He will answer. He wants us to have enough faith in Him to keep asking, seeking, and knocking until we get an answer. Sometimes it’s not the answer we wanted, but it’s always going to be the answer we needed.

Take Paul for example. He tells us that to keep him from becoming prideful, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Obviously he didn’t want that — who would? — so he brought the problem to God.

Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 cor. 12:8-9)

Paul asked for his trial to be removed, and instead he received a personal promise of support from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s persistent asking was rewarded by an incredible response, though not the one he initially wanted. He thought he wanted something taken away, but instead he received the power of Christ inside him. Sounds like a good answer to me, and Paul said he would gladly endure trials if the result was Christ’s power dwelling in him.

There are also other promises we can look to when we need our persistence and our hope built up.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You! (Ps. 84:11-12)

This verse promises that God will give us good things if we follow Him, even if they aren’t something we’re asking for. This is the sort of promise fulfilled for Paul. There are also other promises that are equally encouraging, where God says He does indeed give His people the specific requests they ask of Him.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. (Ps. 37:4-5)

God doesn’t just ignore us. He knows our needs, and our desired as well. And He wants to give them to us, so long as they are good things that will actually be helpful instead of hurting us in the long-run. We just need to keep asking, and never give up on the One who will never give up on us.