The Happy Surprise

Putting the good book to good use

Going up alone

In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney lists out the multitude of passages that prioritize solitude and silence; not just the clichéd, “Be still and know that I am God” verse from Elijah’s storm. Jesus was led into the wilderness. He went to the mountain alone to pray. He went early to a desolate place, many times to be alone. Worship of God is often silent. Zephaniah 1:7 says the earth is silent before Him. David, Isaiah and Jeremiah describe waiting on the Lord in silence (Psalm 62:1-6, Isaiah 30:15, Lamentations 3:25-28). Zechariah was struck mute to prepare him to raise his son, the prophet John. Closing our mouths and shutting out sound draws us inward and focuses our self on God and His perspective.

I also took a long hike up a local mountain, in the rain, completely alone. (I only passed two other wet souls on the trail.) It was the absolute solitude that frightened me at first. Being alone on Rattlesnake Mountain was a daunting thought, but one I embraced. I have had many thoughts of the solitude of death recently, and the complete aloneness of dying is frightening. I thought that I could face this fear in a small way by taking this four-mile hike, in the rain with all the bears and cougars and no cell phone reception! Because, after all, I have been promised that I am never alone, even in death. (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5)

At the beginning of the climb, my thoughts were stilled by the great, green forest around me. But as my doubt-addled brain is oft to do, I began to question God. The hike was steep and I stopped for breath leaning onto a drippy, moss-covered tree. I opened my inner ear and listened for answers. Hearing nothing but my thumping heart, I asked to the tree tops, “Are you there?” And heard, “I am.” Now, I didn’t actually hear anything. But, I knew that His name was the answer, and I began to marvel at the revelation.

Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Jesus. They all spent time climbing a mountain to meet with God. And so did I. At least, this was my meditation and motivation to keep climbing. I was climbing to fight my tendency toward personal indulgence and comfort. It was cold and exhausting. Jillian Michaels has a saying, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That is a worthy goal not just in physical training, but in spiritual. I meditated on the link between the two. When I stopped for breath, I realized that the harder the climb the more I needed to stop and rest than in the flat bits. This too connected in spiritual ways that encouraged my steps.

Once I reached the overlook I was aiming for, there was nothing to see. How indicative of my journey with God recently! I was amused at the metaphor. But, all was well with my soul because I have seen the view before. On clearer days, the view of the valley and Mt. Si shock your senses and drop your jaw in wonder. Today, I trusted that the sight of the valley was still the same behind the cloud. I just couldn’t see it. It was nice to experience the intimacy of the cloud with the drizzle and the wind.

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In a book about Fred Rogers, from The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Amy Hollingsworth says that Fred “knew that silence leads to reflection, that reflection leads to appreciation and that appreciation looks about for someone to thank.” As I sat in the noisy silence of nature on top of that mountain, my reflections were calm, assured that I can trust that God is present even though I’m often surrounded by a cloud. He is there, even when I can’t see Him. And I spent time in gratitude.

4 reasons why I believe God does not restrict women in ministry

  1. The redeemed are not limited to birth status.

Jesus offers redemption to every human, male and female; black and white; American or Canadian. Regardless of what sin has done to the human condition, Jesus erases the damage and offers us a full inheritance with all the rights, status and privileges of a son of heaven (Gal 3:26). Galatians 3:28 levels the redemption field and grants unity (and the resulting equality) to all the diverse sons and daughters of the kingdom. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!

  1. Jesus forbade authority structures.

Relationships between those who follow Jesus are not to be like the world’s relationships, concerned with authority and titles, but by mutual and sacrificial service. I’ll let Jesus’ words do the talking.

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Mark 10:42-44

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant.” Mat 23:8-11

Hierarchical structures based on a “right of leadership” are not the way of Christ’s followers. The church should eschew any role that grants spiritual authority to one over another, or bestows accolades and titles on the spiritual elite.

  1. A woman’s body does not restrict God.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7)” God’s ministry is just that. His. It is His power that enables His servants to join Him in ministry. Who are we to limit who or what God chooses to empower to make His glory known? He used a donkey, after all, and declared that even the rocks would speak up if we failed to declare His greatness! (Numbers 22,  Luke 19:40)

  1. The Spirit does not gift according to gender.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer. This is the only criteria given for the functionality of the body called the church. He tells us to use them (Rom. 12:6). Nowhere in Scripture are gifts given by gender. To tell a woman the Holy Spirit has NOT gifted her to serve as minister of the gospel is to play the mouthpiece of God. How dare we circumvent the sweet favor of God? Let her utilize what God has gifted her to do!

 

Reference: Marianne Meye Thompson. Response, Women, Authority & The Bible. P. 93.

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 4: God as Mother

"Areyoumymother" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Areyoumymother.gif#/media/File:Areyoumymother.gif

“Areyoumymother” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

Are you my mother? God would say , yes! It is a well-used metaphor throughout the Hebrew Scriptures : God giving birth to Israel. Maternal imagery is used to describe the trust we must have in God and the steadfast tenacity of His love. In the New Testament, Jesus uses the well-loved metaphor of (new) birth to describe how God delivers us into Her* eternal family which is birthed from the love the persons of God share and enjoy with each other. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

*Just for fun, and because the English language is not accommodating with a gender-neutral pronoun for a person, this article will switch the gender of the pronouns describing God to reflect the feminine imagery of God as mother.

God is “like” a mother just as She reveals herself “like” a father. She is the most affectionate mother. You can think of Her as a mother, because Scripture reveals God as having the perfections of both father and mother. (Wade Burleson, Knowing God as Father and Mother. https://vimeo.com/55788482.)

God gives birth.

In Deut 32:18, God describes Herself as “The God who gave you birth.” In Isaiah 46:3, She expands the metaphor and describes Israel as “you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from My womb.” If you remember from Part 1 of this series, the Hebrew word for womb is racham. Racham is also translated less literally as “mercies, compassion or tender love.”  The Triune God, who mutually loves each other, extends that tender love even further to Her creation- Her children. God birthed Israel with great affection and tender care.

In Exodus 3:7, God heard Her infant crying in the voices of the slaves of Israel in Egypt, and She was moved with great compassion (racham) to deliver them. Childbirth imagery is pictured through the parting waters of the Red Sea, the provision of food and the weaning of the great nation of Israel. The imagery of God giving birth to Israel helps us to understand the strong emotional attachment God feels for Her children. In Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah, the great orthodox theologian writes, “God did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls His people not merely children, but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection.” Human mothers and even animal mothers forget themselves in their care and protection of their young. It is this mother-love that God says She feels toward Her children.

God breastfeeds.

God provides and nurtures us from Her own self when we are helpless and unable to care for our own needs. This provision is so intrinsic to who God is, it became one of Her many names: El Shaddai. El Shaddai is rooted in the Hebrew word for breasts, and it introduces the imagery of our God who promised Her children a fertile land filled with milk.

In one of my favorite chapters, Numbers 11 (read my articles on this chapter), Moses was stressed out. He asked God, “ What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? … Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother?” Moses charged God as being the Israelites’ true mother. Moses was, at best, a wet nurse. This passage alludes to the nourishment that mothers bring to their infant, milk, and the provision of God in the wilderness. Later in Isaiah, God says to Her children: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15). God is like a nursing mother who bore us from her womb and is filled with compassion for us. There is no chance She will forget or abandon us. As a mother comforts her child, so the Lord will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13) God uses Jerusalem to describes Herself as giving birth and nursing the nation of Israel after exile. She teaches Israel to walk and bends down to feed them as a young toddler. (Hosea 11 1a, 3-4)

God tenderly loves.

The mother-love of the Triune God is deeply emotional. Yes, God has agape love toward us – love that chooses to act in our best interest regardless of feeling or emotion – but God is also deeply stirred at the thought of Her children whom She birthed and nourished from infancy. This is racham, tender compassion.

As we think of the great compassion of God, we cannot skip over Jesus. When he saw the world’s pain, the suffering and the sick, the hungry and the miserable, the lonely, those in despair over death and bewildered by the sheer agony of a hard life… Jesus was moved with compassion – mother love. Jesus shared the same tender love for humanity as the others in the godhead.

God’s family

It is God’s merciful compassion that invites us into Her family. In John 3, Jesus describes this invitation as being born again. “You must be re-born from the Spirit of God.” Who gives birth to us? God, our Mother. We are the fruit of Her womb. In birth, a mother gives life by opening herself to the harm of delivery and possible death. Don’t we see that in Jesus, the mother of all those who believe? He died in childbirth, if you will, so that we could be born of God. The Tri-une God labored for us, loved us and delivered us into eternal life. Romans 8:29 calls Jesus the firstborn of many brothers.  The Greek word for brothers is literally those who shared the same womb. We are invited into the bosom of God to be reborn as family.

And we come full circle back to the womb. The special place of creating life from love. From the eternal love of God, a community of three, a family is born.

References:

Wil Gafney, Hosea’s Mothering God: Back to Egypt. http://www.wilgafney.com/2013/08/04/hoseas-mothering-god-back-to-egypt/

Wade Burleson, “God Has Chosen to Liken Himself to a Female and We Are the Fruit of His Womb.” http://www.wadeburleson.org/2011/12/god-has-chosen-to-liken-himself-to.html

 

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Why is it important that we start the discussion of God’s mother-love with an understanding of the Trinity? Because God IS love only in the community of His person. This love births a family to participate in His communal love. Mothers know a little something about loving others.

Metaphors of God

Jesus uses parables to describe his intimate knowledge of the invisible God. His parable of the “prodigal son” introduces one of the most important metaphors of God. God as Father is so pivotal to Jesus that he uses it to title the person of God that remains mysterious and unseen to His creation. The most important information about God as Father is that He is UNLIKE ANY FATHER this world has ever known. Jesus breaks all stereotypes of fathers in the ancient world by portraying a father who acts more like a mother than a father.  In what way? Social norms of that time required fathers  to be the disciplinarian, firm and aloof.  Yet Jesus describes his father as tender, compassionate, heartfelt, quick to overlook wrongs, not concerned with discipline but with hugs and kisses (Luke 15:20).

Father is a strong metaphor for God, but there are many others. Rock, bread, water, fire, baby sheep, bird. Jesus likened himself to a mother hen in Luke 13:34. His imagery mirrors an Old Testament metaphor of God in Deut 32:11 as a mother bird guarding and feeding her young.

God has no gender.

If you are unused to hearing God described in feminine imagery, it might startle you. Remember, God is Spirit, not gendered (John 4:24). In Hosea and Numbers, God says specifically that he is God and not a man (Num 23:19, Hos 11:9). So we mustn’t take any gendered imagery or metaphor too far. The Father title is modified as Heavenly to distinguish it from a too literal a meaning. We must be careful and on guard not to make God after our own image as male or female.

God is three persons, not one person acting in three different roles; such as the role of begetter or begotten. God is three persons, not one person acting in different capacities; such as judge or advocate or helper. God is three persons, one of whom took the form of a male human, but in whom all the fullness of diety dwelled. God is three persons who are more than unified  – they are perfect oneness. Yet, because He is three persons, He can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other.

It is this Love amongst the godhead that birthed a family…something we understand as a uniquely mother experience.

Next up: Part 4 explains the motherly metaphors of God.

 

References: Wade Burleson. Missing Metaphors Makes Men Mad.  http://www.wadeburleson.org/2012/12/missing-metaphors-makes-men-mad.html

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

What separates Christianity from the other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam? Christians believe in one God that is three.

God is mysterious, yet He is revealing. He wants us to know Him. He uses metaphors and stories to reveal who He is. The persons of God are the same, yet different. This individualistic unity allows God to love in a other-focused paradigm. His love is not self-centered, but on the others persons of the Godhead.

At creation we learn our birth story. It is here that God is called Elohim which indicates a plurality of deity. Yet when Elohim is used to refer to God, it is always modified to be singular. Elohim is more than one, yet He is still one. In the Shema, God declares that He is One. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” (Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad!)

After creation the stories begin where God reveals the contradictions of Himself that can only be answered in the mystery of the Trinity.

God, who cannot be seen,  is seen.

Moses is described as a man who has seen God face to face and lived to tell the tale (Ex 33:7-11).  Yet, a few verses later, we learn that God’s face cannot be seen (Ex 33:18-23). God’s appearing to the ancient heroes of our Bible is preeminent in our understanding of how God relates and participates in our story. The Lord appeared to Abraham, again, and again, and again. The Lord appeared to Hagar. She declared “I have seen the One who sees me.” The Lord appears to Isaac. The Lord appears to Jacob who confirms that “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The New Testament reinforces this invisible attribute of God who “has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Which is it? Can God be seen or not?

The contradiction disappears when we expand God to include a person whose face CAN be seen. From the start of Israel’s history God revealed himself as more than one: a divine entity who can be seen, and one who cannot. Yet they are both the Lord.

God sends God.

Throughout Israel’s history, when God visits humans, He is more often than not titled as the “Angel of the Lord.” Angel means “messenger” or “one sent.” Yet in every story where the “Angel of the Lord” appears with a message, the human responded with worship and titled the “Angel of the Lord” – God. They knew they were talking not just with a representative of God, but with God Himself. We witness another contradiction. God sends God.

In the Old Testament, we see glimpses of what becomes clear to us in a stable in Bethlehem. God sent God, and we call him Jesus. When we see Jesus, we are looking into the eyes of God, born of God and sent by God.

Jesus’s life reveals more of the three persons of the Godhead.

trinityWith the birth of Jesus, we believe God conceived God. At his baptism, we witness the three manifestations of our one God. We hear the voice of the Invisible God, see the Spirit in dove form and view the Son. To this day, baptism is linked to God as three as we obey Jesus’s command to baptize using the names of our triune God: Father, Son and Spirit.  In John 14-17, Jesus describes the intimate and mutual relations between the three persons of God that spills over to those who love and follow him. “I and the Father are one.” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” “I will send the Helper from the Father… He will glorify me.” “I glorified the Father and now He will glorify me, so that I may glorify you.” “May they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us … the glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” 

It is this interconnected, mutual love and glorification that is at the heart of the mystery of the Trinity. These three persons are more than unified. They are perfect oneness. Yet, because they are three persons they can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other. It is this Love among the godhead that birthed a family.

Read Part 3.

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