Serpent and Flood

You’re probably thinking, “What in blazes do they have in common?” Well, it’s covenants, of course. Take the snake in the Garden. (It’s fitting Satan would show up as a slithering reptile, no?) The first couple had no pressing need of anything. The Creator had provided all things necessary for fully enjoying life. Therefore, the devil knew getting Adam or Eve to break the rules of their covenant with God would be a difficult challenge. He figured the only chance he had was to somehow cause them to question God’s motives. The best way to accomplish that would be to mask the covenant nature of God. A little backstory comes in handy about now. The Hebrew title that describes God as Ruler, Sovereign and Mastermind of the universe is Elohim. But, beginning in Genesis 2, another name’s added – Yahweh. It basically means “Lord,” a word describing God as a person, a friend, a lover, a comforter and even Father. So “Yahweh Elohim” translates as “Lord God.” That distinction is crucial.

The Scriptures read, “Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Is it really true God said, “You must not eat from any tree of the orchard?’” (Genesis 3:1). Satan craftily leaves out the covenant name of God, referring to Him only as Elohim. (Liars are notorious word manipulators.) In her response Eve does likewise. The devil thus succeeded in getting her to focus on God’s authoritative, judgmental traits and to ignore His gracious, loving covenant nature. Satan was playing a slick-but-effective mind game with Eve. Alas, it worked like a charm. He kept at her using the same tactic: “The serpent said to the woman, ‘Surely you won’t die, for God knows when you eat from it your eyes will open and you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5). We’re informed Adam was there with Eve during this conversation but, like a lot of men do, he probably wasn’t paying attention. By using wordplay Satan momentarily got them to think of God as a selfish tyrant who coveted His omnipotence, not as the generous blessing-provider who’d given them a beautiful paradise to oversee. We all know what they did next and this freaked-out world’s never been the same since.

Millenniums afterward life on earth had turned downright hellish and our Heavenly Father was ready to throw in the towel. Yet He’d made a promise in Eden and He never reneges. God had told Satan, “…I’ll put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you’ll attack her offspring’s heel” (Genesis 3:15). In Hebrew the word “head” connotes the devil’s newfound authoritative rule over the human race; a privilege Adam & Eve foolishly granted him without a fight. Satan had established an iron-clad hold on the planet, though, and God was way beyond angry. Yet even the devil underestimated the actions God would take to rectify the situation. “…The LORD saw the wickedness of humankind had become great on the earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of their minds was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted he’d made humankind on the earth, and he was highly offended. So the LORD said, ‘I’ll wipe humankind, whom I’ve created, from the face of the earth – everything from humankind to animals, including creatures that move on the ground and birds of the air, for I regret that I’ve made them’” But then comes the all-important caveat: “…But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).

Once again, God willfully entered into another covenant with a human being. We’re told Noah was “blameless among his contemporaries” and that he “walked with God.” Evidently that was enough for God to designate him the covenantal representative of mankind before He washed the globe clean. Our species was figuratively “in” Noah when he entered the ark. After the deluge receded God said to Noah and his family, “Look! I now confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you…” (Genesis 9:9-10). Back on dry land, Noah displayed his respectful gratitude by offering God a blood sacrifice. As with all covenants, the terms of their pact were spelled out. Noah and the other survivors were expected to be fruitful and to multiply, were told they could now eat any clean animal meat with their vegetables and they got the go ahead for instituting capital punishment as the penalty for murder. God took an oath: “This is the guarantee of the covenant I’m making with you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all subsequent generations: I will place my rainbow in the clouds… then I will remember my covenant with you… Never again will the waters become a flood and destroy all living things” (Genesis 9:12-15).

What a magnificent memorial God created to commemorate His covenant with Noah! The Hebrew word for “rainbow” in the above passage describes a warrior’s bow. Yet God’s rainbows appear in the sky, not in a position of warfare or judgment, but sideways in the traditional position of peace. (When vacationing in Kauai years ago my wife and I beheld a stupendous rainbow containing colors so intense we were rendered speechless.) It’s also a reminder of how forgiving our God is. Frederick Buechner wrote, “This idea God loves people whether or not they give a damn isn’t new. In the Book of Hosea, for instance, the prophet portrays God as lashing out at Israel for their disobedience and saying that by all rights they should be wiped off the face of the earth, but then adding, ‘How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me… I won’t execute my fierce anger… For I’m God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I won’t come to destroy’ (Hosea 11:8-9).” Thank God He loves us!

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Covenant #1

Preparatory blogs done, it’s high time we plunge into the “relevance realm” regarding God’s covenants with us, starting with the one in Eden.  When we observe the ugly mess this world stays in, bear in mind it didn’t have to be this way.  But Adam & Eve chose rebellion over obedience ages ago and the bitter consequences of their betrayal just keep rolling down the pike.  To call it a “fall” is misleading.  That sounds like an accident, whereas we know they made a deliberate decision to break the rules of the covenant they had with God.  Their treasonous act created a spiritual gulf between the Creator and His created beings that still exists today.  Understand that God made humans to be His covenant partners.  The obvious question arises: “Why would He do such an unwise thing?” with the only applicable answer being “For love’s sake.”  We’re taught God is love.  Therefore, we must conclude that, since love can only achieve its full potential when it’s reciprocated, God risked everything by allowing His free-will creatures to opt for loving Him back on their own accord.  Or not.  As explained in earlier essays, the foundation of all covenants in ancient times was this: Going forward, both parties would commit to love the other tribe as much as they loved their own kin.  It was so binding that breaking any of the covenant’s terms would have disastrous repercussions for the offending party.  Thus, it’s worth our while to examine what went down in The Garden long ago.

 

Adam was the covenantal representative of mankind.  That means any bad choices he made would affect every generation that followed.  Like it or not, that’s how covenants work.  “…Just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all people because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12).  In other words, Adam didn’t do the world any favors.  And it’s not like the covenant terms weren’t made clear.  He knew both he and God had responsibilities to fulfill.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply!  Fill the earth and subdue it! (Genesis 1:28).  Note that “Adam” means “humankind” in Hebrew so it’s safe to assume God was addressing all who were yet to be born in the future, too.  God then told Adam & Eve they were welcome to consume any seed-bearing plant they liked.  Knowing engaging in creative work is a necessary element of an individual’s happiness, God put them in charge of caring for and maintaining the lush orchard He’d provided.  The sole restriction was that they’d never eat the fruit of one particular tree.  God stated unequivocally the penalty for doing so would be physical death.  This implies Adam & Eve would still be alive on earth if they hadn’t gotten uppity!  There was nothing unfair about this rule.  God was asking them to trust that, because He’d made everything and He’d deemed all of it good, He alone was qualified to be the determiner of right and wrong.  Simple?  Evidently not.

 

We’ve learned memorials were part of a covenant; intended to remind people of its importance.  God established two for the original one – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The former would be their source of supernatural healing and energy; fruit that would sustain them interminably.  The latter was there to remind them they had certain obligations to meet; that the covenant had conditions.  Now, Adam & Eve weren’t robots nor puppets on a string.  There was never a moment when they didn’t have free will, God’s ultimate gift.  Like us, they could choose to either obey or defy God each and every moment.

 

Another vital aspect of a covenant treaty was the blood sacrifice.  (Being omniscient, it’s reasonable to presume God knew divine blood would eventually be required in the form of “…the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world (Revelation 13:8).  More on that later.)  But we mustn’t underestimate God’s merciful, forgiving and compassionate love for us.  Notice after Adam & Eve blew it, it was God, not Adam, who spilled the blood of an innocent animal in order to clothe them.  Symbolically, God was “covering their sin.”  God could’ve zapped them out of existence but He didn’t.  He loved them so much He accepted a propitiatory substitute.  Animal blood would thus become the figurative “covering” for mankind’s sinful nature until the precious Lamb of God, Jesus, would arrive to “take away sin” forevermore from the heart of humans.

 

James L. Garlow wrote of this turn of events, “It’s quite an amazing thought.  The first blood shed on the planet after Adam & Eve were created was at the hand of God, and it was covenant blood!  Their nakedness indicated innocence and purity before the fall.  Now dominated by sin, their physical bodies needed to be covered by something that had died.”  Whether or not the guilty couple were fully aware of the harsh consequences their selfish deed would generate going forward can be debated, yet we know for sure it marked the debut of the blood sacrifice concept.  Adam’s inevitable death didn’t come for another 930 years but there’s little doubt the story of his default became common folklore amongst his ever-expanding family.

 

The animal sacrificed was probably a lamb.  Why so?  Lambs rarely put up resistance when captured and then willingly go to slaughter because they’re typically meek, gentle creatures.  I’m confident I don’t have to connect the dots for you.  By every account, our blessed Savior was indeed, “The Lamb of God.”  Thus covenant #1 is the key to comprehending our situation.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Certain truths the Bible tells us are absolute essentials if we’re to understand ourselves and the world we live in.  So, what does it have to tell us?  Well, the whole case is put in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis.  We have here the complete biblical view of history and of humanity.”

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Covenant Lingo

A lifelong writer, I’ve always been fascinated by words and their origins.  A surprising number are rooted in “covenant language” and still in general use today due to the importance those sacred treaties held for all cultures in ancient times.  The Bible’s full of them so students of the Scriptures should be aware of their significance, else they’ll skim right over them, missing the profound meaning they convey.  In an earlier blog I mentioned “kindness,” “mercy” and “peace” as being covenant terms.  “Steadfast” and “faithfulness” qualify, too, as in “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they’re new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-24).  “Loyalty” and “friendship” also show up often.  Loyalty’s not some forced, duty-bound obligation.  Rather, it describes a heartfelt commitment.  Friendship connotes unshakable trust, fearless transparency and total willingness to be vulnerable around another person.  The Son of God told His disciples, I no longer call you servants, because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I’ve made known to you (John 15:15).  These are some examples of covenant lingo.

 

As I continue to read the Holy Word I’ve gotten to where I now pay attention to covenant phrases and prepositions such as “in,” “with,” “together,” “joined to” and “included in.”  The apostle Paul was prone to include certain terms in his letters that emphasize each Christian’s covenant with God through Jesus.  But because of his great love for us, God, who’s rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it’s by grace you’ve been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it’s by grace you’ve been saved through faith – and this isn’t from yourselves, it’s the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we’re God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ – remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:4-13).  There are no less than fourteen covenant phrases in that passage alone.

 

Last time I wrote about the covenant ceremony.  Certain words associated with it have relevant connotations; “blessings” and “curses” being two of them.  In Deuteronomy 28 God promises to shower a plethora of blessings on the Israelites as well as protect them from their enemies.  However, immediately afterward God vows to curse them with the brunt of His full wrath if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, i.e. You’ll become an occasion of horrorand an object of ridicule to all the peoples to whom the LORD will drive you (v.37).  “Oath,” “swear” and “vows” harken back to covenant rites, as well.  We come across them frequently in the Book of Hebrews.  When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I’ll surely bless you and give you many descendants.’  And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.  People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what’s said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath(Vv. 6:13-17).  Only by understanding the significance of a covenant pact will verses like these make sense.

 

Take the words “remember” and “remembrance.”  Nowadays they have misleading definitions compared to what they represented in the original Hebrew and Greek idioms.  When we use the term “remembering” today we’re describing the mental activity of not forgetting things stored away inside our brains, such as facts vital to our passing an exam.  Or it can mean attempting to recall important details of something that happened to us years before.  Neither description truly matches the biblical and covenantal definition of the word remember, though.  Malcom Smith said remembering was “…an activity of the whole person – spirit, mind, emotion, and body… It meant to do the past event, not merely to think about it.  To “remember” meant to re-create the past event, bringing it into the present moment by reenacting it, employing rituals and symbols to do so.”  Other scholars opine “remembering” in the biblical sense means the persons doing it are completely identifying with and participating in all aspects of the original event.  A couple’s wedding vow renewal ceremony comes close to what an authentic remembrance looks like.

 

By using the word remember in His famous pre-crucifixion discourse, Jesus was implanting in His disciples’ hearts something they’d only savvy after Easter morning.  Rob Price wrote, “By taking communion in order to remember Him they’d actually be able to both proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes and also bring the power of the cross into their daily lives.  It places tremendous value on the resurrection of Christ and blessed hope of our own bodily resurrection.”  I’ll testify that, since gaining a better understanding of covenant language, I no longer participate in the Lord’s Supper the same nonchalant way as before.  I try to “recreate” the solemn scene in my mind, imagining I’m literally sitting at the table with the Apostles, witnessing my Savior breaking the bread and pouring the wine, instructing me to never forget the price He paid for my salvation.

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Ceremony

Many think the word belongs on the same dusty shelf as chivalry these days.  Yet it’s not dead.  Ceremonies get held all the time.  After a presidential election we wait a few months before conducting an elaborate ceremony at the capitol to officially inaugurate the winner as they swear allegiance to God and country before the whole populace.  The victorious Superbowl team gathers postgame on a podium to receive deserved accolades as well as a shiny trophy to highlight their triumph.  Some kind of ceremony, large or small, must take place for a marriage to become legally binding.  Heck, we even stage well-attended ceremonies to congratulate kids on successfully finishing elementary school!  So, the idea of two parties holding an extravagant ceremony to firmly establish and seal a covenant they’ve entered into shouldn’t seem archaic at all.  A ceremony’s a natural event.  Civilization has upheld the tradition throughout history and it’s still a somewhat universal expectation in the 21st century.

 

In ancient times no happening was bigger than a covenant ceremony.  Different cultures across the globe developed and observed unique procedures/steps that had to be followed for the agreement to become an enforceable law of the land.  Therefore, everybody on earth understood the concept.  Between 2,000 and 1,500 BC the Hittite and Babylonian dynasties dominated the Middle East and entering into covenant pacts was business as usual.  Abram was born and raised in this general culture so he was very aware of what a covenant meant and entailed.  Thus, it only made perfect sense for God to convey His will for humankind’s spiritual advancement via Mr. Abram, employing something all people would immediately grasp – a covenant agreement.  The whole world had gone steadily whacko since the Eden fiasco but God, because of His overwhelming love for us, still hadn’t given up.  Entering into a covenant was His way of demonstrating not only His unfathomable love but His furious longing to enjoy true fellowship with us.  A covenant was the one thing even those belonging to the most backward of tribes would comprehend.  And the steps taken to “seal the deal” would predictably have long-lasting significance for both parties; none more so than is evidenced in the Holy Scriptures.

 

Unless a covenant was between two individuals, somebody would need to be appointed to stand for the entire party.  This person would normally be highly esteemed and carrying the same blood line as the group’s predominant ancestry.  It’s fair to say the tribe he/she represented was “in them” for the duration of the ceremony and, going forward, they’d serve as the guarantor of the vows taken.  At the outset the specific terms of the covenant would be announced for all to hear.  Everything from how their devotion to each other would be expressed to the details of what’s going to be requisite in the military and commerce areas, how the harvesting of crops (including their distribution) was be conducted and how educational agendas would be determined was covered.  All these terms would be written down and each party would receive a certified copy.

 

Ratification of the treaty would then follow.  It wasn’t a pretty sight because much animal blood necessarily got spilt.  Usually a heifer would be sliced head to tail and its legs folded out.  (Since the root meaning of the word “covenant” in Hebrew is “to cut” that’s no surprise.)  The bloody scene symbolized both party’s entering into a type of death to self in order to fully unite and identify with their new covenant partner.  To solidify their commitment the representatives would each walk barefoot through the carcass.  In the process their feet and ankles would get covered in blood.  As if this wasn’t drastic enough, they’d then facilitate some kind of human blood exchange.  In most cases they’d slice into their wrists and then join them together in a firm clasp so their blood would mingle.  (Many anthropologists believe this is where the handshake custom originated.)  The resulting permanent scar would indicate to outsiders that the tribe they represented was in a covenant pact with another.  This sheds light on what God meant when He said to the nation of Israel, Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms (Isaiah 49:16).  Verbal affirmations of total fidelity would be spoken aloud and then the two would sit for a covenant meal in which they fed each other, symbolizing the mutual exchange of flesh and blood.  Afterwards the two communities would work together to erect some kind of stone altar/memorial to commemorate their pact.

 

At some juncture during the ceremony there’d be an exchange of robes, belts, weapons, names and sons.  The robes signified the taking on of the other’s recognized identity.  The belts represented an exchange of strengths.  These weren’t modern-day fashion belts.  Heavy weapons and tools got hung on them so they were stiff and wide, not to mention critical to surviving in a brutal world.  It was their way of saying in no uncertain terms, “What’s mine is now yours and vice-versa.”  The name-trading rite is also interesting.  A person’s name in those days conveyed everything important about them and their heritage.  In the covenant ceremony the two representatives agreed that from now on they’d incorporate the other’s moniker into their own.  The best illustration is found in Genesis when Abram became known as AbrAHam.  The central consonant, AH, came from the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh.  In turn, God starts referring to Himself as “the God of Abraham.”  How cool is that?

 

But what really drove the whole extravaganza home was the exchange of sons.  There was nothing merely symbolic about this gesture.  A representative’s son would permanently move into the home of the partner and be raised there.  As painful as this sacrifice was for both parties, it proved beyond all doubt the covenant treaty was for real.  Down the line I’ll be writing about how all these steps fit into the Gospel narrative.  Stay with me.  It’s a fascinating and worthwhile journey.

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Covenants? What’s the Deal?

Well, first of all, a covenant is a thousand times more serious than a simple “deal.” It’s why I’m attempting to savvy its implications. Understand a covenant’s an all-encompassing arrangement, containing clearly prescribed perimeters and promises. The two parties involved have mandatory obligations they must fulfill. It’s not temporary, it’s for life. Its purpose is to complement both parties’ strengths and weaknesses, based on wholehearted trust and genuine respect. It requires blood to be shed to reinforce the solemnity and gravity of the bond it establishes. While a contract’s limited to the exchange of goods, services, products, etc., a covenant is, in essence, a giving of one’s complete self to another. (The marriage institution is the closest thing we have to a covenant nowadays but it makes for an anemic comparison by default.) The attributes I just listed show a covenant to be the ideal of what we call a relationship. In ancient Arab cultures a covenant friendship topped even family ties. It was literally “thicker than blood.” Thus, people/parties didn’t enter into a covenant agreement on a whim. A covenant is the ultimate commitment. It’s sacrificial. It’s inherently selfless to the max. And, when it comes to humanity as a whole, God’s the “other party.”

It’s difficult to convey in 21st century secularized terms what being in a covenant partnership meant. Sadly, the Hebrew word chesed (describing the core of a covenant relationship) gets watered down when translated into English, frequently appearing as the somewhat ambiguous expression, “mercy.” At its most foundational, chesed represents an intense emotion flowing outward from one party’s “heart of hearts” toward the other party, saturated with a strong desire to bless them. It’s primarily centered around unconditional love, something modern society rarely exhibits in reference to any group of folks they’ve labeled as “different” from their particular clan. I mean, love your enemies? Are you insane? They’ll run roughshod over you! Who’d suggest such a foolish thing? (Um, that’d be Christ in Matthew 5:44.)

Another facet of a covenant pact foreign to most is this: the only way to get out of it’s via death or mass extermination. That explains why they were signed in blood instead of ink. As grisly as it is to visualize, ancient tribes would confirm their mutual covenant agreement by conducting a sacrificial ceremony in which a prized animal was slaughtered, usually by cutting it in half. In doing this both sides were avowing, “If we fail to keep our end of the bargain may what happened to this innocent beast happen to us.” Now, I’m not trying to gross anyone out, just making the point that nobody entered into a covenant casually. This was serious business. However, since the penalty for breaching one was so severe, covenants held a lot of appeal due to the security, strength and cooperation that resulted from entering into them. Recall in my last essay I mentioned that phrases like “unending love,” “unshakable loyalty,” “tender mercies” and “unwavering faithfulness” have covenant roots. No wonder.

Realize also that covenants were common as houseflies in the Middle East for thousands of years. They were how nations, tribes and families kept from annihilating one another. Thus, it’s important to note there were two kinds of self-explanatory covenants – equal and unequal ones. Both were intentionally entered into by both parties and were intended primarily to complement strengths and weaknesses. For example, an aggressive, militaristic bunch of folks would logically be eager to join up with an agriculture-based clan, thereby acquiring what they lacked and desperately needed. And vice-versa. That’d be an equal alliance whereas an unequal (or unilateral) covenant came into play as the result of a mightier group conquering a lesser one by force. It was the only practical way for the defeated to avoid extinction. Of course, it came with strict stipulations, starting with the demand for total allegiance to the victorious king. That king and his people would help themselves to any wealth, land, resources and labor skills the other side possessed. In return the triumphant party was obligated to provide the defeated with security, peace and certain measures of assistance. While far from creating perfect harmony, it still managed to keep civilization, brutal as it often was, from descending into complete chaos and taking the human race with it.

You might ask why I want to spend time investigating this subject. It’s because I deem the covenant concept the key to understanding God’s master plan better. It’s the glue that connects mere mortals with His awesome divinity. Therefore, I feel it’s important to learn all I can about it and writing blog entries is my way of making sense of this befuddled world I live in. I think the word “covenant” best describes God’s relationship with all of us. Malcom Smith wrote, “A covenant’s a binding, unbreakable obligation between two parties, based on unconditional love sealed by blood and sacred oath, creating a relationship in which each party’s bound by specific undertakings on each other’s behalf. The parties place themselves under the penalty of divine retribution should they later attempt to avoid those undertakings. It’s a relationship that can only be broken by death.” So, like it or not (and because God granted each individual the sacred gift of free will) there’s a give-and-take structure to our ongoing existence in His universe. Rob Price opined, “Since the very creation of the world God used a unique pattern, a unique cultural event, referred to as the covenant. Through this He outlined specific requirements and spectacular promises and tells us how He wants us to respond to Him, outlining the promises of what’ll happen if we follow His ways. And those promises are absolutely thrilling – even life-changing.” So even if it’s solely for the historical perspective it can provide that you opt to tag along on my investigative journey, I predict you’ll be amazed to see how the rites involved in establishing and maintaining a covenant have fascinating connections to Biblical truths.

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Addicted to The Word

Freed at last from the chains of porn addiction, it was extremely important I fill the resulting void with healthier thoughts and habits.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “…Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.  …And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9).  Hard to argue against that common-sense logic whether you’re Christian or not.  We are what we think.  I’m an avid reader so spending time with books comes naturally.  However, I’d never bothered opening my Bible.  But when I found practical help for my addiction in the Celebrate Recovery ministry that my church sponsors I felt an irresistible urge to finally investigate it for myself.  Like many folks are prone to do, I’d formed a misinformed opinion about something I knew very little about.  When I finally read it front to back I found it radically different from what I expected.  In fact, I became so fascinated with it I began starting every day by reading several chapters and, in the process, completing the journey from Genesis to Revelation annually.  And then I begin again.  It’s not incorrect to say I traded one addiction for another.  Yet I assure you I’m gaining tons more positive benefits from reading the Bible than I ever got from ogling porn.

 

There’s a lot of truth in the adage “An empty mind’s the devil’s playground.”  Jesus warned us against not replacing our bad habits with good ones.  Using a vivid allegory, He said, When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but not finding any.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’  When it returns, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26).  I dare say all of us have known or at least heard of people who “got clean” but down the line ended up more addicted than they were previously.  That’s because they didn’t find something positive to put in place of whatever they were formerly obsessed with.  In my case studying the Bible and reading the thought-provoking works of Christian writers like C.S. Lewis, Brennan Manning, Dallas Willard and many others keeps my mind from wandering back into fantasyland where my insatiable libido awaits.  One thing about me, I get bored easily.  Once I’ve read a book I rarely read it again.  Same with songs.  After I’ve heard a tune ten times I’m ready to latch on to another.  Therefore, trust me when I say it’s amazing I haven’t wearied of reading the Bible.  Why?  Because it continues to stimulate/intrigue me no end.  I’ve never found anything quite like it.

 

I just spent half a year blogging about porn addiction.  I feel I’ve covered every aspect I could think of.  (If you’re new to my story I invite you to go back about two dozen essays.  It’s all there.)  Thus, I’m ready to move on and write about some of the discoveries I’ve made via reading The Holy Word continuously for over nine years, beginning with God’s covenants.  (Did your eyes just roll?  Hear me out.)  The word “covenant” appears in the Bible 292 times in 272 verses so its importance can’t be overstated.  Still, I really didn’t know much about what a covenant signified or entailed although it garnered a mention in many sermons I heard.  For some reason it was never elaborated upon.  Since the gospel message is much more than the somewhat patronizing, ineffective statement, “God has a plan for your life”, I decided to dig deeper into the depths of the Bible to satisfy my own curiosity about things like covenants.  I eventually realized what the scholar James Garlow wrote is true: “In many ways the covenant is the foundation of our faith and the epicenter of what we understand about our relationship with God.  Upon it is based our understanding of salvation, holiness, healing, worship, deliverance, and sanctification.”  Yep, it’s a big deal.

 

That raises the fair question of, “If it’s that big a deal then why doesn’t God’s Word go to greater lengths to explain it thoroughly?”  Well, it’s because the whole definition of a covenant agreement was common knowledge in ancient times.  Even youngsters understood.  In 1885 Professor H. Clay Trumbull wrote, “The primitive rite of blood covenanting was well-known in the lands of the Bible at the time of its writing.  For that very reason we’re not to look to the Bible for specific explanations of the rite itself, even where there are incidental references to the rite and its observances; but, on the other hand, we’re to find an explanation of the biblical illustrations of the primitive rite in the understanding of it gained from outside sources.  In this way, we’re able to see in the Bible much of what otherwise would be lost sight of.”  Consider this illustration.  When you hear terms like “quarterback,” “touchdown,” or “safety blitz” you most likely relate them to the game of football.  Well, in the old days concepts like “love,” “faithfulness,” “mercy,” “kindness,” “loyalty,” and “friendship” were instantly associated with a covenant of some sort.  Thus, comprehending what a covenant is is vital to intelligently grasping a major component of what God desires us to know about Him and His kingdom.  However, unless a person has reverence (a mature respect, if you will) for the Heavenly Father this subject won’t interest them in the least.  Psalm 25:14 states, The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.  That’s not weird.  You don’t confide unfiltered truth about yourself to folks who don’t respect you.  Neither does God.  More to come.

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Hope For All

For over four decades I hid my porn addiction.  Hey, it wasn’t hurting anybody.  (That’s the big lie.  Porn made me secretive, mean-spirited, sarcastic and overly-critical.)  I deemed it part of my life no one need know about.  It never affected my job.  It never harmed my relationships.  That is, until my wife discovered my disgusting habit.  That’s when I realized my sinful obsession might cost me more than I was willing to pay.  D-Day had arrived.  I was a roach on a white tile floor with the lights switched on.  Self-loathing clobbered me like an NFL linebacker and I finally uttered the words, “I have a problem.”  Covered in shame, I got on my knees and cried out to the God I’d ignored way too long for healing and forgiveness.  The latter came instantly.  The former was going to take a while.  Didn’t matter.  I was ready to do whatever.  That Sunday I went to church for the first time in ages.  I met with Pastor Rick the next day.  He said, “Celebrate Recovery’s what you need.”  “What’s that?” I asked.  “You’ll find out,” he said.  A meeting was starting upstairs.  I went but contemplated bolting until the leader said of his first visit, “I thought if anyone knew the real me they’d kick me out.”  That’s precisely how I felt!  I stuck around.

 

Later I found myself in a room with a dozen men, all strangers.  Each one spoke about struggling.  Some with booze and/or drugs.  Some with anger or codependency.  Some with infidelity, lying, etc.  Yet not one received odd looks from the others; only understanding nods.  No interruptions, no sage advice offered.  When my turn came I felt emboldened to open up totally about my addiction.  I held back none of the ugliness.  Nobody raised an eyebrow.  I walked out sensing a massive weight had been lifted off me.  I had something I didn’t have when I entered – hope – and it gave me strength to ask for something I never thought I’d admit needing – help.  Being a Christian, however horribly backslidden I was, I found comfort in identifying my “higher power” as Jesus Christ.  I figured if I couldn’t rely on Him I couldn’t rely on anyone so I went all in.  I’ve never regretted it.  CR provided me with a group of loving, encouraging friends who accept me as I am.  The ministry’s 12 traditional steps and 8 Beatitude-based principles provided a logical, doable plan that led to my liberation from addiction.  Nine years later I still go because I get a little bit more healed every time.

 

Celebrate Recovery is perfect for me.  Yet it’s not for everybody.  Some like myself stay and become leaders.  Many show up a couple times, then never come again.  However, all are welcomed regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.  Of course, if a person isn’t a Christian they’ll either convert or grow tired of hearing about Jesus and seek help elsewhere.  It’s okay.  The main thing to know is this: There’s hope for all.  If all CR does for a person is confirm nobody’s beyond rescue from their dysfunctional behavior and that nobody has to battle their affliction alone that’s great.  But, like anything else in this life, you’ll get out of it only what you put into it.  Whether it’s CR, professional counseling or psychotherapy, there’s no quick fix.  God didn’t wave a magic wand and make my porn addiction go poof.  For CR to work for me I had to fully commit to Principle 7: “Reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer in order to know God and His will for my life and to gain the power to follow His will.”  Plus, CR provided a safe, confidential place where I could be transparent about my recovery.  When I suffer a setback I can talk about it, knowing spiritual healing’s taking place inside me when I do.  Confession’s a solid Biblical concept: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed (James 5:16).  That’s what we do at CR.  Don’t ask me how or why that works, I can only testify it most definitely does.  One of my favorite verses reads, Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  It’s God’s universe, we just live in it.

 

Compared to how shackled I was by sin ten years ago I’m a dadgum saint nowadays.  I’m thankful my marriage survived the tsunami I caused.  Truth is my entire outlook on life has been miraculously transformed.  Yet I’m not completely past my addiction.  God took away my hankering for looking at porn but, despite my pleas, He hasn’t shut down my internal fantasy factory.  When it fires up I’m a weak man, easily enticed to let my mind transport me wherever it desires.  (Seeing how I filled it with thousands of obscene images for decades it’s really no surprise.)  Try as I may, I can’t turn off my brain.  But God was able to use Paul’s weakness.  Of his “thorn in the flesh” he wrote, I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  Perhaps God knows if I was made pure as driven snow I’d be an insufferable braggart full of myself.  As it is, I know I’m an all-too-human work-in-progress who must lean on the Heavenly Father for strength to fight my sinful nature daily.  Look, I hate my weakness but I trust God knows what He’s doing.  If He uses it to convince even one person to get help for porn addiction then it’s “mission accomplished” as far as I’m concerned.  Know this: Porn’s poison.  It skews your heart’s perspective on everything.  Been there, done that.  If you’re caught in porn’s trap, seek help now.  Trust me, there’s hope for all.

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