Examining the New Covenant – Part 1

A standard teaching of Christianity, emphasized in the last 150-200 years but present over the centuries since shortly after the death of the Apostles, is that the New Covenant, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, has replaced the Old Covenant made with Israel at Sinai. Unfortunately, this idea has been broadened to such a degree that the so-called Old Testament, and more specifically the Pentateuch or Torah has often been relegated to a place of secondary importance (when it ought to be given foundational significance).

More recent expansions on this idea have resulted in the dividing of Scripture into anywhere from two primary sections (the Old and New Testament–another way of saying Old & New Covenant) to more extreme divisions which view even the New Testament as being divided in its applicability. Within those movements arguments range from everything after Acts chapter 2 is applicable today, to those who make the divide in Acts 10, 19, or 28, and those who claim only the writings of Paul are applicable to modern-day believers, while even some of those are disparaged as representing an evolution in Paul’s own thinking, resulting in only his “later” writings being presently “in force”.

Regardless of extreme positions, mainstream Christianity generally holds the view that the “New Testament” comprises the primary Scriptures for the believer in our times, whereas the “Old Testament” only provides background and illustration for what the “NT” explicitly teaches. Many are familiar with the maxim: “the New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained.” As a result, many Christians hold the position that they are required to obey what the NT teaches, but that the requirements of the OT are no longer applicable.

The question I would like to undertake over the next 4 posts is whether this represents an accurate understanding of the New Covenant. Is the New Covenant a replacement for the Old-as contained in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings?

Let’s consider what the Bible itself says about the New Covenant. The only time the New Covenant is mentioned by name in the “Old Testament” is in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (32) not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (34) And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

I believe it is significant that God begins with noting that He will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, but later in the passage, says, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days.” By this we perceive that God foresaw the re-uniting of Judah and Israel into a single nation. Perhaps more important for our purposes is the fact that this indicates the full realization of the new covenant will not transpire until after the house of Israel and house of Judah have been united as one. This means that the new covenant was not inaugurated at the resurrection of Messiah, nor at Pentecost, as recorded for us in Acts chapter 2.

We’ll explore this further soon.

I Believe

I believe the contents of the Mosaic commandments and the pattern of Torah-obedience, as laid down in the Pentateuch then amplified and exemplified throughout the remainder of Scripture, are the primary means of understanding the will of God for a community of disciples.

(That statement is a personal re-write of something Dr. Robbert A. Veen posed as a question in his book, The End of the Law?, published in 2005 by www.lulu.com.)

My God, My God…My Hope

Do you ever wonder what about life is real? It’s a crazy thing to ask, but I can’t shake the feeling tonight. Perhaps now that what I have prayed for and dreamed of is actually beginning to take shape, my fears and an awareness of my own inadequacies are rising up. Frankly, I have never yet achieved, or more accurately “realized”, the fullness of what I had hoped for.

Is it possible this side of the world to come? How much does it really matter in what manner we live our life? Is there really that much difference between the “biblical” lifestyle I am striving after and the mediocre existence that I see the majority of “Christians” trying to make the best of?

What if I write books, forge relationships, influence generations, feed the poor, and “repair the world” but lose my daughter? Oh, God, grant me wisdom, overlook my failings, tip the balance, give me my daughter’s soul for You! May she walk faithfully, speak truthfully, love incessantly, and be real all for the sake of Your glorious Name.

Father, grant me the strength, the hope, the faithfulness and the fortitude to overcome, to walk a more closely imitating life in order that there might be hope for my wife and my children in the example they witness in me. Revolutionize my life, Father, so that my family and all those I come in contact with will have hope of life abundant by virtue of seeing Your reflection in me.

Allow me to taste of Your goodness, walk with me in the valleys of the shadow of death, and carry me to the mountain meadows. Be the river that waters the soil of my life, pull my roots deep, never turn Your loving eye from me; give me Your Life, Lord! I give You mine.

I want to know You, God. I want to shake my neighbor’s hand and him feel Your strong right hand. I want to wrap my arms around my children and have them feel Your loving embrace. I want to walk with You, to talk with You, to laugh with You and to cry with You. I want my wife to feel like she has all ready met You, because she has seen You so much in me.

My Maker, I need You. I need You.

I need You, Father. I.. need.. You.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Psalms 69:6, 13 (ESV)

Worth Contemplating

“We do not want you to copy or imitate us. We want to be like a ship that has crossed the ocean, leaving a wake of foam, which soon fades away. We want you to follow the Spirit, which we have sought to follow, but which must be sought anew in every generation.”

– First generation Quakers at Balby, York in the late 17th century, as quoted in the book Why We Live In Community by Eberhard Arnold

An Open Letter to Single Folks

There is a natural progression in sexual stimulation and arousal. It develops from something as subtle as a smile to something as powerful as intercourse. Once you have moved from hand-holding to kissing, it is extremely difficult to return to only hand-holding. Our physiological sensations urge us toward intercourse (in other words, God designed our bodies to complete the process of sexual stimulation once it has been started). That’s not necessarily a bad thing; within the commitment of marriage it is an incredibly exciting and emotionally strengthening bond. Outside of that commitment it can be a lot like quicksand.

Emotional intimacy also emerges through identifiable stages of contact. Each of these steps is an essential component in the development toward the “emotional covenant” of becoming husband and wife. This sense of oneness is what gives a healthy marriage relationship its almost mystical uniqueness among all other relationships. These stages of contact nurture a special bond of companionship that draws two people together as no other relationship can.

It is impossible to emphasize enough the importance of moving through each of these stages slowly and systematically. True intimacy between a man and woman grows gradually and gently. Time and patience are essential — the two aspects of courtship that cannot be rushed. When a couple moves too quickly or skips a stage, the natural emotional bonding process is disrupted and something is lost in the development of the emotional partnership between them.

There are 12 stages of physical intimacy which God designed to correspond with the progress of similar emotional and intellectual intimacy. The behaviors we label “petting” involve steps nine through eleven. They are preliminary to intercourse and leave no room for further progression except intercourse. A couple who wants to avoid intercourse before marriage, who does not feel ready for a marriage commitment, and yet are involved in petting, have few options open besides failure or frustration. They are attempting to pursue and intensify a natural progression, only to abort it just prior to fulfillment.

Often the person who will have the most difficult time controlling this progression is the one with a deep need to be loved. This is a person who feels unloved, perhaps unlovable, and may be afraid, on a deep level, that he or she doesn’t have anything to contribute to a relationship. The person who is searching to fill a void left by an affection-starved past (or an affirmation-starved past) is extremely susceptible to misreading relationship signals and often translate another person’s selfish lust into a message of genuine love.

If petting is used to bolster a person’s poor self-esteem, then self-esteem will soon come to depend on petting. If petting is used to feel close to another person, it will be difficult to feel close without petting. We just can’t separate the phenomenon of conditioning from sexual arousal. We can only structure our sexual relationships so that we are conditioning appropriate arousal responses. We don’t do that in just one or two experiences, we do it over the long haul. We do it by thoughtfully developing a relationship to be consistent with our values and goals.

What is low self-esteem? We hear about it all the time, but how many people have actually thought about what it is, how you get it and how you get rid of it? Well a simple but perfectly functional definition for self-esteem is — are you ready for this? — low self-esteem is — I’m actually going to give you the definition, the correct definition, for low self-esteem, are you sure you’re ready? Low self-esteem is an unmet need to be loved (by God).

Since God is perfect, if a person has an unmet need to be loved by God the problem can’t be God’s. Right? Right. Now you need to understand something else before we move on. Beliefs engender Thoughts and thoughts engender Emotions and emotions engender Actions or Conditions (such as low self-esteem or the actions which evidence low self-esteem). It looks like this:

Beliefs => Thoughts => Emotions => Actions (or conditions/states)

Insecurity is a product or symptom of low self-esteem. Insecure people feel like they are always being rejected, and consequently are often looking to “collect” affirming rather than rejecting experiences in any way possible.  Author Robert S. McGee, in his phenomenal book The Search for Significance expressed it this way:

“Our behavior is often a reflection of our beliefs about who we are, it is usually consistent with what we think to be true about ourselves. If we base our self worth solidly on the truths of God’s Word, then our behavior will often reflect His love, grace and power. But if we base our worth on our abilities or the fickle approval of others, then our behavior will reflect the insecurity, fear and anger that comes from such instability.”

So, what you believe determines what you think. What you think determines your emotions or how you feel. And your actions are rooted in your emotions. The reason that many of us can’t seem to do what we think or know is right, and have a sense of emptiness in our relationship with God and others is that we believe lies which Satan has woven throughout the very fabric of our society. We usually don’t even know what we believe about ourselves, about others or about God. I’ll write more about this in another letter. For now let’s move on.

Following is a quote from former professor and sometime philosopher, Dr. Philip Captain:

“Getting married will not transform an unhappy person into a happy person. The love of a husband or wife cannot make up for the love one failed to get while growing up.”

Remember that low self-esteem is an unmet need to be loved by God, but that if one does not realize the love which God has for them that same person will not be able to realize the love which their parents offered them either. It’s like this —

Everyone has a need to be loved; there are no exceptions to this universal need. Everyone in the world also deals with insecurity concerning their lovableness. Many people incorrectly believe that if a special someone would love them, they would feel lovable. These people have a, “What must I do to make you love me” mentality, and this will inevitably cause them grief.

The reality is that we can only get love from God and not from people. The idea that someone is giving you love is an illusion. Another person can only give you God’s love, therefore you are not dependent on any person to receive His love. Remember “love never fails” therefore it can not be a human thing, in order to never fail — to be perfect — love must be a God-thing. Love can be funneled, so to speak, through humans by the Holy Spirit, but love, all love, ultimately comes from God. Our focus ought not to be on getting love, but on giving love or “funneling” love. (We are to be “vessels” and/or “instruments”, no?)

A second misconception about love is the belief that if we find the “right” person marriage will be easy. Many people, upon running into marital problems wrongly assume that they must have picked the “wrong” person. The major assumption being that it is hard to find the right mate, but easy to love them once they have been discovered. God’s view is that it is easier to get married than to stay married.

The truth is that there are no perfect marriages nor any perfect spouses. Diligent effort is necessary in all cases. To reiterate, the idea that you will someday find your “one and only” and then live “happily ever after” is a fantasy.

Let me add something else in here. Always remember that human emotions cannot be trusted because they are fickle and undependable. We rarely contemplate the belief or the thought that is behind an emotion so how can we trust the emotion. Never make decisions based on how you feel. For example, what is the feeling that you feel, when you feel that you feel love? Or what is the emotion that you are actually experiencing when you feel those “butterflies” that so many people associate with love? The answer: anxiety. Now, do you think anxiety is a feeling you want to have when around the person who you are going to spend your life with?

Do you see what I’m saying? If you make a decision about a person based on how you feel, you will make a mistake — 99 out of a 100 times, I would guess. By the way, anxiety is the impetus behind illicit sex and sexual addiction.

Anxiety is prompted by either newness, wrongness, or insecurity. It is impossible to actually be in love with someone that you still feel anxiety about being with. Obviously this does not mean there will never be some anxiety since you will still experience new occasions with a person around whom you are comfortable. For example, the first time you have intercourse with the person you love, you will probably feel some anxiety. This is fine and normal. Although, if the process has been followed in the corect order with the appropiate time span the anxiety experienced will be considerably lessened.

I’m going to end this letter with a list of five things that love is not, just so that if you recognize any of these five things you will know that what you are experiencing is not love or that what someone is telling you is love is not love.

  1. Love is not physically harmful and does not result in the inflicting of physical pain.
  2. Love is not psychologically harmful and does not result in psychological sickness, e.g., suicide, substance abuse or guilt. Note: love never causes anyone to violate their conscience.
  3. Love is not spiritually harmful and will not cause one to move away from God nor hurt in the name of Christianity.
  4. Love is not manipulatory or conditional but must be given without strings attached. Love will never say, “I will love you if . . .” or, “If you loved me you . . .”. There are no conditions of worth.
  5. Love is not egocentric (self-centered) and does not focus on taking or getting love. Note: Love is never equated with getting one’s way.

My Dad

Some Things I Learned by Watching My Dad

  • There are many good things in life, but some are just not as important as others.
  • Hard work always pays off, and there is something rewarding in and of itself in working hard.
  • The Bible is the ultimate source of knowledge, wisdom, understanding and guidance.
  • A man’s priorities are reflected most accurately by what he actually spends his time doing.
  • What you really believe is evidenced by your actions.
  • A man is responsible for his family; for their physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
  • No job and no “calling” supercedes a man’s responsibility for the watch-care of his family.
  • There is more shame in never trying, than in trying and not succeeding.
  • Doing a good job is a matter of respect to others.
  • Love does what it believes is in the best interest of those it loves, even when they may not like it.